EU Referendum

EU Referendum: do not disturb


I had a discussion recently with a long-time friend. He had some interesting observations on the people who so volubly complain about the way we are fighting this campaign. His view was that they are not focused on winning, and don't understand that we're fighting a war.

They see the referendum as an opportunity to "campaign", which is as much a social event as anything, undertaken in much the same spirit that one plays a round of golf at the club - all jolly nice chaps together, with the ladies making the cucumber sandwiches at half-time (if you have a half time in golf).

These people don't want to get struck in and get their hands dirty - being "good civilised chaps" is far more important than winning. In fact, the idea that you play to win is considered slightly distasteful. The game's for playing, old boy!

Dimly, in the deep recesses of their minds, resides the conviction that "truth will always out", that "good will triumph over evil" and the good guys (in the white hats) always win in the end. All we have to do is convince the public of the righteousness of our cause, and demonstrate that we are "jolly good chaps". That will win the day.

What these people don't want is what my friend the late Peter Troy called a "disturb". They can't deal with being shocked out of their comfortable, if shallow little assumptions, and made to face reality of what this campaign is really about.

In their world, people are nice and they argue politely. So these nice people really can't handle anyone who tells them like it is, or who disturbs their comfortable version of society, and challenges their world view.

In that world, harmony is everything. Thus, if we get a collection of "nice" people, all of whom have perfectly genuine views on how we should leave the EU, then it simply doesn't "do" to be unpleasant about it, and tell them they are wrong.

In this cosy little world, the absolutely unbreakable rule is that we must all get on together. If some of us have different views, than we must all learn to accept that everybody's views are as valid as anybody else's. We must respect their right to express them.

This is why, of course, in polite society, we don't discuss politics or religion – or anything else where opinions are strong and polarised. This is why, in Conservative Associations – remarkably - no-one but no-one talks about politics. That's what the MPs are for. They come down from Westminster, with messages from The Leader, and tell the faithful what to think.

And now the leaver collective is going to have nice civilised meetings, where it is permissible to tell each other how awful the "EUSSR" is, to inflate the amount the UK pays in contributions and to magnify the amount of law by a factor of three.

But is not acceptable to suggest that our Prime Minister is a liar. Even less should we brand that nice Mr Johnson an idiot or his actions "moronic", And it is totally out of order to call MPs "bovine". All this is considered "abuse" by polite people and regarded as "counter-productive.

That is why, as Booker points out today in his column that we don't have an agreed exit plan. And that's why in my view - short of a miracle - we're going to lose this referendum.

"Who would have thought that David Cameron's greatest ally in bidding to keep Britain in the EU would be Boris Johnson?", Booker writes. "Four times now, following Johnson's original bumbling suggestion that we could safely 'Brexit' by negotiating a Canada-type trade deal, Cameron has gleefully shown how ludicrously impractical this would be, taking far too long and not even giving us full access to the Single Market anyway".

One cannot be quite sure whether the next passage from Booker is "abuse" or merely an insult, but no doubt there will be some clucking of disapproval in the ranks when he writes: "But Johnson's empty-headed amateurishness only typifies the fatal failure of any of his allies in the 'leave' campaign to agree on a plausible, properly worked-out exit plan".

"One after another they come up with their own equally half-baked suggestions, which only demonstrate how little any of them have done their homework. This is giving Cameron's 'Project Fear' an open goal, by failing to show how we could practically leave the EU while continuing to enjoy full access to the Single Market".

Perhaps this "abuse" will be acceptable because it is coming from Booker. Perhaps there are different grades of abuse. But, no doubt, his next intervention is more welcome, as he tells us that the only group which has actually produced a proper exit plan is the Leave Alliance, launched last week. 

We are indeed too small to bid for lead role in the campaign – and neither would we want this role. Nevertheless, Booker reports having been told on good authority that our "expert and exhaustive analysis of all the options" has been found "very useful by the civil service". We can only wonder, he concludes, whether - when Cameron wins the day - he will be able to show "magnanimity in victory" by rewarding his favourite ally Mr Johnson with a plum job in his new Cabinet.

This hints at a dark conspiracy, which is at least plausible. Johnson's intervention successfully took Mr Cameron's failure to bring home a treaty from Brussels off the front pages. It turned the contest into the vacuous "Boris and Dave show" that we have now.

If there was a structured attempt to sabotage the "leave" campaign, this is what it might look like. But that doesn't stop people demanding that we refrain from criticising Johnson and back him as fully as a fellow campaigner. Never mind that he's dumped all over our work, and wrecking our camapaign. We're supposed to grin and bear it, all for the greater good.

Any amount of "abuse", though, is far more than that. It's a "disturb". It brings home the reality that the world isn't a very nice place, and that our opponents are not very pleasant people. They lie with consummate ease and break every rule in the book.

Nice people don't want to confront that reality. They want to occupy their time in genteel campaigning. They are never so happy than when they are stuffing hundreds of thousands of leaflets in letter boxes, or manning street stalls where they meet lots of lovely, like-minded people. They're equally happy with any one of the many displacement activities which serve to give the impression of useful campaigning.

In this, they have the media as a willing partner. It doesn't want any "disturbs" either, having placed the campaign firmly in its comfort zone as a biff-bam personality contest between Boris and Dave. Anything more complicates their existence. It requires journalists to do their jobs, and explain issues which are beyond their comprehension.

Basically, if our campaign was a hotel room, it would have a "do not disturb" sign hanging from the doorknob. The outside world must not be allowed to intrude. And if that means we lose, so be it. We will have lost in style, and none of the chaps will be able to say we rocked the boat.

Then we can go back to genteel grumbling for the next four decades, about how these Europhile Johnnies have robbed us of our referendum. By that time we should be ready to lose all over again. But that's OK, as long as we don't actually "abuse" anybody.