Vote Leave have launched a new campaign today, offering a £50m prize if you can guess the winner of every game at the Euros this summer. They’ve chosen the £50m figure as that is the sum that Vote Leave say the United Kingdom send to the European Union every day.
If you wanted to sum up Vote Leave’s approach to the In-Out referendum in a single gimmick, this is surely it, as it is deceitful – and effective. The £50m figure is a double deception – it’s well in excess of what Britain actually pays, and your chances of winning are so small they can only be viewed through an electron microscope. Saying that “the UK pays £50m to the EU” is like saying “I paid £10 for breakfast at Gregg’s this morning” – yes, I paid with a £10 note, but I got £8 back. The true figure is closer to £26m a day.
But the depressing truth is that this sort of fact-free campaigning works – and has worked before. It’s the same strategy that Matthew Elliott, the head of Vote Leave, deployed to devastating effect, when he was head of the No to AV campaign, and that Dominic Cummings, head of strategy at Vote Leave, used when he was in charge of the anti-North East Assembly campaign: focus on costs, often highly-inflated ones, and repeat, over and over again.
This competition is a great vessel for that message, too, with the potential to reach anyone who has at least one Facebook friend with an interest in betting or football, i.e. everyone. And as my colleague Kirsty Styles revealed yesterday, this latest campaign is just one in a series of Internet-based, factually dubious campaigns and adverts being used by Vote Leave on the Internet.
The difficulty for the opponents of No2AV was, as one alumni of that campaign reflected recently, “how do you repudiate it without repeating it?”. A row over whether the United Kingdom sends £50m or £26m helps the Leave campaign whichever way it ends up, though the Remain campaign believe they have a better line of defence than their defeated predecessors with the line that households will be £4,300 worse off after Brexit. Unlike the abstract £50m figure, it is “more relatable”, Stronger In staffers argue.
Neither Yes to Fairer Votes or supporters of a devolved assembly for the North East ever found a defence against the Elliott-Cummings approach. Time will tell if Britain Stronger In Europe have found the right apporach to prevent them completing the hattrick.