Has a leaflet ever caused such controversy?
Over the next few weeks booklets explaining why the public should vote to remain in the EUwill hit twenty seven million doorsteps.
The controversy? You’ll be paying for them. 34p per home to be precise.
You see, this leaflet will come from the Government. It will outline the reasons why the UK will be stronger as part of the EU. It won’t be party political, won’t mention any politician and, unlike its counterpart in 1975, will not contain a photo or message from the Prime Minister.
And the Leave campaign (or rather, the groups who are vying to become the official leave campaign) is furious. Various figures, from across the political spectrum, have described the mail shot as an abuse of public money. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary and pro-Brexit campaigner, has said that hard working tax payers would rather their money was spent on public services.
So, are Brexit campaigners right? Well, let’s look at the facts.
Once the official Leave and Remain campaigns are appointed by the Electoral Commission, each will be entitled to spend around £7m on the campaign. In addition, each will be given one free mail shot, at a cost of around £600,000.
The Government leaflet will cost around £9m in total, including development costs, printing, postage and the digital campaigns that will run alongside it.
So on face value, this looks like a pro-EU Government circumnavigating rules around pre-referendum campaigning (before they come into force, it should be stressed) by using vast sums of money that are unavailable to the Leave campaign.
The Government has argued that the public is desperate for more information about the referendum – a point with which it is hard to argue – and that this leaflet is a cost effective way of providing that information.
However, the leaflet is clearly not an impartial outline of facts. It’s unashamedly an advocacy piece in which, we can assume, the Government has included the facts that it thinks the public should know. So, on a public information level, perhaps the leaflet isn’t entirely justified.
But since when was there a requirement for the Government to only communicate with the population in an impartial way? Every day, Government ministers release statements, make speeches and hold events to promote their policies and achievements. And these statements, speeches and events all cost money. Tax payer money.
The £9m that will be spent on the EU Referendum leaflet is dwarfed many, many times over by the vast sums of money spent on year round partial Government communications. And ultimately, the Government’s policy that the UK should remain in the EU is just another Government policy.
A controversial one? Yes.
A divisive one? For sure.
But ultimately, just another one.