On keeping his Party united, David Cameron is making a terrible hash of it. Six members of his Cabinet, roughly two in five Conservative MPs and a majority of Tory members oppose him publicly on Europe (and perhaps afterwards too). The post-referendum prospects of bringing it back together in good heart are retreating, and the consequent dangers both to it and to him are advancing. The quartet of senior Conservatives whose role is to defuse tensions – Stephen Gilbert and Nick Herbert for Remain, and Graham Brady and Steve Bell for Leave – have their work cut out.
But on making his case for Remain, the Prime Minister is playing a blinder. Freed from the burden of pretending that he would perhaps lead the Leave campaign itself – remember “we rule nothing out”, a mantra until very recently? – he is plugging a cause to which he is deeply committed. Tieless, shirt-sleeved, eloquent and punchy, his pro-Remain rallies of supporters and Cameron Direct-type events on tour are providing terrific TV pictures. With the authority of an election win under his belt and polls showing his influence with voters, he is at the peak of his powers.
Leave may be winning in the papers, but Remain is certainly doing so on TV. Cameron has a lot to do with this. Downing Street will also have a big hand in the Project Fear scare stories, not to mention the recruitment of useful voices (such as Emmanuel Macron‘s) and the muzzling of critical ones (such as, some suggest, John Longworth’s). It could scarcely be otherwise, since the Remain campaign is clearly presided over by the the Prime Minister rather than, say, Roland Rudd. The Remain campaign is powered by the Government machine.
Those scare stories may fall apart as soon as they are handled – consider the defence letter that crumbled, the air fare claim that collapsed, and the farcical AA U-turn on petrol prices – but Project Fear’s tales are sometimes halfway round the world before Project Hope has got its boots on. Perhaps the former is better labelled Project Despair?
But either way, Remain seems to be making progress in the online referendum polls, and is ahead in the telephone ones, which proved more reliable last May. If the pattern to date continues all the way up to June 23rd – with Remain on the attack, dominating TV, and Leave counter-attacking – the former is well placed to win.
This should scarcely surprise. After all, Remain is pushing a single message: don’t take the risk of leaving. Leave, by contrast, has no single simple message that has cut through yet.
So what are its options? Broadly speaking, it has a choice.
The first is to carry on as at present with what is boiling down to a three-part case. There is one about democratic accountability, which Boris Johnson pushed energetically yesterday on Marr. There is one about controlling immigration, part of which David Davis wrote about on this site last week. Finally, there is a Global Britain one. Richard Fuller has made a fabulous case for it to his constituents, but it is not being projected more widely.
The second is to strive to turn the argument about risk on its head, and say: don’t take the risk of remaining. We have tried to give this a push on ConservativeHome, arguing that the main risks are bailing out the Eurozone, more uncontrolled immigration and even less control and democracy.
This course represents weaponising the case that’s already being made – and adding for good measure that since Cameron had failed to deliver real reform the only reasonable course to take is to leave. Boris makes a good start this morning in the Telegraph by conjuring up the spectre of the federalising Five Presidents’ Report. “Insofar as the recent “UK Agreement” has any force,” he writes, “it expressly allows these measures to be pursued, and agrees the UK will not attempt to exercise a veto”.
We favour the latter course, but either way:
- What Downing Street does is joined up. What Leave does needs to be too. I was struck yesterday while talking to a senior Leave MP about his plans that he didn’t seem to be co-ordinating them with his colleagues.
- Leave needs more women (actually, the whole referendum debate needs more women). It has Priti Patel. It has Andrea Leadsom, who as a presiding spirit at Fresh Start is exceptionally well-briefed. It has Penny Mordaunt, who gave a punchy interview over the weekend. And there are more.
- Until the Electoral Commission makes its designation decision, three Leave campaigns are in effect trying to combat a single Number Ten-led operation. That will change and gives cause for hope.