For years, we’ve been treated to the bosses from big business telling us how vital it is that we remain in Europe. Well, now they’ve got to put their money where their mouth is.
There’s no two ways about it. If all the chiefs of the banks, retailers, manufacturers, oil majors, transport firms, telecoms and advertising groups that make up the Yes campaign want to have a hope of winning, they and their organisations must pay up.
That much was obvious from the launch of Stronger In.
It was low-key, deliberately so. But while the choice of venue, The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, and frontman, Lord Rose, were carefully chosen to highlight the seriousness and workmanlike nature of the Yes argument, they also served to emphasise the lack of emotional pull and absence of cash.
All the excitement and passion lies in the No ranks. They’re the rebels, railing against the present system, and adherence to Brussels. While they can’t call on nakedly Braveheart sentiment, as the Scottish Nationalists did in their referendum battle, they can nevertheless appeal to patriotic hearts.
And, crucially, they’ve got the funds to do it. The hedge funds’ support for Brexit, coupled with the existing presence in the No camp of self-made multimillionaires Paul Sykes, Peter Cruddas and Stuart Wheeler, has dramatically affected the coming battle.
The point about the hedgies such as Crispin Odey and the likes of Sykes et al is that they’re enormously wealthy in their own right, are independently-minded and answer to nobody.
If they want to put their money behind Britain leaving, they can. One estimate puts the Out war chest at £20 million, and growing.
Substantial sections of the media, don’t forget, are already four-square behind the No push.
Compare that to the 1975 UK referendum when the pro-EU supporters outspent their opponents massively, and the newspapers were in favour of declaring Yes to joining.
If the Yes lobby is to begin to level the scales this time round, it must raise the temperature and find the cash. It’s not that its members are short of readies, but they tend to be corporates who resist making political donations.
If the people who run them are serious and true to their word about the risk of disaster that would confront us if we depart, then they must persuade their boards to stump up.
What’s stood the Yes campaign apart to date has been the heavyweight vocal backing from the business community.
Now, though — and more so, thanks to the hedge funds siding with the enemy — they are going to have to pay up as well.
There are certainly some wealthy individuals in the Yes group. One of the high spots in the launch was the video from Sir Richard Branson.
Said the Virgin tycoon: “The bottom line is that we are much stronger being a part of Europe than being an island to ourselves.”
Sound words, Richard, but you’re up against brazen flag-wavers and chest-beaters.
If the Yes effort is to hope to succeed, it needs personal appearances by you, more and snazzier videos and a hefty dollop of your cash.
It would be fatal for Branson and his fellow believers if they sat back and rested on their stellar names and bank balances.
Assuming that people in the end may do as they advise, and veer towards preserving the status quo and be resisting change, will not suffice.