All's fair in love and referendum

Co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain and member of the Vote Leave Campaign Steve Baker MP has used an article on the Conservative grass-roots website calling on No.10 to stop “vicious briefings” and “personal nastiness” in the EU referendum. Baker speaks about how the debate has been “breathtakingly disheartening” and warns that “deep divisions” are emerging.

This article can be read and analysed in so many ways. The more cynical would argue that Baker is demonstrating a certain level of naivety. History always repeats itself and even the less politically engaged knew the Tories would tear themselves apart over this issue.

The case for fighting dirty also cuts both ways, with both sides leaking documents and carrying out personal attacks. Due to the shorter campaign period, Leave have deliberately made the debate emotive knowing this would be their greatest asset. While also having two of the UK’s most read newspapers – The Sun and Daily Mail - on your side is far from a hindrance. Therefore, the Remain campaign will merely argue it is just fighting fire with fire and that Leave cannot feel aggrieved having brought the Prime Minister’s job into the equation. The Brexiteers are learning the lesson that Labour and Scottish nationalists have learnt over the past seven years: when you back David Cameron into a corner, he proves to be a gritty fighter.

Baker also uses his article to hint that Cameron’s grittiness is doing irrecoverable damage to the party. This is not a new argument. But combine it with Nigel Farage attempts earlier in the week to manage expectations if Remain win, and it could be argued that Brexiteers are already preparing for a loss. The question for Cameron and Osborne is whether they go in for the kill hoping and try to win by such a margin that they bring shy Tory Europhiles to fore and push Eurosceptics to the periphery. Or does the Prime Minister call a truce over the next 36 days and just campaign on the issues? Considering the stakes, the latter is unlikely.

Douglas McIlroy

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search