The five things you need to know on Thursday June 23, 2016…
1) GRIEF ENCOUNTER
Well, we’re finally here folks. You have until 10pm tonight to make a choice about the UK’s place in the world. Historic is an overused word in politics, but this poll certainly is that. There’s the usual polling day TV and radio news blackout, but the battle will continue online.
The polls are closer than ever (see below) and so it may all come down to how effective each campaign is at getting out their vote (also see below). Have the pollsters underestimated the number of ‘bashful Brexiters’ or ‘reticent Remainers’? Will this referendum see a high turnout that genuinely reflects the generational nature of the event? Or will people view it as just another mega by-election, a massive protest vote about absolutely everything other than what’s on the ballot paper?
For many what’s on the ballot paper isn’t the issue. Some see it as a straight choice between Britain or the EU, not a choice on which kind of relationship the two should have with each other. And if it is Britain or the EU, plenty of working class voters may not listen to Labour’s In message.
Yesterday showed how truly bonkers the referendum campaign has been: Boris kissed a fish. Darts king Bobby George warned against Brexiters ‘f*cking with your future’, UKIP read a poem, Tim Farron did a John Barnes rap. Boris, finally, admitted to Newsnight that he had indeed written two Telegraph articles - including one backing a Remain vote. David Cameron praised Gordon Brown. The PM also said Michael Gove had ‘lost it’, after comparing economic experts to Nazis.
In any normal world in politics, a win is a win. You have wafer-thin majorities in Parliamentary seats and you can keep a government running even with a handful of seats more than your opponents. But a referendum is different.
Even if there’s a narrow In vote, Cameron could well get some serious grief from his backbenchers over claims the whole vote was unfairly ‘rigged’ in favour of the status quo. And remember the five classic stages of grief are these: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
So here's the stages. There may be denial in the form of swift challenges of the actual result. There will certainly be anger over Cameron and Osborne’s use of the Treasury and civil service. There will be hard bargaining on whether to launch a leadership challenge, a threat that the PM could head off by giving a fresh, concrete exit date. There will be depression if it looks like a second referendum is years away. But there may be final acceptance if Dave manages to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle that genuinely heals his party. Will Liam Fox settle for Leader of the House? Will Priti Patel want DfID? And will Boris settle for Transport, really?
A morning press conference is planned on the steps of No10, whatever the result. But will the PM avoid the post-indyref, 7am Downing Street triumphalism that ensured the SNP’s later landslide? Word is he’s learned from that and wants to heal, not exploit, the divides. And if there’s a Brexit vote, some of his close allies are suggesting that Cameron will only act as a caretaker while a Tory leadership race formally starts.
The more immediate problem after a Brexit vote will be how to stabilise the markets and sterling. Currency speculators and other traders have already hedged with their own exit poll data, and plan to strike when the first stock market opens after the polls close - in New Zealand. Watch out world.
2) GROUND HEROS
It’s all over, bar the 'outing'. The two main camps’ real task is to Get Out The Vote (known as GOTV in the trade, and no that’s not Peter Bone’s personal cable channel). That phone call, that email, that door-knock you may get over the next few hours will be aimed at you physically getting down to your nearest polling station.
Based on intel from both camps, I’ve written a piece HERE on how the ground war was fought between Leave and Remain over the past few months. Lessons have been learned from the Tory victory in 2015, not least about the effective targeting of Facebook ads, data capture and individual messaging.
The big difference between this election and last year’s is the sheer scale of it - with every single constituency making a difference. Yet the basic laws of politics, of using your ground troops, data and other resources most effectively, still apply.
And with such close polls, it could well be the marginal gains (as in David Brailsford’s cycling philosophy rather than marginal seats) that win it for either side. Vote Leave had to build their voter ID database from scratch, while the In camp have the advantage of Labour’s own decades-old canvass returns.
Millions of votes have already been cast by post, don’t forget. Many of those are done by older voters. And many of those vote Leave. Let’s hope we don’t get any Barnet-style ballot paper blunders. Given how high passions have been running, everyone will want to avoid claims that this outcome was ‘rigged’ by even a few missing votes.
Polling stations are already reminding voters that you will be able to vote as long as you are in the queue before 10pm. Are we really such a lastminute.com nation, that we leave it until just before the deadline to vote, as well as to register? Maybe we are.
For this ‘essay crisis Prime Minister’, that just-in-time approach to politics has worked in the past. Whether it will work today, remains to be seen. Pun intended.
3) THE WATER MARGIN
Given such fine margins, could the weather really play a part? There’s a political folk wisdom that rain depresses turnout but there’s little actual evidence that it does. John Curtice is particularly scathing, pointing out that it takes a severe weather event like flooding or snow to have a real impact.
Still, there’s a yellow weather warning in some parts of the UK today. Anyone living in London or the south east will know that there have been severe thunderstorms overnight and seemingly ceaseless rain. With much of London expected to back Remain, and places like Essex expected to back Leave, any turnout effects may cancel each other out.
And there is a south-east-versus-the-rest forecast of a nice sunny day everywhere apart from the capital and East Anglia. Both campaigns have a weather eye on the weather, mainly so they can time their get out the vote push for when the weather clears. The downpours are set to start again this evening, just as people come home from work and the big surge of voting gets underway.
We don't go in for telling voters how to vote. But my HuffPost colleagues across Europe have written on why they want the UK to stay in the EU. Nigel Farage would probably say, they would say that wouldn't they?
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch this video of a bear walking upright like a human. It’s quite something.
4) POLL STACKS
Sterling hit its highest point of the year after a final-day flurry of polls hinting at a narrow Remain result. But the polls are damned close. The margin of error is traditionally 3% and many are within that.
TNS had Leave 43%, Remain 41%. Opinium had Leave 45%, Remain 44%. But the more established pollsters have verdicts for Remain. ComRes for the Daily Mail has the biggest Remain lead, with 54% to Leave’s 46%. Interestingly, ComRes have reallocated don’t knows based on respondents’ views of the impact of Brexit on the economy, a move that may have boosted Remain by a point or so.
YouGov for the Times has a narrower Remain 51%, Leave 49%. There was a squeeze question, which seems to have increased the Remain vote by a point. All four of the polls include Northern Ireland - a change from the pattern during the rest of the campaign.
Ipsos/MORI have a final poll for the Evening Standard this morning.
5) LOVE LIKE JO
The Jo Cox tributes in Trafalgar Square, and around the world, were very moving indeed. Her widower Brendan showed incredible strength in making a speech on that stage. And the team around him have built in just a few days a phenomenal campaign to honour her memory. The ‘live like Jo, love like Jo’ message was simple yet powerful.
Her son Cuillin’s school choir belting out the song ‘If I had a Hammer’ was something Jo would have loved to have seen. The most heartbreaking moment for me, like many, was when the big video screen showed a clip of her playing in the snow with her kids, and singing in their car. We learned that Bernard Kenny, the pensioner who tried to save Jo from her attacker, shared the same birthday as the late MP. He was 78 yesterday. She would have been 42.
Yet there was a reminder that politics was still being played out on the eve of the referendum. Several MPs and many of those gathered were furious that a plane carrying a Vote Leave banner made repeated trips over the square. Vote Leave had no idea about the stunt and apologised on behalf of Britten-Norman, an aircraft manufacturer that is backing Brexit. The firm insisted that it had not arranged the stunt to disrupt the event.
Our latest Commons People podcast is out early HERE. It’s our final round-up of the referendum campaign to date, plus an input from our German HuffPost political editor and the usual Bennett quiz of the week.
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