Cameron Confronts Buzzfeed Generation as Brexit Debate Gets Hip

  • Farage says ‘Dishonest Dave’ must resign if he loses vote
  • Premier, UKIP leader both seeking to mobilize young voters

In the fourth hour of the live Buzzfeed and Facebook event on Britain’s European Union referendum, as Prime Minister David Cameron took questions, an audience member summed up the difficulty with these events.

“Many attempts to engage with young people have been either patronizing or scaremongering,” said Gerard Westhoff, a 21-year-old student whose huge round yellow badge, making him look like a participant in a children’s television program, suggested scaremongering wasn’t the big danger.

In the previous night’s more traditional referendum debate on ITV, three politicians from each side stood at podiums and accused each other of peddling “Project Fear” or “lies.” Friday’s event was a little different, aimed squarely at the young voters who’ve been signing up to participate in the referendum in their tens of thousands in the past week. The latest opinion poll, published just after the event ended, gave “Leave” a 10 percentage-point lead.

Facebook works out of new offices in one of London’s most fashionable districts, King’s Cross. Maintaining a “startup” feel, plywood boards had been put up in the background. There was a small studio audience, two young dressed-down hosts with clipboards, and exciting words dangling in Buzzfeed-style yellow circles in the background: “blimey,” “LOL,” “splendid,” “hurrah.” After each speaker, audience members were asked to press a button saying if they were “happy” or “sad.”

‘Not Emotionally Attached’

The question-and-answer sessions themselves were lively and more insightful than many of the mainstream television events the campaign for the June 23 vote has seen. Cameron expanded on Britain’s love-hate relationship with the EU. “I’m not emotionally attached to the European Union,” he said.

“I’m voting remain, but nothing to do with you guys,” he was told by Yasmin Morrissey, who went on to express her views of what Cameron’s Conservative Party had done to Britain using language that wouldn’t be allowed in children’s television. “I don’t want to put you off,” the prime minister laughed.

Not everyone was young. A rare older audience member, Mike, asked Cameron why he’d said last year that Britain would be fine outside the EU and was now saying the country would be doomed to recession. The prime minister was unrepentant. “I don’t think it’s a very nuanced, balanced issue,” he said. “I think it’s very clear. I do worry about the economic impact of leaving.”

Asked if he stays up at night thinking about the vote, he replied: “Of course -- I am very concerned.”

Cameron had taken off his tie. He appeared after U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who hadn’t attempted to dress down. He also didn’t attempt to modulate his arguments for a younger, hipper crowd. "There’s nothing racist or xenophobic about saying we should have a sensible, balanced immigration policy," he told Dinah Yaqub, one of the audience. She looked doubtful.

He suggested that Cameron, or “dishonest Dave” as he called him, would have to resign if he loses the referendum.

“If we vote to leave, we need a Brexit prime minister,” Farage said.

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