Yesterday, we touched very briefly on the effect of campaigning without strategic direction. In the absence of such direction, we might just as well be working for the other side, I wrote, promising to explore this further in today's post.
In keeping with the idea of maintaining a topical hook, we can explore this through the events of yesterday, when David Cameron made another speech, this one at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, to coincide with a letter sent to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
With that, however, we have had the bulk of the media rushing down the path of ignorance, boldly proclaiming that Mr Cameron had issued "demands" on EU reform. Particularly egregious examples include the Telegraph which proclaimed that David Cameron was setting out his "demands" to Europe. The Express confidently reported that the "bid to reform Britain's membership of the European Union appears to have run aground within just hours of the Prime Minister setting out his demands".
The only very slight problem with both these assertions was that Mr Cameron quite explicitly had not made any demands. His letter to Tusk stated that its purpose was "not to describe the precise means, or detailed legal proposals, for bringing the reforms we seek into effect".
That, wrote Mr Cameron, "is a matter for the negotiation, not least as there may, in each case, be different ways of achieving the same result". All he had done was to set out "the four main areas" where the United Kingdom was seeking reform. He then hoped that the letter could "provide a clear basis for reaching an agreement that would, of course, need to be legally-binding and irreversible - and where necessary have force in the Treaties".
What came out of the Chatham House speech, though, was something very much more enlightening. Very early into the address, Mr Cameron told us there were "two sorts of members of the European Union" - eurozone and non-eurozone members.
What was quite evidently a core concern, though, was a eurozone on the brink of change. This would have "profound implications for both types of members". To protect us, we need, said Mr Cameron, "a British model of membership that works for Britain and for any other non-Euro members". And just so there could be no doubt as to its importance, the Prime Minister gave us a clue: This is "a matter of cardinal importance for the United Kingdom", he said.
And there, writ large, is associate membership – rebranded to take on what may become its definitive title: the "British model". Thus, over just a few days, from Mr Cameron's visit to Iceland, where he went out of his way to attack the "Norway Model", to Mr Osborne's speech in Berlin on safeguarding non-eurozone members, to Monday's CBI speech and then the Chatham House speech, the pieces are falling into place.
As we see it, having established the extremes at both edges of the argument, and with George Osborne setting the scene for him, "Mr Reasonable" has created space for the centre ground and is now occupying it, with a message tuned to the "moderate middle" who will decide the outcome of the referendum.
On this, it really doesn't matter what "leavers" think. Even less important are the views of the committed "pro-Europeans". They are not going to change their minds in the referendum. The only people who matter to David Cameron are those in that "moderate middle" - people with no strong convictions who could vote either way.
Furthermore, we do not seem to be alone in this view. The Independent
, gives us the headline, "David Cameron's strategy to keep UK in Europe is to present himself as 'the man in the middle'", positioning himself "between the fervently pro and fervently anti-EU brigades".
In campaigning terms, this gives us our marching orders. If our three-point grand strategy, set out yesterday, is anywhere near correct, then our intelligence has identified the target. Phase one of the strategy is in place. It is now urgently necessary to attack this "British model", and come up with a better – and credible – alternative. This is where the bulk of our resources should be focused.
What then of the two main leaver groups? Sadly, Vote Leave Ltd fell into the same trap as the media, treating the Prime Minister's basis for discussion as "demands". Then, failing to understand Mr Cameron's "play", they dismissed
these supposed demands as "trivial".
Even when associated membership was drawn to their attention, Dominic Cummings was dismissive. It wasn't the whole issue
now, he declared. Only later, after prodding
(see below), did he acknowledge that, having warned of "associate membership" (it having appeared once on the Vote Leave website
), it was "hiding in plain sight in DC speech - 'a British model'". The belated admission, however, has not triggered any action.
As for the other big group, Richard Tice of Leave.eu
was getting himself bogged down in a pointless spat with Will Straw over trade and the EU - pushing the WTO as an exit option. His organisation, meanwhile, has completely missed the point
. It has condemned Mr Cameron's actions as "meaningless gestures presented as meaningful reform".
Unable to see the links and the underlying agenda, Arron Banks has dismissed Cameron's speech as "loaded with bombastic rhetoric, underpinned by the usual Cameron pomp". This, he asserts, "will not be enough to paper over the crevices of a conspicuously unambitious reform agenda".
Banks, with his tenuous grasp of the issues, believes that, when Mr Cameron finally secures all his "reforms", the public "will be armed with the facts that no level of imaginative re-packaging will be able to compete with". He proclaims: "This is the beginning of the end".
All this actually illustrates is a complete failure of intelligence. Leave.eu hasn't even arrived at the starting post. On the other hand, Vote Leave Ltd, may have arrived - in that it grudgingly acknowledges the that associate membership is on the agenda. But it is not addressing this issue. Thus, with no discernible strategy, the two "noisemakers" are making every mistake in the book
What these two groups are doing, therefore, is soaking up resources that could be better employed on fighting the real battle. And, with their totally inadequate intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities, they are failing to inform the media, leaving them to spread disinformation and ignorance.
As for Farage, we struggle to find anything from him worth recording. He is reported here
, dismissing Mr Cameron proposals as lacking any targets for substantial renegotiation of membership. Farage also complains that Mr Cameron has tried "to portray a new 'third way' relationship with Brussels that is simply not on offer". Like Leave.eu, he has a way to go before he gets near the starting post.
Yet, the tiny Bruges Group
has been able to put the story together - and with only a fraction of the resource available to the other groups. But the noise level is so high that it will get relatively little media coverage. Before this referendum, the Group was a media favourite. Now its voice is drowned by the "noisemakers".
Like it or not, "leave" groups are in competition for media attention, for funds and much else. Inadequate groups do not work in isolation. When they fail to perform, they detract from the campaign as a whole. Effectively, they are to this referendum what bed blockers are to the NHS. They can be a more potent drag on our capabilities than the pro-EU campaign. And in that sense, they are not on our side at all.
Nevertheless, they are a factor on the ground, and have to be worked into any strategy. How we deal with them is something I will look at shortly.