I’ve got that old feeling again. No, not that one, the other one, that feeling of being bludgeoned by a baseball bat of a political campaign. Let’s face it, the referendum battle is not going quite as those who lean to leave hoped it would, which is partly their own fault, and partly down to the efforts of a well-organised Remain team. If Leave loses look out for the score-settling on the Eurosceptic side. It’ll be like the Godfather crossed with a fractious AGM at a golf club in Surrey.
Of course, the latest ORB poll in the Telegraph showing a clear Remain lead (55% to 42%) may be a rogue poll, and the suggestion that older voters, men and Tories are abandoning Brexit could be wrong. But it’s been a miserable week or so for Leave.
Unless the Outers can get a calm and clear line of attack on borders, and win the argument that free movement designed for a handful of countries has obviously had it in an EU of 28, and that it is perfectly normal even in an age of mass migration for proper countries to decide who gets in and who does not, then it looks right now as though the economic scare campaign is going to trump all that on June 23rd.
The Leave team is not aided in any of this by the idiocy of the Continuity-UKIP crowd, who with their antics are gleefully inflicting maximum damage on the official campaign. It seems more likely by the day that the Faragists and their allies never wanted to win. The prize for them is an expanded, rebranded UKIP after a referendum defeat in which they can hope to hoover up 20% or so of the vote perpetuating a “stab in the back” myth. Brexit does not suit them at all. It would mean extinction for UKIP.
Against all this, one must congratulate the Remain crowd for their professional hit job of a campaign. They still have their wobbles and moments of hysteria, and may have more in the final weeks. For a start, the Labour vote in the north is looking downright Ukippy on immigration, and a low turnout could give Leave a way back in to the race. But beyond that the Remainers have executed their mission perfectly and run their affairs with iron discipline. The aim every day is to scare the life out of the voters on the risks of Brexit and to force Leave to play in their own half with the help of the broadcast media: “Leave campaigners have denied claims from the IMF, the Pope, Barack Obama and the ghost of Princess Diana that Brexit will mean Britain will be invaded by creatures from outer space causing a 72% fall in house prices – in your street!”
For those of us – especially the hacks among us – who were sceptical about New Labour in its pomp, the entire experience is eerily familiar. Remain has even produced Tony Blair to bang the drum this week. Incidentally, he also made it clear that defeating ISIS will need troops on the ground. What could possibly go wrong?
Back to the EU… One knows deep down, as one did back in the early 2000s, that for all the impressive and slightly chilling power of the machine, the anti-Brexit scare stories are mostly garbage. Just as some us sensed it when Gordon Brown – that incompetent regulator of the banking system, boastful blowhard on the end of boom and bust – used to beat up Oliver Letwin and the Tory gang in the early 2000s over sums as titchy as £20bn. Within a few years Brown’s mismanagement of regulation and credit meant he (or we) had to spend more than double that £20bn on bailing out the banks.
That cockiness pre-Crash is what made the unravelling of the Project, via hubris and humiliation in autumn 2007 and the election that never was, so delicious. Before that, Blair and Brown sceptics had to put up with years of strutting. Attacking or critiquing them just bounced off for about a decade.
In a similar spirit, we are now treated daily to endless consensus drivel, crafted expertly by professional pedlars of piffle. We are expected to believe that the Treasury has a good handle now on what will pertain in 2030. Think that through. How useful would Treasury assessments in 1996 of the situation in 2010 have been? Not very is the answer. Human beings and economies are dynamic. Their unpredictable activities and developments cannot be plotted like straight lines on a graph and if people want “the facts” about the future they might as well ask for a recommendation on which horse will win the Grand National in 2030.
But fair play (or dirty play, all is fair in love and campaigns) to the Remain campaign for exploiting the weaknesses of Leave. If the Inners win on June 23rd there will at least be the spectacle of watching the attempted explanations of what looks likely to follow, if there is a downturn (look at the latest global trade volumes) and the cheap money bubble and housing market goes bang. If they win, the Tory Remainer team cannot blame Brexit. Also, the first time they try to complain about a single incursion by Brussels they’ll find out what happens. They’ll be baseball batted themselves by a media that knows they scammed their way to victory.