sábado, 18 de junho de 2016

EU referendum voters unconvinced by scare tactics: ‘I just want to do what’s right’

EU referendum voters unconvinced by scare tactics: ‘I just want to do what’s right’
With the latest Observer/Opinium poll showing a dead heat between leave and remain, residents of Tyneside are still split as the big decision looms

“With so many voters still undecided, and so little time left for both campaigns to make decisive arguments, the atmosphere, not just in Newcastle, but across the country will be tense indeed in the early hours of Friday.”

Toby Helm Political editor and Daniel Boffey Policy editor
Saturday 18 June 2016 19.52 BST

At 1.30pm on Thursday, a long queue snaked along the pavement outside Newcastle’s O2 Academy, a concert venue in the heart of the city. Many of those waiting were wearing England football shirts and all were in excitable mood.

The immediate issue of national importance that preoccupied the gathering crowd was how long it would take to get into the hall chosen by hundreds of Geordies as the place to watch England play Wales in Euro 2016.

So when asked about how they would vote in this Thursday’s EU referendum, and whether they would do so, they were initially thrown. “Woooaaahh,” a young man shouted as he turned to his friends. All then joined in a louder, soaring cry and burst into laughter before, one after another, declaring themselves for Brexit. The loudest, a young man who claimed he was called Paul but who his mates insisted was Mike, said Nigel Farage was a “good bloke” who spoke sense.

Paul/Mike said he had listened to the arguments on both sides, thought “a lot of lies have been said”, and had decided for himself. “I have an eye on the pros and cons. We have the best engineers in this country. The Japanese will still want to buy from us whether we are in or out won’t they? I’m voting for out.”

Further back in the queue, another group of friends, a quieter bunch, met the referendum inquiry with a pensive calm. They were for remain, to a man. David Brocklehurst, a housebuilder, was in no doubt that it would be best for him and his country. “I am for staying in. There will be a shock to the economy if we leave. Our jobs would be at stake. There would be less houses built.” One of his mates said he was worried about political uncertainty compounding the economic damage. “It may be exaggerated, what they say about a shock. But it worries me. There will be a negative effect.”

Newcastle is a solidly red city: its MPs are all Labour and the city council is Labour-run. If votes in the referendum were to follow party loyalties, Newcastle would be overwhelmingly for Remain, and if this were reflected in other Labour strongholds, David Cameron would be home and dry.

Instead, after months of bruising campaigning on the biggest issue to have been put to the British people in a generation, it is a city divided, in a country split down the middle. Today’s Opinium/Observer poll shows that with three days to go, it’s a dead heat:

■ 44% of UK voters are for Brexit and 44% for remain, with 10% undecided;

■ 64% of Labour voters want to stay but 27% are still for leave;

■ 50% of Conservatives back remain and 43% leave.

Last week, in a final effort to shift more Labour voters to Remain, Cameron gave centre stage to senior Labour figures, who fanned out across the country to make the case for staying in. There was even a joint appearance by George Osborne and his Labour predecessor as chancellor, Alistair Darling, at a Hitachi plant in Kent to try to show Labour people that remain was not just a Tory cause but their cause, too. Gordon Brown toured the north. Former home secretary Alan Johnson was in Newcastle on Thursday. But was it working?

For every remain supporter in Newcastle, there seemed to be another for leave. Jim Henderson, a retired watermark engineer, said he would take his lead from his grandchildren. And what did his grandchildren think? “They are all for out,” he said with a broad smile. Immigration was a huge issue for him and his family. The north-east has one of the lowest ratios of immigrants of any part of the country – just 2%, according to the Labour MEP for the area, Paul Brannen – but it will still be decisive for many.

Ciara McCrory, a 19-year-old healthcare adviser, said she had been following the debate closely. “My dad is a taxi driver. He says there would be more work if it weren’t for immigration and all the Polish people. So I will vote to leave.” But walking down the road behind her, Ian Farrimond and his wife, Lindsay, who are missionaries, said there was no question that the country would be stronger inside the EU. “I just have a strong gut feeling we are safer and better off in. But I don’t have any confidence about the result. It really terrifies me,” said Lindsay.

Remain campaigner Alan Johnson, the former Labour home secretary, has been touring the country and visited Newcastle last week. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Others were simply unsure which way to go. David Phillips, a farmer from near Hexham, said he was undecided but leaning towards remain. “I am not sure yet, but I think probably we have to play along with this [the EU]. The working class has made up its mind to vote to leave, but I think we may be better staying in. I just want to do what is best for the country.”

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The only view that was pretty much universally held by people on the streets was that both campaigns had lacked credibility and had been peddling scare stories which had left them cold, dismissive of politicians’ rallying cries and determined to decide for themselves. The phrase “scare stories” was on everyone’s lips.


Our Opinium survey bears this out. For all the sound and fury of both campaigns on this most far-reaching of issues, political leaders of both sides are not seen as credible by the people they have tried to convince or scare, whether it is remain on the damage to the economy or leave on the threat of more waves of immigration. Cameron is seen as “convincing” by just 24% and “not convincing” by 63%, while the score for Corbyn is little, if any, better – 20% saying he has been convincing against 58% who say the reverse. Boris Johnson, heading the leave camp, scores best, with 38% saying he has been convincing, while 48% say he has been unconvincing.

Criticism of the campaigns’ failure to serve a genuinely interested electorate is not confined to voters. Many leading politicians now accept that something has gone badly wrong. In an interview with the Observer, former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke said the whole referendum campaign had been a “bizarre political experience”. The Remain camp’s efforts to “dramatise the erudite reports of the Treasury and Bank of England” had not worked, he said. On the leave side, “too many of the respectable politicians” had made “rather guilty echoes” of the bigotry and prejudice of Farage. Political leaders had voiced views they did not appear to believe in, and people could see through them.

“I won’t name the leading figures, but there are people in the leave campaign who would never have dreamt of raising anti-immigrant arguments because they are not anti-immigrant in their politics,” Clarke said. “But I am afraid they have been tempted to make anti-immigrant noises once they realised that their cause might win on that ticket.” The result of all this, Clarke has concluded, is that a great swell of the population felt confused and angry at having to make this decision in a referendum that should never have been called. “Ever since the referendum started, I thought it a complete gamble,” Clarke said. “And I remain completely unsure which way it is going to go.” It was all now in the “lap of the gods”.

“The political opinion of the sensible, intelligent electorate is more confused and more angry on this occasion than is usually the case in a general election,” Clarke added. “People have not been impressed by the campaigning. They do feel they don’t know enough about it. And they are slightly uncertain as to which way to vote. One thing I am encouraged by is that a growing number of people think that they should vote.”

Kenneth Clarke
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Kenneth Clarke: ‘Ever since the referendum started, I thought it a complete gamble.’ Photograph: Felix Clay for the Observer
Some 80% of the polling conducted by Opinium was carried out before the dreadful news of the murder of the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, began to dominate the news bulletins from Thursday evening onwards. Both sides suspended campaigning out of respect and because it seemed so utterly inappropriate to continue. When it resumes in earnest on Tuesday – after parliament has been recalled on Monday for a day of tributes – the remain and leave camps say the remaining 48 hours will be far more sober than before.


No one knows how, or whether, the death of Cox – who was strongly in favour of remaining in the EU and had praised the way in which immigration had enriched the country – will affect the result. Privately the remain camp believe it will make it harder for their opponents to campaign aggressively on immigration and the need to turn our backs on the EU. When the suspect charged with Cox’s murder, Thomas Mair, was asked to give his name in court on Saturday he said “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. The opposing theory, voiced by people on both sides of the argument, is that muted campaigning in the vital last few days will make it more difficult for remain to turn things back in their favour, after a string of other polls have showed leads for Brexit.

The first results from 382 local authority areas will be announced early on Friday. Sunderland is expected to be the earliest; soon after will come the result from Newcastle. Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle city council, was campaigning outside the railway station on Thursday afternoon. He said that fears about immigration had shifted things in favour of leave in the previous days. The Brexit vote was stronger in surrounding rural areas and small towns than in the city itself. The result in the city has to be clearly for remain for his side to win nationwide. “My guess is that if there is not a 60% remain vote in Newcastle, we are in serious trouble,” he said.

With so many voters still undecided, and so little time left for both campaigns to make decisive arguments, the atmosphere, not just in Newcastle, but across the country will be tense indeed in the early hours of Friday.

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