Key 1. Even taking into account that the Remain side had the huge advantage of the government’s communications machine going for them, the national Leave campaign got off to a poor start back in mid-April when the @Vote_Leave organisation was officially designated. Crucially however, one thing that really struck home with the Watford public was the #ProjectFear story line. From my first weekend on the Leave stall in the Town Centre, ‘Government’s #Scaremongering’ was something that people mentioned to me right off the bat. Of course, this will only prove to have been amazingly effective if the District scores for Brexit. The Remainians have been trying to turn the tide on the effectiveness of the views of so-called ‘Experts’ ever since. The extent to which they are successful in this as the campaign ends will determine the outcome.
Key 2. Ten weeks of street stall conversations with random shoppers around the District does not a proper market research project make. Yet, my assumptions of the effects of ‘significant events’ amplified by social media on people’s choice in this Referendum were changed by my on-street interactions. I was concerned that President Obama’s intervention in Week 3 was going to have a negative impact on Leave. On the contrary, the street reaction that weekend was broadly that he should ‘keep his nose’ out. This was a surprise to me as was general anti-US feeling. Similarly, the brutal and tragic assassination of Jo Cox does not seem to have been a major topic on the streets these past two days despite social media frenzy. In fact, as a digital strategist I regret to say that social media buzz is a side show or an irrelevance to many working people.
Key 3. Since Watford is one of the most densely populated and diverse Districts outside of inner-City London, immigration is an important issue here. Many people walking past the Leave stall are eastern European immigrants who cannot Vote in this Referendum but whose increasing choice of Watford as a place to settle has influenced the decisions of people who can vote. Unquestionably the arrival of these new residents puts Watford’s public schools, hospital and local GP surgeries under pressure and drives up Leave vote pledges.
Key 5. Many young peoples’ support for Remain is superficial at best. Those who stopped and spoke to us at the Leave stall asking questions left, in most cases, thinking seriously whether the celebrity fronted arguments pushed by the Remain side were as solid as they first thought. In any case the motivation of this demographic to actually turn out and choose in this (to them) complex debate is questionable.
Key 6. The determination of those who will definitely @Vote_Leave is remarkable. A plague of locusts could descend on Watford District tomorrow and Leave voters will fight their way through to the polling station. Many weekends, the Leave stall was almost side by side with a Remain one flying the EU flag. Can’t say I saw much enthusiasm for the symbolism of the stars on blue in Watford. I have no doubt there is a solid and substantial Remain vote in Watford. Obviously, who turns out to vote on the day is critical. Thunderstorms are predicted Referendum day in this Town. Will that make even a marginal difference? Studies of weather affecting election outcomes say not.
Key 7. Remain or Leave this event in Watford and nationally will have some serious structural implications for UK politics in terms of the futures of all the main political parties. Many mainstream UK parties were split on the EU issue - some more publicly than others. I met some great people from across the political spectrum in this campaign and it’s the first time I have ever delivered a political leaflet with a ‘Green’ message!
Prediction: The conventional psephologist wisdom is that the closer to London a voter is the more likely they are to vote Remain. Watford borders Greater London and is often touted as the ‘Gateway to the North’. It is a barometer parliamentary seat and has voted for the party of government in every general election since 1974. After 10 weeks involved in the #EURef campaign here I can say with some certainty that things are very, very close as of today. The Remain camp need a larger margin here if they are to avoid Brexit as results sweep into London proper. Putting aside all my inbuilt bias as best I can, I’m calling the result in Watford District as 51:49 for Leave on the day. If I’m right Britain is headed out of the EU and into an Outward Looking, Global Trading future as an independent nation state.
Click here to read Gary’s article on “Why UK Watford is one of the most industrious places on earth”