The five things you need to know on Friday June 10, 2016…
1) BLOND AMBITION
It’s the start of Euro2016 tonight and English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans will be dreaming the dream. And after claiming victory in last night’s ITV debate, Vote Leave are starting to dream their own dream of Brexit too.
It was actually a relief to have a debate rather than just forensic interviews or audience Q&As, and proved perhaps that David Cameron’s safety-first/cowardly refusal to take part has been misguided. For all his determination to not turn this referendum into a referendum on his premiership, he is a good debater and every team needs its best strikers off the bench.
And the teamwork was the difference last night. Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Andrea Leadsom all had exactly the same message on a string of topics, unified by the impressive VoteLeave slogan “Take Control” (they said it countless times). It’s a slogan that the BeLeavers have roadtested to death in focus groups and you can see why it works.
In contrast, the Remainers were united mainly by their loathing of the other side, and certainly turned up the passion volume to 11 with repeated attacks on Bojo, many of them personal. Their claims that the only job/number Boris was interested in was No10, didn’t knock him off his restrained stride. And the ambition line may even have boosted his campaign (some Labour voters quite like the idea of PM Boris).
Yet Nicola Sturgeon, Amber Rudd (who benefitted from a previously low profile and was certainly up for a fight) and Angela Eagle all had very different attack lines - veering from how awful the Tory cuts were to Faragiste racism to workers’ rights. It was as if they each wanted to appeal to very different markets - SNP-ers, English Labour voters, wavering liberal Tories - while overloading on Project Fear.
Compared to the Leavers’ more simple message, it may have had less traction with undecided voters. And boy are their simple messages - an unelected Brussels, £350m on the NHS and Turkish invasion - having cut-through. There’s a very effective attack ad VoteLeave have piled onto YouTube today, ‘Paving the road from Ankara’, that ridicules Cameron. Cynical? Yes. Effective? Probably. And all that focus last night on the £350m figure was in a way a gift to the Leave camp, ramming home their main message.
Yesterday the Standard revealed one academic warning couples were having less sex over fears of Brexit. And the Remainiacs also couldn’t resist sexing things up a bit last night. Rudd had a risque payoff about Boris not being the man you want ‘driving you home at the end of the evening’. There was talk of Boris’s “absolute whopper”. And the Sun reports that some In campaigners had planned a spoof porno film to attack Brexit. There’s a spoof poster of Boris on a Miley wrecking ball. This is what it’s come to…
2) PANIC STREET PREACHERS
Angela Eagle will have won some admirers in Labour circles for her attacks on Boris (“Get that lie off your bus!”). But she also fuelled speculation that she really did want Jeremy Corbyn’s job, one day, when Boris hit back that she could become Labour leader. “Boris, beware the Blonde Bombshell!” Eagle said, a gleam in her eye. Of course, she may have been making a clumsy attempt just to warn the nation of the ‘Blond bombshell’ that is Johnson - but it sounded like something else.
Yet there are jitters in the Labour camp, and it’s not just the feeling from the Shadow Cabinet that Corbyn hasn’t shown enough passion for the Remain cause. On Newsnight, Andy Burnham became the first senior figure to warn that Brexit could happen because the party was not hitting key voters with its message.
The StrongerIn campaign says it’s got at least £2m less than the Leave campaign, but counters that it will be doing more grassroots events, a real street-fighting effort. But their rivals may be winning the air war and the ground war. And in Labour’s backyard the battle is being particularly keenly felt, with Labour-UKIP switchers influencing their workmates, friends and family.
Labour Eurosceps Dennis Skinner and John Mann have come out for Brexit (the latter in the Sun) to undermine the main Labour In message. The whiff of panic in Labour ranks is palpable as Tom Watson today unveils a new warning that an emergency Budget post-Brexit would include £18bn in benefit cuts and tax hikes.
Ed Miliband is at a 'UK in A Changing EU' think tank event today. And he was on the Today programme arguing that the poorest and lowest paid would be hit hardest by Brexit. But he also hit the nail on the head. "Labour voters don't know where we stand," Miliband admitted.
Meanwhile, Corbyn really is on his last legs. Or rather he really is on The Last Leg, the Channel 4 comedy show, tonight. His MPs don’t look like they’re laughing however. And to paraphrase Andy Burnham’s former love, the Smiths, that joke may not be funny any more, come June 24.
3) A NEVERENDUM STORY
The one moment where Nicola Sturgeon stumbled last night was when Andrea Leadsom said that the SNP wanted to keep having referendums until they got ‘the right result’ - just like Brussels did to EU nations that defied it. But if the Remainiacs had been quicker on their feet they would have shot back: isn’t a second referendum exactly what the Brexiteers want if they lose?
Talk in the tea room of a second EUref is commonplace now, and not just from hardline Eurosceptics. The only question seems to be the narrowness of any Remain vote that would trigger fresh demands for one.
I’ve been saying for some time that many Outers want to pin Boris down into pledging a second referendum in any Tory leadership contest. And if he doesn’t commit to one, you can bet someone else will, possibly eclipsing him in the Euroscep virility test. Dom Raab broke cover in The House magazine today to say that it is now ‘inevitable’ that a second referendum is indeed likely to feature in the next leadership race. “You would be naïve to suggest that it wouldn’t become a factor and one element in that…if the verdict is to stay in the EU, and it’s close, I think those that do want to revisit it should just pause for a few years and shelve it into that.”
And it’s not just Eurosceptics. The Times reports that former Commons Clerk Lord Lisvane blogged for the UCL Constitution Unit this: “If the result on June 23 was, say, 51 to 49 in favour of Leave on a turnout of 55 per cent then that would move quite a lot of goalposts…The prime minister could say that such a result is not sufficiently decisive and so we will negotiate heads of agreement on withdrawal, and then have a second referendum to decide whether to trigger the exit process on that basis.” See, Boris and Dom Cummings’ much-mocked ‘neverendum’ idea may yet become a reality..
In another straw in the wind, Dan Hannan told the Standard’s EU debate this week that if Leave wins by a whisker, it may have to moderate its demands too - by perhaps having ‘moderate’ changes to migration and trade rules.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
This advert by the Danish government, urging Danes to have more sex to help save their welfare state (and help your mum), has apparently led to a rise in the birth rate. Enjoy.
4) YOU’RE NIC-KED
‘I agree with Nicola!’ was one of Boris’s best lines last night on ITV, as he quoted her anti-Project Fear remarks from the Scots independence referendum of 2014. Sturgeon was impressive however, proving what why she’s the left of centre voice for many not just in her own country but south of the border too.
Yet in further proof of the corrosive infighting and mixed messaging on the Remain side, one of David Cameron’s big calls this week has been to suggest that voting Leave will indeed lead to the break-up of the UK. It’s almost as if he was saying - Sturgeon is on my side in the EU debate, but watch out she’s scary folks.
After the PM’s ITV EU Special remarks on Tuesday (“Frankly I do worry about a second Scottish referendum if we vote to leave”), No.10’s spokesman used the post-PMQs huddle on Wednesday to refuse to rule out a fresh poll. His line was that the PM was merely ‘reflecting what others have said’ in Scotland but it was a big shift from Cameron’s 7am Downing St declaration the day after the #indyref - “No disputes, no re-runs”.
Yesterday, George Osborne and even Ruth Davidson underlined the new stance, claiming a Remain vote would ‘kick away’ the SNP’s last argument for a second referendum. She said the first two legs of their case had already been kicked away (no Holyrood manifesto pledge and no Holyrood majority) and this would be the third leg removed. More proof that Remain will try any weapon to take out Leave.
5) GONG HURL
The Daily Mail splashes on its own new campaign to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood. Having seen the extraordinary testimony this week about the state of BHS’s management and new ownership after Green sold it for a quid, it’s perhaps no wonder.
‘Strip Sir Shifty Of His Title!’ screams their headline. ‘Haunted and unshaven, Sir Philip Green cuts a sorry figure…’ the copy starts. The paper reveals that backbench Tory MPs are due to write to the Honours Forfeiture Committee next week to call for his gong to be removed unless he pays millions of pounds more to help the BHS pension fund. The Mail says fresh evidence emerged of just how Green failed to reveal the true scale of the pension black hole he left behind.
Claims this week that Green could have saved the high street chain by selling it to Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley, but let personal animosity get in the way, are also picked up on. But I suspect Tory MPs (and Labour ones like newsboy Jim McMahon) want to hit Green where it hurts. He is infamous for shouting rudely at hotel staff who forget to use his knighthood, yelling ‘It’s f*cking ‘Sir’ to you!’.
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