Labour’s student vote ‘could melt away’ over Brexit backing

Hepi/YouthSight poll finds 68 per cent of students now back the party, up from 55 per cent prior to June’s general election

December 18, 2017
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, poses for selfies at a campaign event in Leeds, May 10, 2017
Source: Reuters
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More than two-thirds of UK students now back Labour but that support could “melt away” unless the party adopts a stronger position against Brexit, polling suggests.

A survey of 1,018 UK undergraduates conducted for the Higher Education Policy Institute and YouthSight found that 68 per cent supported Labour, up from 55 per cent in a similar poll conducted ahead of the general election earlier this year.

Student support is credited with playing a key part in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s gains in the June election.

However, that support appears to be based in part on the mistaken belief that the party and its leader are opposed to Brexit.

Among the respondents, 55 per cent thought that Labour wanted the UK to remain in the European Union, and 58 per cent thought that this was Mr Corbyn’s position.

In fact, the party’s position is to accept the EU referendum result.

A further 32 per cent thought that Labour wanted to leave the EU but to remain in the single market and customs union (24 per cent thought the same of Mr Corbyn), when the party has made no such pledges.

Asked how they would vote if Labour adopted a policy of overtly supporting Brexit, 42 per cent of Labour-supporting students said that they would be less likely to vote for the party, and 21 per cent said that they would be less likely to vote for any party.

Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director, said that Labour’s youth vote “could turn out to be as flaky as past student support for the Liberal Democrats”.

“Two-thirds of students back Labour but over half of them think that Labour is a pro-Remain party,” Mr Hillman said. “If their perceptions changed, then a high proportion would be less likely to support the party.”

The poll also found that 62 per cent of students want a second referendum to be held on the terms of the UK’s final Brexit deal with the EU.

Ben Marks, YouthSight’s managing director, said that “students’ understanding of Labour’s position on Brexit is based more on hope and projection than understanding and reality”.

“Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party need to make their position on Brexit crystal clear if they want to retain the support of students. If they don’t, then the party could find their much-vaunted youth vote simply melting away,” Mr Marks said.

“Given Labour’s standing in the national polls currently, the party’s position on Brexit could be the crucial factor determining whether or not they taste victory at the next election.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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