Last night the Prime Minister faced his first television debate on the EU referendum and met with some furious opposition. While he appeared composed throughout, there were times Cameron seemed to be feeling the heat - for example, when he called the interviewer “glib” on several occasions after being accused of a “classic Cameron fear campaign”.
On the back of polls that make for uncomfortable reading for Remain campaigners, the Prime Minister needed to recapture the debate last night. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Cameron was strong in replying to the initial questions but Sky’s political editor Faisal Islam did a brilliant job in holding him to task.
It was a furious audience who stole the night. Audience members broke ranks and refused to follow the agreed rota of questioning; many even refused to wait for a microphone to berate the Prime Minister. An English Literature student lashed out at Cameron and told him, “I know waffling when I see it” as he stalled over questions about Turkey’s potential EU membership and its record on human rights. Other members of the audience furiously shook their heads and jeered when Cameron repeatedly claimed there would be “no risk” in staying in the union.
Watching the programme last night, I was forced to ask myself this question: do people just hate David Cameron too much? It’s hard to believe that this man won a general election a year ago with overwhelming support from the public and his own party. During this referendum, there has been an outcry of revulsion, as well as shocking claims from his own party members that they want to “stab him in the front so [they] can see the expression on his face”. Once an easy throwaway line to win a general election, Cameron is now facing the reality of the EU referendum – and it seems his ambition to be Prime Minister could end up his downfall.
The voters who need to come out to support the Remain side – 6 in 10 young people, Labour voters, trade union supporters – do not trust the Conservatives and overwhelmingly do not like Cameron. Many are now speaking openly about voting Out merely in order to “send a message” or “punish” him for the perceived crimes of his time in power. How can these same people possibly be enthusiastic about going to vote on the 23rd June alongside a Prime Minister who they believe has lied to them and stands for issues they are diametrically opposed to? An audience member summed up this feeling last night when he accused Cameron of “hypocrisy” over his decision to share a platform with Sadiq Khan just weeks after labelling him a “security threat”.
If last night’s audience is truly representative, it will be of serious concern to the Remain camp. Leave voters seem more enthused than ever, but those leaning towards Remain are put off by Cameron’s rhetoric. This was made most clear when Faisal Islam asked the Prime Minister, “What comes first, World War Three or the global Brexit recession?” The laughter from the audience made clear that people are sick and tired of the scaremongering from all sides. The Prime Minister is fast becoming a laughingstock.
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Cameron needs to change the frame of the debate as we head into the final weeks of campaigning. When he asked the camera whether we could “look our children or grandchildren in the eye” after we “roll the dice” on their futures, I became more confident that we will continue to sleepwalk towards Brexit. And while Jeremy Corbyn’s own side claim that he isn’t doing enough in the campaign – indeed yesterday Tim Roache, the head of the GMB union, urged Corbyn to be “bolder and braver” – he’s at least avoiding the outright disgust many voters have reserved for the PM. In talking about TTIP, protecting the NHS, security in work and the environment, Corbyn is playing to his own voters and giving them something to vote for. If only Cameron could do the same.
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