Today was another uplifting day campaigning in Cardiff for a Leave vote in the upcoming referendum.
I was a little perturbed that a handful of Remain campaigners had set up pitch right next to our prime spot in in the busy city centre. However this turned out to be a positive in that it gave us a benchmark against which to compare the success of our campaigning.
I had been buoyed by the positive response that had welcomed us in South Wales’ traditional working class hinterland of the Valleys. There were also all the many well-wishers who had come up to us in Barry, as I struggled to keep with up the demand for inflated balloons to hand out to the children. That same day three Remain campaigners had walked once up and once down the high street and soon left looking dejected, having failed to garner much support. (This following an amusing incident when one of their number joined us with his EU flag until it slowly dawned on him that we were the opposition.)
But what about young trendy cosmopolitan Cardiff? This would surely be a different kettle of fish. Surely we couldn’t expect such a warm reception here.
Well, the response was more positive than I had dared to imagine. There must have been 10 of us volunteers manning the stall and handing-out leaflets up and down Queen Street. Activity was brisk, with many people coming to the stall to ask questions, telling us they would definitely be voting to Leave and pinning badges to their coats to display their intentions. It was challenge to collate the leaflets fast enough for them to be handed out. People of all ages and backgrounds were proclaiming their support for us.
Even the hard left Socialist Party, who set up stall nearby, were campaigning for a Leave vote. We went over and had a pleasant chat with them, leaving aside our differences until after the referendum.
All the while we kept an eye on the Remain campaigners. Yes, they did manage to hand out some leaflets and engage some people in conversation, but mostly they seemed to be standing around looking lost and occasionally chatting with each other. Eventually they tired of the hard work of trying to generate any interest from passers-by. They posed for a final group photo (which we photo-bombed with our Corex boards) and packed up after about an hour and a half in total.
This so feels like a campaign that we can win. Sure there were some people who proudly told us they were voting Remain as they hurried past. Perhaps all those who didn’t engage might have made their minds up to Remain … But we’ve been getting canvas returns back reporting 70% support for leaving.
… Which makes it all the more peculiar when I read news reports putting the Remain campaign between four and 18 points ahead, that the bookies say there’s an 83% likelihood we’ll vote to stay in and that the Leave campaign is losing support.
It does however seem to depend on where you are and who you’re with. You’d be hard-pressed to find many Leave voters in my outdoors club in which middle-class left-of-centre public sector employees predominate. Among the managers in my workplace’s corporate HQ in the south-east of England, the general perception is that Leave campaigners are fringe and unhinged.
It’s striking the extent to which the debate is split along lines of geography, age and class. By geographic I mean London and Scotland versus the rest of the UK.
Young people reportedly tend to more pro-EU. For the most part this is thanks to them being exposed to the bias of the education system, the broadcast media and the entertainment industry, while mostly not having had the opportunity to experience life and develop a healthy scepticism. The Remain campaign shouldn’t take them for granted though. With George Osborne claiming house prices will come down 18% as a result of Brexit, they might just vote to increase their likelihood of being able to get on the housing ladder. Also, they can’t necessarily be relied on to be motivated to come out and vote.
Working class people are noticeably more Euro-sceptic. This is because they feel they negative effects of EU membership more sorely – less access to housing, wages driven down by immigration from other EU states, higher food prices, strain on the NHS, unresponsive politicians, frustrations with bureaucratic regulations, preferential treatment for the less honest and hard-working, etc. They don’t have the middle class taboos around mentioning politically incorrect subjects. They tell it like it is and have a keen sense of what is and isn’t fair. Some left-wing commentators like to refer to them as “globalism’s losers”. Knowing how the important words are to the left, I am sure they the use of the word “losers” in this context is very much intentional.
… Which brings us back to the pollsters. Those people who spectacularly failed to predict the Conservative general election victory last year. How? By their own admission they had been asking the wrong people. They had been surveying people like themselves – young, metropolitan, middle-class, left-of-centre types. To be fair, this time round they are quite open about the fact that is difficult for them to predict the result as we haven’t had an EU referendum in recent years, so they have no precedent. They admit that the online polls, which put the two sides much closer, are probably more reliable than the telephone polls which give Remain such a huge lead. Still, I expect if you’re a trendy graduate politico pollster who thinks London is the centre of the universe, it must be tempting to assume that everyone’s like you and the whole world sees things the same way you do – especially if you get your news from the BBC.
Still, I can’t help being suspicious that all these poll reports giving Remain a lead might be some kind of psychological warfare to crush our morale. From the response on the street, this is definitely a referendum we can win in a fair and honest contest.
… And that, dear reader, is the point (and the concern) … A fair and honest contest.