David Cameron has defended the £9m government leaflet promoting the EU as ‘money well spent’ and ‘necessary’, as the Tory party erupts into fury once again. What’s interesting about this new row – over a leaflet sent to all homes which sets out ‘why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK’ – is that it has incensed not just those usual suspects who are annoyed that the Remain side already has a natural advantage in the referendum campaign in that it can wheel out the Prime Minister for guaranteed media attention whenever it likes. MPs who are on the same side as Cameron are embarrassed that the government is spending so much money on the leaflet, too, as it contradicts the government’s general message of needing to tighten belts and continue to make difficult decisions.
Of course, £9m is smaller than a rounding error in government spending terms, but that’s not the case for many voters, who think it sounds like quite a lot of money. And the fear from some Tory MPs is that the story about the leaflet will be more effective than the leaflet itself: it will create a stronger narrative of an Establishment stitch-up and ultimately encourage more people to back ‘Leave’.
The Vote Leave campaign is also using the leaflet to drum up donations, with a fundraising email going out from Boris Johnson last night which said:
‘You may have seen this evening’s news. I’m sure you’re as staggered as I am to learn that the Government is going to spend more than £9 million of taxpayers’ money sending out a leaflet to every single home in the UK telling us we should stay in the EU.
‘They promised they wouldn’t do this. Yet they are now proposing to spend more money promoting a ‘Remain’ vote than even the official Remain campaign will legally be able to.’
The email then asks for donations to help the Leave side fight back.
Even if the leaflet does ultimately do as the government hopes and encourages enough people to back staying in the EU, Cameron will still need to resolve the splits in his party after 23 June. And today’s campaigning tactics have made that a little bit harder again.