June 19, 2016 by Paul Goldsmith
If it were based on the performance of the respective campaigns, I would be voting leave. They have managed to maintain impressive message discipline throughout, by and large. This is why their messages have broken through so well, and why, until Thursday 16th June, they had so much momentum.
Let’s leave to the side at the moment whether their key messages on immigration, the ‘£350m’ to be spent on the NHS and ‘getting our country back’ and ‘taking back control’ are actually correct or based on any understanding of the power of globalisation, economic and political consequences and the basics of negotiation. The fact is that a cross party campaign uniting the right and left wings has made significant progress from where it was.
In the audience ‘debates’ – Michael Gove has come across excellently, very calm, happy to explain himself and obviously passionate about what he is talking about. In the group debates two weeks’ ago Boris Johnson managed to not mess up whilst Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stuart put across their points very strongly whilst the Remain three of Angela Eagle, Nicola Sturgeon and Amber Rudd were reduced to ad hominem attacks on Johnson in addition to some rather defensive use of statistics.
Leave have been helped by the paucity of the Remain campaign. I almost don’t know where to start. Actually I do. Back in March Stuart Rose, ex CEO of M&S and the Chair of Britain Stronger in Europe, appeared in front of the Treasury Select Committee and breezily admitted that the problem with Brexit was that workers’ wages would be higher (among a string of other mis-speaks). Since then Rose has been hidden away, but his blunders have been used by the Brexit campaign again and again.
Then there is the bad luck for the Remain campaign that Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour Leader. Corbyn voted for OUT in 1975 and has barely had anything but vitriol for Europe ever since. When forced to speak he looks as comfortable and enthusiastic as a football-mad teenager dragged to their Great-Aunt’s 80th birthday party during Euro 2016 when England are playing and there is no TV or internet coverage.
Then we have David Cameron. The problem for Cameron is that he is a natural Eurosceptic and it is just too obvious that this campaign is far more about Politics than what he actually thinks. Cameron was once asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister and answered “because I think I would be rather good at it”, wants to ‘win’ this referendum because he…well he….he just doesn’t want to lose. Cameron realises that his panicky capitulation to UKIP pressure back in 2013 when we all thought only Conservative voters would go to UKIP instead of the hordes of Labour core voters that also moved meant he had no choice but to call the referendum, even though it was patently obvious he wasn’t going to get anything in his re-negotiation. So now, unable to authentically speak about the positives of being in Europe – he is left with a litany of threats and warnings, many of which he could genuinely believe, but simply don’t make a strong case altogether. When set against Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, both of whom sincerely believe what they are saying about leaving the EU, Cameron arguments seem rather weak and desperate.
As for George Osborne, I guess, as usually happens to the poor Chancellor, he has been left with the dirty work of presenting the economic forecasts, including the one where his department took a slower growth of GDP under some Economists’ prediction, divided by the projected number of households and says that each household would be ‘£4,300 worse off’ if we left the EU by 2030. That is just not how a country’s budget works and Osborne knows it. As for the ‘punishment budget’ of the past week – which included a package of tax rises, benefit cuts and broken manifesto promises in response to the predicted economic turmoil of Brexit, like with Stuart Rose I don’t know where to start on that one. Suffice to say that if there is temporary economic turmoil that might cause a recession simple macroeconomics suggests no Chancellor would push the country into a depression in response.
So, as I say, there was a reason why Vote Leave were building up so much momentum by Thursday 16th June. They had run a more disciplined campaign, putting in the right people in the right places, and I wrote a blog that morning suggesting they were on their way to winning. I published the blog at Midday. Then, a black swan event happened.