It’s unfashionable to say this but the Remain campaign is doing a bloody good job

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?
Answer: Probably.

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

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7 Responses to “It’s unfashionable to say this but the Remain campaign is doing a bloody good job”

  1. Mr Akira Origami says:

    ‘Irrelevant and toxic’

    “Labour losing out to Ukip, inquiry finds
    Report by former policy chief Jon Cruddas says party is alienating socially conservative voters on issues such as immigration and welfare”

    “Labour is in danger of becoming “irrelevant to the majority of working people” because the party fails to represent their concerns about immigration, Europe, crime and welfare, according to a devastating new report into its electoral prospects.”

    “Labour is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a ‘soft touch’ on welfare spending.”

    “Labour is becoming dangerously out of touch with the electorate and … unwilling to acknowledge this growing estrangement.”

    The Remain campaign is doing a bloody good job – could it be the tipping point for Labour’s downfall in England?

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    “voters make decisions based on their personal interest not some notional view of the national good.”

    The big businesses, the Unions, the Universities, the major charities and the politicians are on the EU payroll.
    The BBC and other media depend on good relations with the politicians for their survival.
    The Labour Party depends on keeping silent and backing the likely winners to be able to win the next election over a divided Tory Party.

    So I totally agree with this statement.

  3. Mike says:

    A good post and especially the questions. Although I want to see Mandrlson admit his support for us to join the Euro in 1999 onwards was wrong and he is glad we didn’t join.

    There are more people passionately wanting to leave than stay. I expect remain to win with 55% or so, but the majority of that support will be reluctant. Only 20% or less want more integration, the Euro etc. Great Britain is a Eurosceptic nation.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Your spot on the money with the analysis about the volume of cheers versus the weight of the votes and Labour, or some of its members and supporters, seem to think that the size of Corbyn’s majority in the party equals, or will, his popularity in the country.

  5. John P reid says:

    Preaching to the converted, Osborne on radio 4 daily
    atul,(Corny will come forth)

  6. paul barker says:

    Further to the salience of the Economy, when it comes to importance surveys many voters list Economic concerns under other headings – Unemplyment, Inflation, wages etc. If you add up all the Economic categories in any survey they always top everything else.
    The big question for the 23rd is turnout, for an issue which 3% list as their top priority the problem is getting anyone to vote at all.

  7. Brian Reece says:

    If we leave we will no longer be protected by the Dublin agreement which states that every migrant or refugee must register in the first EU country they land in. This means the EU could legally allow migrants to pass through the EU to the UK. In fact there would be nothing to stoop the French from buying every migrant on French soil a one way ticket on a British bound ferry, If we leave far from being able to control migration the flood gates would open

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