The Remain camp needs some new faces, and quickly

Craig Harrison writes for us about the upcoming EU referendum on 23rd June

If the latest polls on the EU referendum are anything to go by, then what seemed like a sure thing just a few months ago is now much less certain.

Figures from an online survey by Opinium, published by The Guardian at the beginning of April, put the Leave side on 43% – four points ahead of Remain.

While we are, rightly, much more sceptical about polls after the 2015 General Election; and while 18% of respondents in the Opinium poll were undecided, and thus unaccounted for; the results are still worrying for the Remain campaign.

Ever since talk of a referendum really gained momentum last year, ‘Inners’ across the UK have been sure that they’d win whenever the day eventually came. Now the date is set for 23 June, and all of a sudden they’re no longer very confident.

One of the problems is the man at the centre of the campaign to stay in the EU: Mr. David Cameron.

Almost since the get-go, Mr. Cameron has stumbled from one issue or crisis to the next – and while none of them have had anything to do with the European Union, his arguments for staying in are guilty by association.

Look at the last two months. His government launched a new Budget, proposing cuts to disability benefits and lower taxes for high-earners – resulting in a high-profile Cabinet resignation and a backbench revolt.

Mr. Cameron was then caught up in the Panama Papers scandal, dealing clumsily with accusations that he had been involved with off-shore dealings, to much public scorn.

These examples aren’t related to the EU, but they’ve hurt the man arguing loudest for an ‘In’ vote, and this is problematic.

The equation is one well known to the Cameron camp: the further into his regime we get, and the more controversy he gets caught up in, the more June’s vote becomes a referendum on his leadership instead of the UK’s place in the EU.

It’s all about optics. The Remain campaign is guilty by association with a Prime Minister seen to be failing.

This is all, arguably, alluded to by a senior source in the Vote Leave group, who is quoted in The Observer saying: “Six months ago I didn’t really think we had much chance of winning. But if things go our way, there is a chance, I think. And things really are going our way at the moment”.

So the Remain camp needs some new, less tarnished faces. President Obama’s visit to the UK on 22 April – when he is expected to deliver a statement in favour of the UK staying in the EU – will help.

As will an imminent intervention from Gordon Brown, who helped the case for maintaining the Union when delivering a passionate speech during Scotland’s independence vote.

But still more is needed. June’s vote has been described as one of the most important political events in a generation, and those in the Remain camp must get away from such close association with a Prime Minister who, for the moment anyway, is doing it more harm than good.