For almost 17 years Andy Bell has reported on the machinations of British politics in his role as Political Editor at 5 News.
During this time, he has covered four general elections, observed three prime ministers, a coalition government and reported the near dismantling of the UK during the Scottish referendum.
But now the only thing that matters in politics at the moment is the EU referendum and it is heating up.
“Whether the public are fully engaged yet I don’t know, but as far as politics is concerned it really is the only game in town now that the recent elections are out of the way. Both campaigns are now going hell for leather,” he said.
The increasing bitterness among the Conservative party is opening up wounds that will take a long time to heal, Mr Bell believes.
“I think the Tories will find it hard to patch it up after the referendum. On the one level, they knew they would have to have an intellectual debate on the issue among themselves, which is why Cabinet members backing the leave campaign have been able to stay in their positions.
“But they have still been taken aback by the intensity. I think Number 10 were really blindsided by the decision of Boris to join the Out campaign and have not recovered from the shock.”
As the debate starts to enter the final five weeks and the polls still show both the Out and Remain votes neck and neck, the tone is only likely to get worse.
“Some of the language used has been pretty strong stuff, whether it is anger over the Government-fund-ed leaflet advocating the Remain vote or complaints about a supposed ‘stitch-up’ by ITV and their televised debates. It is getting close to the point where people are accusing Downing Street of being liars.”
According to Mr Bell, the closeness of the polls has taken the Remain camp by surprise, especially after they had a string of very high profile public figures intervene on their behalf.
This is starting to fuel anxiety among the Remainers, he said, adding: “They have been rolling out the big hitters, such as the Bank of England’s Mark Carney and President Obama, all warning against Brexit.
“They feel they have had very strong advocates of their argument, especially on the issues of the economy and trade.
“But if you talk to the Out group, they think that on the ground people are not responding to it as the Remain campaign hope and if you look at the polling it is neck and neck.
“It is a bit of a concern for Remain, who thought the polls would be shifting more in their favour.”
On the other hand, the Out campaign has focused heavily on immigration – a position which may be boosted by the revelation that the Office of National Statis-tics had supposedly underestimated the number of immigrants in this country by one and a half million.
“That is a problem for Remain. A lot of people are worried about immigration and this is the main campaigning point for their opponents.
“The Remain group will try and explain it away but the Out campaign will highlight it again and again.”
Post referendum, if the vote is to remain, Mr Bell expects some people to continue to agitate for a second referendum as soon as possible, but does not believe the situation is entirely comparable to that in Scotland.
“There are people in the Out campaign who would have been waiting for that moment for their entire lives.
“If it is a close vote to stay in, expect to hear a lot of complaints that it was not fair and that the Government spent taxpayers’ money on its own bias campaign.
“The pressure for another referendum will not completely go away, but I am not sure it will be like in Scotland, where you have a party in power whose main reason for existing is to secure independence.”
And what if there is a vote to leave, will Scotland go its own way soon after?
“I spoke to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently and I do not believe it will be an automatic trigger for a second referendum.
“They know that losing another one so soon after the first will kill the issue dead so they are going to be canny and will wait to see if the numbers are in their favour for several months before doing anything.”
HOW WILL YOU VOTE IN THE EU REFERENDUM ON JUNE 23?
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