Leaders: The cost of Cameron’s mailshot may backfire

Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for spending million's of pounds of taxpayers' money on a pro-EU leaflet. Picture: Getty
Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for spending million's of pounds of taxpayers' money on a pro-EU leaflet. Picture: Getty
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PRO-EU leaflet gets information out there and will help trigger debate, but it makes for a far from level playing field

Much of the EU referendum debate has engendered a degree of déjà vu among us Scots.

From the accusation the Remain campaign is “Project Fear” to the slew of media reports about hypothetical future scenarios, there are plenty of similarities with our own 2014 plebiscite.

The latest row over campaign literature is no different.

Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for spending more than £9 million of taxpayers’ money on a pro-EU leaflet which is to be sent to every household in the country.

While on a much larger scale, the controversy is reminiscent of the stooshie that followed the Scottish Government’s decision to spend more than £1m on its independence White Paper.

Mr Cameron yesterday defended the government’s decision, saying he made no apologies about putting the case for remaining part of the EU.

But critics, including justice secretary Michael Gove, labelled the campaign literature “one-sided propaganda”.

In some ways, both sides are correct.

It would be foolish of the prime minister not to use the superior resources at his disposal, and his opponents would be missing a trick is they did not cry foul.

Of course, the idea of mass mailings are nothing new.

The UK government issued a similar leaflet during the independence referendum, and then prime minister Harold Wilson did the same during the 1975 vote on the Common Market.

Unlike Mr Wilson’s pamphlet, however, there is no picture or signed introduction from David Cameron this time around.

The important point here is that this is not a general election campaign but a once-in-a-lifetime chance to decide the future of the UK in Europe.

With just over two months until the referendum, there is a dire need for more information on exactly what we’re voting for.

Indeed, Downing Street has defended its campaign leaflet by referring to polling which showed 85 per cent of the public wanted facts that would help them make up their minds.

The only difficulty for the prime minister is the amount of money he has spent on his mailshot.

Setting aside the state of the public finances and whether a government wedded to austerity should be spending £9m on a marketing campaign, the outlay does leave a rather uneven playing field.

By law, the formal Leave and Remain camps are allowed to spend no more than £7m in the last ten weeks of the campaign.

Whitehall’s intervention now – before that formal campaign period begins – is cynical and suggests the government are well aware it is open to accusations of unfairness.

It has to be remembered that people will know it for what it is, it is quite clearly labelled the government’s view and people will make allowances, but it does get information out there and sparks debate.

Gutted in more ways than one

It’s the sort of unthinking act of vandalism that’s hard to understand.

Fire-raisers have caused up to £25,000 worth of damage after targeting a historic railway run by volunteers.

The Caledonian Railway runs steam engines and diesel locomotives between Brechin and Bridge of Dun, near Montrose..

But rail enthusiasts are left picking up the pieces after the blaze at the railway’s museum in Brechin late on Wednesday night.

A railway carriage known as a brake van, which dates from the 1940s and had recently undergone restoration, was left gutted by the blaze.

Vandals set on fire the wooden body of the vehicle, which was once used as a buffet car.

It was only through the efforts of firefighters that other carriages attached to the car were not also damaged.

Dundee Museum of Transport described the incident as “stomach-churning” and “pointless”.

The depressing incident must have come as a huge blow for those who have worked tirelessly to restore the old railway car.

An appeal is now being made for anyone with information to get in touch with the Caledonian Railway or the police.

It defies belief there are those who seek to get their kicks from destroying that which others have worked so hard to build.

This mindless act lies in sharp contrast to the dedication and hard work exhibited by those who have lovingly restored the old carriage. Hopefully they will once again have the time – not to mention the inclination – to bring the van back to its former glory.

As for the culprits, let’s hope the police catch them soon.