Sketch: The EU referendum campaign

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 16 June 2016 in Comment

With hindsight it was inevitable the EU referendum would be decided by a badly organised naval battle between UKIP and Bob Geldof

With hindsight, it seemed inevitable that the EU referendum campaign would be decided by a badly organised naval battle between UKIP and Bob Geldof on the Thames.

In normal circumstances, the idea of Nigel Farage leading a flotilla through central London like some horrible cross between Napoleon and Captain Birdseye would be surprising, but here it just felt like the natural culmination of a campaign that really hasn’t made any sense at all. Watching the boats go past, no one even bothered to ask why Geldof was there.

Still, at least the boats made a change from endless threats of either recession or spiralling immigration.


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On the economy front, David Cameron chose to stand in B&Q and tell the electorate that Brexit would be a vote for “a DIY recession”. This seemed foolish. British people love DIY. Also a DIY recession would probably still be cheaper than a banking recession.

The Tories within the Remain camp, meanwhile, have also been trying to allay fears over immigration, which would probably be easier if they hadn’t spent so long stoking them.

Last month immigration minister James Brokenshire promised immigration could be reduced within the EU. He said: “We remain committed to reforms across the whole of government to bring migration down to sustainable levels, which is in the best interest of our country. Leaving the EU is absolutely no panacea or silver bullet, whatever some may suggest.”

That is demonstrably true. Leaving the EU is definitely not a silver bullet, and even if it was, it’s not clear how that would help with immigration. Brokenshire seemed to be confusing immigrants with werewolves.

In fact, the only predictable bit of the campaign was the involvement of Gordon ‘omni-intervention’ Brown, who made his most recent first intervention just days before the vote.

For some, it was a sign of the severity of the situation. Others saw it as an attempt to shift focus from infighting within the Conservatives. To the most paranoid, it was a clear and deliberate attempt to test the ability of hackneyed sketchwriters to come up with new descriptions for the same man giving the same speech dozens of times over.

And so it was that Brown took to the stage looking like an old pastry.

Launching an impassioned defence of the Union, he said: “From now until 10pm on 23 June we will not rest and I will not stop explaining why nine million Labour voters have most to gain from remaining in the EU.” To be fair, it feels like he hasn’t stopped explaining since 2010.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has been doing his best to campaign for Remain, while staying as far away from the Tories as possible. And yet despite refusing to campaign alongside those opposed to him politically, the Labour leader did agree to appear with his own cabinet.

It was a surprising move, particularly given that in recent months, Corbyn has refused to share a platform with anyone, like some sort of weirdly territorial statue, or a really selfish train.

“A vote to leave is a vote to put the NHS in jeopardy and in the hands of those who want to break it up,” he said, before warning, “Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are wolves in sheep’s clothing, using concern about the NHS to mask their real agenda.”

This was a good line, especially because Boris Johnson does actually look quite a lot like a cartoon sheep.

Of course, part of the problem faced by the Remain side has been distancing themselves from an establishment that many view as mired in moral and ethical corruption. To that end, they sent in Peter Mandelson.

Doing his best to cheer everyone up, Mandelson spoke with all the subtlety you would expect from a highly skilled spin doctor, warning that if you vote Leave “all that will do is wreck the economy and make everything you rely on weaker and everything else you want in life harder to get.”

Vote Leave and all your dreams will die. As arguments go, it wasn’t that positive. In fact, it wasn’t so much an argument as a fairy-tale curse.

But at least Labour rallied together. All the big names were out in support, with one-time official leadership challenger, and current leadership challenger, Yvette Cooper telling us, somewhat mysteriously, that “we are stronger when we stand together than when we sink or swim alone”.

This seemed a slightly misleading choice. In fact, it is really three choices – standing, swimming or sinking.

It is certainly true that standing together has worked well for the Labour movement in the past, as well as for penguins. But is membership of the EU comparable to surviving in Antarctica? We can’t just spend all our time standing around sharing body heat in a big mass, Cooper. No wonder people say politicians are out of touch.

Also standing together is really only a better choice if you are on land. If you were in deep water, you’d be better swimming alone.

That’s probably why UKIP brought those boats.

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