Any other business

Among people I meet, the ‘remain’ campaign is edging the Brexit debate

The ‘leave’ lobby has the best tunes but fails to make a clear economic case

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

In every gathering, someone — often me — calls for a show of hands on Brexit. And I have to report that, in the varied circles in which I move, ‘leave’ may have the best tunes but isn’t winning the argument. At a Mayfair fundraiser for a Jewish charity, the crowd of mostly thirty-to-fortysomething men in suits (and many in yarmulkes) was 90 per cent for ‘remain’; a former Tory minister was spotted waving both arms in a desperate bid to boost the ‘leave’ minority. In a more mixed crowd of business people at a Budget briefing in Newcastle, the balance was much the same.

At a Sunday lunch in Yorkshire — of the traditional sort at which grace is still said — we were six-a-side until the host’s housekeeper paused from serving to make the casting vote for ‘remain’ because ‘my husband’s job depends on it’. Likewise, in a ski party at Méribel, opinion was divided, shading for ‘remain’. At a dinner of European cross-border merger-and-acquisition lawyers, it didn’t seem polite to ask if they wanted the UK to stay or go, so I asked if they thought we’re mad to hold the referendum at all: every hand in the room twitched.

What I draw from all this is that ‘leave’ campaigners, motivated by sovereignty issues and tactically focused on ad hominem attacks, are failing to make the financial case upon which a great block of voters will actually base their choice. Vague talk of trade deals with India and elsewhere just doesn’t cut the mustard. Indeed, if I may say so, the most articulate, broad-ranging economic manifesto for leaving so far was probably our own Spectator Money supplement (5 March and online).

I would have put the in-out question to last Friday’s hunt centenary dinner at home in Helmsley, but by then I felt I could predict the poll: older men for out, older women not so sure, younger people — in business, farming, manual work or higher education — confused by their elders’ contradictory claims, but more likely to vote ‘remain’ if they vote at all.

So I didn’t poll the convivial hunters, instead regaling them with my latest Brexit metaphor. There we are — I told them — late-night tobogganing like teenagers down Méribel’s unlit pistes from the Rond-Point to the Grand Coeur hotel. I’m just swerving on to the final steep descent when what should I meet but the blinding headlights of the very embodiment of the European superstate: a mighty piste-basher machine advancing unstoppably uphill, straight towards me. I hurl myself sideways off my flimsy tea-tray of a toboggan, no match for the giant steel plough ahead, and eventually stagger dazed to my feet. The basher-driver is out of his cab, but is he coming to check I’m unhurt? No, he’s shouting at me about breaking the resort’s safety rules. ‘Je m’en fous de vos réglements Bruxellois,’ I shout back to his evident surprise, as I remount my plastic steed. ‘Je suis citoyen Britannique: je choisis la piste de la liberté!’ And on I go, plunging in exhilaration down a dark mountain towards an unknown fate.


‘This has not been a debt-fuelled recovery. Aggregate private credit growth is modest compared to pre-crisis conditions… That said, increased vigilance is merited… it doesn’t take a genius to recognise that a prolonged period of low… interest rates could encourage the build-up of excessive risks.’ So observed Governor Mark Carney in his Peston Lecture (named after the great broadcaster’s economist father) at Queen Mary University of London in January.

Regular readers know I regard Carney as less than the central-banking genius he was first cracked up to be. Now I’m wondering how he squares those remarks with a warning from the Office for Budget Responsibility that UK households could clock up an annual deficit of spending over income of £68 billion by the end of the decade — up from £58 billion this year, and in contrast to a £38 billion surplus in 2012, when we were in frugal post-crisis mode. The OBR says year-after-year deficits on the current scale are ‘unprecedented’, and in part due to the Bank of England’s ‘extremely accommodative monetary policy’. The cumulative total of net unsecured borrowing (including credit cards) could reach £662 billion by 2020.

If that’s not ‘debt-fuelled’, I don’t know what is. But I shouldn’t be smug about Carney: none of us has perfect forward vision. Days before his Peston speech, I wrote that readers disheartened by equity returns and deposit rates ‘might like to explore well-established peer-to-peer lending websites’. Now wise men tell me that if the new debt bubble bursts, the peer-to-peer sector could be highly vulnerable. Like the Governor, let me recommend increased vigilance.

Fallen angel

If I could choose a companion for an Easter getaway, it would be Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star who clearly needs sympathy and financial advice. Though often in my thoughts, she has only once appeared here, after I watched Venus Williams hammer her at Wimbledon in 2007 and commended her to Barclays chief John Varley (who was also there, taking time out from his bid battle against RBS for ABN Amro, in which victory would have been disastrous) as an example of ‘how to lose elegantly and still be loved by the crowd’. She’s been trying to do that again after her recent fall — testing positive for a recently banned drug, meldonium, which boosts exercise capacity — and I’d say that on today’s spectrum of global sports cheating, her sin is minor in relation to her potential loss of $30 million a year in prize money and endorsements. In banking terms, it’s a mis-selling after a rule change, not a Libor scandal. So I’m glad to see Nike, her major sponsor, hinting that she may be given a second chance on the basis that ‘sometimes these moments become teaching moments’. Quite so. Meanwhile, Maria, I’m here to help.

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  • dcomplex

    It is a mathematical identity that the private deficit year-over-year plus the public deficit year-over-year must equal the current account deficit. Since the current account deficit has grown since 2012 and the public budget deficit has declined, it is necessary that the year-over-year private deficit must be on the rise.

    What this means is that Sterling is overvalued and is only propped up by large inflows of foreign capital.

  • HD2

    You should get out more…
    Amongst the older WWC, the passion for Brexit is quite astonishing.
    Only London and Scotland will vote to remain (and then largely by post….!)

    Immigration is now so great and the Project fear so OTT, that it is beyond parody. those of us over 50 can remember a long, long list of ‘end of the world as we know it’ fears espoused by lily-livered politicians, all of which proved to be utterly without foundation.

    They WERE an excuse to rob us of more of our freedom and to tax us even more.

    A ‘reformed’ EU would not be worth spitting on, let alone joining, whilst Cameron’s achieved nothing remotely near ‘a reformed EU’. That can ONLY happen when ‘ever-closer union’ is removed and the entire political construct removed: as a Free Trade Area, the EU has some merit.

    But nowhere near as much as a Global Free Trade area, covering everywhere on Earth.

    NO import taxes/duties/levies on ANY product made ANYWHERE. Just maximum global competition, and let Darwinism and consumerism determine who survives, and where they operate.

  • ThatOneChap

    Among the people I meet, Brexit is strong. My family members, friends, co-workers and so on are all pro-Brexit. People generally don’t say it unless they know they can trust you though.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Are they Brummies?

  • Raddiy

    You appear to see it as purely an economic argument, whilst the public don’t.

    It is immigration that is the issue especially its effect on the lower paid. It seems that your circle of friends and acquaintances are about as out of sync with the majority of the population to the point where you don’t even bother to mention the elephant in the room.
    You canvassed opinion from wealthy Remain vested interest groups, and you got the result you wanted . Quelle surprise!
    As others have said, you need to get out more!

  • FrancescaMacfarlane

    You should try meeting a different class of people. By your own admission you socialise with the liberal elite -the sort of perople who believes the BBC is unbiased and who think that unlimited immigration is a good thing because it provides an uninterrupted supply of cheap Slovakian nannies and Romanian house cleaners.
    Within my own cycling group – that comprises all social classes outside the realm of Mayfair charity balls and Meribel ski mansions – the support for Brexit stands at around 95%.

  • Eheyworth

    I think John Varley lost elegantly, and was still loved by the crowd afterwards!!! (Especially because he lost :))

    • Frank

      Some of us are still praying that he gets prosecuted!

  • Ivan Ewan

    Fundraiser, dinner party, skiing holiday… wow, you certainly are a man of the people.

    • Tom Cullem

      You couldn’t make it up. Wonder how the folk in Kent will be voting after watching those two lorries full of unchecked migrants roll in from Calais earlier this week, and seeing English children in care from the area moved outside the home county to make room for migrant children.

      Nothing like watching a civilisation obligingly dismantle itself.

  • Davedeparis

    And if you remain you’ll get a nice limited trade relationship? No, trade and peace are just pretexts for building a Heath-Robinsonesque, postmodern, EU superstate incapable of reform or competence. It always has been from the get go and always will.

  • 100

    Tip. Don’t be friends with Useful idiots

  • Teacher

    You clearly socialise with clever, well mannered, movers and shakers whose opinions count in the world. Unfortunately, some fool gave the rest of us a vote. It all comes down to numbers.

    • Rather like the voting in Brussels..Latvia & Luxembourg have just as much clout as ourselves..

  • Frank

    On s’enmerde de ton Mayfair fundraiser!
    The argument you are looking for is Turkey!

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Edging it? We are ahead 3 to 2.

      • Tom Cullem

        You may be – that doesn’t mean you aren’t a set of fools.

      • Tom Cullem

        Oh btw you might want to check The Week, 18 March – “With exactly three months to go, an ICM survey showed support for Brexit rose by two points to 43% while the REMAIN campaign fell to 41%” The larger poll of polls showed REMAIN’s lead had narrowed to 51%-49%.

        In politics, one week is a lifetime. One more successful terror attack, a few more revelations about EU incompetence, the spectre of that Turkish deal . . .

        Do remember what happened in last year’s GE and how very helpful the “polls” were.

  • William Evans

    The truth is the person leading the in campaign ( David Cameron ) has been discredited as a leader and will continue his decline as the weeks tick by. In Europe we will see the continual decline of the EU, with the migrant crisis, terrorism and economic declines. With these ingredients how on Earth would we end up with an IN Campaign Cake? The likely scenario when the referendum oven is opened on the 4th June is the opposite; a big cake with OUT speed across it!

  • Bertie Wooster

    I suspect Cameron’s big plan is for the ballot boxes to go missing for several hours on the day of the referendum and then come back with the “right answer”.

  • Tom Cullem

    Really? Mayfair leans toward REMAIN? Quelle surprise! Are there any “refugee centers” in their neighbourhoods?
    That alone is a good reason to vote OUT – never mind Schengen, Brussels, Paris, the quickly growing Salafist/Islamist movement in Berlin, the Turks Mrs Merkel has kindly arranged to welcome and the few million more Muslims who will have EU passports in five years . . .
    As for the Jews who enthusiastically support IN – good lord. Remember all those who hung on in Germany after 1933, figuring it would, as it used to do, “blow over”?! Muslim immigration into Europe is the primary driver of anti-Semitism now. There are only one million Jews left in the region. There are 44 million Muslims – by 2060 they will be the dominant religious force in Europe and politicians will be pandering to beat the band.
    Turkeys voting for Christmas.

  • mikewaller

    Could it just be that the good ship “Brexit” founders on the interesting case of Germany? Subject to exactly the same rules and, because it is richer, paying more in net than we do, it outshines us in almost every economic dimension. In the global league of exporters, Germany lies 4th, France 7th, and the UK 11th. In terms of the value of their exports, Germany exceeds the UK by a factor of 3. With regard to China, Germany is well over four times more successful as an exporter than we are. As a result, whilst we continue to suffer from a sizeable trade deficit, Germany’s positive balance is the order of £200 billion. Unsurprisingly, one measure by which we do seem to out-perform them is in having a larger national debt.

    Nor is this surprising. For over 100 years our productivity has been significantly lower than that not only of Germany, but also other major competitors such as the USA and France. That was bad enough when the Western industrialised countries plus Japan dominated manufacturing; unfortunately we are now entering an era in which many hundreds of millions of new industrial workers are seeking to make their ways in much lower cost economies. In short, the going is going to get a lot tougher.

    As to why we do comparatively badly, the Head of Legal and General plc, speaking on “Today” last week, said that with some notable exceptions, we are generally poor at providing after-sales support in our export markets and in nurturing bright ideas into the kind of small to medium sized industrial enterprises that are the mainstay of the German success story. One consequence, according to another Today item, is that currently our dimensionally largest export is the fresh air within the shipping containers, initially filled with imports, that are sent back from these shores empty.

    It is obvious from this that the EU cannot be blamed for our century–long decline and that there is much to be done if we are to reverse it. So it is very much my view that it would be foolish in the extreme to “Brexit” at least until we have proved to ourselves that we can compete on equal terms with the best of our fellow Europeans. Just maybe, millions of folk at some level or another recognise this and are therefore no minded to follow the Brexit lemmings over the cliff!

  • hoops

    How odd, I find the exact opposite, mind you though I mix in circles towards the lower middle to bottom end of the social spectrum, you know, amidst the common people where the vast majority of the British population and electorate reside and almost to man they all want a Brexit.

    Maybe I should get out more.

    • steddyneddy

      This is why I read the comments first. Then decide whether the article is worth reading.

  • Augustus

    The Common Market wasn’t a bad idea, but then came the EU. An unnecessary elitist ideological project, driven by pompous hubris, and aimed at ever closer political and monetary union. A bit like that fantastic mistress you sought out and then suddenly demanded a prenuptial agreement when you wanted to marry her. And then, as in many relationships, its character becomes more and more fraught with suspicion and doubt as the relationship deteriorates. Take Calais as an example. First it was just the Mayor of Calais, then a French minister said: “If Great Britain leaves the EU, France won’t stop the refugees crossing the Channel”. Or Merkel, who said: “If a country closes its borders, another country suffers, that’s not my Europe”. And that while the countries between Islam and Germany suffered the most because Merkel threw her borders open to all. And then there’s all the monetary crises, which were conveniently pushed aside because people were drowning and washing up on beaches which made better PR. But in this too the EU sets European countries against each other. Citizens of the fiscally responsible Northern European countries are forced to squander billions of tax on retrograde states like Greece. On the other hand, Greece is forced to enter into a fiscal policy which is not in any way compatible with its own culture. Now the Greeks have been vilified, and in turn they hate the Northerners. This is what European solidarity has come to among the people of Europe.

  • Gary Johnson

    I work in low level employment where English / British people are in a very and I mean very small minority, so understandably even though we like our European co workers as people I have yet to meet anyone that wants to remain in the EU.

    Now, that is not surprising, but what has surprised me is the number of shall we say commonwealth people that I know who also want out of the EU.

  • Tickertapeguy

    Another article in this paper has a headline “Like London Brussels has become a hotbed of Islamic Extremism”
    the reason London is lumped with Brussels, when it comes to Islamic extremism, is due to the open borders that Great Britain has due to her membership with the European Union

    Like the Belgians the British people have little say regarding the soverignity of Great Britain. The leaders ignore the people and bring in refugees, many of whom, hate Europe and want to hurt her. what more does the people of Great Britain need to end this membership and be free of the European Union?

  • Hunt Follower.

    I’m voting out. Everyone I know is voting out, except for my mother, who is 84 and has managed to convince herself that leaving the EU will mean that Germany and France will immediately declare war on us.

  • Kendo Russ

    So the only time you came across a group where a remain majority was unlikely, you didn’t ask the question? When you ask middle class, well to do folk benefiting from lower salaries for the working classes, self interest suggests many will vote remain.

  • Jackthesmilingblack