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Monday, June 06, 2016 

Does anyone understand politics anymore?

Andrew Sparrow is good enough in his latest politics live blog to admit he sometimes feels like he doesn't understand politics anymore.  How could anyone claim to understand politics when polling suggests that Boris Johnson is now the most trusted figure in the EU referendum debate?  Admittedly, by most trusted we essentially mean least not trusted, as he has a net figure of minus 26, yet that's still 25 points above David Cameron.  And amazingly, Boris Johnson's figure has improved over the past two months.

These figures are practically meaningless, of course.  They're not really rating trust, they're rating popularity.  Nicola Sturgeon is second most trusted, and she's said almost nothing of any consequence on the referendum, except to make clear how she would obviously be doing a much better job of losing than Cameron currently is.  As discussed before, the referendum has practically turned into a matter of all or nothing for Dave: he wins, he can stay in power for at least a little longer.  He loses, he resigns.  If there's any in-between, there's been no evidence of it.  He can talk all he likes about staying on regardless of the result; he can hardly say any different.  Everyone knows he's a goner if it's Leave, not least as it should be up to the Leavers to make a go of the negotiations with the EU.  They wanted out, they campaigned for it, they should be the ones tasked with making their claims of things only getting better freed from the confines of the EU a reality.

Johnson's triumph, despite as Sparrow outlines issuing a constant stream of half-truths to outright whoppers seems indicative of where we are currently.  All politicians are liars; all involved are scaremongering; only those impervious to practically all attacks can hope to rise above it.  That Johnson has been twice sacked for dishonesty only seems to demonstrate how superior he is at lying, being found out, and recovering regardless.  Most lesser mortals would have been done for the first time, not managed to be in with a massive shout of becoming prime minister while claiming that bananas can't be sold in bunches of more than 3.

It almost makes you wonder if the key is to lie big and as often as possible, just combine it with what looks to be a positive case.  Boris and chums spent today claiming not just there would be a "triple whammy" should we remain, with all three parts of the whammy swiftly debunked, but also that you can only guarantee long-term prosperity with democracy and freedom.  This is an incredibly dubious argument, undermined not least by how China to name but one country has combined lack of basic freedoms with a growth rate the envy of the rest of the world.  History suggests that a growing middle class will eventually demand greater freedoms to the detriment of authoritarian governments/rulers, only this has yet to come to fruition.  Nonetheless, much as the claims of lack of accountability, with bureaucrats making decisions in Brussels we can't influence are incredibly overblown, they still resonate.  You can't be against democracy.  You can't be against freedom.  You don't want to be under the control of a remote elite more interested in continuing to concentrating power than anything else.  Why not take back control?

That it's snake oil doesn't matter when snake oil seems preferable, at least for the moment, to a constant diet of doom.  Both Vote Leave (PDF) and Stronger In (ditto) issued dossiers today; even the merest glance at the two makes clear that Stronger In's, while still listing the most hyperbolic predictions of what could happen if we leave, is easily the more based in reality.  Facts though seem irrelevant, even as voters demand them; the facts we really want depend on our biases.   Very few of us are completely ignorant of the arguments; that is not to say though the arguments we're aware of are not themselves ignorant.  One might hope the intervention of the Institute for Fiscal Studies today, making clear Michael Gove was misrepresenting its finding that leaving would save £8 billion a year, albeit an £8 billion that would very quickly melt away if the economy declined as they believe might have some impact, but probably not.

Nor is there much hope when as Leave put it, Cameron appeared alongside a host of losers.  Natalie Bennett has been hopeless as leader of the Greens; Harriet Harman was such a success as interim Labour leader she massively helped Corbyn to victory; and Tim Farron hasn't even started to begin the rebuilding process the Lib Dems need to go through.  Who currently undecided could possibly be persuaded by any of these figures?  Has Remain gone too early with its economic campaign?  Has the scaremongering had the opposite effect?  Are the polls suggesting a shift to Leave wrong or merely the equivalent of what happened in Scotland, where Yes received a boost late on only to fall far short?

My own feeling, so wrong last year, is that Leave really could win this, helped by how Leave voters are more motivated to turn out than Remain supporters.  I hope I'm wrong, and I'd be lying to say I haven't shifted before; my initial feeling was the coalition the Tories formed to win the election were likely to be natural Leavers, only to be placated by the polls.  Anyone claiming to be certain at this point is either a liar or a fool.  I just fear Leave has the edge, with all the potential implications that has.

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It's hard not to fear you are right. I always saw this campaign as a huge opportunity for Lib Dems and Labour to engage the youth vote, get them registered and on the way to voting in the next general. But they haven't taken up that baton. So the referendum electorate looks a lot like the General 2015. And given how that turned out...

Quite. And where have the Lib Dems been? Labour has been campaigning without it being covered, but as for the Lib Dems, Farron's appearance today was about the first peep I've heard from them. The most pro-EU party, and they've done what exactly? Presumably they've realised they too are on a hiding to nothing, but still.

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