Richard North, 31/10/2015  

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More than ten years ago, and I others were arguing strongly that we needed to develop an exit plan, for when we had an opportunity to leave the EU. The need became even more apparent when the prospect of a referendum emerged.

The essence of an exit plan is reassurance. People are not necessarily going to read it – most won't. But the very fact that a credible plan exists, and is recognised as such, means that they will be more willing to vote for leaving the EU.

The one thing we must not do, we have argued, is to go into a referendum campaign without a plan. That would expose us to criticism form the opposition, who would simply have to point out that it was lacking – thus emphasising that leaving is a leap in the dark.

And now, even before the campaign gets fully under way, that is precisely what is happening. Yesterday, the naysayers had a field day, with two pieces in different newspapers, capitalising on the perceived lack of a plan.

One of these was Professor Iain Begg, writing in the Telegraph under the headline, "What might Britain leaving the EU look like? No-one really knows", with the sub-title, "The EU referendum debate has gone on as if there is a clear vision for what a 'leave' vote might mean, and this should be a cause for concern".

What Begg has to say really isn't important – the fact that he is able to say it is what matters. And that applies equally to Phillip Collins, writing in The Times, who commented on Owen Paterson's interview on Newsnight, saying he "betrayed the emptiness of the 'out' position by being unable …to describe what Britain on its own would look like".

"Instead", Collins asserted, "he blathered on about taking a place on global councils, as if they are there for the asking once this small island of 64 million people off the shore of Europe decides to go it alone".

The tiresome quip about a "small island" aside, Collins does have a point, as does Beggs. The noisiest of the campaigners, "Vote Leave Ltd", is in the thrall of the Svengali-like Dominic Cummings, whose determination not to have a plan is matched only by his tactical ineptness and the strategic void left by his absence of planning.

The Cummings void is intensified by the lack of input from Leave.EU and the almost complete absence from the field of Ukip, exacerbated by the almost total refusal of the media and the political establishment to acknowledge the work of campaigners who are not part of the groups they choose to recognise. This dire game intensifies as the legacy media continue seeking to frame the debate and impose unwanted leaders on the campaign.

As to the broader campaign, there is, of course, some merit in the argument that the "leave" campaign should not go public with a fixed plan too early, as it provides a target for the opposition to focus on – but this thinking is easily outweighed by the danger of not having a plan at all.

As we have seen, this simply opens us up to sneering accusations that we have no plan. And when – if ever – the groups that the media do recognise actually come up with a plan, they will be on the back foot, responding rather than leading and with very little room to manoeuvre.

Despite this and Cummings's concern at presenting a stationary target, it seems his idea of campaigning is to repackage the same tired old memes that have already been chewed over and discredited, presumably in an attempt to bore voters into submission.

Most of all, though, Cummings (and others) fail to understand the concept of Flexcit - a flexible response and continuous development. With the plan in its 24th edition, we are able to accommodate changes and new thinking, as well as a continuous flow of updates.

Crucially, if we are to have a debate that is going to keep people engaged, then it must be over new ideas – such as the effects of globalisation and the ways to develop the single market, breaking away from the stale thinking that is dominating the campaign, and driving us all in catatonic boredom.

A measure of quite how detached from reality this stance has become emerges when the those engaging in the vibrant debate going on outside the grip of the establishment groups are described as "internet nutters".

This actually points to another dynamic in play, the determination of the Tory-dominated Vote Leave Ltd to exclude dissident voices. For them, the concern is that the referendum campaign will create dangerous stresses within the party, which can be reduced if the attack is channelled away from sensitive targets.

Thus, while the real enemy - and thus the logical target for this campaign – is David Cameron, Cummings and his business partner, Matthew Elliott, are more interested in keeping the focus on the EU and away from their party leader. Criticism of the EU is permitted. Attacks on the leader are not.

This became clearly evident over the last few days when David Cameron launched his attack on the Norway Option – which we believe offers the best interim solution for a rapid exit - the eurosceptic "aristocracy" represented by Vote Leave Ltd chose to side with the Prime Minister.

With the general incompetence already displayed by Vote Leave Ltd, this becomes another strong reason why such a partisan group should not be the designated lead campaigner. 

Whoever does get the designation, though, it looks increasingly as if the "internet nutters" will be driving the real campaign – the only place where there is intelligent discussion and anything interesting to relate.

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