Wednesday, 22 June 2016

22nd June: the view from the precipice

This has been the rockiest of rides.

Let’s remember that this Referendum need never have happened. It’s only taking place because of divisions in the Conservative Party and the electoral pressure built up by UKIP in recent years.

David Cameron probably never imagined he’d actually be in a position to call the poll. He found himself unexpectedly heading up a majority Conservative government and with half his Cabinet expecting him to make good on his promise.

His ridiculous negotiations with the EU ended with a scrap of paper that was never going to satisfy the attack dogs of the Tory right.  The substance of his ‘deal’ was then promptly forgotten, because actually it was completely immaterial to the enormity of the decision that confronted us.

And then the campaign proper got under way. 16 weeks of vitriol, bluster and internecine warfare.

The Leave camp has been riding a populist wave of anti-political sentiment. We all know that their appeal to people’s worst instincts on immigration is tawdry and damaging to the social fabric. Advocates of Brexit have nothing credible to say on the economy and ask people to have faith. Yes, truly I’ve been told on Twitter by advocates of the Leave campaign that I should vote on the basis of faith.

All will be well, they say. We’ll prosper outside the EU. Just believe it and it will happen.

On the other side of the equation, we have the Remain camp – characterised by its opponents as ‘Project Fear’.

If the vote on Thursday is to leave, one thing historians will observe is the ramshackle nature of the coalition assembled to argue the case for continuing EU membership.

Cameron and Osborne – for all their many faults – entered into the campaign wholeheartedly and laid on the line the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal.  Jeremy Corbyn showed his complete unsuitability for high office with his lacklustre and half-hearted appeal to Labour voters.

The Labour Leader’s edict that no party representative should share a platform with the Tories led to a divided and confused campaign message. Harriet Harman and Sadiq Khan ignored him on this point, but the damage was done.

Stronger In. Labour In. Greener In. You can’t divide a campaign like this and expect to get all the votes out.

Although Nigel Farage’s mob have done their best to upset the official campaign with their extremist posters and zealous campaigning tactics, there is effectively a single voice on the Leave side.  But that’s just not true of Remain. Barack Obama came over from the USA to tell us we’d at the back of a queue for a new trade deal. So what does Jeremy Corbyn do? Say that he’d veto the very deal for which we’re waiting in line.

Those mixed messages make me very nervous.

And something else does too. We seem to be going through a period of collective madness. The madness that saw veteran urban leftist Jeremy Corbyn elected as Leader of the Labour Party last September. The madness that saw Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party in the forthcoming Presidential election. The madness that saw Norbert Hofer come within an inch of taking the presidency of Austria.

In that context, if I had to lay money on the table, it’s for a narrow vote to leave the EU on Friday morning.  I pray that I am wrong. But faith has no place in serious politics.

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