EU Referendum

EU referendum: Inside the voters battleground

A ballot form Image copyright Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Image caption Voters will soon need to focus on which box to tick

With less than three weeks to go before the UK votes in the EU referendum, how is the debate playing out on the ground. Jonny Dymond has been touring the country for Radio 4 News and the PM programme.

Rejoice, Remainians!

Out of a fairly shattering trip around Wales and the West last week came a hefty chunk of good news for the Remain camp: the economic message being pushed day in, day out by the government and nearly everybody else in the Remain campaign is sinking in.

From 'Don't knows' in particular I heard a lot of talk about the economic damage that withdrawal might bring. There is the same staggering confusion as before about what might happen if Britain did leave the EU, but into that has been injected real concern about the economic impact of withdrawal.

Those of us that had the good fortune to follow the prime minister for the five and a half week election campaign last year recognise the playbook; get one big message about what might be lost through a course of action (voting Labour, leaving the EU) and hammer it home at every possible opportunity.

Campaign strategists reckon most people spend around six minutes a week thinking about politics. Right now, some of that six minutes is spent thinking about what might be lost if Britain leaves the EU. For Remain, that's Mission Accomplished.

What does 'immigration' mean?

What do people mean when they talk about their concerns over immigration?

It has been noted by people cleverer than your correspondent that support for UKIP, the group that most explicitly pushes an anti-immigration platform, is highest where there is the least immigration - the very-white, still-very-English seaside towns of south eastern England.

In Liverpool the other night, where I was the guest of the Walton Social Club - (it was Open Mic Night, and a lot of fun) one interviewee told me she wanted Britain to withdraw from the EU because of immigration.

She then talked with great passion and concern of the risk of unaccompanied children coming into the country, a reference to the talk of taking in Syrian refugee minors. This is of course entirely unconnected to the EU.

Image caption The referendum was discussed in the toilets at the Walton Social Club

In the toilets, that male confessional, I was told by patrons in no uncertain terms of their deep concerns over the number of Muslims in the country, about the burning to death of a Jordanian pilot by IS and the threat of Sharia law in the UK.

What the large numbers of Poles, Romanians Spanish and Italians who have made the UK their home have to do with this is anyone's guess.

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In Lancaster a fair number of interviewees talked with great passion and concern about the problems of housing and the strain on the NHS and schools, brought about by large scale immigration. When pressed they admitted that neither they nor their friends or relatives had experienced any such problems.

There is no doubt that large scale immigration has strained services, that jobs at the bottom of the wage scale have been snapped up by immigrants, that housing costs more as a result of incomers.

But I get the sense that a lot of the concern is cultural. Those most affected by the difficulties listed above are the young; but those most vocal about immigration are older voters.

"I want Britain to be for the British," said one retiree in Lancaster when I asked him why immigration was such a problem.

A more nuanced debate?

At national level there may be little more to the debate than 'Remain' banging on about the economy and 'Leave' stirring it up over immigration.

And for many weeks that was all you heard on the streets. But a trip to leafy Hampshire this week revealed the green shoots of a slightly more nuanced debate.

For many Conservative voters (and there are many, many of them in Hampshire) the question of sovereignty was important well before 'control of our laws' became code for 'controlling immigration'.

Image caption Sovereignty was aired as a concern in Hampshire

The sovereignty argument became rather buried in amongst the back and forth of the past few months. But it is still in many minds.

In Hampshire there was an acknowledgment of a trade-off; you might call it cooperation versus independence. And there was an understanding that taking control back might mean some economic hardship.

But it would be, for some at least, a price worth paying for restoring, in theory at least, the sovereignty of parliament.

There's been much moaning about the vacuity of the campaign. But it is becoming more nuanced at local level, as voters start thinking about which way to jump.

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