Project fear or project fantasy?


I am a self-declared election nerd.  I’m that bloke you’d never hope to meet in the pub that can tell you what’s been happening to the conservative majority in Norfolk North West these last five elections (slowly rising) and even further afield, can give you a decent prediction as to what will happen in the Connecticut primaries (Trump and Clinton by clear margins).

So you would have thought that I’d be all up for the EU referendum, and doubtless come the night of 23rd June I shall be sat there into the early hours with my clipboard watching Dimbleby et al doing their thing, buzzing.

But the truth is; I’m already bored with the EU referendum.  Not that the subject matter isn’t important, far from it.  I suspect history will judge this referendum as one of THE seminal political events in the first half of the 21st century.

So why is this referendum campaign about as exciting as watching paint dry?

Actually, I would contend that it is quite exciting.  After all it is supposed to be a close run thing and it matters a great deal.  But I think people are really finding this referendum campaign frustrating.  I have heard time and again that the British people want The Facts and to have them clearly explained to them.  This is not an unreasonable expectation.  But there are of course two problems with this campaign.  First, one person’s fact is another person’s fiction.  Second, when we are talking about the future there are no taken-as-read facts.

 Will the economy suffer if we decide to leave?  I don’t know.

Will we be safer from terrorists if we leave?  I don’t know.

Will we be able to reform Europe if we stay?  I don’t know.

Will we be able to better control immigration (assuming we want to) if we leave?  I don’t know.

None of this is made any easier by the (known) fact that knowledgeable, intelligent and articulate people are lined up on both sides of the argument.  Nor is it helped by the (known) fact that some matters are very technical and complex to understand.  I put it to you that the British electorate hasn’t a prayer of coming to a rational decision on this matter.

So in a fact-free atmosphere what happens?  We rely on our emotions and gut instinct.  And already emotions are being plucked like harp-strings by the campaigns on either side.  ‘Brexiteers’ are accusing the remain camp of deploying Project Fear, whilst the ‘Remainers’ are accusing the leavers of gullible naivety, Project Fantasy, if you wish.  At every turn the campaigners are pointing to surely (unrelated) facts and statistics as proof for their side of the argument.

Who is right?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that at the end of the day (or the seemingly countless days that we still have to go), it will come down to a gut instinct. You know the answer now.  Nobody is going to change your mind between now and the referendum, because this will be heart matter not a mind matter.  My biggest concern is that as the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months of this campaign eyes are taken off the ball; this long run into the referendum is just going to annoy people and achieve little.  In fact, I believe the length of time this is taking is bad for Britain, whatever the outcome.

If I could wave a magic wand, I’d have that referendum tomorrow if I could.  Or am I just too excited for a night of exit polls, punditry, analysis and drama?

In Current Affairs


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