Hardline Leavers and Remainers both despair, the former over the Government’s negotiating hesitancies, the latter over the fact of Brexit itself. The clock is ticking. Each day, March 29 2019 draws nearer. The polls refuse to shift.
This is almost too much for those Remainers to bear. Their sense of entitlement to rule, of being top dog in British politics, their very self-worth and image – all were wounded by the referendum result. As Guido Fawkes has pointed out, it seems to have driven some of them mad. The result shouldn’t have happened! It can’t have happened! The poll must have been fixed! By Putin – yes, that’s it! Roubles swung a British referendum, just as they swung an American election!
The best course to take if overcome by these feelings is to lie down until they go away. But needless to say, the effect of the tragi-comic farrago of a British millionaire, the Russian Ambassador, a putative goldmine deal and Donald Trump has been the opposite. To these deluded souls, it is manna from heaven. This is a classic SW1 yarn, which wouldn’t be getting nearly the same projection were it not for the conspiracy theories. But as is invariably the truth, these don’t stand up, for three reasons.
First, Arron Banks and his Leave EU were not the official pro-Brexit campaign. This was Vote Leave. Banks tried to amalgamate the two, and sack Dominic Cummings in the process. He failed. Shame on the Conservative MPs, some of them very senior indeed, who co-operated with him. For it should have been obvious to them that Banks’ aim was not to win the referendum, but to promote UKIP. This purpose would have best been achieved by a narrow defeat. Instead, victory had precisely the opposite effect – boosting the Conservative vote share, and all but collapsing the purple party. Its supporters have either gone home or are marching for Tommy Robinson.
You may object that the official designation is beside the point – which is that Banks spent a lot of money campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. We could ask you in return to mull how effective this was: as Daniel Hannan has pointed out on this site, the publication of its best-known campaign poster coincided with a six-point drop in Leave’s ratings. But instead, we point you to the figures. The Remain campaign spent £19 million or so. The Leave one spent the best part of £13.5 million. And that’s before taking into account the £9 million of taxpayers’ money that the Government spent campaigning for Remain before purdah kicked in. In short, Remain spent nearly twice as much. Banks would have had to spend a lot of Moscow gold to alter the balance.
Finally, the crude equation that money = success is not born out by the evidence. Were it otherwise, Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party would have won seats in 1997. Theresa May would have upped her number last summer in the general election. And Remain would have won the referendum itself. None of these things happened. Obviously, there should be rules to govern what parties and campaigns spend, and our own need bringing up to date. Such is their complexity that we wouldn’t be at all surprised if both the official Remain and Leave campaigns went wide of them. But this is not the point – which, rather, is that voters aren’t thick. They can smell a prospectus they don’t like, even when it comes wrapped in oodles of dosh.
But while voters can see through chancers, they shouldn’t be exposed to them, at least if they are exploited by hostile powers. Russia undoubtedly wants to subvert western democracies. One of the most striking pieces recently published on this site was written by Matthew Rhoades. He, the manager of Mitt Romney’s presidential bid in 2012, is teaming up with Robby Mook, who managed Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 to form a Digital Democracy project. It is designed to help protect us from “extreme anti-capitalist groups”, “technologically savvy neo-fascists”, other rogue actors, hostile states – and Putin. Britain needs its own home-grown equivalent.
Not to recognise the Russian threat, so graphically deployed recently on the streets of Salisbury, is an impeccable sign of crass judgement. The crowning achievement of Banks is that he has pulled off a unique double. He has been a useful idiot for both Russia and Remain – lauding the former, boosting the latter. On second thoughts, given his car-crash political record, useless idiot is a better moniker.
But, as Mark Wallace has pointed out on this site, he can take comfort in the fact that someone needs him. The conspiracy theorists do. They talk him up. He laps up the publicity. Everyone’s happy. He and the Guardian are locked in an embrace of mutual convenience.