I’ve actually written about this before, but this week I really do need to say it again: the Leave campaign at present eerily resembles one of the AV referendum campaigns, and not the side that won. The most immediately relevant piece of evidence for this being the already legendary Mandy Boylett “Three Lions” video that needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, it is really that bad. I thought it was a bunch of pro-Europeans exaggerating, but nope – it really is some sort of Alex Zane “Worst Crap off the Internet Ever” TV show level horrible. Then there are the condoms Vote Leave have distributed on university campuses that bear the slogan, “It’s riskier to stay in”, which has all sorts of bizarre sexual implications I’m not sure they thought about before charging ahead with the idea.
Yes to AV was all about “wacky gags” – we had a bunch of students do up some homemade looking banners that looked terrible to show how “grassroots” the campaign was (turns out having fake-real student banners costs more than getting professionally made ones done up, ironically enough). An idea that was floated at one point (which thankfully never materialised) was placing gigantic, inflatable MPs arses in town centres for passersby to kick. There was a sense of enforced “fun” about the whole thing at all times that was exhausting to be around.
On the other side, No to AV ran a small, compact, professional campaign that simply looked for the weak spots and exploited them. And they won. By a lot.
I know some will say, “But the terrible Mandy Boylett video isn’t from the “official” Vote Leave campaign. It’s just some nutter singing harmony with a wig on.” But I remember distinctly the Yes to AV campaign trying to pull the same sort of excuse. “It’s not us that’s putting this crap out, just our nutty supporters.” To which the public turned around and asked, “So you have a lot of nutty supporters then?” And what do you say to that? I know. “Yes. Only some. Okay, quite a lot of nutty supporters, actually.”
The Yes to AV campaign taught me many things about politics, but one that is relevant here is that when it comes to stuff like this June referendum, people a). don’t pay that much attention and are usually swayed only by a few statements put forward by a politician they kind of trust, at least as far as they would ever trust a politician and b). partly as a result of this, they are really unimpressed and indeed turned off by stupid stunts like condoms with wacky campaign slogans on them and inflatable MPs arses.
What’s so odd is that Matthew Elliot, the same guy who ran No to AV, is running Vote Leave. As I’ve said before, he is a very effective campaigner. Perhaps it really is just impossible to run a campaign against the status quo in Britain these days and not expect it to go one way only.