Remain will win easily. Boris will be irrelevant and immigration will barely register in voters’ choice

by Atul Hatwal

Last year, in the aftermath of the general election it looked like Westminster had learnt that the economy and leadership are central to determining the public’s voting intention at the big electoral tests.

Now we have an EU referendum looming and there’s been a bout of collective amnesia.

Yes, I know this is not a general election but the same formula of economy and leadership is relevant for largely the same reasons as last year.

Immigration is the issue that many Brexiteers think will tip the balance their way. But just as Ukip found last year, they’re misreading the polls.

There is a very familiar gap between the number who view immigration as the most important issue facing the country and those who view it as important to their household’s well-being.

At the general election, 51% thought immigration was the key issue facing Britain but only 21% believed it mattered most to their lives.

Unsurprisingly, immigration was not a major factor in the contest.

In the last poll to ask the relevant questions, by YouGov, from last September – following a summer of daily coverage of refugees travelling to Europe – the number citing immigration as the most important national issue was the highest on record at 71%. But the number who thought it most important for their family was 24% – a gap of 47%.

Think about that for a moment.

Even after a summer of non-stop reporting of fleeing refugees entering Europe, lurid stories from the Calais “jungle” and hyperbolic headlines, the proportion thinking that immigration mattered most for their lives rose by just 3% from 21% at the election to 24% at the start of September.

In comparison, in the same poll, the number saying the economy was the most important issue for their household was 40%. That’s 16% ahead of immigration.

In every single poll conducted by YouGov in the five and half years that they’ve been asking these questions, this gap has never been less than 16%.

The economy will drive voters’ decision and on this terrain the Remain side have a decisive advantage.

As with the Scottish independence referendum and last year’s general election, the economic risk of change will weigh heavily on voters minds.

Today’s letter from business warning against Brexit is a major moment in validating nascent fears.

The petulant reaction of the Leave camp has mirrored that of Labour’s in last year’s general election when the Tories ran a similar letter.

Simply dismissing the concerns of the businesses that employ millions of people as special pleading is foolish.

The public might not cherish big business leaders as national treasures but they do believe that Britain’s CEOs know more about creating jobs and wealth than politicians.

No matter how sceptical or worried voters are about immigration in the abstract, the majority will look to their economic self-interest first.

There’s been much written about identity, particularly about English voters, and how this will be important in the referendum.

This is relevant but almost always those discussing it fail to understand the identity that matters most to voters.

For most people, before they are English, a Mancunian, a member of a minority, part of whatever, they are a worker, a bill-payer and a provider.

I’m reminded of a presentation Alastair Campbell made to Labour’s minority voters campaign committee in 1996.

I was attending as the press officer covering the area and the question was asked whether we’d have a separate manifesto for minority voters. His response was a firm “No.”

Minority voters had the same core interests as other voters: a sound economy, a decent job, good education for the kids and a working health service.

Alastair Campbell was right then and his words from nearly 20 years ago remain right now.

Economic identity trumps cultural definition and Britain’s electoral reality is that every time the economy is on the ballot, immigration is virtually irrelevant.

This alone would make Remain strong favourites but when leadership is factored into Britons’ decision-making, the prospect of a blowout win becomes more likely.

Voters are going to look at the leading representatives of each cause.

In favour of remaining in the EU, there’s the prime minister. For all of his flaws, the winner of two general elections and the only frontbench politician in either the Conservative or Labour party with positive ratings.

In the opposing corner there’s Nigel Farage, George Galloway and now Boris. Politicians best described as characters. Personalities. Celebrities.

Team Brexit is represented by leaders that can win European elections, by-elections and even a Mayoralty. But people who the British public would not trust within a million miles of a decision that could affect their families’ security.

In the case of the London Mayoralty, paradoxically, it was Tony Blair’s fear of the prospect of Ken Livingstone that led him to fillet the office of economic power before the Greater London Authority was even established, making it the ideal perch for a celebrity populist.

Tony Blair’s desire to limit the chances of Livingstone winning would have been best served by giving the Mayor proper tax-raising power.

Ken would have found that voters have a very different calculus when there are real economic consequences to an election, just as Boris will discover on June 23rd.

Quirky loudmouths with a colourful turn of phrase might be worth a tilt to brighten the political firmament when there is little practical impact, but there’s a reason our top politicians are of a certain type.

They are the ones the public trust to make the most important decisions.

The alignment of voters’ personal economic imperative with the positioning of their most trusted political leaders make this one of the most lopsided contests in years.

It’s why the average lead for staying in the EU in telephone polls this year is 15.8%. A landslide.

Online polls admittedly tell a different story on headline voting intention – a lead for Brexit of 1% – but then they also showed a lead for change at the general election and we all know what happened next (telephone pollsters didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory at the end of that campaign with a near miraculous herding in the same range as online but before this strange shift in the final days, they had shown a consistent lead for the Tories.)

For what its worth, here’s my prediction: Britain will vote to remain in the EU by a massive margin, at least 15 points.

Boris will be utterly irrelevant and damaged goods following a defeat on such a scale.

And immigration will remain the electoral dog that never barks at the elections that matter.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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20 Responses to “Remain will win easily. Boris will be irrelevant and immigration will barely register in voters’ choice”

  1. Bobby says:

    Written by the man who said Corbyn would never be leader of Labour.

  2. 07052015 says:

    Never a good idea to start a campaign by dissing your opponent.

    I too want a big Remain win and was around in 1975.Back then it was the economy stupid which trumped sovereignty ..,immigration wasnt much of a factor.As roy jenkins said -voters trusted the politicians they usually trusted.

    The last euro elections tell you that has changed.Last time only the shetlands and orkneys said Leave.This time some significant regions of England and Wales could say the same.

    Whistle in the dark if you want to but this could be close -boris gets elected leader and then a return of this pantomime is never far away.

  3. Rallan says:

    Is Atul Hatwal somehow earning money from bad predictions?

  4. Tafia says:

    Atul this is rubbish. The latest poll (ICM) to ask the relevant question – there is only one, In or Out, was done over the weekend and the sample collected after Cameron’s negotiation results were made p[ublic, has it 40%-42% in favour of remaining, with the remaining 18% either undecided or aren’t going to vote.

    And now, of the FTSE 100 companies asked to sign the letter in favour of ‘IN’, not only did only 30% give it’s backing, but some of those 30% have now withdrawn their support because Cameron is using civil servants for IN while denying OUT the same privilage, and they do not believe that is fair or a level playing field.

  5. “Remain will win easily… etc etc”

    @ Atul,

    Have you changed your crystal ball recently or are you still using the same one that gave you a glimpse of then some future world which had Jeremy Corbyn finishing last in the Labour leadership contest?

  6. Jane says:

    An excellent article and sums up the issues very well. I am undecided but leaning to remain following yesterdays three plus hour debate. I am concerned about the level of economic migrants and the pressure on resources. i have to balance that with the fact that without these migrants our local economy(food production) would collapse. i listened to CNBC this morning as it is rather nice to have commentators who are not driven by politics. The question of those FTSE CEOs who put pen to paper came up. Political commentators and the press report bullying by the PM and how few were willing to sign. My CITI expert said that retailers would not wish to alienate their customers hence their reticence. Common sense. Also, fear of the unknown in the event of a Brexit with warnings about 20% drop in house prices, foreign investors unlikely to hold sterling etc for years until all matters sorted out. I also fear for the City of London and the millions throughout the country who work in the financial sector. On a personal level i worry about my investments too. There is no doubt in my mind that Paris and Frankfurt would benefit from Brexit.

    Michael Goves letter was also persuasive and I can fully understand the frustrations of being a Minister and of the EU permeating every aspect of ministerial life..

    A big decision. I voted in 1975 and am aware of what I signed up to then. I did not foresee such encroachment into our lives and I hate the bureaucracy, the waste of money moving parliaments, huge pensions to bureaucrats, lack of reform of the CAP etc etc. I do hate it all.

    Nevertheless, I feel that as China, India et al become economic powerhouse, globalisation, and the dangerous rising again of Russia then the UK is stronger within the Union. Despite all my fears and misgivings I am likely to vote to remain. Your article clarified the position even further for me – thank you.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Whether remain wins, Boris is still a shoe in for Tory leader,as he has the support Theresa May doesn’t
    ,although I agree ,that immigration is irrelevant,as the leqve campaign, aren’t arguing to leave on immigration, we’re arguing to leqve on soverignity, and border, controlling our on laws
    The smear that we are trying to win by appealing to those who don’t like immigration, won’t work,it’ll just make labour -uncut as irrelevant as the rest of the Labour Party,when jCxhas spent year arguing against the EU and for democracy,and is going quiet for unity, coz Mcdonnell,has told him too

  8. tim says:

    @ Jane, if you think that watching a news show that is owned by a rather large multi national media conglomerate is not pushing something on you (albeit in subtle ways) then I would like to make you aware of this!

    In terms of dangers of Russia/China, you do understand that we are part of NATO and it is that which has kept peace in Europe and will continue to do so?
    Whereas EU policies on immigration are bearing fruit, their policy on provoking Russia in Ukraine are bearing fruit, the subverting of democracy in favour of banking interests in Greece and Portugal are bearing fruit etcetc the list goes on.

  9. ad says:

    It occurs to me that the Leave campaign is probably going to point out that we pay x billion pounds a year to the EU in exchange for the privilege of obeying its instructions.

    I wonder if people will be as easily convinced that this benefits them as you seem to imagine.

    Certainly, when I think of it that way, it does not sound that attractive a prospect to me.

  10. Martin says:


    I do hope you are right about a big win, because if there is not a big win Johnson groupies, Farragistes, Boners, Govers etc. will receive a big boost and the issue will continue to fester on and on. A Brexit is too awful to contemplate, the headache would be terrible and incurable; though the shelf life of the loud mouthed Brexiters would become very, very limited, it would certainly not be worth the price.

  11. Touchstone says:

    Boris is betting that, regardless of the referendum result, the Tory party will want a paid-up Eurosceptic as its next leader. As long as he makes it onto the final ticket offered to the grass roots members, he’ll win.

  12. Mike Stallard says:

    Let’s get this straight.
    I live in an area where the town centre has been almost entirely taken over by people from the Baltic States.
    But the economic argument is the stronger of the two.
    Three Ms: Money, Ministers and Media – these are the three enemies of LEAVE.
    If we LEAVE then on 24th June 2016 the economy will fail! Woe! Woe! We are all doomed!

    And it is all so unnecessary to make up these scare stories about the economy!
    Have people never heard that we are members of the EEA? Do they not realise that the negotiations after we have applied Article 50 (which in itself needs an act of parliament) take two years? Do we really need a torrent of Directives and threats from an increasingly irrelevant EU? After 24th June 2016, we will still be negotiating and living with our European neighbours.
    If businesses and banks cannot get used to a time scale like that, frankly, they deserve to go to the wall.

  13. Madasafish says:

    Remain will win easily. The latest lead over Leave is c 15%…

    Go figure who you fancy as PM if Cameron loses?
    Gove? Boris? or Rees Mogg?
    Hardly inspiring leaders…

    Leave have a problem: they have no clear acceptable leader and they have two vociferous supporters who are detested by about 75% of the electorate (Farage and Galloway). No campaign with those two on the hustings is going to win anything.

  14. John says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing Corbyn on stage with Cameron

  15. landed peasant says:

    3000 people a day are crossing the ocean into Europe, untold thousands more taking the land route, migrant attacks all over europe, terrorist attacks, a billion quid a month as a tithe to international redistribution and the ongoing threat of the various sections of the EU deciding to grind the UK into the ground for even daring to stand up to them just like they did Greece, and you think this is going to be a slam dunk?

    I think you need to get out more.

  16. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “immigration will barely register in voters’ choice”

    Number of people expected to be living per square kilometre in 2015 – by country

    England – 419
    Holland – 408
    Wales – 258
    Germany – 226
    Italy – 205
    N. Ireland – 130
    Poland – 123
    Portugal – 116
    France – 105
    Romania – 89
    Bulgaria – 66
    Scotland – 40

    Looking at these figures I think immigration could be one of the main factors for English folk in the EU referendum.

    As well as Boris, I see the leader of the Conservative party in Wales has said he has decided to vote to leave the EU.

  17. Jose says:

    Atul called the General Election right more or less so I wouldn’t jump to discredit his predictions.

    In this election the tabloid press and the leadership of the Conservative Party will firmly be on opposing sides. This separation means we will finally see whether the press on its own makes a difference to election outcomes. Margaret Beckett must be on the edge of her seat…

  18. Peter says:

    Why are you so confident that people vote only on what most affects their family rather than the country?

  19. Tafia says:

    Peter – Why are you so confident that people vote only on what most affects their family rather than the country?

    Voters vote for the 2 or 3 things that they perceive directly affect them and their immediate family the most, at that particular moment in time.. They aren’t interested in anything else.

  20. mr cabbage says:

    You’re a foreign fucking idiot with no understanding of the British people. We fought for our freedom in world war 2 and we won! WE WON. And now we have won Brexit, and if it doesn’t happen quickly, we’ll make it happen by force. We’re sick of immigration. We’re also sick of the labour party treating the working people of Britain as if they are irrelevant shite. So now it’s actually labour that is irrelevant shite. Labour is finished. Labour is in terminal decline. Labour will disappear to be a fringe cult like the lib dems, whilst ukip or some other new party will rise to prominence.

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