The Remain Campaign Needs to Get Personal

The Remain Campaign Needs to Get Personal

Immigration has become the decisive issue in the UK's EU referendum because the Remain campaign is failing to spell out the cost of Brexit to personal annual incomes. That's the stark message that shouts out from the recent ComRes poll, which puts Remain ahead by just one percentage point.

ComRes asked voters the question: 'How much, if anything, would you be happy to lose from your own personal annual income to tighten the control Britain has over immigration and reduce the number of EU migrants entering the UK?' The answer from most voters was clear. They would not be happy to lose anything at all.

Unlike almost every other EU referendum topic this is not a question that pits young against old, Labour against UKIP, or social grade ABC1s against C2DEs. Indeed a majority in every single group by age, social grade, region, political allegiance or education, are not prepared to end free movement of EU citizens if it cost them personally anything at all. Even a majority of UKIP voters and Leave voters are not prepared to lose anything.

That evidence is stark and should turn all our pre-conceptions about immigration upside down. Immigration is clearly a major issue in the EU referendum campaign, indeed it is almost becoming a de-factor referendum on free movement of EU nationals, but for the average voter it is literally not worth losing a single Pound or even a Penny over. The response to this from the Remain campaign should be blindingly obvious, but possibly difficult to execute at this late stage. They need to clearly spell out the cost of Brexit to personal annual incomes.

It's going to be hard to turn around Remain's oil tanker of a campaign, and an example of a recent missed opportunity was the joint announcement by Chancellor George Osborne and his Labour predecessor, Alistair Darling, who warned Brexit would spark £30bn in spending cuts and tax rises.

Voters can't relate to £30bn, and can't see how that would necessarily impact on personal annual incomes.

Just as voters can't relate to the warnings from Ryanair, when they say air fares will go up, or from Monarch airlines that family holidays will cost more, or from the NFU or John Lewis who say food prices will rise, or the companies and economists from Rolls Royce to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who say jobs will be lost as exporters are obliged to pay a tariff to trade with our former partners.

I don't believe it's because people don't trust these iconic brands, but rather it's because they don't believe it will affect them. It's someone else's, holiday, grocery bill or job.

In other words the campaign needs to get out of the Westminster bubble, where politicians talk through the media in their own unique elaborate Westminster babble, throwing around facts about millions and billions, not realising that none of this cuts through to the men and women on the Clapham omnibus.

The Remain campaign needs to get personal. It needs to look people in the eye and start spelling out in plain English, street by street, household by household, voter by voter, the real cost of Brexit on personal annual incomes.

Perhaps Remain should look for inspiration from the man who was arguably the second greatest communicator in war time Britain, and one the architects of Labour's 1945 surprise election victory, J. B. Priestley, who said 'The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.'


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