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Tuesday, April 19, 2016 

The calculus of political graffiti.

Is the in, out, please don't shake it all about Boris debate finally beginning to capture the public imagination?  I ask, not on the basis of yesterday's hilarious calculations from the Treasury that by the year 2095 we'll all be a gajillion pounds worse off if we vote leave, nor today's speech from Michael Gove on how if the British public votes leave we will be saving the good people of Europe from themselves.

No, I posit the question purely on how on Sunday I spied the first bit of referendum graffiti, something of a surprise as I can't recall seeing any about last May.  There had been a poet in residence down by the river, who at least until his work was recently painted over advised all passers-by to "boycott corporate muthafuckas", "burn a banker" and "save a tree".  Sadly the work I saw at the weekend was less lyrical than his, but still set the mind working.  "VOTE OUT", this successor to Gilbert and George had spray-painted on the pavement leading off an overpass near to the main shopping district.  Not "VOTE LEAVE", or any of the slogans bandied about by the leave side, but simply "VOTE OUT".

It doesn't exactly strike as the kind of issue likely to inspire someone to put in the kind of effort and risk the potential of being arrested for vandalism, after all.  Indeed, up until Jeremy Corbyn felt the need to get involved last Thursday, the entire campaign thus far seems to have been designed to turn off anyone not already a terminal political dullard.  I am a terminal political dullard, and even I've been bored to tears by Project Fears 2.0 and 2.0.1 being ran by the Remain and Leave sides respectively.

This of course shows no signs of abating, however many insults are flung from both sides about both practising it.  Today the pro-Leave press homed in how the Treasury calculations included an estimate that a further 3 million migrants would arrive by 2030 if we stayed in, as though this was some kind of horror beyond words.  That this was based on a net migration figure of 180,000 a year, well below the current peak we're experiencing seemed to suggest a missing of a trick, while also naturally ignoring how you'd have to be a cretin to believe whatever deal we manage to negotiate with the EU post a leave vote would somehow not include free movement.

Michael Gove is that cretin.  The leave side has refused to answer which kind of "model" they would like to see pursued should leave triumph, mainly because they can't agree themselves.  The Treasury's comedy figures were based on the so-called Canada model some within Leave seemed to be favouring a time back.  Gove today instead raised the possibility of Britain remaining in the European Free Trade Zone while not rejoining the single market, previously about the only part of the EU the Tories have had anything good to say about.  This apparently would be reciprocated by the rest of Europe not imposing tariffs or insisting on free movement rules applying, despite how Norway and Switzerland, both with deals on trade with the EU while remaining outside are subject to the Schengen agreement.

To add to the jollity, Gove also pronounced on how we'd go about leaving in the first place.  In Gove world, the idea the government would immediately activate article 50 of the Lisbon treaty once a vote to leave had been confirmed is absurd, not something a "responsible" government would do.  Considering that the vast majority of the Leave side have been agitating their entire political lives to get us out of the EU, should Cameron (or more likely, whoever takes over in the interim as Cameron would have to resign) seem to be stalling or, worse yet, rowing back on the idea of the vote being final, it would surely prompt an outbreak of keening so loud and overwhelming the whole country would develop tinnitus as a result.

Gove it's fair to say is Leave's most plausible advocate, and yet he remains about as appealing as a Newsnight special on the referendum.  For all his talk of "a galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal", evidence for the public feeling the same way about the choice they're about to make is extremely thin on the ground.  And yet I have seen one literal piece of such evidence.  Which brings us back to where we started, and one further question: what kind of atavistic passions have been awoken by the debate that by comparison make me seem less weird?

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