Richard North, 30/05/2015  

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I think it was my son Peter who remarked that we now have journalists writing about the EU referendum in the Telegraph, who aren't even old enough to vote in it. And when that happens, all you get is superficial analysis.

In this case, we have the juvenile Tim Stanley querying David Cameron's "presumptuousness" in demanding treaty change. This, the lad thinks, "might doom the renegotiation process to failure". 

Yet, scarcely had he pressed the upload button in the Telegraph's notoriously slack newsroom, where most of the sub-editors have been fired and unchecked self-publication is the norm, then the BBC was contradicting him. It reported that Angela Merkel had told Mr Cameron she did not rule out future treaty changes in "Europe" and will be a "constructive partner" to the UK in getting reforms. 

Without the benefit of the prestige of the Telegraph, which allows it to gets it wrong with such monotonous regularity and still survive, Autonomous Mind has to get it right. This he does in his latest blogpost, reminding us how much of this "renegotiation" process is being stage-managed.

It is obviously skilful enough to fool a goodly number of hacks. Hollande is being cast as the "bad cop" and Merkel the reluctant "good cop". The two are not scheduled to settle their differences until the final scene, when they will give Mr Cameron enough for his "Heston moment", allowing him to parade his pristine piece of paper before the adoring (hand-picked) crowd.

But it isn't only the hacks that are getting it wrong. Enter Farage, the very same whose tactical acumen saw his party halve its Westminster representation – from two MPs to one – in the general election.

Before the election, he was in full flow, claiming Ukip was going to get zillions of MPs and take over the known universe. We, on the other hand, were suggesting that he needed to learn how to manage expectations. Political success can be claimed if you get more than you predicted, but a better performance can be branded a failure if you have raised expectations beyond your achievements.

Now confronted with a referendum for which it is quite obvious that he has made absolutely no preparation, Farage has not even begun to learn that lesson. Instead, he is repeating his mistake in this different context. He is talking down expectations of Cameron's "renegotiations" to such an extent that he is making out that the Prime Minister will come back empty-handed.

While Mr Cameron's "renegotiations" are being heavily stage-managed, though, that does not mean he is going to bring nothing back from Brussels. Not least, as we've just seen, all the indications are that he will bring back a treaty change. But he will also be pulling together a number of concessions across a wide range of EU activity, to make up the so-called "Danish option" about which we recently wrote.

Nevertheless, the Danes themselves are urging Mr Cameron not to rely on this option, which relied largely on opt-outs. But they need have no fears. The Prime Minister seems to be going for a much more complex and sophisticated package, sufficient for him to claim that he has achieved substantial concessions from the "colleagues". By the time is it dressed up and padded out, there will be more than enough to fill a hundred-plus pages in a White Paper, sufficient to fool all but the cynical and the well-informed.

The reality, of course, is that the deal will be relatively modest. But the more people like Farage talk down the expectations, the easier it will be for Mr Cameron to over-perform, and therefore convince people that he has achieved something more than he has. Farage is being expertly "played", unwittingly setting the scene for David Cameron's "victory".

Less perceptive commentators, far from picking up these nuances, are looking at the fluff on the periphery of events. In particular, they are noting the rush of business-sourced scare stories, and affording them some weight.

On the other hand industry sources, in the Financial Times and elsewhere, are beginning to take a more sanguine look at their own strategies. While we have been assailed with scare stories from the car industry, one critic notes that, "The car industry hasn’t been a great judge of its best interests", remarking that its decision to support the euro "bordering on the juvenile". "They don't have a great background to pontificate about this issue (Brexit) now", he says.

Certainly, some of the propaganda from business could only be described as facile, even Lloyd's of London Chief Executive Inga Beale, who recently added her own ignorance to the common pool amassed by big name executives. If Britain left the EU, she complained, businesses would find it harder to sell their products across Europe with Britain is outside the region's single market.

With such stupidity being given rough handling in the social media – but not in the bovine legacy media – multi-nationals are beginning to tell their executives to keep clear of the debate, for fear of "reputational damage". Thus, we can expect the craven corporate to take less of a part in the campaign than originally expected, with even suggestions that the "yes" campaign should not rely on the economic argument.

In the way the battle is shaping up, therefore, almost everything will hang on how well Cameron is able to stage-manage the negotiations, and on his presentational skills plus.

There also seems to be a deliberate attempt to rig the referendum procedures as we see with the amendment to S.125 of PPERA abolishing the 28-day Government purdah before the poll date. This will permit the Government to send out a White Paper summary to all households after the "no" campaign has already sent out its referendum address, giving the Government the last word and a colossal advantage.

Thus, it is not so much the propaganda that wins the day. Rather, it will be the stage managing and Cameron's manipulative skills that are going to be decisive, together with one other factor - the utter inability of the eurosceptics to provide reassurance that leaving the EU is a safe bet.

In part then, Cameron will win it, matched by the eurosceptics who will lose it. No prominent, media-recognised figure apart from Owen Paterson is actually arguing coherently for the EEA, and even then he is currently only arguing for that one stage of a multi-stage process.

Sadly, it is not so much that the eurosceptics are not being heard in the debate. The problem is that not enough of them are making a coherent case. Far from helping, the likes of Messrs Farage and Hannan are muddying the waters – both in their own ways entirely out of control, even if they continue to enjoy the applause of their respective claques.

But, while we can rely on two constants - that the media in general doesn't have the first idea of what is going on and lacks the competence to understand what it sees - the Achilles' heel of Mr Cameron's strategy is that he will need his Parliamentary party to approve the outcome of his "renegotiations".

This is where the strategy could crack wide open. Some of the new Tory intake are holding seats with majorities only in double figures. There are more than enough with their seats at risk to wipe out the Government's slender majority. All of them are acutely conscious that they will have to face an electorate in 2020 which will not be kindly disposed to even a hint of betrayal. 

Then there are also enough people in the real world able to see through Mr Cameron's theatricals. They do not depend on the media midden as they have platforms such as these, as well as the social media. They are capable of making another Conservative victory a forlorn hope. 

Against all these clever experts who have spent nanoseconds studying the referendum dynamics, and who so presciently forecast the outcome of the general election, this might not count for much. But then it only took one boy to notice that the emperor had no clothes.

If Cameron, as expected, walks out with nothing more than a sun tan - and he can do little else - it will be noticed. And we will not be relying on the children in the media to cry foul. There are plenty of grown-ups who will be speaking out, and if the Cameron "fudge" goes through unchallenged, they will be intent on making this the last Conservative government for a generation. 

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