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EU Referendum: countdown to launch

2016-03-15 12:43:06

There is no short-term economic benefit from leaving the EU. There are no immediate savings to be made, and any expectations that goods will be cheaper in the shops, or that wages will somehow increase overnight are vastly overblown.

Any financial benefits accruing from leaving the EU will be slow in coming and, in many respects, will be expressed in a negative sense: i.e., "had we not left the EU things would be even worse than they are now".

However, it is fair to say that a primary concern for blue collar workers is whether they would be worse off on leaving, and it follows that if we could argue convincingly that we would all be better off, then this would be of powerful assistance to the "leave" campaign.

The big problem is that it is almost impossible to demonstrate a clear case, unequivocally showing that all or any groups would be better off. This is especially so when we are seeking to argue for stability, presenting the case that there would be very little material change to the UK immediately after leaving, or in the short- to medium-term.

Nevertheless, there are those who argue that there are large groups of people (and especially blue collar workers) who are entirely unmoved by high-flown issues such as sovereignty and questions of "who governs Britain". Such groups, it is said, will only vote to leave if we can offer them the prospect of immediate financial gain.

To do so, though, would be to sell the lie. We are making promises we can't keep. Furthermore, it exposes us as we are seeing to "he says, she says" exchanges with the "remains", where the arguments are getting bogged down in ever-more arcane detail, and even more strident disputes, as each side seeks to establish their positions.

The trouble is that, if large numbers of people are not going to respond to the higher calling, such as restoration (albeit only partially) of sovereignty, and we are unable to offer them any prospect of immediate financial gain, how then are we to motivate them to support the Brexit proposition?

If, ostensibly, there is no clear answer to this and we are confronted with an argument that we cannot possibly win, then the obvious answer is to change the framing of the debate. We should not entertain debates on matters where we cannot possibly win. We need to fight on ground of our own choosing.

Here, though, we have not even begun to make any progress in an area that is ripe for reform the very nature of our government and the way we are governed.

Talk to many people who have actually thought about the subject and that is an awful lot and there will be no illusions about the deeply embedded dissatisfaction about the way we are governed, all in the context of a growing "anti politics" mood.

It was for this that The Harrogate Agenda was devised, the implementation of which is incompatible with continuing membership of the EU. A necessary consequence of adopting THA, therefore, would be Brexit.

Given that the benefits of implementing THA would be tangible and some of them immediate returning powers to the people and giving them much greater control over all manner of things, including taxation, this could be the missing element which motivates people to leave the EU.

Within the context of this referendum, though, there is neither the time nor the resource, nor even the necessary support amongst campaign groups, sufficient to spread the message and make an impact.

But then, this is not a surprise. Given that Chartism, on which THA is based, was always a slow burn, we expect it to be many decades before our Agenda begins to have any significant traction. If it was to have had an effect now, we should have started decades ago.

And that might end up being the omission which decide this referendum. After we lost the 1975 referendum, we should have started planning for the next, working out very carefully using the experience gained - what was needed to win. To wait forty years before seeking to define our campaign, when a new referendum had already been announced, was never going to be a winning strategy.

Even fifteen years ago, when I first started suggesting that Ukip should be producing an "exit and survival plan" might have been long enough to have got something established. But with a referendum less than four months away, it is probably too late to lodge anything substantial in the public mind.

Assuming then that we have no way of re-energising the current debate, possibly the best if not the only thing we can do is learn the lesson that we should have taken home from the 1975 referendum, and apply it to not to this campaign but to the next which needs to start the day after the results are declared.

This, of course, presumes that we are going to lose this referendum, and I am not yet prepared to concede defeat, especially with the Leave Alliance launch on Wednesday. We need to fight to the very last so that, even if we don't win, we put up a credible show.

Thus, on Wednesday, at 2.30pm at 1 Great George Street, we see the official start of our campaign. How long that campaign is going to take we do not know. But if the majority do not join us in a "leave" vote on 23 June, it will continue for as long as it takes to get the right result.