The Brexit campaign are setting themselves up to fail
So far the campaign for the UK to stay in the European Union has been subject to relentless complaints from their opponents. Most of these have focused on accusing the 'In' campaign of being too "negative" and of pushing unfounded and exaggerated "fears" about Brexit.
Now I won't pause for too long here on the irony of Nigel Farage, of all people, complaining about other politicians using fear and dodgy claims to swing votes. This is the leader of a party which published leaflets suggesting an army of 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians would soon march into the UK. Suffice it to say that Farage criticising other politicians for fear-mongering is a bit like Ed Miliband mocking other politician's for looking silly eating sandwiches.
Nigel Farage has, of course, never made exaggerated claims to politically exploit public anxieties. https://t.co/T8v8G4odHx
— Rob Ford (@robfordmancs) March 1, 2016
However, despite the obvious hypocrisy, there is at least some justification to the complaints. There is no doubt that the risks involved in Britain leaving the EU are being grossly exaggerated by the Remain campaign. When David Cameron said yesterday that he was focused on "Project Fact" he was obviously not telling the truth. The dossier the government published detailing the apocalyptic risks of Brexit was as flimsy and overhyped as any politically-motivated dossier published in recent years.
But despite this, there is no doubt that leaving the EU will pose very real risks to the UK economy and there is also no doubt that those risks will be a major factor in voters' decisions. When Boris Johnson claimed yesterday that "I think there is absolutely nothing to be concerned about [in leaving the EU]" he was selling a lie. Indeed he shared many of the real concerns in his own Telegraph column announcing his support for Brexit. Voters may eventually decide that those risks are worth it, but the Brexit campaign shouldn't pretend they don't exist in the first place.
However, there is another more conspiratorial aspect to the complaints of the Brexiteers that is increasingly taking hold. Yesterday Eurosceptic MPs took to the House of Commons to accuse the government of trying to "stitch-up" the referendum against them. The complaints varied from questions about political bias in the civil service to the very timing of the referendum itself. Tory MP Philip Davies implied that the date of June 23rd had been deliberately chosen to coincide with a European Council meeting several days before.
"What can we do to ensure that, if the leave campaign looks to be gaining momentum at a late stage, that will not be used to pretend that there are things on the meeting’s agenda to try to change people's opinions, or that things will not be leaked in advance of that meeting to try to give people the impression that the Government have agreed a better deal than is actually the case?" he asked.
Other Tory MPs complained that ministers in favour of Brexit had been muzzled by the government, with key information about the EU held back from voters. Eurosceptic MPs John Redwood, Anne Main and Bill Cash all suggested that ministers were attempting to keep voters in the dark about the reality of staying in the EU.
"The one thing that everybody needs—information—is the one thing that people are going to find themselves deprived of," Cash told the House.
"If the voters do not have balanced, impartial and accurate information, what are they supposed to do?,"
He added that: "Churchill said that we should tell the truth to the British people and they will follow, but they are not being told the truth—that is the real truth, and nothing but the truth."
This idea that voters are being lulled into a false state of consciousness by the government and the wider political "establishment" is increasingly taking hold of the Leave campaign, particularly among Tory MPs. In this, the right of British politics have taken the most self-defeating aspect of Marxist philosophy – the idea that voters are pressured against their will by the media and others into voting against their best interests – and applied it to the current European referendum debate.
The more I hear Eurosceptic campaigners going down this road, the more convinced I become that their campaign is set to fail. One of the great unwritten rules of politics is that the side complaining the most about process and establishment "stitch ups" is the side most likely to come last.
We are only a couple of weeks into this referendum campaign but already the battle lines are clear. On the one side you have the Remain campaign, led by the prime minister, which is relentlessly and effectively telling voters about the risks of leaving the EU. On the other side you have the Leave campaign, fronted by Nigel Farage, which is relentlessly and ineffectively complaining about it.
If this is how the campaign continues to progress then there is only one side which can win. It won't be the side still complaining about civil servants and the referendum date.