Sounds a bit defeatist doesn’t it? Two weeks into the campaign, and already an openly Eurosceptic blog is announcing victory for the other team. That’s all rather pathetic, isn’t it? And not at all in keeping with “proper British values” – whatever UKIP might deem them to be.
But the truth is, this campaign does already look like a relatively easy one for the Remain supporters to win. This is not for reasons of winning the intellectual debate, because that’s an impossible one for the Remain campaign to win – just look at the sort of nonsense academics write when they try to get all smart about the reasons to stay. It’s going to come down to the two most basic drivers in elections – personalities, and fear.
I’ll cover the fear side of things in a later blog, looking at the tone of the campaigns and how the Leave group are struggling to define what a future outside of Europe might look like, leaving an open goal for the fear-mongers of Remain. But for now, let’s start with the personalities. And that’s where the problems immediately begin for the Leave campaign. If only they were able to follow Blackadder’s election strategy…
Edmund: Well, we in the Adder Party are going to fight this campaign on issues, not personalities.
Vincent Hanna: Why is that?
Edmund: Because our candidate doesn’t *have* a personality.
Even without Baldrick in their ranks, the Leave side of the debate is blessed with a rather detestable set of personalities, who are likely to grate on swing voters throughout the campaign. They might win the intellectual conversation, but a mixed up campaign with two groups fighting themselves to be the “official” Brexit lead, and featuring such warm and balanced characters as George Galloway, Nigel Farage, Kate Hoey, Chris Grayling, IDS and Peter Bone is all likely to end in tears. Still, at least someone with “something of the night about him” isn’t supporting Leave. Oh. Dear.
On the political side, the three “assets” that Leave have are dear old Boris, his likely successor Zac Goldsmith, and Michael Gove. Looking at them in reverse order, there are still plenty of problems here – Gove is more strategic brainpower than warm personality, Goldsmith carries the misfortune of having been born into privilege, and Boris has limited appeal outside of the chattering classes of London and the Home Counties. None of these individuals is going to lead the Leave campaign with a strong and rousing personality.
Perhaps the best Leave can hope for is that Galloway and Farage stay out of the headlines (highly unlikely), Gove is given the space to scheme in a darkened room and drive the narrative of the campaign, and that Goldsmith and Boris find useful business leaders and celebrity types to assist them with connecting to the electorate. It’s all a stretch, to say the least.
As a counter to this, the Remain campaign have a much rosier position. Dave might not be the most loved PM of all time (plenty of my more liberal friends find him and Osborne to be abhorrent, and yet can’t help themselves when their wallets twitch in the polling booth), but he is a credible leader with a track record of winning. And he’s able to bring the weight of the government PR machine behind the Remain campaign, which may be slightly bending the rules, but anyone in his position would do the same so it’s difficult to criticise him for doing this.
In addition, Dave has the support of the other key political leaders in the UK – Corbyn’s flip-flopping on Europe isn’t of much help to anyone (although the same could be said for Corbyn in general), but having the SNP onside ensures Scotland will be heavily for Remain. There are also useful voices from the more reasonable end of the Labour Party – the referendum campaign could be a great platform for both Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis to re-establish their leadership credentials. Both have broad appeal and might be powerful weapons for the Remain team to utilise come the right moments in the campaign – particularly if Cameron ends up focused on keeping the Conservative Party in one piece, rather than winning in June.
With this leadership strength, and a generally consistent message coming out of the Stronger In group (and the civil service, at least until purdah kicks in), the main objective of the Remain supporters should be to try to avoid obvious pitfalls and gaffs. The very low risk Conservative election campaign from 2015 should provide a reasonable model for this effort to follow – keep a clear message, and wait for the other team to show their weaknesses. If Lynton Crosby does choose to work for Cameron again, then that might just seal things – even without a dead cat being deployed.
None of this will change my own position on the subject – Brexit all the way from this author. I’ll continue to make the case, and to point out the benefits of being outside the EU. But I fully expect to still be inside the rotten institution come July – put me down for a 55%-45% win for the Remains.