Daniel Finkelstein argued recently that there are two Leave campaigns – and, no, he wasn’t referring to Vote Leave and Leave EU (at least in the main). The first, he says, believes that Britain “must be an open, free market, free trading nation, linked to the English speaking world, powerful in global trading bodies. The Leave message should be optimistic, daring and broad”. The second “is much more pessimistic, much more focused on what Britain has lost and stands to lose. It doesn’t want some new English-speaking, free market internationalism. How much better would that be than the EU? It thinks the EU is too newfangled, not too modern.”
I think that there is something in this analysis, and suspect that the first view – the hopeful, internationalist, global one – wasn’t much to be found on the Out side during the 1975 referendum campaign. This reflects a change in the nature and outlook of the Leave coalition. You may like or dislike Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart, Michael Gove, Priti Patel or Paul Keetch, but they are unquestionably modern-minded people, engaged with the world around them as it is, and not reflexively squinting back at a golden age that never was. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the other part of the Leave coalition – the UKIP-flavoured bit – is that this is precisely its default setting.
But if the balance of Leave has become more broad, that of Remain has shrivelled during the last 40 years. Glance upwards at the slogan above. It is from a 1975 referendum poster, and captures the core of the In campaign of that year – the emotional heart of the case then put for staying in the Common Market. As Lewis Baston pointed out on this site last week, the debate of 40 years ago was about far more than whether or not we should join a free trade area. The In campaign claimed that the European enterprise was a bulwark against communism, that it would modernise a backward Britain, that it would help heal the wounds of two Europe-sparked World Wars – and to prevent another.
Contrast that with the Remain campaign today. Big-minded and big-hearted enthusiasts for the EU project still exist – Nicholas Soames, John Major, Ken Clarke, Laura Sandys. But they are almost all either of an older generation than their outward-looking Leave equivalents, or from families that helped to take and keep Britain into the Common Market, or both. There is still a European Movement. But while the motto of In during 1975 might appropriately have been Wider Still and Wider, that of today’s Remain campaign might just as well be Narrower Still and Narrower – in content, tone and purpose.
Today brings the latest episode in this Project Despair – a George Osborne-led Treasury Report promising the ten plagues of Egypt and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse if Britain votes to Leave. It follows hard on the heels of an IMF report threatening much the same horrors. French Ministers, Spain’s Government and EU Commissioners have all piled in. So, this week, will an American President. And so, too, have British Ministers (though one at least has apologised for her claims), as have senior British military figures (though some have turned out never to have been on board the Remain campaign at all).
What a miserable, shrunken, diminished, wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie of a campaign Remain is turning out to be! One can almost hear the wheels clicking and whirring in Downing Street as each latest release in this execrable series is mechanically ground out. There is more than a touch of the Wizard of Oz about the whole business – a hollowness behind the billowing smoke and booming voices. Where is the romance of the European cause? Has its global vision perished? Where is the idealism of 1975? (“Vote Yes to keep the peace”, the poster above declared at its foot.) Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Yet we Leave supporters mock the Remain campaign at our peril. Downing Street and its acolytes will have crunched the numbers. Hope and, more particularly, fear about one and one’s family’s income and jobs is more likely to swing the referendum than not. “Better Together” worked for the Union in Scotland. It may work for the European Union across the whole of the United Kingdom. Lord Cooper of Windrush may – as I did – have called the last election wrong. But the polling that fuelled the economy-focused campaign that No ran in Scotland did the job and saved the Union.
None the less, a question lingers: for how long? Once the heart of a cause falls sick, its survival is only a matter of time. For all the fall in the value of the price of oil since Scotland’s referendum, it would be a brave man who forecast that its place in the union is secure. The long failure of Unionists to make a heart-led case for their cause has consequences that threaten today. Remain may win this battle but lose the war. After all, who can convincingly make a romantic case for what the EU is becoming? For Euro-heightened unemployment? For budgetary chaos? For foreign policy paralysis? For failing migration control?