HAS there ever been a more disastrous political strategy than Project Fear?
It backfired spectacularly when David Cameron and George Osborne launched it in 2016 and was a key reason why Leave won the referendum vote against all the odds.
It has been tried on a regular basis ever since – always ending in ridicule and miserable failure.
Who can forget, for example, the great Brexit sandwich shortage scare story earlier this year? The gist of it was that we won’t be able to eat sandwiches after Brexit, apparently because of disruptions to the supply chain. It was not, to put it mildly, the BBC’s finest hour.
But despite this record of defeat proponents of Project Fear just can’t let it go.
This week it is the turn of Bank of England governor Mark Carney to do a bit of shroud waving. He warned that GDP could plummet by eight per cent and trigger a recession worse than the 2007 financial crisis, and house prices would drop by a third, in the case of a “disorderly Brexit”.
Crikey! Scary, eh? But hold on a second – I’m experiencing a bit of déjà vu here. Didn’t Carney make very similar gloomy predictions in the run up to the 2016 vote?
Oh yes he did, remarkably similar in fact – and 18 months later he was summoned to the House of Commons’ Treasury Select Committee to explain why he had got it so spectacularly wrong.
Mystic Meg has a better record on predictions than the Bank of England governor.
But maybe he and the Bank of England and Treasury economists will get it right this time – after all a stopped clock is right twice a day. The trouble is that when these people reliably get things pretty much 100 per cent wrong every single time it knocks your confidence in their reliability.
They say that despite the fact all their short-term predictions have been proved to be wrong, we should trust them to get a 15-year forecast absolutely spot on.
Frankly, if one of these economists told me tomorrow was going to be fine and dry, I’d immediately break out the sou’wester, dig out my waterproof over trousers and put the rowing boat on stand by.
At least Carney kept his job. Osborne, who forecast an economic catastrophe with the loss of 800,000 jobs in the case of Leave vote, lost his.
And what has happened since then? Economic growth has continued in every quarter and employment is at an all time high. In other words pretty much the exact opposite of Osborne’s confident predictions.
Cameron meanwhile dialled the hysteria up to 11, predicting a Leave vote would lead to genocide and the outbreak of World War Three.
I knew Project Fear had pushed it too far when during a televised debate members of the audience were openly laughing in the then Prime Minister’s face.
You would think after these disasters they would give the scaremongering a bit of a rest – and perhaps treat the public as grown-ups who won’t be frightened by tales of the big bad boogie man.
Not a bit of it. Since then we have been subjected to a whole series of absolutely preposterous scare stories including: Brexit will lead to medicine shortages, including insulin; planes won’t be able to land or take off at British airports; we won’t be able to go to Europe on holiday; we are all going to get more sexually transmitted infections, and (a particular favourite of mine) we are going to run out of cheese.
Oh and this week we were also told that the UK would run out of clean drinking water within days of Brexit. Given the amount of rain that has fallen in recent days, I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that a lack of water isn’t going to be a problem come next March.
The problem with Project Fearis that it treats citizens as children who can be easily terrified into compliance.
Well, here’s an idea. The debate over Theresa May’s Brexit deal is one of the most important that this country has had to face. How about we drop all the risible scare stories and treat the public as intelligent adults?
Only then can we have a well-informed debate about our country’s future.