So with less than three weeks to go to the big vote on 23rd June I settled down yesterday to watch Sir John Major’s extraordinary appearance on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
Lest we forget, Sir John was the British Tory prime minister from 1990 to 1997, now probably most well-known (or at least remembered by me) via the hilarious Private Eye spoof Secret Diary of John Major (aged 47 and 3/4s); his grey puppet figure on Spitting Image, obsessed with boring detail and peas; the idea, first put about by arch PR guru Alastair Campbell, that he wore his shirt tucked into his underpants; and, of course, the scarcely believable fact that he had an affair with fellow MP Edwina Currie between 1984 and 1988.
Rather beyond his perceived character, Major began swinging at the EU Referendum Leave’s campaign almost before he had sat down – Marr seemed as shocked by the development as this viewer. Barely distancing himself from specifically attacking Tory Leavers like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, Major tore into their alleged lies, distortion, deceit and persistent attempts to pull the wool over the British electorate’s eyes.
This was a new line of attack for the Remainers, who hitherto had been claiming that they had conclusively won the economic argument almost before it had begun and that the Leavers were desperately trying to move the agenda on to the issue of immigration as a last-ditch attempt to bail out their sinking campaign boat.
Later on the Sunday Politics show, interviewed by Andrew Neil, Tory MP David Davies claimed that the deployment of Mr Major in this fashion was a clear sign that the Remainers were rattled – or, at the very least, not as quietly confident of victory as once they had been.
Mr Major’s broadside was notable largely for its unexpected nature. He brushed aside Marr’s attempts to put the other side of the argument or trade punches, concentrating entirely upon his opponent’s supposed mendacity.
Their UK ‘£350 million contribution per week’ figure was proven wrong, it was only a third of that after rebates, discounts etc.; the idea that Turkey was joining the EU, and therefore 85 million Turks would be coming to Britain, was hogwash; on top of which, the Remain line on immigration generally and how they’d deal with it, was so far from the truth as to be borderline actionable – and so on.
[Here, hopefully in the interests of ‘balance’, I would only point out that firstly, Mr Major is wrong on the issue of the ‘real net cost’ of the UK’s contribution – it’s closer to 50% of £350 million per week than one-third; secondly, as Boris Johnson subsequently pointed out on the Marr Show in his own interview, the UK’s official policy is in favour of Turkey joining the EU and inevitably – when and if it ever does – the population of Turkey will indeed have the technical right to travel to and work in the UK, under the EU’s ‘free movement of people’ principle, if it wishes; thirdly, whilst I’d acknowledge that the position upon immigration is definitely confused, Mr Cameron’s infamous (and so far completely unsuccessful) manifesto pledge to reduce immigration to the UK to just ‘tens of thousands’ is de facto hamstrung by the EU’s said ‘free movement of people’ dictat].
As previously hinted, it now seems to me that the battle over the EU Referendum has been rather like that of the Battle of Jutland that took place exactly a century ago. In that engagement – the only one between the grand fleets of Britain and Germany during WW1 – the result was a disappointing score draw.
Britain lost 14 ships to Germany’s 11. Both sides claimed victory. The UK media and public, which had expected nothing less than a frightening but comforting re-affirmation of Britain’s traditional global rule of the sea, were scathing about the Navy’s performance afterwards (there were stories of ships being booed as they came alongside after returning home). And yet, after this brief but very violent clash in the North Sea, the German fleet never again ventured out of port and concentrated instead upon U-boat activity, a tactic that it favoured again during WW2.
We’ve had, for Remain, Messrs Cameron and Osborne blasting away with scaremongering tactics and fielding economists and captains of industry to the media advising in the ratio of about 9 to 1 in favour of remaining in the EU.
Meanwhile, for Leave, we’ve had Gove, Johnson et al. rubbishing the Remain claims as defeatist claptrap. Their Achilles heel is that – inevitably – they cannot predict with any certainty exactly what will happen (economically or otherwise) if the result is a victory for Brexit.
Who does the electorate believe – or should that be ‘disbelieve less’?
Meanwhile the Labour Party is in almost as big a muddle as the Tories, not least because its leader Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known anti-EU activist, has been forced to espouse Remain arguments with what seems like transparent reluctance.
Both sides seem to have thrown their hands up in despair at the unequal task of trying to herd slippery UK voters into either of their respective ‘pens’. Rational argument doesn’t seem to do the trick. Mind you, neither does irrational argument, or even appealing to the basest of human instincts – both of which have now been tried.
The worrying aspect for both camps is that things seem to have reached the point where nobody has any idea anymore as to what the outcome will be. Faced with this situation, they’ve virtually run out of idea as to how to push home their arguments in the final fortnight.
Or so it seems.
Worst of all, of course, for both the politicians and indeed the members of the Establishment on both sides of the argument, in the end it might just come down to what happens on the Referendum Day, e.g. the state of the weather, voter apathy, some last-minute dithering and/or changing of minds, or even the best joke made by any of the speakers in the last TV debate of the campaign.
Both sets of campaigners deserve our sympathy – or, at least, those who are campaigning from a position of conviction and/or certainty that their cause is right, just and absolutely in the best interests (medium and long-term) of the country … rather than (say) a sense of mischief or personal advancement … do.
You know how it must be. You know you’re right … and that the other side is completely misguided and/or wrong. And yet the other side may win the Referendum vote.
What satisfaction could there possibly be in being able to say – for the next thirty to forty years – “I told you so!”
If you think about it, when the stakes are as high as this, it’s enough to make you think dark thoughts of taking things into your own hands, saving the country from making a catastrophic mistake … indeed saving electorate from itself.
A revolution, or a military coup, anyone … or should the Referendum vote result just be manipulated to provide the ‘right’ answer …?