EU Referendum: The State of Play

With the EU referendum not so much looming on the horizon as dominating the entire skyline, the few remaining unknowns are falling into place. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn took the opportunity to clarify his position on Europe.

Ever the contrarian, Corbyn decided to confound expectations this time by falling broadly in line with his party’s wishes and delivering a reasonably competent speech in defence of the EU. While it was not the rabble-rousing, all-out endorsement of the EU’s achievements that some may have hoped for, the ‘warts and all’ approach was probably the right strategy on balance.

Corbyn is famously capable of inspiring almost evangelical support amongst his followers, but his talent lies not in his capacity to persuade and influence, but his ability to vocalise the opinions that his followers already hold, all the while embodying the absolute antithesis of the modern professional politician.

There is a fair degree of scepticism about the EU’s institutions amongst Corbyn’s core support; to disavow these concerns would be to alienate his followers and erode their trust in him. By delivering a balanced argument broadly in support of Europe and subtly trading off fears around unrestrained Conservative law-making, Corbyn was able to join the majority of his party in the Remain camp without compromising his image too badly. After 215 days in office, Jeremy Corbyn may just have learned something about politics.

Presumably now satisfied with his contribution to the Remain campaign, Corbyn will be able to fade back into the background to concentrate on the global fight against nuclear missiles and his Glastonbury appearance, leaving the well-oiled Cameron campaign machine to do the bulk of the work. This leaves the Remain campaign nicely balanced; Labour and Conservative members agree to disagree on the reasons why Britain is better off in the EU, but both agree that, ultimately, that cross needs to go in the “remain” box.

But what of the Leave camp?

For them, there is no such simplicity. Somehow, the campaign to convince the British public to enter a cross in the second of two boxes has spawned a plethora of competing groups, each promising the best route to that cross.

Fortunately for the Leave campaign, the Electoral Commission have arrived at the decision to designate Vote Leave as the official campaign group, giving them access to £7m of funding, campaign broadcast slots, and the much-vaunted free mailshot. The threat of a judicial review from Arron Banks of Leave.EU aside, this should go some way to uniting the leave campaigns under one banner.

Vote Leave becoming the official leave campaign group is probably the best outcome for the leave campaign. The group has the backing of high profile politicians such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, but crucially it leaves Nigel Farage, one time leader of “the People’s Army”, on the periphery with Grassroots Out. Farage will no doubt don his tweed jacket and continue on his improbable, but unaccountably effective, crusade to convince Britain that he is a “man of the people” and therefore worth listening to on Europe. His colourful personality will, however, not be associated with the official Leave campaign, shielding them from distracting media fallout of his less well-advised remarks but still allowing him to do his own thing.

The Leave and Remain campaigns are now well underway, despite the campaigns only officially starting some 12 hours ago. Boris Johnson has joined the Leave campaign conveniently boosting his personal ratings ahead of a possible Conservative leadership campaign; Corbyn has managed to successfully save face and join the Remain campaign; Vote Leave has achieved supremacy over the other Leave campaign groups.

All that remains is for some semblance of informed debate to emerge from the tawdry politicking and positioning.