Po­lit­i­cal rocky road and

A se­ries of gear changes through­out favoured both In and Out by turn

The Herald - Herald Sport - - EU REFERENDUM -

JUST ahead of the fi­nal month-long stretch of the In-Out cam­paign came a mo­ment when the gears shifted with a jolt and the per­sonal na­ture of the blue-on-blue EU “pyschodrama” was laid bare.

Lord He­sel­tine, the Eu­rophile grandee, made a land­mark in­ter­ven­tion when he took a well-aimed pot­shot at the Vote Leave camp’s premier-in­wait­ing, Boris John­son.

Bozza, said Hezza, had been guilty of mak­ing “pre­pos­ter­ous, ob­scene po­lit­i­cal re­marks”, he was los­ing it with his out­landish rhetoric and had ef­fec­tively blown his chances of ever be­com­ing prime min­is­ter.

It was only a few days ear­lier that the for­mer Lon­don mayor had rat­tled the Re­main cage by sug­gest­ing the EU and Hitler had the same aim of cre­at­ing a Euro­pean su­per­state – al­beit by dif­fer­ent meth­ods.

It pre­sented Mr John­son’s op­po­nents with an open goal and un­der­lined how much of the de­bate would be about “play­ing the man”. Re­main strate­gists be­lieved that the more they could per­son­alise the ar­gu­ments to­wards the idio­syn­cratic Uxbridge MP and, even bet­ter, to­wards Ukip’s equally idio­syn­cratic Nigel Farage, the bet­ter their cam­paign’s chances would be.

On the same day as Lord He­sel­tine’s broad­side, David Cameron en­raged the Brexit camp by sug­gest­ing the only peo­ple who would be rub­bing their hands at Bri­tain quit­ting the EU were Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Abu Bakr al Bagh­dadi, the leader of so-called Is­lamic State. The heat in the de­bate was turned up.

Just two hours be­fore pur­dah – the pe­riod when the Whitehall ma­chine falls into a cam­paign sleep – struck, the Trea­sury ended a flow of anti-Brexit sta­tis­tics with an­other dire warn­ing about how leav­ing the EU could hit pen­sions. Pen­sion­ers, who are known to be the most likely sec­tion of so­ci­ety to vote, were, so opin­ion polls told us, largely pro-Brexit. The tar­get was care­fully cho­sen.

Chief Leaver Iain Dun­can Smith branded the Trea­sury move “ut­terly out­ra­geous” and as pur­dah be­gan anti-EU MPs de­manded any pro-EU links on govern­ment web­sites should be re­moved.

Then an­other Tory grandee made a splash. Sir John Ma­jor an­grily took to the air­waves to have an­other mighty swipe at the Brexit Con­ser­va­tives, de­nounc­ing their cam­paign as “de­ceit­ful” and “verg­ing on the squalid”. He dis­missed Mr John­son as a “court jester” and sug­gested that leav­ing the NHS in his hands and those of Michael Gove would be “about as safe with them as a pet ham­ster would be with a hun­gry python”.

The Re­main camp was be­gin­ning to look jit­tery, a feel­ing un­der­lined when the Prime Min­is­ter upped the rhetoric, warn­ing that Brexit was like “putting a bomb un­der the econ­omy”.

A break in the clouds ap­peared for the In camp when Tory Sarah Wollaston, a for­mer GP who chairs the Com­mons Health Com­mit­tee, dra­mat­i­cally switched sides, com­plain­ing that Brexit’s claims on the NHS – that there would be lots more money for health care if Bri­tain quit the EU – were sim­ply un­true.

Then, out of the blue, Mr Cameron held an im­promptu West­min­ster press con­fer­ence to ex­pose the Brexit camp’s cat­alogue of “un­truths”. Vote Leave in­sisted Mr Cameron was pan­ick­ing. It was dif­fi­cult to ar­gue the point.

Some 48 hours later, there was the en­tic­ing con­fronta­tion be­tween Ni­cola Stur­geon and Mr John­son. The First Min­is­ter sup­pos­edly had to be “ca­joled” to share a plat­form with Tory cabi­net min­is­ter Am­ber Rudd for Re­main, but Stronger In ap­peared des­per­ate to get back on the front foot and the SNP leader was “box of­fice”, said one source.

Ms Stur­geon was her usual com­bat­ive self, up­braid­ing the chief Leave cam­paigner for putting his per­sonal am­bi­tions to be in No 10 be­fore the in­ter­ests of the coun­try. Ms Rudd quipped that BoJo might be the life and soul of the party but he was “not the man you want driv­ing you home at the end of the evening”.

Labour’s An­gela Ea­gle took Mr John­son to task over the claim on Vote Leave’s bat­tle bus that Bri­tain handed over £350 mil­lion a week to Brus­sels. “Take that lie off your bus,” de­clared the shadow busi­ness sec­re­tary. But the chief Outer in­sisted this was “cold, hard cash” that be­longed to the Bri­tish peo­ple, who would spend it more wisely than those pesky Eu­ro­crats.

The per­sonal at­tacks on the Uxbridge MP missed their mark and the last­ing im­pres­sion from the de­bate was how calm and col­lected the Brex­iters were as they re­peat­edly used the mantra “take back con­trol”. Leave tails con­tin­ued to rise. Within 24 hours, the ta­bles ap­peared to have turned fully when a poll of 2,000 adults for The In­de­pen­dent gave the Leave camp a 10-point lead; 55 per cent to 45.

Ukip’s Nigel Farage sensed the mo­men­tum had shifted his way. “Peo­ple are fed up be­ing threat­ened by David Cameron. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to put two fin­gers up to the po­lit­i­cal class,” he de­clared.

Alarm bells be­gan to ring in Down­ing Street. The PM ap­peared on the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show to in­sist his mes­sage had been “hugely op­ti­mistic and pos­i­tive” about stay­ing in the EU. But Mr Cameron looked sub­dued, as if for the first time he re­alised that this was a bat­tle he could lose. Yet, in­stead of chang­ing tack and ton­ing down the rhetoric, Ge­orge Os­borne popped up to dou­ble up on

POSTER BOY: Nigel Farage makes his mes­sage clear.

POINT MADE: Boris John­son and Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron.

THE ONLY WAY IS UP: For­mer PM John Ma­jor en­ters the de­bate.

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