One of the many famous moments of sporting history that the recently departed Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali was associated with was the “Rope-a-Dope” tactic, deployed against George Foreman during the “Rumble in the Jungle” bout in 1974. Foreman hammered Ali relentlessly for almost the entire fight. Ali stayed on the ropes absorbing the punishment, countering just enough to avoid a technical knockout. Everyone thought Ali was finished, and even his own corner, ignorant of his plans, despaired. Late in the fight, Ali stormed out and took the initiative against a shocked Foreman, who was by this time too exhausted to change tactics.
Something similar seems to have happened with the EU referendum campaign. The tactics of the Remainers were plainly to bludgeon the Leavers on the economy, supplying a blizzard of statistics (mostly false) and a line-up of heavyweight international figures all singing from the Remain hymn sheet. By this time, it was supposed to be all over: a dazed and confused Leave campaign would be on the ropes, still standing in name only.
It was not hard to see why Remain followed such a strategy: mindful that the summer months would bring the migrant crisis back again, they needed to build up a big lead in the polls by early June to be sure of victory, thinking a by now thoroughly demoralised Leave campaign would be unable to properly exploit any opportunities.
Leave, however, may be about to pull off a great “Rope-a-Dope” trick of their own in this referendum. Just as Ali knew that he must somehow neutralise Foreman’s superior punching power, Leave could not afford to go toe-to-toe with the superior funding of Remain, and conserved their ammunition until the last weeks of the campaign, when people would start to concentrate hard on the choice between them.
Whether the Leave campaign ever meant to make so much of immigration is still unclear. Their previously professed tactic, and one certainly preferred philosophically by many leading lights in Vote Leave, was to provide an entirely upbeat and positive message about the future: a noble aim, if perhaps naïve. It certainly could not survive the utterly ruthless mendacity of the scheming Osborne and Cameron’s public school bully tactics.
Vote Leave may well have switched to talking about immigration in opportunism and desperation, or then again perhaps this has been intended for some time: Nigel Farage, a far more wily politician than his deliberately cultivated saloon bar image presents, may well have started the rival Grassroots Out campaign with the deliberate intention of forcing Vote Leave to include the immigration issue in its campaign offering.
Either way, we are in for an immensely exciting final three weeks. As far as we can tell, it really seems to be level pegging, but Leave now holds the initiative against a tactically and morally exhausted Remain.
So, for all of us campaigning for Brexit, let’s leave the last words to the Immortal Bard:
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”
…..Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry ‘God for Harry! England! and Saint George!”