EU Referendum: getting there at last

Tuesday 6 October 2015  

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I've lost track of when we first put our views on the timing of the referendum but we've been pretty consistent since the beginning of this year that it would be late in 2017 – despite idle speculation to the contrary.

Both Matthew Elliott and Nigel Farage have been convinced that there would be an early referendum, on the basis of no evidence at all. They've even ignored the Prime Minister himself, who has made it clear that a "better choice" would be to hold a vote by the end of 2017 after having had a chance to convince other allies to reform the EU and give the UK more freedoms.

But, what comes round goes round. Despite the certainty of these great "experts", we now get the Independent telling us that "David Cameron may delay the referendum … until 2017 in order to give himself more time to win concessions from other EU leaders".

Although September 2016 was "until recently seen as the most likely date" – but only by the pundits and media - one of Cameron's ministers is saying: "We may have to play it long. It would be better to wait if that means getting a bigger and better package of reforms".

That, in fact, was how it was always going to be. So, we're exactly back where we started – and where we would be if people stopped to look at the evidence, rather than indulging in their own fantasies. As it stands, we have all the campaign groups going off half-cock,  at the risk of running out of steam (and money) and driving the public away as the campaign drags. 

This, though, is a measure of the competence of the main players. And if they can't even get their act together on this issue – which has a massive impact on the conduct and pace of the campaign - then one can have little confidence in their management of the campaign generally.

In short, they're behaving like amateurs - mainly because that's exactly what they are. They have little ability to plan an effective campaign because they're failing correctly to interpret the intelligence. They may think themselves "experts", but when it comes to EU politics, they're out of their depth. 

Sadly, there is no natural limit to the number of mistakes they can make.

Richard North 06/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: the cascade system

Tuesday 6 October 2015  

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After physical attacks on journalists by protesters at the Conservative Party Conference, Ian Dunt, who calls himself a political journalist, writes for the Yahoo News blog in defence of the media. However, he does concede that people's anger about the press is not completely misguided. "Political journalism", he says, "is often a trivial failure".

The journalists "are far too often interested in tittle-tattle about leaders than they are the consequences of their policies", Dunt adds, also telling us that they also engage in political compromises of their own, in which they give average ministers good write-ups in expectation of stories in return.

But Dunt does not confine his criticisms to the media. "Those warped incentives", he says, "do not just lie with journalists, but with readers. The brutal truth is that stories about policy failure – the effect of welfare cuts, the reality of life in prison, the hardship faced by asylum seekers – does not get anything like the attention of a piece about the latest ministerial faux-pas or whether it's still OK to say 'first world problems'".

"The web", he reminds us, "offers editors unparalleled information about what people choose to read. If they read more investigative journalism – the kind which takes time and money – more of it would be written". 

And there, whether you like it or not, the man has a point. Editors read the runes: if it's read, they publish more of the same, and if it doesn't sell, material like it rarely gets a showing.

Perhaps an example of this comes with yesterday's flood of fringe events devoted to the EU at the Conservative Party Conference. One struggles to find any detailed reports of proceedings, while the Telegraph gives space (quite a lot of it) to Anna Soubry, minister for small business, telling eurosceptics to "get a life".

Whatever else, this is certainly an example of the trivialisation of political journalism, and yet another example of why the media is totally untrustworthy. And that is before even it ceases to pretend euroscepticism, changes sides and supports Mr Cameron's negotiation package when he reveals it to an expectant nation.

Discussing this problem with several people yesterday, in a day which seems to have been spent mainly on the 'phone, all are concerned that, as a result of this, a successful referendum campaign is going to have to bypass the media and deliver its message to the people unaided.

The obvious answer here is to use the internet. Some 92 percent of all households in the UK have internet access, so this provides a cheap and effective means of reaching large numbers of people, very quickly.

However, there is an obvious limitation in the use of the medium, in that we are seeking to do more than simply convey information. We want to change minds and thereby influence people to vote in our favour in the referendum.

If communicating information was sufficient to achieve this, the Ukip would be in government. It is an error to believe that putting facts in front of people is sufficient to change behaviour. Even targeting specific people, with messages tuned to their particular circumstances and expectations, is not enough. And this is why the wizz-kid data miners and processors are going to fail.

This is because the crucial element needed in the mix is prestige – about which we have written a great deal on this blog, over term. People judge the importance and veracity of the information they receive not by its accuracy or the quality and attractiveness of its presentation, but by the prestige of its source.

In this referendum campaign, our main protagonist – as we keep stating – is not going to be the "remain" campaign, with its tawdry cast of nonentities. It is going to be the Prime Minister. And in this conformist, obedient society of ours, holding this office confers a great deal of prestige – a huge hurdle for us to overcome.

As the great guru Lynton Crosby tells the Times today, "Voters will be heavily guided by David Cameron. If he comes back from the negotiations in Europe and tells voters he has achieved a certain outcome that people should support I think that will be highly influential".

Favouring us though is the fact that prestige exerts itself in different ways. High-prestige characters (like the Prime Minister) can influence people from a considerable distance. But those with low prestige, such as friends, relatives and workmates, can also exert prestige. However, it tends to have most effect at shorter range, and usually works between small groups.

Between distance and height, though, there is a cross-over. At very close range, a low-prestige person can over-ride a more distant high prestige messenger (distant in time or place, or both). Thus, the closer we get to our recipients, the greater effect we can exert. 

To do that, rather than using the top-down, direct marketing techniques (whether physical or electronic), we are using what we call the cascade system, getting the message closer to the recipient before it is delivered.

The crucial element is this is the network of blogs we are building, each of which will carry the key messages through the campaign – and especially the response to anything the Prime Minister might communicate.

But the blog is much more than just a medium of communication. Through the comments sections and with the active participation of their authors, the aim is to build communities, with whom there should be a relationship of trust.

The next stage is that the readers form their own communities – through Twitter, Facebook, forums or YouTube, and through more conventional means, passing the messages onwards. That layer then forms their own communities, and so on and so on.

Crosby places great value on Facebook - but thinks Twitter is of little importance because it had little impact on ordinary voters. "Britain has the highest proportion of people on Facebook. We have targeted voters in marginal seats on Facebook", he says "Twitter is a different thing ... [it] does not influence ordinary voters. It's just the voice of the angry".

Nevertheless, as a theoretical illustration of the potential power of the cascade process, we could assume a network of a 100 blogs, with an average readership of 1,000 (this blog already has 20,000, so we have a head start). That gives a potential "reach" of 100,000. And if each reader has 1,000 followers through Twitter and various other means, that brings our total reach to 100 million – more than the entire population of the UK.

Of course things don't work that way, but smaller numbers and a larger number of layers can still reach huge numbers of people. What we need is the system in place, the focus and message discipline.

The beauty of the system though is that it starts with a mere hundred blogs. Archimedes once said, "Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world". In this campaign, give us 100 good bloggers and we will win the referendum. And we've already made a good start.

Richard North 06/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: misreading the signals

Monday 5 October 2015  

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Jerry Hayes is not normally a name in the front of my mind, but a link to his blog caught my eye, taking me to a diatribe on the state of the EU referendum contest.

Says Hayes: "The right are horribly divided but spend more time indulging in insults than trying to gain a narrative with the electorate". He adds that, "It's just a screaming match and a jockeying for power by some rather unpleasant people. A psycho drama between Dominic Cummings and Aaron Banks who are the sort of relatives whom you would normally lock in the attic".

With that under his belt, Hayes then feels entitled to come to some conclusions, thus gravely informing us that, "rather than there being a seamless robe of Eurosceptics united in their zeal to remove Britain from the wickedness of Brussels they are a complete shambles".

For sure, the campaign is a shambles, but not for the reasons Hayes makes out. Intellectually, it is a train wreck and, unless we get our collective acts together, this campaign is going down the pan.

Organisations are a different issue. The two main groups, Leave.EU and Campaign to Leave have set up their offices, appointed some staff and are pulling their administrations together. They are both thinking about strategy and are both working up applications to put to the Electoral Commission in the hope of gaining lead designation.

What seems to offend Mr Hayes, though, is that there are two operations. That, to him, makes for the shambles. One assumes that, in his tidy little world, there should be just one campaign – and no Second Cummings or Arron Banks.

Tim Montgomerie in the Times is similarly offended by the "simmering civil war" amongst Leave supporters, which he thinks has "bubbled to the surface" in the last 24 hours, personified by the spat between Nigel Farage and Lord Lawson.

Then the famous Matt Goodwin is also on the case, again in the Times, opining that the "Eurosceptics risk shooting themselves in the foot". With the same amount of prescience he applied to his analysis of Ukip, he concludes that "things within the Eurosceptic camp are not well".

Definitely in "no sh*t Sherlock" territory, this great sage goes on to comment on the Ukip conference in Doncaster, remarking that "a few Eurosceptic groups, including some of the most prominent, were not there". As an "outside observer", this to him "seemed bizarre", as he records that Carswell and Arron Banks spent much of the time briefing against one another.

Goodwin, however, describes the differences as "infighting", suggesting that it is "not just about strategy" but also "wrapped up in long-held grievances, personality disputes and rivalries". Those tensions, he says, "are now organised around one question in particular – what to do about Nigel Farage and Ukip".

This lightweight analysis is entirely typical of Goodwin, perhaps explaining why he is such a favourite of the media, his only reference to the rival Elliott/Cummings group being made in the context of Ukip risking alienating those expressing their allegiance to it.

To Goodwin, therefore – who also notes that the polls seem to be shifting towards "leave" proposition – it is evident that eurosceptics do not yet have a viable collective strategy for taking advantage of the shift. "Unless they find one", he opines, "they risk shooting themselves in the foot".

Nowhere from Goodwin or any other legacy media pundit is there any hint of the personal tension between Banks and Elliott, or of the growing reservations over the role of Elliott and his commercial interests – especially in view of his dubious behaviour during the No2AV referendum.

On that basis, Goodwin has got it spectacularly wrong. Far from risking "shooting themselves in the foot", Banks supporters are aware that the referendum is almost certainly lost if Elliott and his mercenary group get the lead designation, and are trying to rescue the campaign from certain disaster.

Furthermore, it is not only the commercial interests of Elliott's group that are likely to interfere. With its predominantly Conservative make-up, the tribal loyalties of the group will prevent it mounting a full-frontal attack on Mr Cameron when he delivers the results of his "renegotiations".

No one could say, on the other hand, that Mr Banks would be in any way constrained, making his group a natural ally in what is an increasingly tense battle to keep Elliott from getting the designation.

With Banks now securing the support of Toby Blackwell and the Bow Group, he is possibly edging ahead in the designation stakes, although Elliot's Campaign to Leave - another of his group of companies - is scheduled formally to launch later this week when, we are told, it will announce a new raft of Conservative donors.

Elliott has the further advantage of being treated as the heir apparent by the media, being awarded a slot on the Marr Show next week, arguing against Will Straw's ill-named "in" campaign - a "clash" that promises to be an exercise in applied tedium.

Nevertheless, by this means, the media is hoping not only to frame the debate but also define the protagonists - thereby controlling the agenda. But the crucial battle is not between the "remain" and "leave" groups, but between Elliott and Banks, the victor of which will have to take on the real enemy – David Cameron.  

As always, the media is misreading the signals.

Richard North 05/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: agreement on a plan

Sunday 4 October 2015  

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The extraordinarily simplistic article in the Independent on Sunday on leaving the EU doesn't really matter. It's in a newspaper that's dying on its feet, has very little credibility and speaks mainly to its own kind – fanatical Europhiles wedded to the cause.

In typical style of its kind of propaganda, it raises the FUD – telling us that "Fears grow that European Union will impose tough conditions on UK after 'Brexit'" – total hyperbole, then adding the formulaic and completely unsubstantiated assertion that: "The threat will fuel further tensions within the Conservative Party, which is divided on the EU".

This is such empty invention that it scarce deserves a reply, but it is interesting to observe the techniques used. Having raised the scare, the paper then brings on the straw men in legions, claiming:
Eurosceptics have argued that the UK would still enjoy favourable trading terms with the EU even if it left, often citing Norway, which is not a member but is still the fifth biggest exporter to the bloc. Lord Lawson, the new head of a Conservative Brexit campaign, said last week Britain could "negotiate a free trade deal with the rest of Europe", entailing "a more amicable and realistic relationship".
But this is more than just straw men – it is bias by omission. With just short of 30,000 downloads behind it and a short version in preparation, Flexcit is by any measure a significant contributor to the debate, offering a structured and complete demolition to the Independent fluff.

Not least, Flexcit sets out a six-stage exit plan, with multiple fall-back positions, sufficient to protect UK interests against any known contingency. It easily answers the "fears" that the likes of the Independent raise.

But the paper ignores Flexcit, as do most Europhile organs, inventing any number of excuses for doing so, when challenged. But they all amount to the same thing. They dare not acknowledge it because it so comprehensively demolishes their superficial and facile arguments.

But they are considerably assisted in their task by being able to rely on the indifference of a diminishing tranche the eurosceptic community, who either have their own axes to grind, or labour under the mistaken impression that an exit plan isn't necessary. Some even argue that any single plan is so divisive that we must do without one.

On the other hand, it was the brilliant Second Cummings who argued (behind the scenes) that that Flexcit, with its six-stage structure, was too complex for the tender flowers of Westminster, prompting this response and the observation that:
If you want to qualify to the highest level in music, through the examination board of the Royal Schools of Music, there are EIGHT stages. Yet, to undo 40 years of economic and political integration, some people think SIX stages are excessive.
Amusingly, I noted on my Twitter feed today the post illustrated below, promoting the "14 easy steps" needed to become a runner. And there I thought it was about putting one foot in front of another, quicker than normal. 

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But as long as the eurosceptic aristocracy are determined to ignore Flexcit, that gives the europhiles a free pass to do the same thing. In this case, the IoS relies on the fatuous Lawson – who really should know better having stitched up the IEA Brexit competition – who is bleating that Britain could "negotiate a free trade deal with the rest of Europe".

If this doddering fool stopped to think for one moment, he would know that it could take years to come to an agreement – far more time than is politically acceptable – opening the way for the Independent in a separate piece to claim that this would be "a long and tortuous process that would take many years and create long-term uncertainty".

When, years down the line, we still have spokesman for the "leave" campaign being caught out on the basics, it is time for all of us to ask whether we can afford to have these people representing us, or whether they should be put out to grass. Clearly, Lawson has learned nothing at all from judging the IEA competition.

However, while we can afford to ignore the Independent - for the time being – its input gives us an inkling of how the Europhiles are going to play it. Picking on the lack of an agreed exit plan is easy meat for them, and they will continue to exploit this lack of agreement for as long as it gives results.

For over ten years, I and others have been arguing that the anti-EU movement must get behind an exit plan and, after all these years, we are not much further forward in gaining broad-spectrum agreement.

Flexcit, of course, remains on the table, as does the offer of looking at any amendments that might be submitted – the work already having accommodated the thinking and arguments of many readers (with a corrected and improves version out shortly).

Most of the detractors, however, far from seeking to make the work better, seem not even to have read it, while the Elliott faction went into competition, with an error-strewn, incoherent door stopper that has all but disappeared with trace, unread even by the friends of Elliott.

The only thing different between now and ten years ago is that we currently have a plan in place. But until enough people put their weight behind it, and force its adoption, the way will be open for the likes of the Independent to pretend we are without one, and make mischief for us.

There is no use waiting for the great and the good to get off their pedestals on this. We the people have to take our own decisions and make the running – unless, of course, you are content to have the mighty Lawson blather on your behalf.

Richard North 04/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: guessing the date

Sunday 4 October 2015  

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One of the things I'm going to enjoy about the fest in Manchester this week is pointing out how so much of the media got it totally wrong on the timing of the referendum.

We have, for instance, the Independent of 25 July – about nine weeks ago – confidently predicting that David Cameron was set to hold the referendum in June next year and would "announce the fast-tracked date as the centrepiece of his party's annual conference in October".

At that time, the paper had it that George Osborne was believed to be keen for the referendum to be held later rather than sooner, but the Prime Minister had "calculated that a 2016 vote will give him a better chance of promoting what may end up being a limited package of EU reforms, and of highlighting the economic risks Britain could face if it left the EU".

At the time, this was repeated by the coprophagic Daily Express but now, we're getting the Sunday Telegraph telling us what we've known all along, that "the Prime Minister indicates that he will not be rushed into naming the date of the EU referendum".

That comes out of a pre-conference interview and is a thinly-coded confirmation that there will be no date set at the conference, not at any time in the near future. David Cameron is playing the long game.

The Telegraph has no cause to feel superior, though, as it was retailing on 19 September fears from rebel Conservative MPs that there would be an early referendum called, again announced at the party conference. This time, though, roles had reversed and it was George Osborne trying to get it "out of the way" as soon as possible.

Generally, all the papers have been playing silly games and getting it wrong, with the Daily Mail in June last predicting a referendum for October next year. Then, and many times since, a Downing Street spokesman dismissed the predictions as "pure speculation",

The off thing is that, when newspapers such as the Guardian are prepared to accept Downing Street dismissals of "associate membership" being "nonsense" and "speculation", the guessing game on the referendum date has continued unabated.

Not for nothing, therefore, does Lost Leonardo refer to the "moronic media". Ever since Cameron moved us to fixed-term Parliaments, the witless hacks have been robbed of their "guess the date" game for the general election, and are making up for lost time with the referendum.

Put bluntly, they are not capable of much else, so expecting them to write intelligently about this or any other aspect of the referendum is perhaps asking too much. They one thing they are good at, though, is glossing over their errors, so the one thing we need not expect is anything like an apology for their mounting errors.

Without so much as a blush, they will all be back at it over the week, adding to their litany of false predictions, blissfully unaware that their credibility is dribbling down the drain. But then, the great advantage of working for the legacy media is never having to admit you are wrong.

Richard North 04/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: flawed understanding

Saturday 3 October 2015  

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One of the most prominent women in the Square Mile has suggested that the perils of Britain leaving the EU have been exaggerated - citing the "hollow warnings" about not joining the euro a decade ago.

This was Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, as reported by the Financial Times, commenting at the "Renegotiation, Brexit and the City" event in London, jointly organised by the City of London Corporation, Business for Britain and Business for New Europe. Its purpose was to "air the opposing points of view over Britain's EU membership".

What is depressing about this is that the FT describes it as both sides of the debate "fine-tuning" their arguments ahead of the EU referendum. Yet the idea of "fine-tuning" suggests that the arguments are all but complete, with only final adjustments to be made. But, to judge from Ms Morrissey's input, that is very far from the case.

Described as a member of Business for Britain, one of Matthew Elliott's business ventures, this woman would have it that the EU was turning out to be a "flawed concept" because it had monetary union without fiscal or political union.

Seemingly a small detail, the EU cannot be regarded as a flawed concept for this reason. The very essence of the single currency was to launch an incomplete construct in the knowledge that the stresses would create political pressures which would drive further integration.

This is the mechanism of engrenage, at the core of the so-called Monnet Method, relying on the doctrine of the beneficial crisis. It is not, as they say, a bug, but a feature. The European Union was designed to act in this way.

It is not as if this was arcane detail – it really is basic information, freely discussed in Brussels circles. Even the Financial Times was recently telling us that: "There is a comforting cliché in Brussels that the EU needs crises in order to progress".

So, in one short statement, therefore, Morrissey actually demonstrates her fundamental ignorance of the functioning the EU, standing up in front of her peers, parading that ignorance for all to see.

That actually tells us a great deal about the Business for Elliott coterie – who have in common the most profound ignorance of how the EU works. And this is why they consistently get the EU wrong. If you don't have a firm grip of the basics, then you will fail to interpret correctly the information that comes to you.

The resultant inability to see the wood for the trees is highly visible not only in the ranks of self-important pundits, but terrifying evident in much of the media coverage, with Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph retailing the empty prattle that has been doing the rounds in SW1, as if it was news, and something important.

Relying entirely on bubble gossip, the current legend has been that Osborne – having staked his reputation on bringing the EU "renegotiations" to a successful conclusion, is now regretting his intervention and is now looking for a way of cutting his losses.

According to the bubble-prattle, as retailed by Fraser Nelson, Osborne does have an alternative. He can return from Brussels saying that tried his best but, in the end, they would not offer Britain a good deal – so, with a heavy heart, he would have to recommend an "out" vote, then pushing for an early referendum.

These hacks still can't get their heads round the fact that we're looking at a "remain" vote but, that notwithstanding, there is no way on this side of Hades than either George Osborne or David Cameron are going to come back from Brussels and campaign for "leave".

In part, that is misdirection – propaganda that has been doing the rounds for months, pushed out by Downing Street to keep the gullible hacks busy and off the scent. In greater part, it is lapped up and regurgitated by the likes of Matthew Elliott, with the second Cummings panting in his wake, used to sell the idea of a spring referendum – an ideal means of keeping the sponsorship flowing.

All it takes is a little gentle prodding from the likes of Dennis MacShane, and the legend acquires a solidity that only the Westminster claque can deliver. This will then be locked in as the received wisdom for the next six months – until the hacks can find another hare to chase.

The more immediate problem, though, is that the hacks simply cannot cope with referendums, where power passes briefly from the political élites to the people, who become responsible for making decisions on issues which has been abandoned by the politicians.

Thus, we have the Times offering what it purports to be a serious piece of journalism, delivering "research" from the europhile Open Europe, "showing that 69 Tory MPs are likely to vote to leave the EU, while 203 could swing either way in the referendum".

This may be of interest to the bubble but, frankly, who else cares? In an electorate in excess of 45 million, the sentiment of less than 300 Tory MPs is a complete irrelevance. But there, writ small, is the evidence of the total failure of the legacy media and the rest of the bubble to cope with something they don't understand. They lack even the capacity to understand, and if the answers were painted on billboards in letters ten feet high, they still would not understand what they are being told.

Not anywhere are we going to get any sense out of the legacy media, and even Arron Banks is apparently losing his marbles by inviting Farage to quit Ukip and lead his campaign. If this was actually true, it would ensure that Arron would be able to do even more damage to the cause than he is already doing, killing his own campaign and completely marginalise his already faltering effort.

With the Conservative Party conference coming up, though, we're going to get all sorts of inane reporting and idle speculation. For want of having anything intelligent to say, the hacks are anticipating a feeding frenzy they hope to engineer over supposed "Tory splits" on the EU. This will save them the trouble of moving out of their comfort zones and reporting on things that are actually happening.

Meanwhile, as Mr Brexit points out, we are being taken for a ride with misleading coverage from Hammond, which keeps the space filled between the adverts and the public in the dark. Yet, sadly, there are plenty of those who believe the theatre and look no further, sharing the flawed understanding of their self-appointed "betters".

Richard North 03/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: sleepwalking to Brexit

Friday 2 October 2015  

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One has to permit a wry smile at the sight of the Times editorial, which tells us that the "robust renegotiation of Britain's relationship with Europe" that David Cameron promised "has gone quiet". Says the newspaper, in response to this: "Confidence that it will ever happen is fading fast".

The temptation to yelp, "No sh*t Sherlock" is almost overpowering, as the paper is telling us something we have been reporting for many months. But all the august Thunderer can manage is the view that Britain's efforts to renegotiate its relationship with the EU "are beginning to look increasingly feeble".

As anticipated, the renegotiation is regarded as important but secondary to the refugee crisis and the continuing saga of Greece and the euro. Whenever Britain's renegotiation appears on the agenda of a Council meeting, the story is the same. "The British do not seem to know what they want, or if they do they are not saying". His counterparts in every member state are expecting detailed wish-lists, but there is no sign of them.

With that much lodged, however, the paper doesn't seem to have much idea of what is going on.

By coincidence, yesterday I was looking at one of the earlier articles featuring Nigel Lawson, this one in the Guardian, in September 2011.This referred to the possibility of a new treaty, an event which, said the paper, "would present a golden opportunity for Britain".

The necessary treaty changes would have to be approved by all (then) 27 members of the EU. The prime minister had told the Tory 1922 committee before the summer recess that he would use the treaty negotiations to repatriate powers in three key areas – legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation.

That was the original plan but, as we know, Merkel blocked the negotiations, leaving Mr Cameron to consider using the "simplified procedure" provisions of Article 48. But, without this ploy ever having been acknowledged, it was abandoned, leaving the Prime Minister with nowhere to go.

This left only one option, the possibility of the delayed treaty being reactivated, and the idea of "associate membership" being adopted as Mr Cameron's "big idea". Multiple signs now point to this becoming a reality.

But this is something that the Times has not picked up. It seems to have no real idea of what is going on. It does admit, however, that the renegotiation team at No 10 "has floated the idea of deferred EU treaty changes to be presented to voters as IOUs".

And although there is every indication that this idea will fly, the paper thinks it has "gained little traction in Brussels", where negotiators are said to have been told "the only concessions that could be post-dated in this way would be opt-outs rather than full treaty changes".

That leaves the paper with little understanding of the way things are developing, ending up with the peroration that "Britain needs a real renegotiation based on a coherent vision of what the country needs, not what Europe is willing to grant".

This is such total wishful thinking that it betrays a complete departure from reality for the editorial writer, who then concludes that, "If Mr Cameron is not ready to present one next week at his party conference, there can be little confidence that it exists".

But, of course, it doesn't exist – it can't exist, and there will be nothing specific that Mr Cameron can offer at the conference, where there is no mention of the EU on the official agenda.

It is only recently though that the Sunday Telegraph was confidently predicting that the Prime Minister would come under immense pressure from backbenchers "to show a more ambitious menu of proposed reforms than has so far been disclosed", preparatory to an early referendum.

The only point of interest, though, will be the precise nature of the "fudge" that Mr Cameron will have to perpetrate, whence we will see the meeting of the European Council on 15 October, for the next non-event on the path to associate membership.

Ironically, the Times talks of a well-organised "out" campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings, but the only thing that seems to be organised is the rush to fritter away resources in anticipation of an early referendum that simply isn't going to happen.

Nevertheless, the Times collecting together the strands of its profound ignorance, believes we are "sleepwalking to Brexit". An equally (if not more tenable) scenario, though., is that Mr Cameron is letting the "leave" campaigners wear themselves out, preparatory to making his move in late 2017.

This timescale is beyond the capability of any British national newspaper to comprehend, so all we're going to see is the parade of the ignorati, as they struggle (and fail) to understand what is going on.

Meanwhile, in response to the well-organised "out" campaign masterminded by Dominic Cummings, and its coup in appointing Lord Lawson as Conservatives for Britain president, Arron Banks dismissed the group as "run by the Westminster bubble". "It would be better", he said, "if the Eurosceptic Tories just 'shut-up' as they are going to alienate the vast majority of people who will look at this campaign as a Tory stitch-up".

Sticking in the knife, he then added: "If the Tories keep using has-beens like Lord Lawson and the other Eurosceptic rabble then that will turn off supporters". For Mr Cameron, things seem to be going swimmingly.

Richard North 02/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: observations on a long campaign

Friday 2 October 2015  

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"The infighting among Eurosceptics is unlikely to end anytime soon and the longer it goes on, the harder the job of winning the referendum becomes", proclaims the Spectator, demonstrating an alarming lack of understanding of the current situation.

As it stands, the pundits who so confidently predicted that there would be an early referendum (from the same stock who predicted a hung Parliament and that Greece would drop out of the euro) have been confounded. We are now looking to the long haul (as indeed was always the case).

This means that we have enough time to deliberate on some of the core issues and, in particular, how we are going to win. As an example of lightweight analysis, we can always go to the BBC, but there are depths to the contest which the media will never explore.

For this referendum, we are going to have to revise some of our assumptions about how we fight. A long campaign, lasting two years or more, requires a different approach than does a quick-fire snap referendum.

More specifically, we have time properly to consider who we would like as lead campaigners representing the "leave" proposition, and what sort of campaign we would like to see fought. Such issues will have a profound effect on the conduct of the campaign, possibly determining the outcome. It is important to have them explored as thoroughly as possible.

Thus, this really isn't a case of "infighting" making the job of winning a referendum harder. The Spectator is totally off the wall. If those running the campaign are to have the confidence of activists, contested issues must be brought out into the open and argued out, before the campaign proper gets under way. It is far more preferable to do this, than come to a false consensus for the sake of some notional unity, only to have the schisms erupt at a crucial point in the campaign.

In the extra time we have available, we can thus tackle the cosy assumptions of the media and the Westminster élites that the campaign is necessarily going to be run by Matthew Elliott, with Dominic Cummings – the current favourites. We do not have to accept that they have a God-given right to take charge, dictating the strategy and tactics to be employed.

Even if this pair were the best, most skilled people in Britain – which they demonstrably are not – it is necessary to shine some light on the designation process. We need a public debate about the relative merits of different applicants.

In that context – whether good or bad - we owe Arron Banks our thanks for making a contest of the designation, cutting across what might otherwise look suspiciously like a cosy establishment stitch-up as their golden boys are groomed for stardom and slid effortlessly into place.

Looking at the nature of the campaign to come, we are already beginning to understand that our enemy is not the EU per se. If we win, we are still going to have to deal with it, and make deals with the members. The real enemy is our own Prime Minister. He will be making the case for us to stay in the EU, and doing his best to turn the campaign to his advantage.

To tackle the campaign effectively, therefore, the Prime Minister has to be the main target. And here, we have to ask some very serious questions about the intentions and capabilities of the Elliott nexus. The group most likely will comprise a core of loyal Conservatives who might find it difficult to mount an all-out, no-holds-barred attack on their own party leader.

It would be much easier and safer politically for the likes of Mr Elliott to confine their campaigning to the EU, even if the focus is ineffective and leads to failure of the campaign. In order to prevail, we will need people willing and capable to go for the jugular, even if means inflicting lasting damage on the Conservative Party.

Discussing possible outcomes and strategies in this way gives us a better insight into the weaknesses and limitations of existing contenders. And if Matthew Elliott looks unpromising, so too does the other main contender, Arron Banks. On him, though, we have to reserve judgement. He personally may not be fronting his campaign. It may be a yet-to-be-appointed campaign director, no doubt working with strategists Goddard Gunster. Between them, they could vastly improve the quality of the Banks effort.

So far, so good, but the final choice of lead campaigner will be made by the Electoral Commission (EC). And, whatever one's views might be of this organisation, it is a creature of the law. It will apply the statutory criteria set out in the Political Parties, elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Section 109 sets out those criteria, effectively two hurdles in a contested application. Firstly, the EC must determine whether the applicants adequately represent those campaigning for the outcome. Then, if two or more pass that test, the prize goes to "whichever of the applicants appears to them [the Electoral Commission] to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome".

Self evidently, the first is a qualitative test and the second is quantitative. Thus, neither Elliott's Campaign to Leave nor Arron Banks's Leave.EU can necessarily rely on their numerical strengths. First, they must pass the quality test.

It is here that a well-founded Referendum Planning Group (RPG) could have the advantage, if it is able to demonstrate qualitative superiority, coming in "under the radar" while the other two slug it out in public.

Either way, the designation process affords the opportunity for applicants to make statements as to why other applicants should not be chosen, both in absolute and relative terms. The Electoral Commission can thus expect to receive weighty dossiers setting out the demerits of competitive applications. Members of the public are also entitled to offer their views, in support of applications or opposing them..

Implicit in the evaluations will assessments of whether individuals taking senior management roles satisfy the "fit and proper person" requirements applied to those receiving public money - with £600,000 on offer. These focus on the applicants' honesty, integrity, suitability and fitness, the latter relating to qualifications, skills and experience.

Arguably, those who boast about making "a fortune" from data mining opportunities during the campaign, might have a hard time convincing the Electoral Commission of their suitability, or that they are focused on winning.

Should the EC decide to ignore warning signs and make the award to the establishment grouping, there is always the prospect of a judicial review in the High Court. One good reason for making an application is to confer "locus", which will permit a formal complaint to be made the judiciary.

Thus, purely on the Darwinian basis of the survival of the fittest, the public has every reason to be grateful that there is an active controversy over the "leave" campaign designation. The more robust the selection process, the better the winner is likely to be. Against a "remain" campaign designation, which is likely to be uncontested, this is likely to confer an advantage to our side.

In any event, given the free market credentials of many "leave" campaigners, they cannot really object to a competition, and certainly not Mr Elliott, who recently observed that:
We are seeing the death throes of a Westminster élite who happily live a life of luxury at taxpayers' expense, while spending ever-growing amounts of taxpayers' cash, and they don't like it one bit.
We wouldn't like to think that Mr Elliott was a member of that "Westminster élite", happy to live "a life of luxury at taxpayers' expense". That would never do. He and anyone else applying for designation should be required fully to justify their selection, and as far as possible in the open.

Richard North 02/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: conceding the ground

Thursday 1 October 2015  

000a Times-001 Lawson2.jpg

Conservatives for Britain
now has as its president Lord Lawson - he of IEA Brexit competition fame - which, he tells us, "is helping to establish a professional campaign to leave the EU". "We will", he says, "be working with business leaders, academics and all political parties to call for the UK to leave unless there is real reform" (see above - click to enlarge).

As to the nature of the "reform" he would accept, his priorities would be fourfold: the end of the automatic supremacy of EU law over UK law; the ability for the UK to negotiate its own free trade deals with fast-growing countries such as India and China; the ability to control immigration from other EU countries to the UK; and the explicit renunciation by the EU of its absolute commitment to "ever-closer union".

These, of course, are issues which are fundamental to the European Union, and there is not the slightest chance that the "colleagues" would even sit down at a table to discuss them. This would not be reform, but annihilation: an EU that accepted these "reforms" would no longer be the European Union as we know it. This is "barking cat" territory.

With that, one has to ask what the point is of demanding something which is unachievable, and then calling to leave because your wishes are not granted? Although the analogy is not perfect, this is like joining a tennis club and demanding that it digs up its courts and turns them over to rugby pitches.

Logically, the only tenable stance is to walk away from the idea of reform altogether. This is not going to happen – not on the terms stated. Thus, the way is open for a purity of line. We leave because the structure and objectives of the EU are incompatible with our own requirements, and cannot be reconciled.

Instead, though, we are left with this ghastly Tory fudge, where we are stuck in the same old groove, presenting "reform" as the default option and the prospect of leaving as second-best, entered into reluctantly because Mr Cameron has failed in his negotiations.

This is an intellectually untenable position, and no basis on which to found a campaign. Furthermore, it leaves it open the option of an eleventh-hour resolution, whence Mr Cameron comes hot-foot back from Brussels with a new deal, which the likes of Lord Lawson grudgingly accept. Anything will be better than the prospect of an "accidental Brexit".

Therefore, we have at the head of that group a man who is not committed, as a matter of principle, to leaving the EU. Leaving, to him, is an option and he is open to persuasion on staying in, given the right terms.

His concern is that "we stay in an unreformed EU", thence "handing over ever more control of our economy and our borders to political bureaucrats whom we cannot vote out and who have made clear that they do not care what we think".

Therefore, if you are concerned about the prospect of staying in an "unreformed EU", Lord Lawson wants us to join with him helping to build the campaign to leave.

But how can one work with a man (or an organisation) which thus concedes the core point (on the unacceptability of the EU) before the battle even starts? Clearly, there is no room for anyone who considers that we should leave on a matter of principle.

Richard North 01/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: designation - the war of words

Thursday 1 October 2015  

000a Breitbart-030 Tufton.jpg

The battle for designation took on another twist on Tuesday with the publication on Conservative Home of a self-serving eulogy from Mark Wallace, about his former boss Matthew Elliott, stressing his suitability to lead the "leave" campaign.

About the same time, we were criticising John Springford of the Centre for European Reform for not declaring a financial interest when propagandising about the Norway option. It is only fair then that we should note Mark Wallace was telling us that:
… it should be clear which organisation is best equipped to lead the Leave side. That organisation is the Elliott/Cummings campaign, and as long-standing supporters of Brexit we look forward to its launch
… without him disclosing his relationship with his former boss, and that they are very close friends and associates.

The omission brought a sharp rejoinder from Peter North - and deservedly so. There is no reason why Wallace should not speak up for Elliott, but not to declare his relationship is underhand.

Mind, the very fact that the eulogy appeared on Conservative Home says something. The website is part of the Message Space nexus, the operation set up by Paul Staines (of Guido Fawkes notoriety), and Jag Singh. Both are close friends of Elliott, and were co-investors in his Wess Digital enterprise, as charted by The Boiling Frog.

It is also the case that after Elliott had taken over the reins of the No2AV campaign, he appointed his friend and business associate Jag Singh as Digital Director, who then appointed Message Space - the company in which he had a financial interest - as the campaign's digital agency.

Singh himself was awarded over £30,000-worth of contracts in the immediate run-up to the ballot in May 2011 - paid to a Hong Kong bank - and Message Space was paid over £65,000, which including on 5 May – days before the poll – the biggest 1-day-blitz online ad buy in UK political history. One should note that Conservative Home - then under the proprietorship of Tim Montgomerie - was a major beneficiary.

After the campaign, it was interesting to note that Montgomerie awarded Elliott the accolade of, "probably the most effective political campaigner that Britain has produced in a generation". That was despite his having brought the No2AV campaign so close to the brink of disaster that it required the direct intervention of the Prime Minister to rescue it, thereby nearly achieving the impossible - losing an unlosable campaign.

Given past form, though, it now stands to reason that if Mr Elliott captures the much larger franchise for the EU "leave" campaign – worth up to £7 million – his operation could be similarly generous in rewarding its friends and associates with contracts and purchases. Con Home, in this event, might expect to gain additional advertising and cannot, therefore, be considered an entirely neutral player.

Responding to Con Home and Wallace, however, is a champion of Elliott's potential nemesis, Arron Banks, a man by the name of Raheem Kassam, editor of Brietbart London. Not a natural ally of this blog, he expresses himself in such terms that even Peter ended up defending him.

Kassam, at least, declares an interest: Wallace at one time got him a job at the Tax Payers' Alliance and he even got along with one of his best friends, Matthew Elliott. But, says Kassam, "as is the way with these things, if you don't play by their rules, they disown, disassociate, and all basically just diss you all round".

On the receiving end of this, Kassam claims to have been "far too often", and asserts that Arron Banks, UKIP and the Leave.EU campaign are now their main targets. And Wallace's piece, Kassam asserts, "is a very thinly veiled attempt to prompt people the way of Elliott's floundering Business for Britain campaign, which has aligned to it, the Conservatives for Britain, and Labour for Britain".

Elliott's campaign, Kassam believes, is haemorrhaging financial support – and is nowhere near the size of Leave.EU. "To be struggling financially with a skeleton staff", he says, "isn't exactly promising". Meanwhile, Banks is said to have a 50-person staffed call centre, as well as a fully fledged operation in place, with suggestions that he's spending just shy of half a million pounds a month. 

Bundling Elliott in with Dominic Cummings – a man who Elliott regards as one of his mentors - Kassam challenges Wallace's claims of them that they are "officially and decidedly for leaving the EU". Still up on the BfB website, in its FAQs section, he says, is the declaration: "Business for Britain is absolutely not about leaving the EU".

Of even more concern to some is the statement recorded by Isabel Oakeshott of the Evening Standard on 1 June this year. Elliott's Business for Britain is said to be encouraged that even hardcore federalists such as Jacques Delors and Giscard d'Estaing talk about the UK having "associate" status. "If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we're very much in", Elliott said then.

However, Kassam and, in another Breitbart piece, Farage, are missing an important point. Business for Britain is not going to lead the "leave" campaign. Rather, Elliott has a separate company, the No Campaign Ltd, which he can use as the platform for an entirely new operation.

As such, Elliott can shed inconvenient BfB baggage, such as his statements on not leaving the EU. Like a moth emerging from its cocoon, he can metamorphose into a squeaky clean "leaver" – if that is what is needed to get Electoral Commission lead designation. If he gets it, he can operate with a budget capped at £7 million, instead of the £700,000 allowed to other (non party-political) registered campaigners.

Nevertheless, Farage questions whether, what he calls the "Tufton Street group", can "reach out beyond Westminster", not realising that Elliott is now a born-again leaver. And, having vacated Tufton Street and his job as CEO of Business for Britain, he now operates out of Westminster Tower on the Albert Embankment, the same site he used for the No2AV campaign. 

The Ukip leader is similarly behind the curve in complimenting Elliott for having good research staff, wrongly crediting them "with getting Tories to force a government U-turn on the purdah rules". It was one of this blog's readers who spotted the problem and this blog which raised the alarm, providing the research for Owen Paterson, who made the initial running in early June.

Typical of Elliott's style, though, he comes in after the event, with a fraction of the information and a limited grasp of the issues, to claim the credit. Typical of Farage's style, he falls for the hype.

But there's the big problem with Elliott and his "SW1 crowd". Assiduous in talking up their reputations and excluding outsiders (while stealing the credit for what others do), they are out of their depth when it comes to the EU. Dangerously, they have not the first idea of what constitutes a winning strategy.

And why he might not be as spectacularly incompetent as Arron Banks, all Elliott has shown in his earlier activities is that he has a grasp of basic tactics - even if he is someone pedestrian in their application - and has some management skills. He has never had to demonstrate that he has any grasp of the strategic needs of a "leave" campaign, and his offerings so far have been feeble. Furthermore, there is no one around him capable of giving him the advice he needs – not that he would understand it if given.

For my part, I look upon this growing train-wreck situation with dismay. Along with Peter, I take the view that Arron Banks is unlikely to deliver an effective campaign unless he substantially ups his game, which leaves the media and others – including Mark Wallace - arguing that Elliott is the only game in town.

But there is the Referendum Planning Group (RPG), made up from the Bruges Group, the Campaign for Independent Britain and others, including this blog. And while I am prepared to work alongside any organisation genuinely intending to fight to leave the EU, pursuing an application for lead designation through this group begins to look increasingly attractive.

Before that, it seems that we have to go through the Raheem Kassam's experience, finding that, "if you don't play by their rules, they disown, disassociate, and all basically just diss you all round".

The thing is, having voted "no" in 1975, I have committed too many years of my life to opposing the EU to allow Johnny-come-latelys, with a fraction of my skills and understanding, to dictate the terms on which I will fight. Most certainly, I will not be excluded for refusing to take directions from an organisation headed by a man who is manifestly not up to the job, but is up to his neck in what appear to be very dubious practices.

Come what may, I am part of this battle, and no one is going to decide otherwise. This blog, with its allies in the RPG, is a powerful weapon in the armoury. And I think I can validly use the term "we" when I say that we intend to see it used to maximum effect.

Richard North 01/10/2015 link

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