With one hundred days until the nation decides whether to Leave the EU or not, here are a few reflections on the campaign so far and things to watch out for as the campaign intensifies:
- Differential turnout could make all the difference. As Sir Lynton Crosby points out in his first column for the Telegraph today, Leave voters are distinctly more committed to their cause. That could of course mean there will be some reluctant Remainers whom the pollsters find it hard to track, but it also means Remain has a tougher job to get its vote to turn out on the day.
- Leave has the stronger activist base. The air war will matter, but as the Conservative election campaign showed having good ground troops allocated to the right places can also make a big difference. Unlike 20 years ago, it is quite hard to find anyone who is genuinely a starry-eyed enthusiast for the EU – whereas the eurosceptic movement has been building its base and looking forward to this fight for decades. If only one side has people with the dedication to give up large amounts of spare time in all weathers, that’s an important gap. With good strategy and an effective campaign team to support them, those Leave activists could hit Remain hard.
- The battle to dominate the campaign’s themes is already underway. Each side is out to take the initiative, and to force the other onto the back foot. As Yes2AV showed when they spent months denying the cost of the change they supported, it can be deadly to acquiesce on a campaign’s topic – you end up repeating the other side’s messages, effectively giving them free air time. Leavers spent much of the first couple of weeks after Cameron’s deal citing examples of how unfairly they were being treated, thus falling into exactly that trap. The row over the Queen’s views was the first time that situation was reversed, forcing pro-EU campaigners to draw further attention to the story. With the slate evened up, the race is now on to seize and keep the upper hand.
- You ain’t seen nothing yet. Despite all the heat and light around the issue so far, I suspect the last couple of weeks will swiftly fade once the campaign proper begins. An official Leave campaign should be designated around the middle of April, which will give greater clarity to its message and faces. Once the campaign formally begins, somewhere between £14 million and £20 million will be spent by the various participants – that onslaught will likely matter much more than the relatively low-budget campaigning of this initial phase.