The “Remain” campaign for Britain’s EU membership has yet to make the case that deserves to be made for the future of the U.K, and Europe. Ahead of the June British Referendum, it appears the problem is not lack of arguments, but someone who actually believes in them.
Campaigns have iconic figures, issues, grassroots meetings, door-to-door, strategic messages, shaking hands, and photo ops. “Leave” have all of the above and are in full thrust. “Remain” have David Cameron.
Leave have the picturesque Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who leads the euroskeptics mostly because he wants the leadership of the Conservative party. He can bring along old money that does not feel good next to new money. They have Nigel Farage, the pint-holding English nationalist. They have issues: immigration and security for blue-collars, cutting red tape and slashing filthy agricultural subsidies for the white collars.
And they have two parties: UKIP and half the Conservatives. This is now a more or less single consolidated campaign. The British electoral commission identified Vote Leave backed by Johnson as the main campaign and Farage will go along for the sake of “the greater cause.”
Cameron as the “Remain” liability
The mantra of the Remain camp is “a leap to the unknown.” Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne keep making appearances in greenhouse controlled environments, surrounded by kids in classy-brandy T-shirts that say nothing and look more like movie extras rather than people with opinions. The “it’s really about their future” message has little credence.
Security Is a “no go” issue
Cameron brought the argument to the spotlight. Now, he’s dealing with a homegrown spymaster, Sir Richard Dearlove – former MI6 chief – who tells the BBC that EU-based security bodies were of “little consequence” and that leaving the club would boost Britain’s security. He is echoed by CIA/NSA former director Michael Hayden, who thinks Brussels tilts the balance in favor of human rights and the U.K would be better off out. You have the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with its hand on the trigger, because British surveillance law has a less judicial oversight than the United States (yes, that’s possible). And Cameron cannot say anything about it, because privacy is not a cause he believes in.
Immigration is a “no go” issue
All Cameron can say is something about the borders moving from Calais to Dover. Of course, study-after-study verifies there are surging numbers of EU migrants; that is to the benefit of the UK, but that is not an argument Cameron would care to make.
Meanwhile, Mr. Farage is out there campaigning. He was sighted recently in the Netherlands, paying with EU funds for full page advertisements in the Dutch press favoring a “No” vote in Ukraine’s Association Agreement referendum. Farage told the Dutch “a ‘No’ vote here would be taken by many back home as a sign that this growth in euroscepticism isn’t just in our country, it’s happening elsewhere.” Cameron said nothing.
Cameron these days is reduced to preaching to the converted, that is, people he mostly disagrees with, who believe in Europe as a political project, in principle and in substance. The arguments coming from his camp are shallow. IMF’s Lagarde echoes Osborne talking about trade disruption and credit ratings. Of course, all that is very moving.
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Carney, has to keep out of it. Half the Conservative Party already accuses him for lack of neutrality. Mr. Cameron did little to defend him.
And the Panama Papers problem is another liability. Mr. Cameron spent a whole week changing his story on his family’s finances. Now, he can’t be seen talking about hidden skeletons. Arron Banks, tipped to succeed Nigel Farage at the helm of UKIP apparently has shares in a Virgin Island company headquartered in Giblartar. Another shareholder in that company is the chief executive of the Leave.eu campaign, Elizabeth Bilney. But, Cameron is busy making the case that British tax heavens really have a “reputational” issue.
The problem with the Remain campaign is not the lack of arguments. It is articulation.