London: With 46.5 million Britons registered to vote in Thursday’s referendum on the UK’s future in or out of the European Union, the vicious and divisive nature of the campaign has unleashed a new era in politics here.
“It’s very much the Americanisation of British politics,” Jonathan Wilson, a researcher in statistics told Gulf News.
The London-based researcher says both sides have engaged in levels of political campaigning that have reached new lows.
And the full-on use of social media, particular twitter and Snapchat, has abetted the decline into the realms of mudslinging and personal attacks.
“It’s more akin to nasty battles in hotly-contested US states than it is to something that’s occurred here before,” he said.
“Even with the 2014 referendum in Scotland, the level of debate did not reflect such visceral tones.”
Late on Tuesday, Labour Member of Parliament Yvette Cooper reported to police that her family had received death threats on Twitter as a result of her support for the ‘Remain’ campaign.
If Cooper’s claims are corroborated, it marks the second time in this referendum campaign that violence, or the threat of, has entered the fray.
Last Thursday, Cooper’s Labour colleague was murdered by a man who shouted Brexit slogans as he shot and stabbed Jo Cox to death.
Then 52-year-old Thomas Mair appeared in court in London on Saturday to be formally charged, he shouted: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Before Cox’s murder, the ‘Leave’ side had a six-percentage point lead.
Now it’s the ‘Remain’ side that appears to have a six-percentage point lead.
The ‘Remain’ side have also engaged in negative campaigning, with large posters appearing across London.
They show Leave’s Boris Johnson kissing Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump. But the negative campaigning hasn’t been embraced by many Britons.
“It’s not all very civilised, is it?” one office worker noted to Gulf News.
“I think politicians have a lot to answer for. They have made it very difficult to stay on the side line. It’s really horrible. A lot of people are simply keeping their decision to themselves and refuse to talk about the referendum.”
Opinion pollsters say that the polls also reflect hardened positions, and once a person has made up their mind, there’s little that can be done to alter that decision — in effect, the more intense the campaign gets in its finals hours, fewer people are available to make up their minds.
And they also say that the surge for ‘Leave’ in the week before Cox’s murder might have been overstated, in that those who want to vote ‘Leave’ tend to be more willing to share their support for the Brexit option, rather than those who want to stay.
“If you look at what happened in Scotland, those who wanted independence — Yes — polled very well in all of the polls leading up to the actual vote,” Wilson said.
“All of the polls predicted the result would be a lot closer. When the actual voting took place, the sides were much farther apart. I think we may very well see the same trend [in Thursday’s vote].”