Do you know, I think we Brexiteers might actually win this EU referendum.
I’m reluctant to talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it. As I was saying to Toby Young on our podcast the other day, it feels as deliciously unlikely as going to a bar and accidentally picking up a supermodel. There she is laughing at your jokes, playing footsie with you under the table and you’re thinking: “Bloody hell! This is unreal! In just a few hours from now I could be romping naked with this vision of outrageous loveliness.” But you also know that if the Fates catch you being too cocky they’ll punish you for your hubris and do something awful, like revealing that the person you’ve actually pulled is Bruce Jenner.
Problem is, as a professional journalist, it is rather my duty to report the facts as I see them. And the facts as I see them seem to be pointing tantalisingly towards rampant sex with that supermodel. Possibly not just with one but with several, every day for the rest of our lives.
Yes, it’s still improbable – at least so far as the bookies are concerned. But whenever I nurture any doubts, all I have to do is open a newspaper or turn on the TV and see for myself just how incredibly badly the Remain campaign is screwing this one up and how well the Leave team are winning over the hearts and minds of the undecided.
What strikes me most is the difference in mood and tone: Remain sound shrill, petulant, pessimistic; Leave come across as amiable, reasonable, optimistic. And which of those sides would any open-minded person prefer to be on?
Consider last night’s referendum debate on ITV.
It pitched – for the Remain camp – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon; Labour Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle; Tory Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd against – for Leave – Labour MP Gisela Stuart; Tory MP (and Rudd’s junior minister in her Climate Change department) Andrea Leadsom; and a token blond male former Mayor of London called Boris Johnson.
The Leave team were plausible, dignified, positive, level-headed. Stuart – a German speaking with soft persuasiveness for British values and sovereignty: yay! – may well be the most effective weapon in Leave’s armoury; Leadsom marked herself with her eloquence and passion as a potential future Tory prime minister; Johnson reined in his flamboyance, played it straight and gallantly left the ladies to steal the limelight.
Remain did poorly. What was pretty clear from the off was that for their strategists this was basically an exercise called: Get Johnson. At various intervals, the three Remain women – like Macbeth’s witches only without the charm, wit or elegant chic – took turns to deliver their pre-prepared ad hominems designed to make Boris look curmudgeonly, clownish, untrustworthy, incapable of running a bath let alone a referendum campaign or, God forbid, a country.
The last one was delivered right near the end in a tone of corvid triumphalism by Amber Rudd (sister of leading, pro-EU PR man Roland Rudd):
In an apparent reference to the ex-Mayor’s tumultuous love life, she said: ‘Boris, he’s the life and soul of the party.
‘But he’s not the man you want to drive you home at the end of the evening.’
Boris didn’t rise – very sensibly, having correctly judged that the vindictiveness of the remark was doing far more damage to Remain than it was doing to Leave. The audience audibly gasped; their laugh seemed shocked, guilty, at best dutiful rather than approving.
But here’s the most damning thing about that ill-judged piece of snark. It would unquestionably have been authorised from the very top. Prime Minister David Cameron, who has set the nasty tone for the Remain campaign, will have given it his personal seal of approval. Which speaks volumes about just how fearful he is becoming of a Brexit victory and how low he is prepared to stoop in order to try stave it off.
Project Total Wanker ain’t working though. As a measure of just how much it ain’t working, consider this. According to polling conducted for The Sun, Cameron’s interventions in the debate are repelling nearly twice as many voters as they attract.
Of those polled 29 per cent said the PM makes them more and more likely to vote to Leave on June 23 compared to 15 per cent who say answer his pleas to reject Brexit.
Partly I think this is a reflection on Cameron’s dwindling credibility with the electorate. He always wanted to be the Heir to Blair – and now he’s seen by the public as in very nearly the same light: as a toxic, thoroughly untrustworthy, snake-oil salesman. His reputation is toast. Any respectability he might have earned from his achievements (such as they are) during his six years as Prime Minister has been squandered on behaviour so dishonest, so unstatesmanlike, so fundamentally unconservative (and very unEtonian, for that matter) that you wonder why he bothered going into politics.
Mainly though, it’s a reflection of the single most important factor in this entire referendum: Leave have all the arguments on their side; Remain have virtually none.
Take immigration: the subject which – according to Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last night – matters more to the electorate than any other.
Now imagine that you were a spokesman for the Remain camp and you had to go on TV and provide some convincing response to a questioner from the audience concerned about the mass of unchecked immigration pouring in from Europe. Is there a line that you could spin whereby, in fact, EU membership helps us defend our borders, reduce immigrant numbers, and allow us to decide for ourselves which people we want coming to stay in our country and which ones we’d be better off without?
Well no, there isn’t. And this paucity of arguments in favour of our EU membership, as we’ve seen throughout this campaign, is a major handicap for Remain. Possibly, let us hope, an insurmountable one.
Certainly, one of the things that has most pleasantly surprised me during this referendum campaign are the mass outbreaks of common sense I’ve seen among the British people.
I was talking to my butcher yesterday about it. (He’s voting Out – as most ordinary working people in my neck of the woods are). And he gave me the most sensible response yet to that scaremongering line you often hear touted by Remain – that if we leave we’ll be made to suffer economically by the EU which will punish us with harsh tariffs.
He said: “Just because someone’s annoyed me I’ll still take his money.”
Quite so. Voters can see through the lies and the spin and all the expert expertise being provided by the various paid-up members of the EU-friendly elite.
It doesn’t help, of course, that so many of the politicians who’ve chosen to ally themselves with the Remain camp seem to be so unfortunately low-grade. Watching Angela Eagle on TV last night, I began wondering whether she was a mole planted by Leave purely in order to make the Remain camp look more embarrassingly useless.
Then there’s Eddie Izzard – once a surreally funny comedian, now better known as a pro-EU Labour activist who wears terrible clothes like the pink beret he sported during his car crash appearance on BBC Question Time last night.
Normally on Question Time, the token comedian gets a free pass because he has a ready-made fan base and because no one holds his political views to particularly high standards. Izzard quickly made himself so unpopular that he actually got himself booed by the audience for his constant interruption of the man that BBC Question Time’s left-leaning audiences normally love to hate – Nigel Farage.
Look I’m not underestimating the scale of the difficulties that lie ahead of us. I suspect that there is almost nothing the EU establishment won’t do to prevent this election going our way. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t quietly confident about the outcome of this referendum.
To celebrate I’m off to Switzerland tomorrow for a few days to meet a few politicians and journalists sympathetic to the Brexit cause. They’re going to show me how life in Britain might be once we’re free of the EU’s shackles. Cleaner, safer, richer – I think we might rather enjoy our new future, don’t you?