There was a poll in The Independent this morning which gave evidence to back up a hunch that many of us have had. Those wishing the UK to leave the EU feel more strongly about it than those who wish to stay. This means they are more likely to turn out and vote in the referendum on June 23rd. The headline poll findings, from ORB, had 52 per cent planning to vote to leave, 48 per cent for remain. That already has the Brexiters cheering as the figures are the reverse of a month earlier. But then the following detail is added:
“People were also asked how likely they were to vote in the June referendum on a scale of one to 10. When the figures were weighted, with a 10/10 score given a full percentage point and 9/10 given 0.9 of a point, the Leave total went up to 54 per cent and Remain fell to 46 per cent.”
This factor will grow during the campaign. This is because the outters will be campaigning harder. Mock all you like about the splits. On some high streets today will be teams from Vote Leave, on others, teams from Leave EU. But how many from Stronger In will be parading in their T Shirts pulled over their jumpers, putting on fixed grins, and handing out balloons? I would guess fewer than either of the out campaigns.
For some time Europhiles have derided Eurosceptics as “obsessives” who “bang on” about Europe. Well perhaps the obsessive will push more leaflets through letter boxes than those with a more relaxed and indulgent view.
Consider this varied level of motivation in the context of MPs. A big majority support Remain, including, according to our latest tally, a narrow majority of Conservative MPs. Yet which are the MPs who really care about the referendum? Which of them passionately believe it is about restoring our national independence, and thus more important than a mere General Election? It is Team Brexit.
For the Europhiles, a campaign of passion is almost impossible. They are claiming the EU renegotiation is substantial and enforceable. But the true believers among them, such as Ken Clarke, know that it isn’t and are pleased that it isn’t. They want “ever closer union” to continue its remorseless journey. But they can scarcely trumpet this message.
Furthermore, we have that group of Tory MPs who only support Remain out of loyalty to the Prime Minister. The Financial Times this morning considered the stance of Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary. He is backing Remain. But will he be tirelessly pleading with his constituents in Bromsgrove to vote the same way?
One Inner who is getting stuck in is the Prime Minister. I had suggested that to continue as Prime Minister after the referendum it would be easier if he took an equivocal tone. Thus far he is sounding rather pumped up for Brussels. There may be an element of personal irritation with Boris Johnson, and Cameron’s tone may change. At the very least I hope he will reflect on Paul Goodman’s proposal for “a hotline to the Leave Campaign, rather in the manner of the Washington-Moscow nuclear hotline during the Cold War.”
This Conservative focus on the referendum may well come at a cost. It makes life harder for Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London and an outter. When Cameron and Goldsmith campaign together those troublesome journalists will be inclined to highlight their difference of opinion. Many Conservative activists in London – including ironically Goldsmith himself – will regard the EU referendum as more important than the Mayoral contest. This will mean a diversion of resources. By contrast I doubt many Labour supporters will switch from campaigning for Sadiq Khan to devote themselves to the Stronger In effort.
If the phone polls (as opposed to the online polls such as the one quoted above) are to be believed this will not matter. The Remain campaign will have a sufficient margin to cope with differential turnout. But in a close result the difference could be crucial. The outters just want it more.