Although we will not know whether David Cameron has been able pull the proverbial rabbit from his hat until Friday and come back from Brussels with a settlement that he can put to the people, the campaigns for and against remaining in the EU started well before Christmas. Some argue that what Cameron has negotiated is largely irrelevant to whether people are in favour of remaining in the EU or not. This is a campaign that will be won or lost on the basis of fear. This is already evident in the media with newspapers putting forward fear stories on an almost daily basis. For instance, the Sunday Express says congestion charging could be introduced into towns across Britain under EU guidelines to reduce global warming…now that’s guaranteed to anger motorists and those who see the EU as simply interfering in people’s lives..while in the Sunday Times travel chiefs suggest that, in the event of Brexit, cheap flights are at risk…so no more cheap continental holidays. Eurosceptic Conservative Sir Bill Cash claims German MP Gunther Krichbaum told him the UK would not be able to survive on its own and could face crippling trade tariffs on its exports. Mr Krichbaum denies the claim and says he simply warned that Britain would no longer have access to the single market.
Although there is great enthusiasm either way for the referendum in the Westminster village. The Independent on Sunday highlights a poll suggesting the prime minister's personal ratings have slumped amid dissatisfaction with his EU renegotiation efforts. The numbers who look on David Cameron favourably dropped seven points in the past three months to 31 per cent- although the same poll sees support for the Tories over Labour extend to 14 points. I do not get any real enthusiasm from talking to people in Dunstable. In fact, if anything, it’s the reverse. Even those who say that they intend to vote in favour of the EU—and remember this is before the deal is finalised—do so with little enthusiasm…it’s a case of, on balance, I think we’re better remaining in but I can’t say that I have any real feeling for the EU. Young people, especially if you’re 16 and 17, feel short-changed by politicians who gave them the vote in the Scottish referendum but deny them in the equally constitutional EU referendum. That many would have voted to remain in the EU is perhaps why this was the case but that’s a political rather than constitutional decision. Although the current polls suggest that the ‘leave campaign’ had a slight lead, it is a campaign that is incoherent, divided and leaderless with competing organisations seemingly unable to come together while the ‘stay campaign’ appears—with the exception of Alan Johnson’s Labour pro-EU organisation—to have really not got going at all…whoever thought that Lord Rose should be the face of the remain campaign really don’t understand the general public at all…a bucket of Fried Chicken would have greater appeal.
In fact, looking at the limited nature of the negotiations, the mess of the remain campaign, the internal divisions in the leave campaign and the lack of enthusiasm among the public for the whole thing…it’s all a big stitch-up as one person confided in me…it’s hardly surprising that it’s a case of fear, more fear and yet more fear.