The balance of hope and fear, however, has changed. The great moral
advantage for the pro-Europeans 40 years ago was that they represented
hope, whereas the No campaign drew on fear. It felt like the 21st
century versus 1940. The future defeated the past.
Now that we live in the 21st century, the shocks of the euro and mass migration
and the marked decline of European world competitiveness, have ensured
that the EU does not feel like the future any more. The argument for
British membership is now almost wholly a status quo one – that getting
out is too risky. No sane British pro-European publicly campaigns for
much more Europe (although that is what many of them privately want):
that side has lost its visionary power.
If it gets it right, the
“Leave” campaign can annex both hope and fear – hope that we could be
freer to govern ourselves and freer actors in the wider world where the
global future is actually being decided; fear that if we stay in we
shall be more regulated, more dragged into the deeper Euro-project and
more vulnerable to uncontrollable immigration.
Add the fact that
voters are much less respectful and more insurgent than they were in
1975, and a Crosby-ish calculation of the outcome becomes much narrower
now than then. Recent polls tend to bear this out. The pull of
aspiration among the undecided is away from the EU, while that of
security is still for remaining. A typical formulation of such a voter
might be “I want my country back, but not if it means I lose my job”.