Both sides really need to up their game if they are to provide the British people with the opportunity to choose between sound, accurate, and well-presented arguments.
This time I'm going to take aim in three directions: first at those in both campaigns and the press who are stoking bitterness and division, second and third at inaccurate and invalid arguments made by the Remain and Leave campaigns.
1) Talking up anger and division is bad for Britain, and unjustified.
Every Conservative parliamentarian who I have asked about this or heard speak about it says that the divisions within the Conservative party are nothing like as bad as you might imagine from reading the press. Yes, there are divisions, people feel very strongly on each side, and those disagreements have produced some expressions of anger and frustration. . But as Dan Hannan rightly argues today on "Conservative Home " here, the present level of hostility within the Conservative party is nothing like as serious as it was at the time of the Maastricht Treaty. I remember those days too, and I agree with him.
Which is not to say that there are not people stoking up anger against those who take a view they do not share, in their own parties, other parties, or the press, and this really has to be discouraged.
As Nick Cohen writes in article called "Menacing Auntie" which you can read here there are too many people on both right and left, and both for and against Brexit, who see it as evidence of outrageous bias whenever newspapers or broadcasters report a view they don't like or a fact they find inconvenient. He writes
"Broadcasters must admit error, as should we all. But how many of them understand that they are dealing with sizeable sections of the population that treat any reporting that affronts them as lies delivered with malice aforethought? No complaints or arbitration procedures will satisfy them. As thoroughly as any Communist militant or postmodern obscurantist, they have wrapped themselves in chains of wishful thinking and denial from which they may never break free."
It is only fair to add that some journalists have been stoking the flames of anger and division rather than calming them down.
Too many have been practicing a sort of "Reductio ad absurdum" where they first reword somebody's argument into the most extreme form into which they can twist it, and then attack that person for hysterical scaremongering.
A classic example was Simon Jenkins in the Guardian today. Contrary to the impression which many people may understandably have gleaned from the rubbish printed in the newspapers, David Cameron has not said that voting for Brexit will cause World War Three to break out.
The PM has said, without denying the role of NATO, that the EU has helped keep the peace in Europe and that when Britain turns our backs on Europe we regret it.
When Simon Jenkins described DC as saying that Brexit would be “raising the risk of war” - putting those words in quotation marks, though they do not appear in the article linked to and I cannot find any evidence that the PM uttered them - he appears to have been twisting the Prime Minister's arguments to appear as inflammatory and hysterical as possible so that he could accuse them of being "Project Fear gone mad."
Jenkins' disgraceful article is here but I offer this link to help anyone who wishes to verify what I have written, and not as a recommendation.
I don't think I'm falling into the same trap as the Brexit and SNP supporters who demanded the sacking of Laura Kuenssberg or Nick Robinson when I criticise this sort of "Reductio ad absurdum" as a dirty trick from Jenkins and others, and I would be the first to agree that it has been used against both sides, for example against Gove and Johnson as well as Cameron.
Just to show that I can make positive as well as negative comments:
If Simon Jenkins' article was a depressing example of corrosive, sneering journalism, a counter-example of rather more balanced and constructive writing was provided by Max Hastings, who began his comments with an appeal for people to respect the views of others. Max argued that bitterness towards those who take a different view
"is wildly unreasonable, because there are heavyweight arguments on both sides"
Later he added
"On June 23, we are not being offered a choice between good and evil, Satan's emissaries and the angels. We shall be asked to make a marginal judgment call, which is what most of grown-up life is about."
The full article is here.
Incidentally it is by no means always Conservatives and Kippers who are talking up hostility towards those who take the other view. I don't think it was helpful, for example, for the head of Labour In, former home secretary Alan Johnson, to call Leave supporters “extremists” and appear to question their sanity.
Speaking to The Sun on-board Labour’s referendum battle bus Alan Johnson said:
“We are the reasonable people... the Leave side are the extremists on this”
and he added that Leave campaigners have a “certain mentality that is not rational and not balanced” if they cannot see that the EU has done good things.
Source: Sun report here.
You could argue that I am being negative towards people who are negative, but in accordance with my Ten Commandments for conducting a referendum with dignity and respect I am trying hard to report what people have said fairly, not to accuse anyone of mental deficiency or being a liar, and to maintain my sense of humour!
2) Is £250 billion of trade really at risk if Britain leaves the EU?
Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) says £250bn of trade would be at risk if the UK were to leave the European Union. In a BSIE press release, former Chancellor Alistair Darling said:
Some people who support Leave do want to pull out of the Single Market, although of course the "Flexcit" plan aims to avoid that.
The treasury calculation was based on comparing the amount of trade done between EU members with the amount done by non-members and concluded trade with EU members was 76% higher. BSE used this to derive the £250 billion figure which includes both imports and exports, a point on which they should probably have been more clear.
But as BBC fact checkers pointed out here,
"Looking at how much trade is increased by signing a free trade agreement is not the same as predicting that amount would be at risk from leaving."
I do think there would be a cost in trade, growth and jobs from leaving the single market, and I suspect the consensus among economists that leaving might well have negative economic effects could well be right. But the suggestion that £250 billion of trade would be at risk if we leave the EU does not strike me as being at all reliable.
3) Vote Leave and Boris Johnson blame the EU for decisions by judges who are nothing to do with the EU.
Vote Leave have been tweeting this evening about how "Unelected EU judges control who we can and cannot deport."
The tweet includes a clip from Boris Johnson from a Sky News interview - here is the whole thing and you can see the relevant section starting about 3 minutes 30 seconds in.
Boris claims that unelected judges have prevented the British Home secretary from deporting people we do not want here. That's true, but what he doesn't explain is that neither of the two sets of judges concerned have anything whatsoever to do with the EU and he is completely wrong when he then tries to suggest that this is entirely due to EU laws and policies and claims that a Leave vote on 23rd June would stop it happening.
In the cases of both Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, the judges who held up the deportation for years - though in both cases it eventually went ahead - were from the European Court of Human Rights which is nothing to do with the European Union. Their objections were based on the European Convention on Human Rights, not any EU law or policy. The ECHR is part of the European Council and leaving the EU would not affect our membership of that body or affect our relationship with either ECHR.
In some more recent cases, the judges who have challenged deportation orders were British judges on our own Supreme Court.
Obviously leaving the EU won't affect them either !
I have a horrible feeling that it's going to be a long, long month until 23rd June ...