The weekend saw lots of discussion about how the referendum campaign would change in the aftermath of the killing of Jo Cox. Tones would be moderated, criticisms made less personal, and everything would generally become “nicer”.
It’s now clear that hasn’t come to pass.
The head of the Remain campaign has chosen to take the opportunity to imply Leavers are unpleasant people. As yet unidentified pro-EU campaigners are distributing disgraceful leaflets in Vauxhall trying to paint Kate Hoey’s Leave campaigning as somehow responsible in Cox’s killing.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has claimed no Leaver, including his own Cabinet ministers, is credible, and then compared Gove to Trump. The Chancellor has threatened to begin painful cuts on Friday in the event of a Leave vote.
Nor have all Leavers been innocent. Nigel Farage has accused Remainers of victimising him over last week’s tragic events, while Arron Banks tastelessly told Iain Dale yesterday that he was polling the impact of Cox’s death.
If you accept the Remain narrative that talking about immigration is somehow nasty (which I don’t) then we can also count Vote Leave’s decision to continue discussing the issue.
Whichever way you intend to vote on Thursday, the above list certainly doesn’t represent the change in tone that was so loudly promised at the weekend. The campaign’s the same as it was a week ago, or perhaps worse in some ways.
Why might that be?
Not least among the reasons is that in politics, even more so than elsewhere, talk is cheap. It’s far easier to lay claim to the moral high ground for the benefit of the newspapers than it is to actually abandon your customary and instinctive tone of campaigning.
There’s a good reason for that reluctance to abandon such an approach, too – all the evidence suggests voters respond to clear and strident arguments. It would be a bold campaign which deliberately chose to adopt this much-discussed mild tone. Just like politicians, the electorate are happy to say they want a change, but notably less enthusiastic about actually making one.
Politicians (mostly) don’t adopt messages based on voodoo or ritual tradition. They try to craft them to be effective with their audience. Our politics is therefore unlikely to change unless we all do – and there’s precious little sign of that happening.