Brian Monteith: Remain campaigners need to abandon Project Fear

President Barack Obama at 10 Downing Street, where he  did his best to support David Cameron's arguments. Picture: Getty Images
President Barack Obama at 10 Downing Street, where he did his best to support David Cameron's arguments. Picture: Getty Images
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SCEPTICISM over establishment pronouncements means that nothing thrown at Brexit will stick, writes Brian Monteith

We now have fewer than six weeks to go before the country decides if we should stay in the European Union – and still the polls suggest public sentiment is neck and neck. This is puzzling to many and self-evidently causing panic in the remain camp, headquartered as it is, not at the offices of “Stronger In” but at Downing Street.

The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and their lieutenants serving in the vested interests that benefit from EU largesse have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at the “leave” campaign and yet it will not succumb. Due to the likelihood of differential turnout between the supporters of the two positions, the “remain” campaign needs to be well ahead to be confident of winning. Anything less than an eight-point lead on voting day risks a win for the “leave” campaign.

The claims about what will become of us all in Britain following Brexit get ever more outrageous and therefore less believable by equal measure – and there will undoubtedly be more to come.

The Foreign Office is working at full pelt, using a large dedicated team to secure endorsements from overseas dignitaries and choreographing what they say and when they say it. We saw this with President Obama’s visit when the Americanism “line” was replaced with the British “queue” and we shall see it again, especially in the last two weeks when we can expect choruses of “please don’t go” and “Stay, we love you Britain” from leaders of EU countries.

Likewise, the litany of economic reports from the CBI, Bank of England, HM Treasury, OECD, IMF, and others have gushed forth, building up what appears to be an irresistible spectre of economic catastrophe dare we decide to leave the EU. Notice how, despite their number, these reports do not clash but follow each other, one week after the other. Coincidence? Of course not.

Like all of these predictive reports, they use a number of genuine facts to develop tendentious assertions that have little credibility and are often wild. This political and economic soothsaying is like the difference between astronomy and astrology. Yes the stars are there, but would you ask an astrologer to tell you how to get to the moon? So, ask yourself, would you use the horoscope to decide you and your family’s economic future?

There is no better example of this than the Treasury report trying to quantify its dire extrapolation of UK economic performance by 2030 through the mechanism of taking the “lost” national GDP in its worst case scenario and dividing it by households. Unfortunately this statistical average is meaningless but worse, was incorrect, as the number of households used was for 2016, not the likely number in 2030. With such basic flaws in estimating is it any wonder that the Chancellor has missed every one of the deficit reduction targets he has everput forward?

Does anyone now put any stock in what he says? Whatever the outcome of the referendum the Chancellor has to be replaced for the markets to attach any credibility to the government’s economic management.

This week we had more of the same nightmarish doom and gloom, with first the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney talking of a recession following Brexit, and then Christine Lagarde of the IMF suggesting GDP could fall as much as 10 per cent. Andrew Neil challenged this brilliantly on his Daily Politics show, pointing out it would be more serious than the crash of 2008, the great depression and the First World War.

Also this week we had Gordon Brown trying to emulate his last-minute intervention in the Scottish independence referendum. This was billed as a possible game-changer, but it was to no avail. The unhappy truth for Gordon Brown is that he is not held in anything like the same regard by the media or public in England as he is in Scotland. It’s now six years since he was prime minister and it seems like a lot longer.

So why is the remain campaign not at least ten points or more ahead, where they expected to be? It cannot be because the official Leave campaign is firing on all cylinders, for if anything it has still to get going. It has thus far been rather passive and too quiet for my liking.

No, it’s quite simple, the scaremongering of Project Fear is not working, because it is does not address the issue that regularly comes top of people’s concerns – immigration – and even when it tackles the second most important, the economy, it is scarcely believable. In fact I believe it has now become counter productive.

When you have a prime minister warning of war and genocide, members of the public I’ve met think he sounds desperate, and some put it more strongly.

They say, “Well, if Brexit is going to be that bad why did he threaten to leave over minor benefit reforms that are worth buttons?” “Why did he decide to have the referendum in the first place?” or “Why has he previously said British life will go on and we’ll manage just fine?”

They are also not slow to notice that George Osborne introduced an “independent IMF report” only for Christine Lagarde to thank him for all the help that the Treasury gave her. Immediately such gaffes are propelled through Twitter and Facebook and the messengers and their motives are being discussed while the message is forgotten.

Our politicians today are questioned and held to account not just by the press pack that follows them but by the millions of people that follow every garbled utterance or written word and then revealing their own thoughts or circulating the latest gaffe on social media, spreading it worldwide.

This actually makes the tactics of project fear more difficult to pay off. Couple that with the growing scepticism towards the establishment approach of trying to retain power and control at all costs and people begin to choose to ignore the threats.

Having started down the road of outrageous claims there is nowhere else to go but to be more outrageous yet. What next, aliens will land, Hibernian will win the Cup? There’s no knowing what. You can be assured there are still more to come but they will not be what finally makes up the minds of our people.

• Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain