Ad breakdown: Vote Leave EU referendum broadcast

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter

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Image source, Vote Leave

Who knew the EU referendum was all about saving the NHS?

The campaign hasn't been so far. But you wouldn't know that from watching Vote Leave's referendum broadcast, which offers a novel spin on the traditional election broadcast, with some clever stylistic touches.

The five minute film shown on Monday evening on the five main TV channels, gets the science bit out of the way first - Dad's Army-style arrows swooping across the continent towards Britain, apparently representing the millions of Albanians, Turks and others that could be heading to the UK if Britain votes to remain and these countries join the club.

So far so predictable. It ends with the traditional appeal to visit the website for the "facts".

Image source, Vote Leave

But then - and here is the clever bit - it starts again. We are suddenly pitched from the world of militaristic graphics into a normal suburban kitchen, where a young woman is casting anxious glances at her elderly mother, who has a nasty cough.

The pair troop off to the local A&E department (shouldn't they have visited their GP first?), whereupon the screen splits into two different scenarios, playing out in the same timeframe: "Inside the EU" and "Outside the EU".

Image source, Vote Leave

These two playlets could easily be watched with the sound down (as they probably were in many homes) and still get their message across. There is no dialogue, no graphics, no "voice of authority" narration, just some gentle guitar music. It is all done with subtle, and not so subtle, visual cues.

Image source, Vote Leave

The waiting room is, naturally, more crowded "inside the EU". And there appears to be more staff on duty outside the EU. But something else is going.

In the outside scenario, everyone seems more friendly and reassuring. Then - to make matters worse for "inside" mum - a none-too-ill looking man gets to see the doctor before her. A citizen of one of those new EU member states we were warned about in the opening sequence perhaps? It doesn't say.

"Inside the EU" nurse is then seen leafing through paperwork (EU red tape, presumably). "Inside" mum is still waiting for treatment, her face lined with anxiety, while her "Outside" doppelganger is all smiles after being given the all clear.

Then we get the science bit again - the same graphic sequence that we saw at the start of the ad, except now it seems much more relevant. And worrying. Or so Vote Leave hopes.

The ad appears to be aimed squarely at Labour voters.

The NHS card

The Leave campaign has already banked the votes of UKIP supporters and Conservative Brexiters who may feel the emotional pull of nationhood more strongly than a love of nationalised public services (Churchill puts in a brief appearance to tick that box, even though he opposed the creation of the NHS).

The Leave campaign needs Labour voters to turn out in large numbers on 23 June to back their cause.

And the tried-and-tested method of trying to do that at British elections is to work up some kind of panic about the NHS. The Labour Party has been doing it for decades (remember "24 hours to save the NHS?"). This ad claims the NHS is at "breaking point".

The central claim is that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU, a figure that has been disputed by the BBC's Reality Check and many others. And if we were to leave the EU it seems very unlikely that the money saved would be spent on building a "brand new hospital every week".

If you watch the broadcast carefully, there is wriggle room. "We could spend the money on our priorities, like the NHS" (my italics).

But the casual viewer (is there any other kind for election broadcasts?) would get the impression from this broadcast that the only way to save the NHS is to vote to leave on 23 June. A claim that has already sparked outrage on the other side, who say that the reverse is true.

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