Richard North, 02/05/2019  
 


If the hit rate we are getting on EUReferendum.com represented readers (which I'm sure it doesn't), then our circulation rate would be about half that of the Guardian and just over a quarter of that of The Sunday Telegraph. But the bigger difference is that, while the circulation of the legacy media titles are in long-term decline (which is also affecting their online traffic), ours is increasing.

While online metrics are notoriously inaccurate and difficult to interpret, there is one way in which EUReferendum scores well against the competition. On a newspaper site you may need two or more "hits" to read one story but one hit on this site gets you ten articles.

It is worth making something of this. Despite the legacy media playing dog-in-the-manger and refusing to recognise this site as one of the leading commentators in the field, we continue to grow from word-of-mouth references. On the other hand the media bubble, with all their back-slapping award-winning journalists, is writing itself into oblivion.

And the one thing that the media doesn't release is its page traffic. It releases the overall circulation figures but nothing about the readership of individual pages, much less specific articles. Yet, the numbers of "reads" for some of the political pieces – even in big-name journals – are often in the low thousands, while they can be in the hundreds.

This is especially relevant when we get the claim from the "bubble" that we are "ignored". We are not, except by the bubble, something which I myself have complained about. But where this is most serious is in the activities of government.

Throughout my long career, I have had many contacts with ministers, their advisors and senior civil servants, over issues as diverse as testing procedures for laying hens, slaughterhouse standards and meat inspection and deregulation. Latterly, I worked on procurement of mine protected vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan for the use of British troops.

With that experience, I have never known an administration such as the one we have now, where it has so cut itself off from the outside and been impervious to external influence. But it is not just the government. Over term, I have had long and fruitful contacts with MPs and peers, and have rarely held back with my views. Only this current, precious crew – so quick to take offence – keeps itself bound within its self-imposed bubble.

As for writing for newspapers and broadcasting, I still get the occasional invite, but largely, I turn them down. I have my own constituency of readers to look after, where I can write about what I please, in the manner that I please, without the restrictions that I get from the legacy media.

Recently, I had an approach from Ben Miller, communications manager for the UK in a Changing Europe concerning my comments on Anand Menon's article entitled, "The awkward truth is that a Norway Brexit almost certainly wouldn't work", and my response on this blog.

In the e-mail Miller sent to me, he asked me if I would be willing to write a piece for the UK in a Changing Europe, outlining where I had issues with the points Menon had raised. I did not refuse, as such, but offered a counter-proposal.

The point I made was that we'd been there before. In December 2016, I'd written a piece critical of UK in a Changing Europe, about "our plague of experts" whence it was repeated a few days later on its website, to absolutely no effect.

The charges I made were not addressed, much less answered, and the few comments (a fraction of the number we get on this site) were mainly from readers of this blog. There was no debate, as such, and we progressed no further in dealing with the issues I had raised.

This much is evidenced by one of my posts in July 2017 which took apart a report from UK in a Changing Europe, on the cost of no deal. This, I dismissed as "unmitigated dross", even though produced by so-called experts.

For those who might wonder about my hostility, though, I gave an explanation. "These people", I wrote, "set themselves up as 'experts' and, funded out of the public purse, take it upon themselves to be our guides though the Brexit labyrinth. Yet, all they can produce on this vital issue is a tardy, sloppily-written report, patronising in style and language, and criminally shallow in scope. We are being short-changed".

And I do tend to take it personally. Almost every single day, now for over 15 years, I have written on this blog – as I noted recently - and for the three years since the referendum I have written an essay every day, totalling over 1.3 million words. Apart from the very welcome donations from readers, I do this for free, working into the small hours to produce topical, well-researched articles.

Yet, by the likes of the Menon claque, with their comfortable, tax-funded salaries, grandiose titles and sloppy work, I get treated with lofty disdain. If they acknowledge me at all, it is with sneering condescension. But mostly, as I explored in this essay, they hide away from my work and pretend it doesn't exist.

And because, in their self-referential little bubble they believe the world rotates around them, they've convinced themselves that because they ignore me everybody else does. Except that thousands don't. Far more read EUReferendum.com than do some of their websites.

And so to my counter-proposal. Rather than me write for the UK in a Changing Europe website, I suggested that it might be a better idea for Menon to answer the criticisms I had made, thereby contributing to a genuine debate, which I could then continue. He could publish on his site, or get wider coverage here, with a right of reply.

Clearly - or at least in my view, I told Miller - there is an interesting (and important) phenomenon here, represented by the inability of "academia", insofar as it is safe to generalise, to progress the Brexit debate beyond repeating the same weary memes and perpetuating the same collection of basic errors.

We badly need a debate about this. There is no point in the academic fraternity being precious about people being nasty to them and retreating to their comfort zones of their heavily-protected Twitter accounts, where you get blocked for just the merest hint of dissent. If they spend five minutes on virtually any legacy media comment facility, they will find themselves subject to far more rough handling than they have ever got from me.

I've told Miller that the more general failures of academia are very much a subject of interest to my readers and that I am already preparing another piece, based on a review of David Robson's book, The Intelligence Trap, recommended by one of my own readers. It deals with the issue of "why smart people do stupid things", which is of some relevance to the debate.

My colleague Christopher Booker is more inclined to attribute the failures in academia to groupthink, but I tend towards the view that we are dealing with something far more complex. Groupthink can be the end of a process and is more the symptom than the cause of shallow or misdirected thinking.

With that, as I point out here, to call someone "stupid" isn't necessarily an insult (or intended as such) – it can be a statement of fact. Conversely, just because people might do (or say) stupid things, doesn't mean (necessarily) that they are stupid. The whole subject of Robson's book is smart people doing stupid things.

The greatest problem of all, though, is the mindset where no error is ever admitted, and there is no recognition that people in high places can get things badly wrong. It is easier for me as a lowly blogger, with readers lining up every day to disagree with me, telling me (directly or implied) that I am wrong.

But in the rarefied environments of academia, it is very difficult for holders of prestigious posts to admit they are wrong, especially on basic points that put them in Janet & John territory, where they really should be getting it right.

But when you have people who, for instance, perpetrate the myth that Article 112 of the EEA Agreement is an "emergency brake", wrongly carrying over the Cameron "renegotiation" terminology of early 2016 and then repeating the error time and time again, one starts to search for deeper reasons for the inability of people to correct their mistakes.

The one thing absolutely for sure though, like the alcoholic in need of treatment, nothing is going to happen until the problem is admitted. This blog is one of the few places where you will find discussed the failings of academia in respect of Brexit, but unless the subject gets an even wider airing than we can manage, there is little chance of improvement.






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