The Independent newspaper – owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev and edited by the former UK government employee Amol Rajan – has urged the pro European Union camp to smear Eurosceptics as “far right xenophobes” in a desperate bid to get the “In” side back on the tracks, following a broadly anaemic campaign so far.
In today’s editorial, the paper says:
The margin for error of the campaign to keep Britain in the EU has shrunk dramatically in recent months. Where polls once indicated a sizeable majority in favour of staying in, they are now almost neck and neck. The refugee crisis across the Channel, meanwhile, has won few fans to the cause of an already beleaguered union. And In strategists, who launch their campaign in three days’ time, should by now be in no doubt about the inherent difficulties of getting their message across.
The Out campaign is in possession of a clear and electrifying slogan: Britain will be better off alone. “The benefits of the EU outweigh the costs,” on the opposite side, is unlikely to lead to the high turnout which would – by all accounts – benefit the In camp come polling day.
Examined up close, the anxieties only increase. YouGov polling released last month presented swing voters with a number of key arguments from each side of the debate. Those who started off in the “soft remain” camp were, overwhelmingly, swayed by the message of Out (“Britain will be able to spend money that goes to the EU on better public services” being the most effective lure). On the other hand, those who began largely undecided, but leaning towards Brexit, were pushed further in that direction by the In sales pitch (which included such apparently unobjectionable statements as “Being in the EU gives Britain access to a huge market for our exports, bringing jobs and prosperity”).
So the task is a large one. And those who support the European project – as this newspaper has done since its foundation – will not be filled with confidence by the team thus far assembled by the In camp. None of the back-room staff arrives on a high: Will Straw, the executive director, failed to win a seat as a Labour parliamentary candidate; Ryan Coetzee, strategy director, is fresh from leading the Liberal Democrats into electoral oblivion. The campaign may rue the lack of a serious street fighter, with an envious glance or two already cast at the Conservatives’ Lynton Crosby.
A counter-intuitive strategy may help. Rather than ignore immigration, In should focus on it, and paint the Out camp as driven by Ukip’s xenophobia. Such a message would touch the young’s antennae. Besides, those voters who truly loathe immigration will not be won back to the European project: the undecided middle, on the other hand, will probably stand for EU membership over a cause associated with the far right. However it goes about it, the In campaign is now playing catch-up to the Out. It had better get its act together, and fast. [Emphasis added]