31 May 2016

Vote Leave: a government-in-waiting?

ICM has two polls out for The Guardian this evening suggesting a move towards Leave amongst voters (whether you poll by phone or internet). It matches a “small shift our way” that Vote Leave say their polling may have detected.

Vote Leave believes this owes something to the referendum, post midnight Thursday night, moving into a new phase in which the government’s leading figures have to campaign without the machinery of government being used.

The Vote Leave team believes that by hitting on examples like VAT on fuel and suggesting these things could be removed post-Brexit they are shifting the debate their way and dictating the terms of the debate (which usually means winning the competition to have the top headline on the news and thereby get the other side responding to your attack line rather than vice versa).

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Today’s latest instalment in the Leave strategy, the Sun newspaper article by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (also signed by Gisela Stuart), promises “fuel bills will fall”. This pledge is part of a developing approach from Vote Leave, dominated at the top table by senior Tories, which makes it sound more and more like a government-in-waiting coming up with its own manifesto.

I put it to Michael Gove that his pledges only amounted to something if he was getting rid of David Cameron and George Osborne. He repeated his commitment to keep both of them in their current jobs but insisted that things will change the other side of the referendum as “a clear signal will have been sent” by British voters to the political establishment.

The Vote Leave camp is unapologetic about going for David Cameron. One senior figure in the campaign said the PM started it by choosing to make personal attacks on Boris Johnson and “thinking they could win and take him out all in one in one go”. “It was their choice not ours,” the source said.

Senior Tories in the Vote Leave campaign say they feel they can’t watch David Cameron throwing everything he has at this campaign and not respond using their own best lines of attack (even if they do involve taking a pop at the PM).

Mr Gove insisted that his campaign would continue to be “vigilant” about the government abusing purdah rules. Some are convinced that Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, did just that today, deploying statistics that Vote Leave believe were produced by civil servants in BIS but produced only today, five days into purdah. They judged it wasn’t worth making too much of that when their own VAT story was running so well in the media.

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