In a three part series Atul Hatwal looks at the state of the two EU referendum campaigns and the likely winners and losers from the vote. First up, the Remain campaign.
At the start of the year, the Remain campaign had one job: to make Brexit more scary than Bremain.
It’s a job that they’ve done bloody well.
The brief for this campaign never included a requirement to persuade people of the imminent arrival of a new, fully reformed EU utopia.
Neither did it involve turning around years of frustration about the bureaucratic exigencies of the EU.
Who even thought that would be possible in a campaign of a few months?
But to read the drumbeat of criticism of the In campaign from pro-Europeans (Hugo Dixon, Natalie Nougayrède, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond and Charlie Cooper to name but a few) is to be trapped in the impossibilist dream of enthusiasts who do not understand their fellow Briton.
These are the people who measure success by the volume of cheers in the hall not the weight of votes outside.
For this category of commentator and politician, Scotland is independent, Ed Miliband is prime minister and this is what a good football manager looks like.
They frequently use that word which presaged defeat for the Scottish pro-independence camp and Labour last year: passion.
Talk is of turnout and their silver bullet, the enthusiasm gap.
Paradoxically it is the utter commitment of the enthusiasts which is their critical flaw.
It robs advocates of empathy, the keystone of any campaign.
Hobby-horse arguments, shrilly pitched dissolve into the irrelevant drone of a Euro-anorak.
In contrast, the Remain campaign has understood the two essential truths of this and any election.
First, the case must be pitched to the swing voters.
The third of the public who are committed to Brexit can be discounted.
For the third that are passionately convinced that Britain should stay in the EU, the requirement is not about persuasion but organisation – the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operation has to ensure they cast their ballots.
Second, in making this case, the economy trumps immigration (or indeed any other topic), every time.
Politics is almost uniquely an industry awash with clear data which is resolutely ignored by large swathes of those who claim some form of professional involvement.
I’ve written this before but it bears repeating: voters make decisions based on their personal interest not some notional view of the national good.
Polling does indeed highlight immigration as the issue voters perceive as most important to the country.
But when asked what’s most important for them and their families, it’s the economy not immigration which resonates.
The chart below highlights the sheer scale of the immigration illusion that has befuddled pundit and politicians alike.
The figures are from YouGov polling in September last year when the numbers saying that immigration was the most important issue facing the country, hit their highest ever level – 71%.
The 54% gap quantifies the extent of the miscalculation by those who think immigration is more electorally salient than the economy.
Put bluntly, the majority of voters think that immigration matters but is someone else’s problem whereas the economy is their problem.
The reality is simple, if the economy is on the ballot, immigration is largely irrelevant.
A scintilla of empathy with the position of most Britons would render this utterly obvious.
Unemployment might be at a historic low but few feel secure.
The sense that whatever you’ve got could be quickly snatched away is a defining characteristic of life in modern Britain for the plurality of voters, regardless of class.
In this context, the decision-making process for an uncommitted voter is clear as it was at the general election and Scottish independence referendum before that.
Three basic questions suffice.
Question 1: Will change impact the economy?
Question 2: Is there a risk that change will make the economy worse?
Answer: Yes, there’s a risk
Question 3: If the economy dips, even for only a short period, will that harm me?
Answer: Yes, quite possibly.
Decision made: reject change.
The failure of the SNP in the independence referendum and Labour at last year’s general election mirrors that of the Brexit camp.
By not doing enough to neutralize the economic risk of change they cannot move the argument onto their stronger territory, whether that be identity, fairness or immigration.
Recent communications from the Leave camp demonstrate the extent to which they have been driven from the economic battlefield.
Anyone who believes that “it’s the sovereignty stupid,” has been spending too much time getting high on their own ideological supply.
But more about this and the error strewn Leave campaign in the next post.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut