EU Referendum: working in a public space

Wednesday 25 November 2015  

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Backing up the Reuters report from Sunday, we now get the Financial Times informing us that Brussels has told Downing Street it must "finalise its negotiating position on EU reform within a week" if David Cameron is to achieve his goal of securing a deal by the end of the year.

Unless you know different, of course, there never actually was a formal intention expressed by Mr Cameron to conclude an agreement by the end of the year. The last I heard of any substance was at the end of September, when the scuttlebutt had it that the plan would be to reach an agreement by March next year, with a view to holding the referendum by the autumn of 2016.

That is actually just as unlikely as a referendum in the spring, but it does at least have the merit of being possible, unlike the earlier date, even if there is still speculation that an early referendum in June or July 2016 could be called.

However, as the months slip by, the original alarms about an early referendum are beginning to fade, although these will be replaced by intensifying speculation about a poll in October 2016, which will continue through into next year. Not a single journalist, as far as I am aware, has been able to join all the dots and argue cogently for a referendum in the autumn of 2017, which is still my expected option.

Needless to say, both the "big leaves" have committed to premature launches, both of them falling into the trap of expecting a early referendum, alongside Nigel Farage, whose strategic and tactical acumen is well known after his stunning success in the 2015 general election. We are so lucky now that he is applying his skills to fighting the referendum.

With all sides committed to a long campaign, though – even if most haven't yet come fully to terms that the referendum is going to be two years hence – it is not surprising that there are moves afoot to cut costs by merging the leaves, initiated in this instance by Arron Banks.

The Telegraph claims to have an exclusive on this, even though the Express posted the story earlier. Of the two papers, the Telegraph carries the fuller account, including the text of a letter sent by Banks to Matthew Elliott, self-styled CEO of Vote Leave Ltd.

Banks's obvious concern is that the two campaigns are replicating similar staffing at great expense and duplicated campaign structures that are vying for attention with the media. He thus writes: "It is time that we put all disagreements to one side and remember our ultimate objective – leaving the European Union".

However, the story was a short-lived one, not even lasting the day when the Spectator, amongst others, was telling us there would not be a merger.

There had been no talks and were not likely to be any, not least because there was some "disgruntlement" in the Vote Leave camp that the letter has been ended up in the public domain before its Board has met to discuss it.

There were also issues related to Banks personally: the Vote Leave campaign is wary of his close ties to Ukip and Farage, which may cause issues with the Electoral Commission designation as the official "leave" campaign.

Additionally, there were the "caustic remarks" about Douglas Carswell, when Banks had described the Clacton MP as "borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in". With Carswell sitting on Vote Leave's Parliamentary planning committee, said the Spectator, "it's unlikely he will be endorsing a merger".

Surprisingly, nothing was said of Mr Banks telling us that the two campaigns have focused on very different things, with Vote Leave having produced "great technical analysis such as the 1,000 Page document, 'Change or Go'". This is somewhat different to what he was saying in September when he described it as the best door stop ever (pictured). Probably, he was right first time, but expediency makes diplomats of us all.

What was less forgivable was Banks tells us that his group has "hired the very best people in the world to run the strategy of the campaign with experience of over 30 referendums or issue-based campaigns worldwide". Their advice, we are told, "is that we need to run a positive, uplifting campaign, which focuses on the fact Britain could do so much better outside the EU". And this "is the message we have been pushing in our media activity".

Doubtless, this was well intended, but I wonder if Mr Banks can even begin to understand how insulting it is for him to bring an American "guru" over here to play back to us exactly that which I was writing in March 2011 and many times since.

But what is especially galling is that there is no sign whatsoever of actually adopting the advice from the "very best people in the world". A review of both the Twitter account and the website yields an unremitting diet of negativity – effectively one long whinge about the European Union.

On the other hand, through Flexcit and this blog, we have done everything in our power to promote leaving the EU in a positive light, as well as develop a strategy which can exploit our positive message – only then to find it undermined by the crass activities of people who have not given a fraction of the thought we have devoted to the problem of leaving the EU.

Yet, we still find people on Twitter and elsewhere telling us that we should "work together" as part of a unified campaign, or with one or other of the leave campaigns, when neither have a message anywhere near as coherent as the one we have produced and when they themselves are unable to unify.

When I was told that we "have to work with the out camp" – whatever the "out" camp is - that I decided I'd had enough. I thus wrote and posted on Twitter, a message for new recruits to the "leave" campaign. There were, I thought, "a few things need to be made clear".

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First, it must be realised that the campaign is a public space. No-one owns it. Second, although it is public, that does not mean it is uninhabited. Others have been tilling the fields, some for decades. I'm one of them and there are about ten thousand of us.

We have, I wrote, no rights to dictate how others campaign, but we were here first. And when we see others arrive with their metaphorical bulldozers and start ripping up the turf, we believe we have earned the right to ask them what they think they are doing, and what they hope to achieve.

In the absence of satisfactory (or any) answers, I then said, no one has the right to expect us to co-operate with these newcomers or assist them in their campaigning. Nor do they have any right to criticise us for not so doing. We will assist them if we think fit, but we also reserve the right to comment on their failings if we believe them to be damaging the cause.

To do is not "disloyal" to the cause. Because the newcomers have money and are able to make a lot of noise does not automatically make them effective campaigners. We owe them no loyalty other than that which we owe to the cause as a whole.

Furthermore, having laboured in the field for so long, we believe that, at the very least, we deserve the respect of those who have come belatedly into the field and seek to add to what we have already been doing for so long. When you have worked for as long, and contributed as much, then you too may be entitled to some respect.

In the meantime, I concluded, we owe you nothing. And that is not an unfriendly statement. Nor is it, as one pundit averred, "arrogance". That is an easy charge to make. Like or not, it is simply a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, throughout this long saga, I have been more than willing to work with other groups. I went the extra mile with Vote Leave Ltd (at considerable expense to my self, giving freely help and advice), only to have Cummings lie to my face about the group's intentions and then seek to close down my ability to express myself on this blog and elsewhere.

As to, I am still, after much stopping and starting, negotiating with Arron Banks and his team. And, as I have said on Twitter, "we'd be more than happy to have them work with us". "Unfortunately", I went on, "they don't as yet meet our exacting standards, although we're working informally to bring them up to speed".

That sentiment is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. It must, I think, define our future responses. If anything, I have been too passive and apologetic about our relations with other groups. We work well with the CIB and with the Bruges Group and many others. The failure of some other groups to work with us is as much their fault as ours - if not more so. 

For our part, we have put some brutally hard work into getting our expertise to the stage we have reached, and in most activities we tackle, we know what we're doing. While we would not even begin to claim that we have all the answers, and are constantly learning more, we are streets ahead of others. We have nothing to apologise for in demanding high standards of ourselves and expecting others to work to those same high standards.

Effectively, therefore, if anyone wants to work with us, they have to meet our standards. We owe the campaign that much and, in this public space, we do not need any permissions from anyone to take that position or expect anything different. And nor do we have anything to apologise for in so doing.

Richard North 25/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the role of prestige

Tuesday 24 November 2015  

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In the beginning, there were only a few voters in each constituency. Everybody knew everybody, and it was relatively easy for candidates in elections to communicate with their electorates.

As the franchise expanded, political parties became more active, with local party workers doing much of the heavy lifting, getting the message out to the voters. But, as the political parties shrink and local activism has died, elections are increasingly managed from the centre.

Television in the early days helped, but as the distinctions between parties narrowed, other parties muddied the waters and party loyalties waned, getting the message out became more difficult.

And so have developed more and more sophisticated mechanisms for reaching target audiences, including the concept of "microtargeting". This involved defining with ever more precision specific interest groups and tailoring messages specifically for them, based on the unique information collected about them.

This is supposed to be future of campaigning. Certainly, we are seeing in this referendum two groups gearing up to use this techniques. There is the BSE Campaign on the one hand and on the other, using Cambridge Analytica to do their number crunching. We also know that Vote Leave Ltd are planning to use this technique.

There is obviously some validity in this technique. Ostensibly, people need information on which to base their voting decisions and if you can supply them with crucial information, at exactly the right time, finely tuned to match their needs and prejudices, then there is a chance you can influence them to vote in your favour.

However, there are three major problems with this technique which, in a referendum contest of the complexity that we're dealing with, may neutralise the technique, or even render it counter productive.

Firstly, there is the sensitivity issue. Collecting data about people is not a neutral activity. It requires a certain amount of intrusion, which a lot of people find offensive. Yet, when targeted messaging is used, it is often very obvious that it relies on data collection and analysis.

But, when someone writes (or e-mails you) out of the blue, with your correct name, delivering a message that indicates an amount of knowledge of your preferences, this can be both alarming and offensive. Rather than provoking the sort of response you are after, it can have completely the opposite effect.

The second problem is simply that of competition. If you are the only ones using the technique, then you may have the drop on the other side. But if both sides are using it, they may simply cancel each other out. More likely, it leads to an arms race, where more and more sophistication is demanded, at greater and greater expense. Targets also tend to get saturated, which means they are likely to switch off, neutralising your expensive campaigning.

The greater of the three problems, though, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the way voting decisions are made, and what influences ordinary people. The standing fallacy is that people make decisions rationally. From this stems the false assumption that, in order to influence them, all you have to do is inform them of the "right" facts.

This we've seen in the Ukip camp, where this belief is prevalent. Many thus believe that, if people are not listening, the answer is to shout louder. We've also heard it from Conservatives following election defeats, when it is so often observed that: "we are not getting our message through".

However, simple reference to Haidt and The Righteous Mind has us informed that: "reason is the servant of the intuitions". People tend to make their decisions first, and then find the facts to justify them.

As to what influences them in the first place, one of the crucial elements, if not the most dominant, is that mysterious property of "prestige". From Gustave Le Bon, we've quoted this before:
The special characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they are and to entirely paralyse our judgement. Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.
Our opinions, to a very great extent, are determined by the prestige of the source. The greater the prestige, the more likely it is that we accept what we are told – particularly the English, who seem more bovinely conformist than many other nations.

Arron Banks, on the other hand, tells us that his polling showed different non-political voices that the public trust most, asserting that they "hate" all politicians. This justifies the exclusion of politicians from the campaign process.

But there is a danger here that such findings can mislead. Firstly, it is unlikely that people are telling the whole truth. I've lost count of the number of times people have told me they don't believe what they read in the papers, only then to see them citing stories in a manner that makes it evident that they believe them. Even people you might have thought were hardened cynics display a gullibility verging on naivety when it comes to the media.   

Then, in decision-making terms, "hate" and "prestige" have wholly different properties. A prison officer, going about his duties, may be hated. But he will carry prestige and will be able to function as a result. People accept and act upon information delivered by those with "prestige", regardless of their personal feelings for them. 

Furthermore, people are able to – and quite commonly do – distinguish between the office and the office holder. This is especially the case with the prime minister. At home, he may be David Cameron – a Conservative politician. But, representing his country, he is the Prime Minister, carrying the considerable prestige of that office.

When it comes to the referendum, we the "leavers" will be confronted by that prestige. This will be a massive obstacle to overcome. Additionally, David Cameron will have the support of most of the political and business establishment and probably the media as well, with all the prestige that that confers.

In attempting to neutralise all of this, there is a suggestion that we should use "ordinary people" as spokespersons. The thinking is not altogether off the wall, but it can't deal with the situation in which we will find ourselves. For instance, while one might trust a fireman if one's house was on fire, when it comes to the question of whether we should remain in the EU or leave, the premier's prestige is likely to prevail.

As a possible counter, we have explored a possible inter-relationship between distance and prestige, with the idea of building local and online "communities" which can shorten the chain between source and point of delivery. Essentially, we need to be building social capital within multiple networks, as a means of offseting high-prestige communications.   

But, as Pete points out, much will depend on the gravitas – the underlying authority - of our campaign. As such, we cannot afford to be seen intimidating CBI companies, or fulminate about migrants, or associating ourselves with some of the more extreme views on Muslims. We cannot even afford to be pushing for non-existent bonfires of regulation.

Furthermore, neutralising the Prime Minister's prestige only buys us a ticket to the next stage of the debate. We then have to offer the electorate our own vision for a post-exit UK and come up with credible assurances that it is achievable – our exit plan by whatever name we care to give it.

Putting all this together, our first task is to build ourselves a reputation as an authoritative, credible campaign. While doing this, we need to be assessing the state of the campaign with a view to detecting any shifts in public attitude towards the question, and we need to be devising a strategy of countering the prestige of our opponents. Then we will have to have our vision ready, and our credible exit plan, with a structure in place that can communicate it to our target groups.

This is a tall order. So far, I don't think we're anywhere near surmounting even the first hurdle. We still have time, but even two years is going to stretch us.

Richard North 24/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the joys of journalism

Monday 23 November 2015  

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On 9 November, the Times ran a front page piece headlining "Cameron gambling on EU referendum in June", a classic example of idle speculation from an ill-informed legacy media. I didn't even bother reporting it.

According to the Times at that moment, David Cameron was ready to hold the referendum in June if other leaders agreed to the bulk of his reform package at the December "summit", with the newspaper citing anonymous Whitehall officials as its source.

Needless to say, even if that unlikely condition was fulfilled, it was not going to be possible to have a referendum at that short notice, but the Times evidently thinks that mere facts should not get in the way of a front-page story.

Somewhat raining on the parade, though, we now see a report from Reuters. It tells us that "European Union leaders" are not only unlikely to reach a deal next month with Britain on its demands for reform of the bloc "but may not even narrow differences at a pre-Christmas summit".

In other words, we are exactly back where we started before the Sunday Times took its ill-informed punt, and none the wiser for all that expenditure of time and journalistic effort. The one thing we can be sure of, however, is that this newspaper will not carry the Reuters story.

In fact, this week there is precious little in the Sunday Times about the EU, a thinness of reporting which is seen throughout the legacy media this weekend. It typifies the way the subject is being treated. Reporting is at such a superficial level that coverage of any event is quickly exhausted, as journalists have so little to say about it.

This was the week, thought, where the geniuses in Vote Leave Ltd thought the really cool thing to do was go to York and hand out free helium balloons, in the hope that this would convince people, two years hence, to vote to leave the EU (pictured). With such vitality and imagination, how can we possibly lose?

Nevertheless, that seems to offer slightly more promise than the ill-considered plan to intimidate the CBI, which seems to be having precisely no effect, as its new Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, has "backed Britain remaining in a reformed European Union" – exactly the same stance, incidentally, taken by Mr Elliott's Business for Britain.

On the other hand, had the legacy media decided to do some serious reporting, (near-impossible though that is), it might have offered some more analysis of the media extravaganza last Wednesday, as it got very little coverage at the time, despite the cost and effort put into it.

However, while the weekend press was silent, it was left to Isabel Oakeshott in Conservative Home to peep out of the bubble in a vain attempt to tell us what was going on – a useful exercise in that it went a long way towards revealing the depth of ignorance of the bubble-dwellers.

"Few at Westminster know much about Arron Banks", she trilled. "By contrast, Matthew Elliott, who runs rival campaign Vote Leave, is a "familiar figure" in SW1. "His is a slick, professional operation supported by numerous Tory MPs and peers as well as three Labour MPs, and Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP", we were told.

La Oakeshott then had us "throw in Dominic Cummings, the brilliant former special adviser to Michael Gove", then to tell us that "it is easy to see why the commentariat (myself included) has rather taken it for granted that Elliott will run the Brexit campaign". That is your bubble, for you – reporting exactly what is in front of its nose, with all the depth and perspective of a child's paddling pool.

Having attended the Wednesday meeting, however, Oakeshott took from it the conclusion that "there are signs that this assumption may be misplaced". With about as much perspicacity as she displayed in her original assumption, she then delved into the factoids from the publicity handout.

Oakshott obviously found some of these impressive enough to cite, coming up with the stunning observation that Banks is "cleverly positioning" his outfit as the "People's Campaign". That she had only just noticed this tells us a great deal about the insulating properties of the SW1 bubble - and the inability of its denizens to report on the world around them.

But with the same penetrating intelligence that brings us this news, this woman also asserts that it is "blindingly obvious" that Vote Leave Ltd and "should join forces – and fast".

Having absolutely no understanding of the dynamics between the groups, she then decides that, "much time has already been wasted on the power struggle" and that "Farage should now be kingmaker". Says Oakshott: "The sooner he knocks heads together, the sooner all concerned can get on with fighting their real enemy – the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU".

With so much ignorance, it is hard to believe it could be packed in such a small frame, but they are used to working such miracles in SW1. Stupidity is commonplace. Ocean-going ignorance just requires a little application. No wonder Oakshott is headed for the Daily Mail.

Funnily enough, the theme David Phipps also chooses for his latest piece is "brain-dead hacks", this addressed to Philip Stevens, Chief Political Commentator of the Financial Times, another one who is incapable of seeing the world around him.

That is turning out to be the curse of this referendum. We are surrounded by information that no one knows ho to use, or has the wit to understand. But it doesn't even stop there.

Over the weekend, we were briefly entertained by Matthew Goodwin, trying to pretend that he hadn't predicted that Ukip would get six MPs, attempting to rewrite history, saying only that he believed Ukip "stood a very good chance" in four seats.

Our reward for such noble endeavour was to be blocked on Twitter by young Mr Goodwin, he having already vacated the field to the likes of Oakshott and Stevens to drivel round the edges of a subject they clearly have problems understanding. Meanwhile, a small piece in the Times told us that Britain in Europe is poised to hire Jim Messina, the US digital guru who supposedly "helped to mastermind the Conservative party's election success".

Messina is acknowledged as "a leading expert in digital communications", and would be a prize hire by the campaign for his ability to target "shy Tory" voters who are thought to be the key to winning the referendum.

This is something a moderately intelligent journalist (if there is such a thing) might pounce upon for, if we tie this in with what are telling us, and the delving of The Boiling Frog, we see that these players are all investing heavily in "big data" campaigns – the supposedly war-winning weapons.

What has evidently not occurred to these geniuses is that if everybody is using the same tools, and somebody has to lose, then they can't in themselves be the winning weapons that so many people think them to be. Where, for instance, these sophisticated techniques allow messages to be targeted with more precision, little gain can be expected if the message itself is badly framed.

And there is perhaps the story for the type of journalist who no longer exists – one who is actually interested in writing real news about the referendum campaign, is able to do the necessary research, and has the access to the media.

If she was still working for a newspaper, perhaps M E Synon could have put the real story together. That is, effectively, how the "leave" campaign is being wrecked by incompetent amateurs, to the extent that it would make very little difference which of the "big hitter" campaigns got the designation – or even if they combined. After all, two train-wrecks are not better than one.

That said, this is only what we expected, and we have already made plans to compensate for the failings of the main players. The only really irritating thing about all this is that, when we do pull their chestnuts out of the fire, they will be queuing up to claim credit for our work.

But then, that is so often the case that it's practically the natural order of things.

Richard North 23/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: strategy on autopilot

Sunday 22 November 2015  

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In February 2013, names more familiar to British audiences now than they were then appeared in the Huffington Post, talking about Mr Cameron's (then) "in-or-out" referendum.

The names were Gerry Gunster and Ben Goddard, respectively senior partner and chairman of Goddard Global, the company now engaged by Arron Banks and his operation as strategic advisors. To this pair, David Cameron's call was fascinating for "those of us - mostly Americans - who study and practice the science and art of 'ballot measure' campaigns".

Americans, we were told, routinely vote on hundreds of state and local referendums each election cycle, settling and resettling debates on issues ranging from tax policy to alcohol regulations to how governments are selected.

But a world power deciding such a monumental, non-retractable, international issue as EU membership "in one swift referendum" is, they said, "somewhat unusual and trepidatious - even to the ballot issue happy cousins on this side of the pond".

In what might turn out to be an apocryphal comment, Gunster and Goddard went on to tell us that "referenda" are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced". Like most EU issues, they said, this debate will be contentious and emotionally charged. There will be charges and counter-charges, fear tactics, negative messages, conspiracy theories, misleading polls, half truths and full lies.

But, we were told, "experience teaches us that those succeed in defining the terms will win the debate". Doing that requires "the use of sophisticated research, targeted communications and organization of a broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street".

So, more than two years before Mr Cameron had won the election which was to lead to the referendum, Gunster and Goddard were telling us how to fight our unique referendum, and in terms that quite clearly applied to the contests they had experienced in the United States.

Armed with that experience, they tell us that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest". Thus, they aver, "the side that speaks to the self interest of a majority who vote on election day is the side that will win".

Then came what could be taken as the sales pitch. "It takes sophisticated research to determine how your side can best appeal to the self-interest of the most voters - messaging that creates a bond between your cause and a majority of voters", we are confidently informed.

Not stopping there, though, Gunster and Goddard decide to tell us that the most common mistakes campaigns face is "the trap of the false consensus." Those who feel the strongest about an issue tend to wind up in charge of the campaign. They also tend to believe their own arguments.

Emphasising their utility, they declare that: "Only a commitment to using good research and sticking to a consistent message is a sure path to victory, as we have demonstrated in over 95 percent of the campaigns we've been involved in and helped lead over the past four decades".

And then we get a final point. "Yes" votes are more difficult to win than "No" votes, say Gunster and Goddard. For over 100 years the "Yes" side of the campaign has failed 60 percent of the time.

This is quite obviously the status quo effect, but the way it is framed might be confusing to some British readers, yet the pair make no concessions to this. In the United States, where the referendum is a so-called "initiative" question, the "yes" answer goes to the side proposing change.

Thus, when the question was put in Massachusetts as to whether to expand the bottle deposit scheme, to improve recycling rates, those who wanted the scheme expanded had to vote "yes". Those opposed had to vote "no". In the EU referendum, though – at the time – to leave the EU (the proposition for change) was to get the "no" vote while the status quo (staying in) was to require a "yes" vote.

One might have thought that the Americans would adjust their rhetoric accordingly, but they didn't. It might be a small point, but it might also be a telling one. These people lack empathy, and make allowances for the nuances.

However, from this emerges the Gunster-Goddard recipe for winning referendums (which the insist on calling "referenda"). Those wanting change (in this case, to leave the EU) "must convince the public that a problem exists, that it is their problem, and that the problem is so acute that they must take action". The public must be convinced that "the specific proposed solution that will appear on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted".

On the other hand, those supporting the status quo, say Gunster and Goddard, just have "to convince a majority of voters that the proposed solution does not solve the problem". A common theme in support of the status quo is: "right problem, wrong solution".

If that was over 30 months ago, however, one might have expected the company, with the benefit of watching the UK scene for a while, to be speaking in more nuanced terms.

But, in October 2015, we see similar boilerplate opinions, this time from Gerry Gunster on his own. We thus have the referendum guru believing that, "the side that best succeeds in appealing to voters' emotions will be the one that wins". Thus, he says, "You have got to get into that emotional side of a person … Everybody has some self-interest".

In over two years, therefore, he has hardly moved at all, still telling us that: "For a voter that self-interest usually means family, community, pocketbook, wallet and, am I safe? Ultimately people make those decisions based upon whether or not … voting on this particular issue will protect those basic principles".

It turns out, though, that Gunster has a standard template which he trots out, irrespective of the audience. Thus, on a Washington advocacy blog, he declares that the challenger to the status quo must convince voters that a problem exists, the problem is the voters' problem, the problem is so acute that voters must take action, and then that the specific proposed solution on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted.

This was written in July 2015 and, if it has a familiar feel to it, it is because this is exactly the same nostrum offered to the Huffington Post more than 30 months ago. Dissection of the template, however, does not inspire confidence.

One difference on the ground, for instance, is immediately manifest. This is not going to be a "swift" referendum. And the dynamics of a long-drawn-out campaign are very different from the short, sharp contests that our American friends are used to.

Moreover, in this referendum  there can hardly be any need to convince voters that there is a problem, or that action must be taken. Both are "givens" and by both sides, the "remains" as much as the "leavers". The dispute is over the solution: either we "reform" or we "leave".

In terms of leaving, the proposed solution clearly lies outside the competence of Gunster and his company to devise. Furthermore, nothing they have said in any way indicates that they are prepared for the complex task of defining an exit plan. And even if they do, they have to deal with all the warring tribes who have their own ideas of what it should be.

But all we have had from, so far, has poisoned the well. We got the crass statement from Arron Banks that he could negotiate "a better economic arrangement" with the EU than is afforded by the Norway option, thereby walking eyes wide shut into the better deal fallacy.

Against whatever solution Gunster is able to broker, there will be Mr Cameron. Supposedly, all we have to do is convince a majority of voters that Cameron's proposed solution "does not solve the problem", and then substitute our own.

But, with the assistance of much the leaver "community" (including, Mr Cameron has already managed to damage the most plausible solution – the Norway option. Now he is unveiling his "British model" which, at a superficial level, will sound highly attractive. To counter that, Mr Gunster has empty hands.

One suspects, though, that Mr Gunster is more concerned with tackling his contention that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest".

We've already seen some of this, in the recent polling commissioned by Clearly, Mr Gunster is trying to ascertain which issues give the strongest responses, so that he can focus on them and play them back to the voters.

For this technique, Mr Gunster needs his "sophisticated research [and] targeted communications". He thinks he also needs to organise a "broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street". But it is no coincidence that his research tools are extremely expensive. It is these that make referendums an extremely lucrative business.

But as to how he gets his "winning message" to a UK audience, thereby changing minds, Gunster doesn't have a clue. He has not the least idea of social dynamics over here, and next to no knowledge of how the UK media works. He has given no thought as to how it is likely to behave over the span of this referendum campaign. Yet, being able to make informed predictions will be vital to the success of the campaign.

His strategy undoubtedly does work for the types of referendums that he has been dealing with. But then, when it comes to questions on sick pay, drivers licenses for immigrants, banning the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting, and the famous bottle deposits referendum, the issues are relatively easy to define.

When it comes to the EU, though, we are in a completely different league. Not only are the issues multi-faceted and complex, there is absolutely no accord on whether the problems of the day will trigger an exit vote in perhaps two year's time. Nor is there any way of knowing whether the problems Gunster defines will be accepted by voters as ones which need us to leave the EU in order to resolve them. 

More to the point, we already see that Mr Cameron is carving out his "middle way". In this play, the more strident the "leave" and the "remain" camps are, the more "moderate" he looks and the easier it is for him to get his message accepted. Therefore, the very strategy that Gunster so expensively defines as essential to win will be one that aids the other side.

Then, if – as we anticipate – Mr Cameron acknowledges the EU as being problematical and offers his new "relationship" (the British model) as the solution, the ballot will become a battle of opposing solutions.

Further, in the very specific context of this referendum, as it is likely to pan out – Mr Cameron will not be able to give cast-iron assurances that he can deliver his proposed solution. But then, neither will we. Thus, the core issue which the voters will have to address is whether they trust the Prime Minister, or whether they trust an insurance salesman or a gaggle of arrogant Tory Boys.

Thus, there is a good chance that we are going to be confronting a situation where the question on the ballot paper is not that one that is answered by the voters. We may see "remain" or "leave" in front of us, but the question we answer may well be, "Do you trust the Prime Minister?"

Nothing in Gunster's previous experience prepares him for this viper's nest, and nothing in's current statement indicates that they have any measure of these factors. Referendums are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced", Gunster says. But this is a man who lacks any of the experience needed to succeed in fighting an EU referendum in the UK.

Instead, committed to playing with his expensive toys, he is putting the cart before the horse. The political analyses should come first, and drive the data collection. "Big data" should be the servant, not the master. Gunster is simply leading his employers down an expensive cul-de-sac, with a strategy that has next to no relevance to the special conditions which prevail here. In so doing, he is already wasting the time and efforts of leavers. If the strategy does not change, is will simply pave the way for Mr Cameron's own play.

That's the thing about strategy. It tends to be either right, or wrong. There is rarely any such thing as half right. And if you get it wrong, you most likely – albeit unwittingly – end up helping the enemy.

For Mr Gunster, all he will suffer is an amount of reputational damage – although we intend to make that penalty as high as possible. But we have a lot more at stake, far too much to entrust our fate to a man who shows no signs whatsoever of being equipped to fight this campaign, especially as he seems to be flying on autopilot.

We really can do without this. When we are fighting for our lives on the question of bottle deposits or whether to ban the use of bait when hunting bears, we'll be sure to give Mr Gunster a call. But, in this battle, we need people who know what they are doing. They must understand the complexities of this EU referendum and be committed to the cause.

On current form, it does not look as if Mr Gunster of his company get anywhere near qualifying.

Richard North 22/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: breaking the Brussels code

Saturday 21 November 2015  

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Mary Ellen Synon was in London today, talking to a well-attended Bruges Group conference, with a speech which had the note-takers scribbling furiously.

What attracted our interest was her view - as an observer of Brussels at close hand – that David Cameron's Chatham House speech on 10 November "was a trick". It was designed to divert attention from his real intentions, and it has largely succeeded.

Since the speech, many leave campaigners have been wasting their time (and ours) in complaining that the so-called demands were "thin gruel". But whether they are thin or not is irrelevant. The demands (which aren't actually demands anyway) are irrelevant.

Says ME, the only purpose of Mr Cameron's "demands" was to act as camouflage for the one line in the speech that actually mattered. That one line, she says, was not a demand. "It was a capitulation".

As we observed at the time tough, and ME told her audience, the Westminster reporters covering the speech, and most every MP, didn't notice the line tucked in after 1,800 words of diversion. This was it: "We need a British model of membership that works for Britain and for any other non-Euro countries".

The point that ME so ably makes is that Mr Cameron was speaking in code – which is why the hacks missed it. For those who know the code, for those that have been following this dance in Brussels for years, Mr Cameron, in seventeen words, sent a signal to Brussels.

When decoded, it conveys that the Prime Minister intended Britain to be locked into the EU in exactly the way the EU federalists have been planning since 2006. In other words, Mr Cameron was signalling he was ready to collaborate with the euro-federalists to lead Britain into the bondage of associate membership.

Observers who spend their lives in the Westminster bubble did not grasp that this was the one significant line of the speech. But as the line was written in Brussels code, one should not be too surprised they didn't grasp its importance. They live in Britain. They don't speak the euro-language, they don't know the Brussels code. They don't know the dance steps.

In the next stage of the dance, as Downing Street becomes more open about admitting associate membership is the Prime Minister's intention, background briefings will portray associate membership as Mr Cameron's "big new idea".

But, says ME, the idea is not big as much as it is dishonest. It is certainly not new, having been hanging around Brussels for ten years. And it is not Mr Cameron's. We've been hearing from federalists in Brussels all the way back to Andrew Duff ten years ago when he proposed the idea in 2006 as a way of reviving the EU Constitution after it had been rejected by voters.

Nobody before or since has defined what associate membership would be – other than it would tie a member state into continued membership of the supranational political union. The vagueness is deliberate. Leaving the notion undefined creates a blank screen onto which can be projected whatever image of a new EU referendum voters can be persuaded to buy.

And image will, of course, be transitory. But Mr Cameron, with assistance from his collaborators in Brussels, only needs to keep the light on until the referendum. Then the cast iron guarantees can dissolve. The crucial part is that – as Duff said, "Whatever it contains … [it] has to look better than it really is".

That is what the idea of associate membership is for. It is a package whose contents will not be known until after the British voters buy it. At which point it will be too late.

Nevertheless, during the summer some Westminster hacks claimed to have stumbled onto a story that – in the words of the Sunday Times political editor – Downing Street "is drawing up a secret blueprint" to win the European referendum by "re-branding" Britain's membership.

Says ME, though, this "re-branding" is not a secret in Brussels. It has been known about for years. But when the Prime Minister laid down a false trail for the Westminster hack-pack, they duly followed it.

All this is so wearily predictable. For months before the Chatham House speech, Downing Street had briefed journalists that the Prime Minister would soon announce his "demands" for renegotiations in a major speech. Thus, when Mr Cameron stepped up to the microphone at Chatham House, the pack was already primed to hear what Mr Cameron wanted them to hear.

Inevitably, they reported the list of "demands" he made - except that he didn't make any demands. In actuality, the Prime Minister did not use the word "demand" at all, except in one line which had nothing to do with negotiations.

What followed was equally predictable. The Tory eurosceptics, relying largely on the reports of the speech, rather than the speech itself, and hearing the BBC coverage, "complained that the demands were too slight".

However, now that the message has been sent to Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker has at last replied. Last Wednesday, he told a meeting in Brussels that the European Union will have to review its framework to allow some countries to do everything together and others to be less involved. In short, associate membership.

Or as Mr Juncker put it, the EU "is a family. Over time, one needs to give them [the children] the possibility to find their place on an orbit that better suits their sense of temperature. But Brexit will not happen".

The real meaning of that signal to Mr Cameron was: "Message received. Brexit will not happen". And none of this is coincidence, says ME. Mr Cameron had already sent out a coded message on associate membership back as far as January 2013, in his Bloomberg speech.

It was then that he said: "We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation".

Perhaps we can send a comforting word to Mary Ellen. That idea of a flexible friend will, perhaps, last no longer than the once famous credit card which claimed so much. Flexibility is a poor substitute for departure.

Richard North 21/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the arrogance of the always right

Saturday 21 November 2015  

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The Guardian has been making a big deal about Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames claiming that Vote Leave Ltd have got it wrong on their claims about savings from leaving the EU and no longer paying the annual contribution.

Says Soames, one of its founding documents indicated that the UK would be free to spend nearly £20 billion on schools and other domestic priorities if it left the EU. Answering why the UK should leave the EU, the Vote Leave Ltd said: "We stop sending £350m every week to Brussels and instead spend it on our priorities, like the NHS and science research".

The £350 million works out at £18.2 billion a year – and was used to roughly equate the UK's annual £19.23 billion contributions to the EU as a condition of its membership. But Soames says this marks the UK's gross contribution, whereas the figure dips to £9 billion, according to Treasury figures, once the UK rebate and other EU grants are taken off.

In the event of a leaving the EU, the UK government would have to finance the equivalent of the EU grants. It would also have to pay to meet Vote Leave's preferred option of maintaining access to the single market. This means that Britain would save just £5.29 billion by leaving the EU. Soames says that this more modest saving would leave a shortfall of £13.94 billion in Vote Leave's calculations.

One can argue about the details here, but actually, Soames is not wrong in principle. Of the 2014 payments the rebate and public sector payments amount to £9.4 billion, which means that net payments are only £9.8 billion.

In other words, by the time we have taken account of the rebate and paid for the farmers and regional development, and the other things which come out of Brussels payments, we would actually be "saving" about £180 million a week – half of what Vote Leave claims.

However, if we use Norway as a guide, and assume that the UK will still be buying in services from the EU – from Europol to the European Defence Agency and Galileo, as well as the air traffic system, Eurocontrol, we could be the actual direct savings from leaving the EU could drop to about £5 billion – about £95 million a week, or about a quarter of the Vote Leave figure.

Whichever figures are used, therefore, the Vote Leave claim is an exaggeration. The only argument is about the extent – and that is not where any campaigning organisation wants to be. As I pointed out in August, citing Gene Sharp: "Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance".

You can, I wrote, get away with inaccurate reporting for a long time and, if you are preaching to the converted, telling them what they want to hear, you can get away with it forever. Addressing that audience, there is often no advantage in delivering facts – people will turn away from detail they don't want to hear.

In this coming referendum campaign, though, we have to secure more than 50 percent of the vote. That means we need to covert of lot of people to our way of thinking – far more than is needed in a general election campaign. And there the Sharp precept must apply: claims and reporting must be strictly factual. Accuracy is at an absolutely premium.

Crucially, if we sell a false bill of goods, our target audience will not come rushing to tell us we're wrong. Most won't argue with us or even reveal their disagreement. They'll simply note the mismatch – very often intuitively. And stripped of that all-important credibility, we'll fail to convince – we won't convert the people we need to our way of thinking, and the left-wing media will have a field day.

Here, we now have an example, in the Guardian, and it won't be the last we hear of it. At every opportunity, the "remains" will chip away at this unsupportable claim, using it to erode Vote Leave's credibility. Extraordinarily, though, a Vote Leave spokesman dismisses the analysis, saying:
It's good to see that the BSE campaign are finally admitting the EU costs us billions. We send £350m to Brussels every week: enough to fund a new hospital every week of the year. But these figures are simply not credible, based on flawed assumptions that do not stand up to basic scrutiny. We've seen dodgy polls from the in-at-all-costs brigade, and now it's dodgy sums.
This really is quite an extraordinary response. By any measure, Vote Leave is in the wrong, but its response is to display that brand of insolent arrogance that will eventually be its downfall. Its underlying assumption is that everything it says or does is right, and everyone else (friend of foe) who disagrees, is wrong.

To add to its cascade of unforced errors, though, Vote Leave, with Cummings at the helm, could be on the brink of making its biggest mistake of the campaign, and one that could quite possibly be fatal. 

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Seen on the Twitter account of the "genius" Cummings is what is quite obviously the start of a coordinated attack on the EU's Single Market, already being followed through in the group's campaign newsletter.

Where this is taking us has not yet been revealed publicly, but Cummings is addressing the inherent conflict between maintaining access to the Single Market while seeking to abolish freedom of movement. Since we can't have both, his next "brainwave" (after his second referendum idea crashed and burned) is to "diss" the Single Market, making out that we are better off without it.

This is a line which probably originates from Ruth Lea - it has her fingerprints all over it. Soon enough, I expect we will see emerging the insane WTO-plus option, the effect of which would be to ensure a post-exit collapse of exports to the remaining EU Member States.

Yet, such is the inherent arrogance of Vote Leave and its intellectual driver, Dominic Cummings, that they will not begin to accept the flaws in their own arguments. This is a "transmit only" organisation which purposefully shuts out any contrary views, while Cummings himself actively discourages dissent.

If this was a private party, we could afford to ignore it, but much in the way that we have seen the Guardian pick up the errors on Britain's savings, we can expect the "remains" to seize on Vote Leave's further errors, to exploit them in the service of its own campaign.

Despite the money pouring in, therefore, the "leave" campaign is no better off when one of its "big hitters" is effectively working for the other side. And, as we see, it is not the only one – a subject to which we will be returning.

Richard North 21/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: summary and conclusions

Friday 20 November 2015  

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Ten days and over 16,000 words later and we come to a concluding piece on referendum strategy – the end of this short series but by no means the last word on the issue. But it is significant that even now we have written far more in the public domain in this one series than we have seen collectively from the two "big hitters", Vote Leave Ltd and

There is some sense, one might argue, in keeping secret the elements of one's strategy, so one might suppose that both these operations are withholding from the public details of their intentions. The absence of material in the public record, therefore, does not necessarily mean that there are no strategies in place.

However, I take the view that it is unlikely that there is anything coherent in place. An undisclosed strategy may be invisible but its very nature suggests that, if one is in place, then its presence and structure can be inferred from the actions of those bound by it. But, from neither organisation can we see any coherence that would suggest that there exists anything which has been thought through.

That is not to say though that we do not see coordinated activity, but that does not a strategy make. It just adds to that growing body of confusion about the nature of strategy. Too many people think that stringing together a series of activities, especially when bound to a timetable, forms a strategy. It does not.

It was thus quite apposite that, in the first post of the series, I looked at the nature of strategy, and in particular through a topical filter, in terms of the Prime Minister's recent activities.

What we saw – if our analyses are well-founded – is that Mr Cameron does indeed have a strategy. He has created a "middle way", the full extent of which he is yet to reveal but which we expect to morph into associate membership. He is conscious of the problems of the EU, so he is going to "fix these challenges, fix these problems".

For us, I averred, this is dangerous. Mr Cameron is not attempting to appeal to either extreme - he knows they have fixed positions. Instead, "Mr Reasonable" is appealing directly to the "moderate middle". And bizarrely, the "mad genius" of euroscepticism, Dominic Cummings, does not see the danger. The one without a strategy seems to think that Mr Cameron does not have a strategy.

Strategy pays off, I then stated, when you state your objective and focus on how to get there. We need to do the same thing, in which context the key is the enemy's strategy, the enemy being the Prime Minister. He has the initiative in so many areas that, inevitably we must respond to him. Our core strategy, has to be reactive, and it has to be intelligence-led. There are three stages: we must identify the threat; we must neutralise it; and then we must mount a counter-attack.

By the time my second piece was in the writing, Mr Cameron was unveiling his "British model of membership". In campaigning terms, this gaves us our marching orders. Our intelligence has identified the target. It is now urgently necessary to attack this "British model", and then come up with a better – and credible – alternative. This is where the bulk of our resources should be focused.

Despite such clarity, though, it was becoming evident that the "big hitters" – those we call the "noisemakers – were not seeing the point. In the third piece, therefore, I was ruminating about the other band of enemies with which we are afflicted, our supposed allies whose crass actions are handicapping us in meeting and beating the real enemy.

If we are to win, I declared, we have to choose the right enemy and where there are multiple enemies, deciding on priorities is often the crucial strategic decision. At the moment, the principal barriers between us and victory are our so-called allies, the "noisemakers". They are getting in our way, confusing the message, blurring the issues and undermining our work.

By our next piece, we were firming up on the shiny "British Model", recognising it as a game-changer. And with that, many of the assumptions on which current campaigns are based now become irrelevant. To be effective, I declared, the tenor of campaigning needs to be adjusted to meet the new conditions on the ground.

Clearly, the priority target must be the Prime Minister's "British model". But to get coordinated action pre-supposes that the "noisemakers" are even aware of, and understand, this development. As it stands, there is no sign that these groups have the capability – or the willingness – to devote any of their resources to intelligence-led campaigning. There is not even any sign that they know the purpose of intelligence gathering.

This brought us to the point where we were seeing the results of a Survation poll which puts support for leaving at 53 percent, with the "remains" at 47 percent. By contrast, though, we were seeing the British Election Study have 61 percent wanting to remain, while only 39 percent expressed "leave" as a preference.

The "take home" point from this is that, even at face value, polls must be taken with a pinch or salt. But it also points up that polls are simply one form of political intelligence – and only one. In this campaign, the more important tool is political intelligence, used with a view to identifying the enemy's intentions.

Failure to acquire and use this intelligence means that actions are reactive rather than predictive. Yet, to be successful, we must detect changing conditions in order to change our plan to meet the new realities on the ground. The earlier information gets to the strategists, the better equipped they are to craft appropriate and effective responses.

So far, this intelligence suggests that David Cameron is adopting the technique known as triangulation. Specifically, this paints eurosceptics and Europhiles as the extremes of the argument, creating space for him to occupy the "moderate middle".

On this basis, we deduced that the more sound and fury produced by the two sides, the better it was for the Prime Minister. By that measure, the more apparently successful the "leavers" become – especially if they consider media coverage the hallmark of success – the worse off we will actually be.

Therefore, it is imperative, I argue, that we should not be engaging in battles with the europhiles – or even attacking the EU. Mr Cameron will be (and is) presenting himself as the pragmatic fixer. Instead of dealing with the minutia, he will present himself as rising above the fray with plans to reform the terms of Britain's membership of the EU. This in turn offers the possibility of greater reforms arising from our new status - far greater than he could get from a short-term focus on points of detail (or so Mr Cameron will tell us).

In these circumstances, the constant litany of woes presented by "leavers" about the parlous state of the EU, and the real or supposed injuries, is simply playing into Mr Cameron's hands. He will accept the criticisms and agree with them – and then take credit for coming up with an apparently workable solution. Only if the "moderate middle" judge his solution to lack credibility will they then be prepared to look at alternatives.

And here again the Sun Tzu counsel much prevail. We must modify our approach in accordance with our enemy's situation. We attack the "middle way" and then, when we see its popularity wane, we can commit our reserves to a counter-attack, hitting hard with our vision of an alternative, alongside a credible mechanism for achieving it.

That actually brings us back to where we came in. In this endeavour, opinion polls would be of some use – as indeed would focus groups. But they should be the servants of strategy, not the drivers of it.

At this point, we stepped aside briefly to take stock after the Paris murders, and reminded ourselves that the refugee crisis in Europe was not driven primarily by EU law, but by the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, and the 1967 Protocol. With or without the EU, we would have these international agreements, and it is those which give substance to EU procedural laws, such as the Schengen acquis.

Furthermore, the Syrian crisis owes nothing to the existence of the EU, and the likelihood is that eruptions in the troubled Middle East would have continued unabated, with or without European political integration. Thus, there were no pickings in Paris for the "leavers".

Sunday then saw the essence of the "British model" described as giving "dignity and historical resonance to a position that will seem to many people a middle way between fully in and fully out - appealing to the mild Euroscepticism that is the centre ground of British opinion". Our strategic targets had become that much clearer.

Picking up on this, the next day, we developed the theme of providing an alternative to Mr Cameron's "British model", and the need for voter reassurance that a choice to leave was not a leap in the dark. Not only did we need an alternative "vision", though, we had to offer a credible mechanism for achieving it – the so-called exit plan.

We touched on the actions of a "malign praetorian guard", defending the orthodoxy and sustaining a litany of stale ideas and clichés which has changed little over forty years, which was thus preventing a plan being adopted. Our Flexcit was treated as something close to heresy.

Nevertheless, we averred, a strategic approach demanded a proper, honest debate about where we are going, a commitment to agree a common exit plan, and the discipline to stand behind it when it is produced, with the aristocracy burying their egos. It is either that, or the opposition will bury us.

This brought us to a matter of detail, the two-edged sword of immigration. Noting that Vote Leave Ltd was avoiding the issues, we saw that as a mistake, especially with the strong international elements to asylum seeking.

As to freedom of movement, it was essential that we took an active role, in order to address an inherent contradiction at the heart of the campaign. On the one hand, we needed to show voters that we can protect our participation in the Single Market after we leave the EU and, on the other, we needed to reduce immigration from EU Member States, this ostensibly requiring release from freedom of movement obligations.

The problem is that we can do one or the other, but not both. We are thus confronted with a dilemma. We will have to choose between the Single Market and freedom of movement.

In Flexcit, we square the circle by adopting an interim position. This protects our Single Market participation and puts on hold changes to freedom of movement until we are able to broker a longer-term solution. But, pending that solution, we see scope for improving the management of immigration which, over the short- to medium-term, can help stem immigration flows.

Without continued access to the Single Market, we cannot win the referendum, so we will have to compromise. But, a "quick and dirty" exit, accepting continued freedom of movement for a while, is better than losing the referendum for lack of compromise.

Via Peter Kellner, we then looked at the problems of communication, without the assistance of the legacy media, having regard to the problem of prestige.

We can expect Mr Cameron - relying on the considerable prestige of the office of prime minister – to offer his version of Wilsonian negotiations. Supported by the prestige of other political and establishment figures, we could find ourselves looking at a re-run of 1975. It may not be exact, but so close as to make no difference.

With the internet, though, we have the ability to communicate with people directly, by-passing the media. But people are overly influenced by the prestige of the source rather than the content. Thus we have to develop plans to communicate with our target audiences in such a way as to neutralise the effects of prestige.

Assuming that prestige wanes over distance, those with lesser prestige but who are closer to hand can over-rule those with greater prestige. Thus we need to get our sources as close to the ground as possible.

If people get their information from people close to them – trusted figures, or those with authority – then the local prestige can neutralise the prestige of a prime minister. Meshed with our cascade system, with a hundred or more bloggers creating their own communities, we can reach large numbers of people very quickly.

And that brought us to our final piece where we evaluated the approach taken by the referendum guru, finding ourselves unimpressed with the approach. To this issue I intend to return.

But we conclude with the view that we need a strategic debate. The opportunity is in our hands. We can be bovine conformists, waiting to be led down the muddied track to an uncertain future, or we can strike out on our own, and dictate our own terms of participation. We have the tools – we do not need the input of second-raters who are in this way over their heads.

Therein is the real point. If war is too important to be left to Generals, the referendum campaign strategy (or lack of it) is too important to left to self-appointed groups which seem to have their own agendas.

From many different directions, I hear people telling us that we should all work together. Very often that is directed at me personally, but that injunction needs to be pointed in more than one direction.

There are thousands of people who want to contribute to this campaign, but not all can or will want to work through these self-appointed groups. If this is to be an inclusive "people's campaign", then these groups have to open themselves to a wider debate.

The point has been made many times before. No one owns this campaign, not any individual nor any group. As individuals, we owe nothing to these groups and they have no call on our time or services. If we are to work together, then they must learn that communication is a two-way street.

Richard North 20/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: the opportunity in our hands

Thursday 19 November 2015  

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According to Gerry Gunster, who came over from the US to attend the scarcely reported "media event" held by on Wednesday, the EU referendum is a "double bank slot". We have to "show there is a problem", he says, and then "show there's a solution".

A few weeks ago, before he left for this event I had a long talk with Mr Gunster, attempting to appraise him of some of the realities of politics in the UK and the peculiarities of this very special referendum. But if he benefitted from the experience, he gave no sign of it during the event on Wednesday, nor during his brief interview with the Daily Politics show.

It was during that interview that he emphasised the importance of data in his work, telling us: "Numbers do not lie, quantifiable data will direct the message and the messengers. I'm going to follow the data".

At two levels, therefore, Gunster has got it wrong. And with his employer, Arron Banks having already spent £2 million on the campaign, one can only observe that, if he is guided by Mr Gunster, much of that money has been wasted – and especially the fee paid to Mr Gunster's company.

However, Mr Banks is nothing if not profligate. Only recently he offered Dominic Cummings £200,000 plus a "winning bonus" if he came over to join This is the man described as the most self-aggrandising and destructive agitator the modern Tory party has produced, yet Mr Banks still wanted him on board.

"Cummings", we are told, "is determined that everyone knows that he is the cleverest person in the room. He has absolute contempt for those who disagree with him. It's not enough to beat them in argument, he has to destroy them".

Yet it is Arron Banks (with advice on strategy from Mr Gunster), and Dominic Cummings who, from their respective campaign platforms, and Vote Leave Ltd, have taken it upon themselves to define the strategy for the "leave" campaign.

Neither of these men are experts in the EU, or have even displayed any understanding of the intricacies of the relationships between the UK and the EU institutions and Member States. And in the case of Gerry Gunster, we have a man who has no direct knowledge even of British politics.

In neither case have these Banks of Cummings sought to initiate a public debate – amongst the wider "eurosceptic" community – on campaign strategy and, while both have sought advice from individuals such as myself (Banks casting his net wider than Cummings), that advice has been largely ignored and, in many respects, contradicted.

One warns these characters not to do certain things, or to cease certain activities because of their potentially damaging effect, only to have those warnings disregarded. More often, we find them going out to do precisely things which we have warned against. Complaints are then treated as evidence that "we are impossible to work with".

The trouble is that, in this referendum campaign, these are the "facts on the ground" – two dysfunctional egotists who demand support and unity, when both are running train-wreck campaigns and cannot even agree internally what their strategies should be, much less agree with each other.

From the majority of activists, though, they get a remarkably easy ride. But then I had very recently a communication from a former senior Ukip activist, now working for, telling me that: "If we all do a little bit of something then with combined effort we can win public support at the referendum".

"I'm not the sort of person", he told me, "who is going to sit back and talk about strategy as that does not convince individual voters".

These are the sort of people who are running the "grass roots" campaign. They share the common fallacy that activity equates to outcome: all that is needed is a high level of campaigning and the public will flock to the cause.

Not for him and his likes do the dictums of Gene Sharp have any relevance. A failure to plan strategically, he says, "means that one's strength is dissipated, one's actions are ineffective, energy is wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilised and sacrifices are for naught".

And from that, my own view emerges that, if we do not plan strategically, we are likely to fail to achieve our objectives. A poorly planned mixture of activities will not move us forward. Instead, it will more likely strengthen the opposition.

With that in mind, one needs to have a closer look at Gerry Gunster – and specifically in the context of this exploratory series, in which our own ideas of strategy take shape.

What we concluded was that, in this referendum, highlighting the "problem" is of less relevance than might otherwise be. Both sides acknowledge that there are problems with the EU – that much is common ground. The dispute is over the solution. Mr Cameron and his supporters want "reform" and/or a "new relationship". We want to leave the EU.

In pursuing solutions, though, Mr Cameron has the initiative. He is the one who will make the offer which sets the tone of the campaign, and it is he who can determine the timing. Therefore, our first need is to build an intelligence gathering capability, to give us an early intimation of his intentions, together with an analytical capability which enables us to understand and use the intelligence we gather.

Once we are confident we have the measure of the "offer", our next step is to take it down. We have to attack it (and its proposer), to diminish its attractiveness, preparing the ground so that our target audience is then prepared to consider an alternative. Our third element is then to superimpose our own solution, which has to encompass our vision of what a post-exit UK looks like.

However, it cannot stop there. In this complex campaign, we than have to "de-risk" the choice, showing people that there are credible mechanisms which will enable us to extract ourselves from the EU, without disruption or unacceptable cost. This is different from and in addition to the "vision" and takes the form of a comprehensive exit plan.

Far from being the "double bank slot" that Gunster advances, therefore, this is a complex, four-headed strategy, only one element of which this supposed guru has correctly identified. And he would also have us wasting time on highlighting problems on which there is common ground.

We then see Gunster tell us that "quantifiable data will direct the message and the messengers", and that he is "going to follow the data".

This is from a man who regales us with the story of one referendum where the decision was whether to permit the use of jelly babies and pizza as bait for bear hunters, all in the context where the majority of referendums follow the status quo. Gunster's success record, therefore, is gained by getting hired by supporters of the status quo.

In this referendum, if there is a status quo (and part of our argument is that there isn't one), then we are opposing it, which immediately puts us on the back foot. But more problematically, this is not a simple question of jelly babies and pizza. As we have argued in this series, at this stage we do not actually know what question the voters will be addressing.

This takes account of the phenomenon in referendums where people disregard the question on the ballot paper, and substitute their own. And, in the absence of a settled position, where the electorate have not yet begun to engage, no amount of data will assist the campaign.

This is why we argue that political intelligence must guide the campaign. Data collection and analysis is a useful tool but, as we pointed out in this post, it must be the servant, not the master. Mr Gunster – with no understanding of the politics of this campaign – is quite the wrong person to decide the strategy. He is putting the cart before the horse.

Then, as to the messengers, when talking to Gunster, he professed to understand the British "class" system and its effect on communication. But class, per se isn't the problem. It's prestige, which is related but different. Gunster thinks he can overcome the problem by using ordinary people as spokespersons. This won't work, because he doesn't understand the problem.

What he also doesn't understand – a failure common to his ilk – is that both sides are going to be using data-driven campaigning. The "remains" have just stepped up their activities in this respect.

The thing is, one of the sides is going to lose. Simply using data to drive the message is not a winning stratagem. It is the combination how that message is delivered, and by whom, that makes the difference. This is a combination that Gunster doesn't understand and hasn't even considered.

Looking at the overall problem, Cummings in his own way is just as deficient in strategy, with a behavioural pattern that has some asking (with some justice) whether he is setting out deliberately to sabotage the leave campaign. We have, therefore, two major-league campaigners, both of them self-appointed and neither with any idea of how to formulate an effective strategy.

On the other hand, we could look at this problem in another way. Neither of the groups are competent, but both are self appointed. Gunster, with the support of his employer, represents himself as the "referendum guru", while Cummings, traipsing around Westminster in his scruffy tee-shirt and jeans, is happy to allow himself to be described as a "genius".

A point is though, that we do not have to take these people at their own valuation, or as described by their friends and supporters. They need our support to validate them, but if we withhold that support, they are nothing. Much as they would represent otherwise, they do not own the campaign, and they do not control the debate.

Interestingly, some recognition of those points comes from a Surrey University academic who holds the view that "the UK has suffered for a long time from a lack of deep public debate about European integration".

This is Simon Usherwood, who declares that "the referendum is probably the best opportunity there will be for a generation to get people interested and engaged enough to talk about, so we should make the most of it". Yet there are those, including Cummings and Banks, who would close the debate down, who demand conformity and unity, even though they themselves can't unify and have no coherent position to offer.

But, says Usherwood, the debate doesn't need to be brought to life by politicians or the media, because we enjoy a public space that is more open and accommodating of different voices than ever before. And nor, we would aver, do we require the permission of self-appointed guardians to have that debate. Usherwood goes on to say:
If those people who do care about having the debate can start to build it, then there is an opportunity to create something that is organic, considered and useful, however the referendum turns out. That opportunity is in our hands, not anyone else's.
And on that last point, he is absolutely right. The opportunity is in our hands. We can be bovine conformists, waiting to be led down the muddied track to an uncertain future, or we can strike out on our own, and dictate our own terms of participation. We have the tools – we do not need the input of second-raters who are in this way over their heads.

Richard North 19/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: communication

Thursday 19 November 2015  

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On 6 April 1975, the Sunday Times carried a story by Peter Kellner revealing a "major gulf" in Wilson's cabinet, with ministers having a blazing row over the stance on the EEC.

In his "youthful naivety", he tells us in last weekend's edition of the Sunday Times, he thought his story would have a big impact on the referendum, then just two months away. "Here", he says, "was specific, irrefutable evidence from inside the government party that undermined the prime minister's position".

Effectively, the row had revealed that, on a key objective of the negotiations, Harold Wilson had failed. One would have thought that it should have made a difference. But Kellner was wrong. His story had no effect at all.

The "no" campaigners leapt at what he had disclosed but everyone else ignored it. The "yes" campaigners could not dispute the critique of their position and did not try. They just carried on with a soft-focus campaign that promoted the hope of a peaceful Europe working together.

Of the general public, Kellner says "the dream counted for far more than the detail". What mattered was that the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, all favoured a "yes" vote, as did most of the business community and every newspaper except the communist Morning Star.

All of these easily brushed aside the opposition of half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party. On the day, the UK voted by two to one to remain in the Common Market.

This may seem bizarre to us now, but it is the case that anyone who wanted to know in 1975 could easily have deduced that he negotiations were a fraud. All they had to do was read Kellner's piece on the front page of the Sunday Times.

At the time, it seems to me, there was a sort of collective delusion. People didn't know that the negotiations were a sham, because they didn't want to know. They didn't know that staying in the EEC meant "ever closer union", because they didn't want to know.

But there was something more to it – a lot more. What we were also seeing were the effects of "prestige". On the one side there were the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, most of the business community and almost every newspaper – plus the BBC. On the other, as Kellner points out, there was "half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party".

In truth, the issues hardly mattered. Not one in a thousand had any real idea of the political ambitions of the EEC. The majority were prepared to have their opinions handed down to them by people who were endowed with that magical property, "prestige". They were not going to argue with the prevailing wisdom.

Forty-plus years later, if anyone thinks things are going to be any different, they are being delusional. In the information game, one just has to put a big name newspaper report against a blog post (which may be better written, more accurate and with more detail) and the newspaper will win every time.  Simply compare the reach the idiot Boris Johnson with that of lesser mortals.

Kellner resorts to the cliché that "history never repeats itself exactly". And indeed it does not. But we have to face the possibility that there will be more similarities with 1975 than we would like. Barring about 50 MPs (and possibly less), we can expect the whole of the Conservative Party to support their leader. All other main parties, including the SNP, will fall in behind Mr Cameron, leaving only the weakened rump of Ukip to beat the drum on immigration.

If not all of business, much of the corporate aristocracy will be looking to remain, together with the powerful and vocal environmental NGOs, many other NGOs and charities, universities, professions, and most unions.

We must also work on the basis that most of the legacy media will be backing Mr Cameron – either openly in the case of newspapers, or covertly as in the case of the broadcast media: the BBC, ITN and Channel 4. Possibly, of the print media, only the Daily Express will support the leavers – and that newspaper hardly matters any more.

With that as the background, we can expect Mr Cameron - relying on the considerable prestige of the office of prime minister – to offer his version of Wilsonian negotiations. Supported by the prestige of other political and establishment figures, we could find ourselves looking at a re-run of 1975. It may not be an exact re-run of 1975, but so close as to make no difference.

A significant difference, though, is that we now have the internet. This gives us the ability to communicate with people directly, by-passing the media. With that, we are able to broadcast our message in a way that we could not in the first referendum.

However, even (or especially) on the internet, "prestige" exerts its influence to just as great an extent as it does with traditional media. As a result, mere delivery of a message, in itself, does not mean that it will be heeded. People are still overly influenced by the prestige of the source rather than the content. So dominant is the prestige effect that people select their sources according to perceived ranking. 

As part of our overall strategy for the referendum, therefore, we not only have to develop plans to communicate with our target audiences, but we also have to devise a way of ensuring that messages reach them in a way that neutralises the effects of prestige.

Here, I have a theory as to how this can be achieved. It is based on the interaction of prestige and distance. We start with the general premise that prestige is graduated. Not only does great prestige have a greater effect, it also over-rules less prestige. King, therefore, trumps Lord who trumps Knight, and so on.

But, if we factor in distance, we can assume that prestige wanes over distance. Those with lesser prestige but who are closer to hand can over-rule those with greater prestige. The general's orders may be absolute in his own headquarters, for instance, but in the trenches the sergeant's word is final.

Exploiting that interaction, I would argue that we need to get our sources as close to the ground as possible. Preferably, we need to ensure that our sources are separated from their recipients by not more than one or two removes. If people get their information people close to them – trusted figures, or those with authority – then the local prestige can neutralise the prestige of a prime minister.

This is not a matter, as Gerry Gunster of maintains, of appointing ordinary people as spokespersons to deliver the message. At a distance, they carry (at best) only the prestige of the organisation they represent. That may not be enough to overcome even more distant but greater prestige. The source of the message must be close and personal.

It is for this reason that we are promoting the cascade system. At its core is a hundred or more bloggers, each of whom have the task, through their interactive blogging, of building their own communities of trust. Ideally, each will have a thousand or more regular readers.

Via comments sections, twitter, facebook, forums, e-mail groups - right down to old-fashioned telephone conversations, together with formal and informal meetings - this loose community of bloggers can each build their own communities. From there, these secondary communities can go on to build tertiary communities. Ask not who your leader is. It is you.

The arithmetic here is staggering. One hundred bloggers each reaching 1000 readers brings us a network of 100,000. If each of those can reach just a hundred others, we have a "conversation" encompassing ten million people. Carefully targeted, that is enough to win us the referendum.

At the top of the "cascade" are a small number of information blogs – like this one and LeaveHQ, plus Futurus, the Bruges Group and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

These can provide material for independent bloggers, on an ongoing basis, and there are also hybrid blogs such as The Boiling Frog and the Red Cliffs of Dawlish and Lost Leonardo - plus many more – who can provide their own original research.

In fact, we expect all blogs to have hybrid capabilities, but the majority will be "translators" – people who can take information and turn it into material that can reach their own communities in a way that only they can judge.

Thus, while Vote Leave Ltd thinks that communication is about having people "following us on Facebook or Twitter", spreading or endorsing their top-down message, we believe that an effective communications strategy is about building and developing communities. In a community of equals, our task is to assist members to keep each other informed.

As well as that, there  remain the more conventional forms of communication, from the public meeting to the leaflet. But even these can be used in community-building. One can, for instance, deliver thousands of general leaflets, but even if they are read, they are still one-time hits. On the other hand, if they are used to advertise local websites, they can be building blocks that help develop a conversation. And once there is an ongoing relationship, there is the potential to influence and change minds.

Similarly, leaflets can be used to advertise meetings, which in turn can be used to promote websites. Again, the aim is to build long-term relationships.

And this is real life. While so many campaigns are on "transmit only" mode, on this blog alone – through the comments and linked e-mail account - I have come to know hundreds of people. Most of them I have never met, yet I have come to regard many as friends. There is in a very real sense, an community. If they are influenced by the blog, that is a major bonus.

Come the crucial period, when Mr Cameron goes public with his miracle "cure" for all known evils, it will be the power of such communities that will see him off. Top-down doesn't cut it. Communities of trust will.

Richard North 19/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: immigration

Wednesday 18 November 2015  

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Of all the issues that may decide the EU referendum, immigration (or migration) may prove to be the most contentious – and dangerous. Ostensibly helpful to the cause, it also has the potential to do great damage if handled the wrong way. It is truly a two-edged sword.

As such, a strategic view must be taken. It is far too risky to leave the handling of the issue to chance. The approach must be methodical, carefully considered and gauged, at the very least, to do no harm. 

What we certainly do not want are interventions of a sort that Nigel Farage feels impelled to make, and especially not the speech he gave on Monday evening on the Paris attack and Syria. Described by his own party as "the most important intervention from a mainstream British politician on the subject of Syria and the UK's security situation", Mr Farage once again went out of his way to confuse the issues.

Complaining that the "EU's soft-touch approach of open borders and welcoming of all to our shores is now clearly imperilling the safety of our society", he went on to refer to the Common Asylum policy (as a "complete failure") and then finished up asserting that "free movement of people means free movement of guns, terrorists and jihadists".

Here, we see Farage being less than clear about whether he is talking of open internal borders (internal to the EEA and the Schengen area) or external borders. And he deliberately confuses asylum policy with free movement.

The point, of course, is that these two issues are separate. Asylum rests for its legal base on the 1951 Geneva Convention on the treatment of refugees, and the 1967 protocol, bolstered by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights – which in turn rests on the Geneva Convention. Freedom of movement, on the other hand, relies on treaty provisions and applies only to citizens of EU Member States.

Given the separate legal bases and the very significant differences in terms of practicalities, we are dealing with distinct phenomena with separate causes and, ultimately, their own separate solutions to the problems arising.

More specifically, when we dissect Mr Farage's statement in this light, we see that his claim that "free movement of people means free movement of guns, terrorists and jihadists" is manifestly untrue. This is political ambulance-chasing at its very worst.

Despite the Ukip leader's manifest inability to present these issues honestly and with any clarity, however, it is the settled position of Vote Leave Ltd that they should not intervene in this debate. Dominic Cummings takes they view that his group should stand aside and leave it to the likes of Farage and

Such a strategy is mistaken. Asylum policy has a strong international element to it – especially in the Geneva Convention. Take this and the unwillingness of the EU to deal with the root cause of the refugee crisis in Europe- a Convention which is no longer fit for purpose - and the current crisis presents us with the makings of an extremely strong case for leaving the EU.

Free of the encumbrances of the EU, Britain could resume its seat on the key international bodies and, with its new-found independence, could push for revision of the diverse international instruments which define asylum policies. With freedom to determine its own trade partners and in full charge of its aid programme, the British government could also direct policies at better managing migrant flows, easing pressure on the system.

On the issue of freedom of movement, it is likewise essential that we take an active role in what is a matter of crucial importance, which manifests itself as an inherent contradiction at the heart of the campaign.

On the one hand, we need to show voters that we can protect our participation in the Single Market after we leave the EU – in order to neutralise much of the FUD. On the other, we need to reduce immigration from EU Member States, this ostensibly requiring release from freedom of movement obligations. The problem is that we can do one or the other, but not both.

We are confronted, therefore, with a dilemma. We will have to choose between the Single Market and freedom of movement.

In Flexcit, we square the circle by adopting an interim position. This protects our Single Market participation and puts on hold changes to freedom of movement until we are able to broker a longer-term solution. But, pending that solution, we see scope for improving the management of immigration which, over the short- to medium-term, can help stem immigration flows.

This is not an optimum position, but the alternative – pulling out of the EU's freedom of movement provisions – would lose us access to the Single Market. There is no compromise on this. There are no half-measures. The European Commission has made this abundantly clear. Access to the Single Market requires adoption of the four freedoms. This is not negotiable.

In my judgement – shared with very many others – without continued access to the Single Market, we cannot win the referendum. This then leaves us with the difficult pitch that, in order to get a majority in favour of leaving, we will have to compromise. But, as I argue, a "quick and dirty" exit, accepting continued freedom of movement for a while, is better than losing the referendum for lack of compromise.

The trouble is that we can't walk away from this problem - we can't fudge it. We have to confront it, deal with it and then sell the choice to the voting public. If we try to evade it, we fall between two stools and will be unable to offer a coherent position. Our campaign will lack credibility.

But that's exactly what is happening. Vote Leave Ltd is evading the entire issue, and Farage's Ukip is pushing for the end of freedom of movement while ignoring the consequences. Instead, it is inventing fantasy scenarios that somehow magic away the ill effects.

Then there is Today, it has its press event going through recent Survation polling. An early release to the Express has 76 percent of respondents wanting to restrict entry to highly-skilled workers from other EU Member States, with an "Australian-style points system" used to manage entry.

On top of that, over half of the respondents wanted annual net migration from the rest of the EU limited to a maximum of 10,000 a year – something which, of course, is unaffected by EU membership.

Never mind the Australian system is not actually a points system. The points simply gets you onto the waiting list. In reality it is an annual quota system, which is managed by applying a series of bureaucratic hurdles. These are what regulate the numbers. Whether the British economy would benefit from such a blunt management tool is a question that is never answered.

The more substantive point, though, is whether has thought through what it is trying to achieve by highlighting this scenario. If it supports ending freedom of movement, it too must confront the consequences. The fantasy island solution is not good enough. It must have some real answers.

And there is our big issue. Large elements of the leave campaign are sharing a collective delusion that they can be all things to all people. They can't, and before very much longer they need to produce a grown-up strategy that deals with the real world.

If they are going to tell us that they can close down with freedom of movement, they must tell us how they are doing to deal with the loss of access to the Single Market, and the effect it will have on our economy. If they want to maintain market access, they are going to have to tell us how they propose to limit immigration.

If they do neither, and carry on with their dismal pretences, they will drag as all down.

Richard North 18/11/2015 link

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