With just over a week to go, the end of the European Union referendum campaign is, after four months, finally (and many would say thankfully) within sight. At the moment of writing the polls are saying that it is too close to call although the bookies still reckon ‘Remain’ will win. Judging by some of the recent output from the ‘Remain’ camp, the tightening polls have seemingly put the wind up them as they awake to the possibility that this whole business is not necessarily going to be the cakewalk they may have thought it would be.
To say that this has been an awful campaign characterised by deliberate disinformation, half-truths, scare tactics, poppycock, threats and outright lies would be to understate exactly how bad the approach by each side has been. Between daft statements about the future of
our national religion the NHS, inflated estimates of what our annual contribution to the EU budget is, xenophobic dog-whistles regarding immigration, warnings from the great and the good (as well as the not as good)* about an economic downturn to rival that of 2008, and the potential outbreak of another global conflict (to name but a few) there has been little sensible discussion from the vast majority of the political establishment and the commentariat that feed upon them.
With the most prominent figures in both official campaigns all being Conservatives MPs, one could be forgiven for thinking that the other parties are barely involved given how lacklustre their contributions have generally been. Even Nigel Farage has, at least in media terms, been quieter than one might have expected. This apparent lack of input (or attention paid to it anyway) does little to dissuade the more cynical that this whole thing is, in some quarters, less about our relationship with Europe and its political bodies and more an extended hustings over who gets to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister at some point between now and the next scheduled general election in 2020. (Putting my prognostication cap on for a moment, I would say that it is highly unlikely that any of the prominent individuals involved, i.e. Osborne, Johnson and Gove, will get the job).
Away from the internal Conservative squabbles, both official campaigns often seem to think that they are fighting a general election with wild spending promises of what we could do with our annual contributions instead (Leave) matched by calls for a credible exit plan (Remain) rather than a referendum one. This nonsensical approach is perhaps because the UK doesn’t (despite this being the third prominent one in five years) have much experience with referenda and so the major participants are taking what they do know and trying to see if all of the skill set is transferable.**
Whatever the eventual result, the last few days are going to be full of plenty more twaddle and there is going to be a lot of nail-biting on both sides before the result is announced come the 24th.
* As an aside, how many favours has David Cameron had to call in and how many does he now owe as a result?
** Yes, I’m aware that Matthew Elliott ran the ‘No’ campaign in the AV referendum but there is a difference between fighting for the status quo (as he was then) and against it*** when you have to make all the running.
*** Not that ‘Remain’ is a vote for the status quo.
Image © Gwydion M. Williams