EU and UK flag representing Brexit

This election is about far more than Brexit. The social fabric of this country and global climate stability is at stake. However, canvassing for Labour since the election was called, it’s been clear that Brexit is a big issue for many voters.

My campaigning so far has been in Oxford East. Though many will portray Oxford as a haven of remain, it’s clearly divided on Brexit.

In Cowley ward, where I’m running to be a city councillor in May 2020, over the last few days those who have raised Brexit have had an overwhelmingly pro-Leave position. Many voted for the Brexit Party in the European elections. Many are angry that Brexit isn’t done or that Labour has contributed to delaying it.

In other parts of the same ward and different wards in the constituency, there is emphatic support for Remain. Some voters are angry at Labour for how long it took to come to our current position, even if they recognise it’s the most sensible on offer.

Comparing speaking to the two groups, it’s generally easier to speak to a Brexit supporter on the doorstep. When we dig into what they’re really angry about, their concerns are practical and can be addressed by Labour policy. Their priorities are secure jobs, a say in how the economy is run and investment in public services and infrastructure.

Already by shifting conversation onto these material issues I’ve convinced several people to vote Labour instead of the Brexit Party or not voting at all. One strategy of canvassing would have us thank those people for their time as soon they express a position other than a solid Labour vote and be on our way. I’ve found that people are up for being convinced. With what’s at stake, we can’t afford a strategy other than proactively convincing people Labour stands for them.

It is harder bringing ardent Remain supporters around. The most indignant of them have a disaffection which feels rooted in a cultural malaise rather than material concerns. For many it doesn’t matter that Labour’s current Brexit position is what they wanted all along. They’re pissed off and they’re not calming down anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean ultra-remainers are lost causes either. When canvassing voters of either side, Labour campaigners should be confident in asking people what it is about Brexit (or EU membership) that concerns them. Is there anything else they’ll consider when voting? Quickly your conversation moves onto the issues that excite us as campaigners about Labour’s offer. Whatever voters say in response, Labour likely has policy that will speak to it. That’s the benefit of our universalist principles and a program for the many not the few.