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Referendum thoughts - Part 1

Read Carefully

A whole lot of stuff is going on as the UK hurtles towards its date with destiny. This (probably irregular) series of posts will capture some my thoughts on Britain’s struggle to decide between modernity, progress, strength and prosperity, and isolation and petty nationalism (I am nothing if not parti pris).


Jerry Hayes’ takedown of Boris Johnson has been widely circulated, and with good reason. The former Tory MP writes in deliciously scathing language, and has the merit of being right on most points.

Boris’ play is so nakedly one for the Tory leadership (as the Independent put it: ‘Out for himself’). Be the figurehead of the Outers and he’ll be a hero for the blue rinse brigade, whether Leave wins gloriously or loses valiently.

No Mayor of London could seriously think it’s a good idea to leave the EU; and Zac Goldsmith’s pro-Brexit views could well help lose him the mayoralty.

And no-one who has written what he has written about Europe — or stated the private, positive views about Europe others claim Johnson has expressed — could have made this call without an ulterior motive.

David Cameron, after a few well-aimed jibes at Boris in the House of Commons on Monday, was asked by Tory Brexiteer-in-chief Steve Baker to ‘be nice’ to Boris. The PM probably will. But that’s probably more than he deserves.

Boris not like other politicians? Don’t believe a word of it. He’s as calculating as they come.

Playing the man and the ball

“The tackles I put in were for the ball, and if that meant hurting people in the process, well, so be it” — so said Liverpool’s hard-man defender of the 1960s and 1970s, Tommy Smyth.

Ad hominem attacks are — perhaps rightly — frowned upon in politics. The In crowd should argue on the facts — but just look at who the Outers are putting up.

Farage. Bone. Gove. Duncan Smith (of whom more later). Grayling. Hoey. Galloway (Galloway!). Among that bunch, the men who have done so much to damage Britain’s education, welfare and justice systems. And outside politics, Jim Davidson, Carole Malone and David Icke.

Has a less appealing line-up ever been put forward for a political campaign?

Talking of unappealing…

This surely merits instant disqualification from the referendum…

Newsnight’s time machine

The BBC’s Newsnight programme ran an interesting piece on Monday looking back at the 1975 referendum (see top of page).

As an hors d’oeuvre, they took us back a mere fifteen years, with Iain Duncan Smith interviewed about the case for Brexit (with little persuasiveness, on security at least) and Ken Clarke making the case for staying in.

Lest we forget, somehow the useless and dislikeable IDS managed to beat the worldly Clarke to the Tory leadership in 2001. Thankfully, the electorate is a little more diverse this time…

Is your message sticky?

Stronger, safer, better off. The In messages are clear, easy to understand, and hard to prove as untrue.

Far be it from me to give advice to the Outers, but they too need a coherent and convincing message.

Yes, the idea of more ‘sovereignty’ appeals to most voters (although it’s a difficult concept to define in an interconnected world), and immigration curbs are likely to bring in the Ukippers and people who have traditionally voted Labour.

Perhaps this ‘menu’ of messages will give something to every potential outer. But it’s not really a clear, positive vision of the future. And the divisions over strategy and messages won’t be papered over easily or quickly.

Yes, we have four months to go — but at this early stage, it’s time for the Remainers (?) to steal a march while their opponents’ generals are still fixing the battle plans.