Diary

ConHome Diary: Leave Sarah Alone & the Politics of Protest

12 Jun 2016 at 19:40

Sarah Wollaston’s defection from LEAVE to REMAIN has attracted much comment. When she joined LEAVE many were surprised as they had always considered her to be pro-EU. But she eloquently explained her reasons and the LEAVE camp were highly delighted. Some believe she was a REMAIN plant and was always going to defect. That is to insult her intelligence and it is a conspiracy theory too far. Her main reason for ‘re-ratting’ is because she says LEAVE are not telling the truth about the £350 million we sent to the EU each week. She complains about the way the NHS is being used in this argument. I have to say I do wonder why it’s taken her so long to act, given that this detail and argument have not changed in weeks. Nor has this one…


If Sarah Wollaston had criticised Vote Leave’s campaigning tactics and said she didn’t approve of what they were saying about the NHS, fair enough. She isn’t alone in that. But how can you defect to the other side over that one issue? If you believe Britain is ‘Better Off Out’, then that’s presumably for a variety of reasons. You want to protect our sovereignty. You don’t believe in an EU army. You never want to join the euro. I could go on. This is a referendum on a single question. It’s not like someone leaving a political party and joining another one.
But the LEAVE campaign would do well to leave Sarah alone and refrain from attacking her. It won’t gain them a single vote.
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Another conspiracy theory was launched on the same day as Sarah Wollaston’s departure. And it concerns the government’s motivation for extending the deadline for voter registration. It goes something like this. They deliberately crashed the gov.uk website so they could then extend the deadline in order for hundreds of thousands of young people to vote, and because they are young, they automatically will vote REMAIN. I can sometimes forgive people being slightly paranoid and believing that everything is a conspiracy. Sometimes they might be right. However, I think we should ration conspiracy theories to one a day. More than that and you come across as a complete loon.
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I do wonder, though, whether the government is leaving themselves open to a legal challenge over the deadline extension for voter registration. In order to do that a new law has had to be passed, and passed quickly. But in effect it is retrospective legislation, something which we don’t ever do. And the fact that there will be several hundred thousand people who register before this legislation has received Royal Assent, is legally highly questionable, I would have thought. Imagine if Remain wins the referendum by 250,000 votes. Just imagine.
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The ITV debate with Nigel Farage and David Cameron, if you can call it that, was a complete damp squib. At least Sky’s had some spark to it. Downing Street’s demands on the format at ITV meant the programme was never going to sing. I think ITV was too desperate to get the gig that they just acceded to everything Number Ten wanted. Which of course meant we were all bored into submission. Nigel Farage wasn’t quite on top of his game and the Prime Minister just oozed charm. It was a much better performance than his appearance on Sky, which was at best lacklustre. The fact remains he should have agreed to at least one head to head debate, and it’s a disgrace he hasn’t. He told me he wouldn’t do a debate because he didn’t want a ‘Tory psychodrama’. Well I think that ship has well and truly sailed.
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Well other broadcasters may not be doing head to head debates, but my programme certainly is. Last week we had IDS v Alex Salmond. On Monday we have Yvette Cooper v Chris Grayling. Thursday sees Andrea Leadsom take on Harriet Harman and on the Tuesday before the vote Nigel Farage will be taking on … well, we don’t know quite yet. Next Friday I have John Major on the show for half an hour. I’ve never interviewed him before so I’m looking forward to that.
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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I was very pleased to see on the Sunday Politics that they had copied our ‘Ask me Anything’ style of debate where we let politicians go at each other for five minutes without any interruption from the moderator. It’s very revealing when they question each other, and I suspect this format will now be here to stay.
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Tony Blair is certainly getting his retaliation in first. He is adamant he did nothing wrong in taking this country to war in Iraq. In his latest interview, though, he launched quite a blistering attack on Jeremy Corbyn, calling him out for indulging in the ‘politics of protest’ rather than the politics of power. Labour supporters would do well to remember that Blair won three elections for them. Yet many of them regard him as a war criminal. It’s a funny old world.

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