21 Jun 2016

Cameron’s message: don’t harm your children and grandchildren

David Cameron has just spoken to the nation on the case for staying in the EU. He focused his remarks on people his own age and older. He told them not to do something that could harm their children and grandchildren and something that could not be undone.

He said that the issue “above all” is the economy, in the knowledge that for many voters “immigration” tops it. He wants his issue on their minds as they vote, not Leave’s issue. He emphasised “risk,” a word he will repeat with every breath between now and Thursday.

David Cameron is not allowed to use government buildings or officials’ support in the “purdah” period which was slapped on him by Tory MPs who thought he would use the government machine to try to monster them with announcements in authoritative settings.

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He decided to get round that today by speaking in the street outside No. 10. His team argues it’s a public highway so not technically government property (oh, and they’ve peeled off the government crest which normally sits on the front of the lectern). I have been checking whether that means Boris Johnson can stroll up there later today and do his own press conference at the same lectern but I’m guided that is unlikely.

There had been a plan to have all the living former prime ministers lined up with David Cameron for a powerful photo op but logistics, it is said, were the problem. Tony Blair is today at a family funeral, so I wonder if this was when it was meant to happen and that’s why it didn’t. Instead David Cameron spoke of their support for his cause and gestured a couple of times at the building they’d all served in.

Without a line-up of ex-PMs, David Cameron had to make do with the heavily caveated and massively qualified support of Jeremy Corbyn. In a question and answer session after his speech in Manchester, Mr Corbyn spoke of how he was ready for an early election if, say, a Brexit vote triggered a desire to get round the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

The suspension of campaigning from Thursday afternoon onwards forced both campaigns to jettison planned interventions. Vote Leave was on a roll putting immigration at the forefront of its campaign. It wanted to maintain the barrage and fire up its supporters who are still dominated, as one senior campaign strategist put it to me, by “older, less educated and poor” people. The Remain campaign had plans to use these days to wrestle the agenda back on to “risk and the economy”.

Instead we had three to four days dominated by coverage that put elected politicians in a better light than usual as heartfelt tributes to Jo Cox filled the airwaves. And we saw the Ukip “Breaking Point” poster moving to the top of bulletins. Both campaigns lost planned moments. Something else, someone else, filled the time and thoughts of the nation.

Nicola Sturgeon has spoken out on how she thinks that will impact voters, pulling them away from Leave. But she, as she said in her Guardian interview, and just like the rest of us, can’t know if it impacts on the actual result.

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