Five hundred hours

2 June 2016

As I write this evening, there are some five hundred hours until the polls close at 10pm on 23 June. After a couple of weeks in blissful Tuscany, at first sight not much has changed. The two camps press their strong suits: economy for the Inners, immigration for the Outers. New outbreaks of blue-on-blue rhetoric have raised the temperature, prompting lordly disdain from journos and politicos uninvolved in this private sadness. And today an early stick from the fusillade of love-bombs in prospect from Europe, as Arsène Wenger, Raymond Blanc and Isabella Rosselini signed a round-robin to the grateful people of Britain.

With the benefit of recent distance, three themes emerge:

Today’s love bomb (as it might be, from the luvvies) has been balanced by simultaneous warnings from Angela Merkel that countries outside the EU “will never get a really good result in negotiations”. This follows Jean-Claude Junker’s unhappily expressed remarks on 20 May that “deserters will not be welcomed back with open arms”. I don’t get out much but I can’t believe that this sort of language will go down well with undecideds.

The Outers’ proposal of a “points system” for immigration squares the circle of harnessing the potency of the issue without sacrificing respectability. This suggests that the Outers enjoy better internal politics than generally reported, in this instance in taking Nigel Farage seriously: he has long argued that the issue is the Outers’ money-maker. It also attests to savviness on the copydesk, pressing the theme without upsetting faint-hearts on the topic (like me). This is the second tactically distinguished piece of messaging, the first being the outright repudiation of the single market on the grounds of overregulation. This has served well to take the sting out of the Inners’ formerly successful gambit, “well what would you do?”

I’m getting something of a whiff of secret Outers of the upper kind, weakening the effect of former colleagues. For example Lynton Crosby writes the odd column hinting at sympathies along these lines. This does his old boss, David Cameron, no good at all. Meanwhile, last week Mervyn King spoke at the Hay Literary Festival to intimate his chagrin at his successor’s unabashed support for the Inners and to reinforce his own March refusal to “rule out” voting for Brexit.

The graphics on the home page show that both the polls and the odds have taken a turn towards the Outers. This is since they started pushing immigration with a will, rolling out the points scheme. It  is, however, too soon to know whether this is anything but post hoc ergo propter hoc. The bookies have shortened the odds on leave following a round of large wagers, but their figures still imply only a 35% chance of Brexit.

A final thought on returning home. It has come to be a commonplace that the campaign has descended into an unedifying spectacle of name-calling, dubious statistics and hyperbole. But cui bono? Doesn’t this hurt the Inners more than the Outers? This would be because the former rely far more upon the credentials lent by authority. If that is undermined, then much of their campaigning is threatened. If “everyone is a film critic”, no-one need pay heed to Mark Kermode. Or for our purposes, Christine Lagarde, John Kerry and so on through the host of Inner celebrity cheerleaders. Maybe this is just whistling in the wind, but I fancy there is something to it.