Friday, 24 August 2018

Vote Leave cheated? Oh bore off!


Never a day goes by when somebody doesn't whine at me about Vote Leave's conduct during the referendum. "Vote Leave cheated!" they demand. It's such a frightful bore. Moreover, it tells us that remainers still don't understand why they lost. Ultimately Remain ran the worst campaign I have ever seen.

Remain, though, was not without assets. It had just about every authoritative source going for it. The IFS, Barack Obama, the entire edifice of academia, HM government, the banks, all the major corporate manufacturers, the boss of the WTO and an army of economists. Even the LSE set up its own Brexit unit which as far as I know did not declare any of its spending.

In the end, all the arguments were heard and voters made their choice accordingly. It would be a gross insult to say that voters are such zombies that their entire worldview was upturned by a pop-up ad from Vote Leave. Unless you can show me deliberate ballot box tampering, the referendum is about as fair as these things can be. What remainers fail to to understand, however, is that Vote Leave should have won by a far larger margin. It was their fault that we didn't.

I hated Vote Leave and a lot of people reported to me that they refused to hand out any of their material. The £350m slogan was transparent, condescending and indefensible. Even Vote Leave politicians had to squirm when presenters brought it up on television. It wasn't a good look. I have also seen figures that indicate the rhetoric on immigration actually drove away the ethnic minority vote. Had we a competent campaign it would have exploited the open goal left wide open by David Cameron.

When David Cameron went to Brussels to reform the EU he highlighted much of the problem with our EU membership. He gambled that tinkering with benefit entitlements for EU migrants was enough to appease the middle of the road sceptics. That was a huge error of judgement not least because he was asking for so little.

What he actually got from Brussels was a giant "nothing burger" with a side order of nothing. Cameron was told that the EU is what it is, there is no reforming it, there is no renegotiation, even to keep the UK in it. They were as resolute in upholding the treaties as they are now during Article 50 talks. It tells us that the EU cannot be reformed, our relationship with it cannot be reformed, and more to the point, our establishment wouldn't even ask for substantive reform.

That right there made the entire case for us. That's the whole package right there. An immovable entity that won't listen to the concerns of the public and an establishment that takes us for fools. Cameron then went on to campaign on the back of his "reforms", repeating the slogan of "stronger and safer in a reformed EU". Having come away with nothing he spend the remainder of the campaign lying about his accomplishment. Cameron's whole credibility was on the line.

Vote Leave should have exploited this to the max. The points were unarguable. Cameron was lying, the EU had not made a serious offer and we were not going to get EU reform. Vote Leave, however, was financed by Tory grandees who wouldn't sign off on a blue on blue campaign. Being tribal beasts they didn't want to split the party and the survival of the Tory party took precedence over actually winning the thing.

So Vote Leave ditched its best campaign asset to instead run with a massively flawed concept which few believed then and nobody believes now. All the while we had Leave.EU making noise in the background, producing odious and utterly embarrassing material which wasn't going to convince anybody who hadn't already planned on voting out.

Throughout the campaign Vote Leave was a brake parachute rather than a booster rocket and we would have done just as well had Vote Leave never even existed. Perhaps better. Vote Leave ensured that only the Tory clan got air time to the exclusion of all the grassroots campaigns which is why it now finds the Leave message eviscerated at every turn.

In the end the vote was lost in the final three weeks as the remain message became ever more hectoring, shrill and spectacularly lacking in judgement, putting the likes of Geldof and Izzard front and centre while intellectual pygmies like Caroline Lucas and Leanne wood went out of their way to label leavers "far right". To the have The Spectator wagging the finger at leavers as though we were to blame for the actions of a nazi murderer was the final insult. A two fingered salute was the only possible response.

Having witness such a dismal campaign from Vote Leave I fully expected to lose the referendum. I didn't even stay up to watch the results. I woke up just in time to see the final announcement. I couldn't quite believe it. As a campaign it certainly didn't deserve to win. What happened was a shift in public mood and that cannot be attributed to Vote Leave's undeclared spending. Something more potent happened.

In the end, voters chose to disregard the official warnings from the great and the good. This was an act of political instinct over a constitutional matter and the promise of £350m for the NHS was far from the public mind. As much as anything it was an opinion poll on the status quo. Our politics, our media and our economy. They voted for change and little since then convinces me they were wrong.

I won't defend Vote Leave. If there were irregularities then those responsible should be held to account, but don't tell me I should be punished and my vote revoked because of it. Like many I made my mind up years before. If you want to talk about cheating, our whole history of EU membership has been one con after another, not least cheating us out of a referendum on Lisbon - a treaty our politicians didn't even bother to read. If we're keeping score, this makes us about even.

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