EU Referendum: when do we get this debate?


I suppose that if you collected up all (or most of) the lazy "eurosceptic" tropes into one body of work, you would end up with something very similar to the speech given by David Davis yesterday to the Institute of Chartered Engineers.

That made it almost inevitably that it should be picked by Michael Deacon for the Telegraph as the "sane voice of Euroscepticism", even if this lame hack does go on to ask: "but will anyone listen?" However, we will be fortunate if people don't listen, especially as the Mail seems to think that the speech is this MP's bid to lead what the newspaper calls the "out" campaign.

But the Mail's view is so typical of the legacy media, which is not only incapable of realising that we are running a "leave" campaign, but consistently failing to understand the difference between an election and a referendum.

You would think that even idle hacks could have by now have worked it out. An election is largely a matter (these days) of electing a government leader while the referendum is a clash of ideas. In the one, personalities are all-important, in the other they should factor not at all. Even Davis, the MP, had wit enough to recognise this obvious truth, saying of the eternal media quest for "Mr Leave": "Oh, I don't think it matters. The argument matters more than the person".

But this doesn't stop the odious Mail publishing a self-regarding comment piece entitled: "Who will speak for England?" It invokes the spirit of September 1939 when, in response to a dithering speech by Neville Chamberlain, deputy opposition leader Arthur Greenwood was enjoined to stand back from the appeasement posture and "speak for England".

The double irony here is that, in the run-up to 1939, the Mail's proprietor, Lord Rothermere had not only favoured appeasement but had actively supported Adolf Hitler, taking his paper with him in singing his praises. And it is this same newspaper which does not support withdrawal from the EU, arguing on 22 October 2011 that the then crisis (as opposed to this current crisis) offered "a perfect opportunity to renegotiate our terms of membership".

This is a newspaper which has become a by-word for amateurism and superficiality, yet writes an excoriating piece on how "rank amateurism, jealousies and petty hatreds are tearing apart the rival 'Out' camps" – another one unable to distinguish between "out" and "leave. 

Yet the Mail  feels qualified to tells us that voters are "crying out for an informed and lively debate on the crucial issues". Instead, it laments, "they're being treated to a one-sided, stage-managed charade of scaremongering, spin... and censorship". For once, they must have been reading their own copy.

Furthermore, knowing how the legacy media has set its face against any mention of Flexcit, there is not a single newspaper that can with any validity complain about censorship – at least, not without a very large measure of hypocrisy.

Also attempting to personalise what it also calls the "out" campaign is the Financial Times which would have it that the "eurosceptics" are worrying about the "lack of leadership". The paper claims that there are "40 disparate groups with no single leader, clear campaign strategy or agreed vision".

No matter how many times some of us (including Arron Banks of declare that we do not want a single leader, the media trots out the same meme – the FT bring only the latest in a long line. But, as to a "clear campaign strategy" and an "agreed vision", the paper cannot exactly claim any great perspicacity of foresight when for nearly four years we've been openly calling for a clear strategy.

Interestingly, it was in September 2012 that we were recording Cranmer's observation that the Eurosceptic movement was "fundamentally a clash of gargantuan egos, none of whom will deign to co-operate or collaborate with their co-eurosceptics, principally out of a lack of trust, belief or respect".

We were told not to expect political coherence or campaigning strategy from the Conservatives, Ukip, the Democracy Movement, the Campaign for United Kingdom Conservatism, Better off Out, the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Freedom Association, or the Liberty League. Said Cranmer, "you have more hope of persuading a Wahhabi Sunni to sup with an Ahmadiyyan and plant the cornerstone of a new mosque".

It was then, incidentally, that his Grace was saying: "until Euroscepticism speaks with one voice - or at least unifies around a single immediate objective - it cannot lead us to the Promised Land". And only a few days ago, we we saying:
Leaving is the means to an end. It what we intend to do with our newly-acquired freedom that really matters and until we have a convincing answer to that, we will never leave.
But suddenly, as befits such occasions, everybody's an expert, with Allister Heath – Matthew Elliott's brother-in-law - peddling the Vote Leave line under the guise of dispassionate comment.

A sensible, moderate anti-establishment campaign telling the public that it deserves a better deal, emphasising the costs of the EU and advocating greater control for the British public over the issues they care about, he says, could go down well. This is despite the numerous injunctions not to get bogged down in fractious disputes about money.

Keeping it in the family, in piles wunderkind James Forsyth in the Spectator, doubtless keeping in with commissioning editor Mary Wakefield, wife of Dominic Cummings. He takes time out to acquaint us with his brilliant insight as he tells us that eurosceptics are: "too divided and their campaigns too shambolic" to seize the opportunity afforded by the referendum.

Displaying the pig ignorance common to his trade, though, he moves on to tell us that "the arguments for Brexit are all there, waiting for someone persuasive to marshal them". With that, he neglects to inform us that his magazine, along with other journals, have been consistently and wilfully ignoring the most successful attempt to marshal the arguments.

Once again, it's the bloggers such as The Brexit Door and Lost Leonardowho are doing the heavy lifting. The so-called "professional" journalists simply fritter away their efforts on a tide of triviality and statements of the bleedin' obvious. Meanwhile, the Cummings-Elliott soap opera continues unabated, with Cummings displaying the sort of behaviour that confirms him as a liability to the cause.

It is from the other side, therefore, that we are seeing sense. The Centre for European Reform has actually done something useful in stating that deregulation as part of a Brexit settlement is a non-starter – a point made yet again by Pete North.

This brings us full circle, back to Davis, who tells us that, with Brexit, we "would have the opportunity to reform our economy, pushing through the changes necessary to create a dynamic, modern economy". Listing the benefits we can look forward to, he tells us that we will have such delights as "competitive tax rates, a competitive labour market, and effective, rather than burdensome, regulation".

After Brexit, says Davis, "we can put all that right without asking Brussel's (sic) permission". And what gets me here is the almost child-like naivety. This paints such a simplistic picture, creating the impression that the big bad world out there suddenly becomes so easy to manage, once we escape the shadow of Brussels.

Never mind all the complexities of managing the labour market, dealing with tax competition in the age of globalisation, multi-nationals and free movement of capital. And don't even trouble your pretty little head with the notion that regulation has to be negotiated on a global stage, which gives us some more flexibility, but not very much more.

So, given that we need a debate to sort all these issues out, from where is this debate going to come? The media is incompetent and the politicians equally so, while Vote Leave is bogged down with internal squabbling and the other "big leave" is necessarily focused on winning the designation. (Make no mistake, an organisation with Elliott and Cummings in it that became lead campaigner would be a disaster).

With Vote Leave poisoning the environment, it seems that the last thing we are going to see any time soon is a rational debate about core principles, my so-called third battle. Would someone, therefore, like to tell me when this debate is supposed to happen?

Richard North 05/02/2016 link

EU Referendum: the third battle


It is very easy to mischaracterise the ongoing spat between Vote Leave and, and then to conflate it with the infighting going on between individuals and factions within the Vote Leave grouping. 

That is the role of Mark Wallace in Conservative Home and sundry other journalists and pundits who have dipped into the issue, one of the latest being Asa Bennett of the Daily Telegraph.

In fact, there are not two but three separate issues which are being rolled into one, confusing those reporting it and most of those reading about it.

In the first place, there is a very real and perfectly healthy competition between two groups for right to represent the official "leave" campaign, a context that will eventually be adjudicated by the Electoral Commission in accordance with criteria approved by a democratically elected parliament, in what is known as the designation process.

No free-marketeer, or any advocate of the healthy role of competition, could mount a valid argument against the idea that there should be two or more groups competing with each other for an award which also involves the grant of a substantial amount of public money. The competitive process is an accepted mechanism for securing best value, thus allowing the best group to come forward.

This is especially valid in the historical context, where we have seen individuals, and in particular one individual – Matthew Elliott – assume in the manner of "to the manor born" that they have some God-given right to lead what was to become the "leave" campaign.

All this was well before Mr Cameron gave his referendum speech in January 2013. Even then, be were conscious that certain factions within the eurosceptic "community" had anointed Mr Elliott as the heir apparent, and were expecting the organisation he was planning to be a shoo-in.

Without the emergence of Arron Banks and his organisation, that might have been the case, whence the interests of broader leave campaign would not have been well served.

Then, even had Banks not emerged, there were other groups waiting in the wings, some united by no more than a cordial dislike of Mr Elliott, who were also preparing to contest the designation. At least one of this, the Leave Alliance which is to be launched on 16 March, is keeping its options open as to whether also to contest the designation.

Now, distinct from all that – although with tangential relationships – is the infighting within Vote Leave. This is primarily the result of tensions within the organisation arising from the authoritarian management style of Mr Elliott, and the aggressive, confrontational style of his campaign director, Dominic Cummings.

Given the characters and styles of these senior executives, the squabbling that has broken out over the last week was going to happen anyway, at some time. It is only an incidental issue that Mr Banks, in seeking a unified campaign, has been exploiting those tensions in an effort to destabilise these men and thereby facilitate a merger.

The outcome of these interwoven plays is yet to be concluded, with Cummings – who was the initial target – having so far resisted pressure to depose him. But he now stands to be one of the few left in a much depleted organisation, which will have many of its current members jumping ship, either to or its related group, the Grassroots Out (GO) organisation, which also includes Ukip.

As it stands, the issue could then be resolved by these two groups making a combined bid – possibly with others – against Vote Leave, with a good possibility that they will take the designation.

But even the resolution of these separate issues – one a competition, the other "infighting" – will not resolve the underlying and protracted dispute between multiple eurosceptic groups and factions as to the vision for a post-EU Britain, and the best way to secure that independence.

Currently, though, a facile Independent editorial is saying that the Brexit campaign has "splintered before it has begun", referring to the competition between the groups. The greater truth is that it has always been "splintered" – at least, in living memory. Furthermore, it will remain so until the underlying dispute is resolved.

This is a battle that should have been resolved decades ago, but is one which has been suppressed by a loose-knit group of what we have come to call the eurosceptic "aristocracy". They have essentially "owned" euroscepticism and ruthlessly excluded any free debate. It is they, therefore, who been largely responsible for our lack of preparedness.

Since factions which make up this "aristocracy" span the two main groups, and the political parties - including Ukip and the "eurosceptic" branch of the Conservative Party – we will still be left with this third battle to resolve, even after the other two have been settled.

And it is this third battle which is more important – despite it being obscured by the other two. But it is not until it is joined and won, and the "leavers" can unite behind an agreed vision and exit plan, that we stand any chance of winning the larger battle – the one to leave the EU.

Yet, many of those who are calling for unity are actually skirting this issue. Instead hankering after the semblance of unity, having all the campaigners work together but without a common cause. This unity for the sake of unity is a useless endeavour - it is the unity of the Lemmings as they pour over the cliff-edge. United we fall, as the saying goes.  

Therein lies the most fundamental of all issues. We are not seeking to leave the EU and thus to regain our freedom of action simply for the sake of it. Leaving is the means to an end. It what we intend to do with our newly-acquired freedom that really matters and until we have a convincing answer to that, we will never leave.

If our victory is then to come in time for this coming referendum, we must not only dispense with the two battles tardily recognised by the media and other pundits. We must then confront and win that third battle. This may well prove the hardest of them all.

Richard North 30/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: propaganda by post


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I've been sent copies of the Europhile leaflet - a facsimile of which I am posting here (click each image to enlarge) ... together with a critique. Bear with me ... this will take a little time.

The easy point to make about the "six claims" is that, apart from the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), none are affected if we continue to participate in the Single Market. As to the EAW, an interim measure, we would continue this until we have completed post-exit negotiations on a better deal. 

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This is page two of four ... the theme continues, conflating membership of the EU with participation in the Single Market. Also, we see how they feature heavily on the economic issue. This is precisely what we thought they would do, hence our emphasis on a strategy which neutralised this issue and concentrated on governance and the global opportunity.

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Page three, and the "security" canard, using the "appeal to authority" with a pic of a plod. Perhaps policemen should stick to policing (first time for everything), and leave issues about how we are governed to the people who employ them (us). And then, note also the "leap in the dark" meme, pretending that there are no exit plans - despite the 38,000 downloads of Flexcit.

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And this is the final page ... note how they pick on Ukip for the target.

Richard North 18/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: damnation by proxy


In what seems a contradiction of recent claims – that the European Commission is gearing up to take an active part in the referendum campaign - we learn from Reuters that economists employed by the Commission have been banned from researching the impact of Britain leaving the EU, or even talking about it, for fear of getting embroiled in the debate.

Reuters says it has been told that: "There is an internal order not to discuss or study the impact of Brexit", with information that the instruction had come from the office of the Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

A result of this, we are told, will be that the Commission's economic forecasts for the eurozone and the wider EU will take account of political and financial risks in China, the Middle East and the United States but not the glaringly obvious risk that Britain may vote to leave.

This diffidence, according to a senior EU official, arises from the Greek experience, when the Commission had denied it had a "Plan B" to manage a possible Grexit, only the for the press to discover that it had, causing "upset" in Athens and the money markets.

"We learned from the Grexit thing," says an official. "If we do it [produce a contingency plan], the press will find out about it. So this time we're not doing it".

On the face of it though, this would hardly seem to matter. The Commission has plenty of willing proxies, such as the Centre for European Reform., willing to churn out tales of the dire consequences of Britain leaving the EU. The latest offering from this organisation came only yesterday, under the title: "If the UK votes to leave: The seven alternatives to EU membership".

This was written by Jean-Claude Piris, Consultant for EU Law and international public law, and former Legal Counsel of the European Council and Director General of the EU Council Legal Services. This is also the man who so glibly lied to Carolyn Quinn about the fate of British expats when we leave the EU.

Under the directorship of former Economist journalist Charles Grant, CER likes to think itself a cut above the rest, yet Grant himself is not averse to a bit of creative fiction, having also told Quinn all the trade agreements negotiated by the EU would have to be renegotiated by the UK when we leave – something which is manifestly not true.

Given the choice by me on Twitter, of being ignorant or a liar, Grant decided that I was "rude" and blocked my account, even though he feels it perfectly legitimate to brand journalists as liars, without in any way being considered rude.

This is the measure of an organisation that offers no less than seven alternatives for leaving the EU yet fails to mention Flexcit or even discuss the concept of a staged withdrawal – which transforms the dynamics of a British exit.

More careful with his phrasing that Mr Cameron, Mr Piris confines his comments on the EEA (Norway) option to claiming that EFTA states "have to apply the EU legislation concerning the internal market … without having the chance to influence their content significantly". Says Prisis, "They are given the opportunity to express their views on legislation, but cannot vote on what is decided".

Nothing of course is mentioned of the globalisation of regulation and the fact that Norway has significant influence over technical laws, long before they reach Brussels. But then, candid analysis is evidently not part of Mr Piris's brief. He does not refer to globalisation anywhere in his document.

Instead, the partisan Mr Piris concludes that "none of the options available to the UK, in case it were to decide to withdraw from the EU are attractive". And with that, he tells us that any option would take the UK in one of two directions.

Either the UK would become a kind of satellite of the EU, with the obligation to transpose into its domestic law EU regulations and directives for the single market., or it would suffer from higher barriers between its economy and its main market, obliging the government to start trade negotiations from scratch, both with the EU and with the rest of the world, without having much bargaining power.

In short, says Piris, "if the UK chooses to leave the EU, it will be left between a rock and a hard place".

Sadly for the CER, though, the legacy media does not seem to have expressed any interest in Mr Piris's work. For the likes of the Telegraph, they are more interested in the offering of Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling, who is telling us that he "backs David Cameron's plan to renegotiate Britain's membership".

Together with Boris Johnson's declaration that he is not an "outer" and therefore will not be assuming the leadership of the "leave" campaign, these are statements of such banality that one wonders why anyone is bothered with them.

Far more interesting would have been an analysis of the paper by Andrew Duff, published on 12 January and of more than passing interest. A member of the Spinelli Group which produced the Fundamental Law as a proposal for a new treaty, Duff seems to have abandoned his brainchild in favour of what he calls: "The Protocol of Frankfurt: a new treaty for the eurozone".

Whether this reflects a lack of confidence in the ability of the "colleagues" to forge ahead with a new treaty isn't clear. But one gets the impression that Duff is presenting a "protocol" as an alternative to a full-blown treaty, possibly as a means of expediting proceedings.

However, given that there is no difference in substance between a treaty and a protocol, and that the latter – as proposed by Duff – will require the full treaty amendment process as set out in Article 48(2) – which Duff acknowledges – there seems no merit whatsoever in attempting what might be a shortcut. A full-blown convention will still be needed, followed by an IGC.

The implications of Duff's publication should have attracted the attention of the media though – although since the Fundamental Law has been scarcely mentioned, it is unsurprising that it has been given no attention. Nevertheless, readers would have been entertained by his observation that:
European integration has reduced the capacity of national governments to act effectively in many circumstances, but has yet to put in place an alternative government of a federal type at the supranational level. The EU institutions are in the invidious position of being significant enough to take the blame but not important enough to take the credit.
This, as much as anything, is a cri de Coeur for a new treaty, and if Duff – the insider's insider - is signalling that plans for a new treaty are on the rocks, then this is very significant indeed. This is possibly the one instance where David Cameron could be tempted to cut and run, and risk the wrath of the Electoral Commission, and go for an early referendum.

Such nuances, though, are way beyond the ken of the legacy media, which is besotted with local politics and unable to see anything beyond the Channel. But, if there is the slight chance that we are looking at an early referendum, then what really matters is the preparedness of the "leave" groups and their ability to produce credible exit plans.

It really is bizarre that we are so far reliant on the likes of the eurohphile CER to produce details of exit options, which they use as a means of damnation by proxy, while there is no official offering (as yet) from the two largest groups.

Things, however, are changing. We are beginning to see the re-emergence of Ukip "moderates". Flexcit is attracting some support from surprising quarters, and re-energising what has become a tired, stale debate. With that in mind, we're publishing online the short version of Flexcit, running to 33 pages, including the title page. If we are to be damned, let us at least have a suitable counter in place.

Richard North 14/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: opposing for the sake of opposition


Whatever your views about David Bowie, I have yet to talk to anyone who is anything other than scandalised by the BBC devoting the first 15 minutes of the national news at 6pm to his death – half of the entire bulletin.

This is a classic example of how the media have lost it – their sense of proportion has totally deserted them, whence their news values have become grotesquely distorted.

In another, related example, we see John Simpson, crime correspondent for The Times respond to the pre-publication of tomorrow's front page of the Financial Times by complaining about the "boring" headline about David Bowie, ignoring the powerful lead story which tells us that Toyota will stay in the UK even if we leave the EU.

A wider story that is being ignored by almost the whole of the legacy media, though, is the growing controversy over the failure of "leave" groups to produce their own exit plans.

Wading into the debate was Open Europe which had Raoul Ruparel responding to Matthew Elliott's comments about the failure of the government to produce a contingency plan.

"I can't help", he said, "but get a significant sense of hypocrisy from those backing Brexit calling on the government to outline a plan when they are yet to do so themselves. As we have said before the onus should be on both sides of the campaign to put forward their clear visions for the UK inside and outside the EU, or at the very least have a discussion of how it might look".

Ahead of the game, though, was, which has electrified the debate with its initiative on Flexcit, in the space of 72 hours receiving over 3,000 e-mails responding to the news – the preponderance being wholly supportive of the idea.

Nevertheless, it is jumping the gun to say that has adopted Flexcit. Their use of the plan was always subject to a re-branding exercise, and I wrote recently clarifying the situation, stating that I had submitted a draft, under the title "The Market Solution". Its status remains as a submission. will look at it, I wrote, "and then we will discuss changes".

However, have issued further clarification, stating that a final decision had not been made on what their final plan will look like but, recognising the urgency of having a plan, felt it was "essential" to start immediately on developing a plan.

There is no question that is committed to producing an exit plan, and I have been retained as a consultant to assist in that process. Thus, jointly, we will be the first major leave campaign to commit to such a plan, with Vote Leave still floundering in its own intellectual backwater.

Inevitably, there are issues to resolve before the is able to offer its own completed plan, and it was always going to be the case that there was going to be hostility to anything which didn't commit to a departure within 48 hours of the referendum result, using the WTO Option of some such.

But, as Pete points out in this You Tube video, compromise is going to be needed if we are to produce a credible plan. Furthermore, we cannot allow the vocal minority "tail" to wag the dog. Volume does not make up for credibility.

As an example of how the debate is moving, just over two years ago Ukip's Gerald Batten was totally opposing the use of Article 50, while Nigel Farage was only tentatively allowing himself to be associated with the article.

Despite the strenuous opposition from a group whom I called the "Praetorian Guard", there is now scarcely any opposition to Article 50 and it is taken as read that this will set the procedure by which we will leave the EU.

Similarly, it is only going to be a matter of time before it is recognised that the push for "control of borders" is a red herring. With 34 million foreign visitors to this country each year – many of them coming in from Europe without visas – the net outcome of more stringent entry controls will simply been more people overstaying illegally.

This is such a well-known and established phenomenon, that no one other than the most superficial of pundits will seriously argue that tighter border controls will have any significant effect on the movement of people from EU member states.

Any restriction on freedom of movement will require a raft of administrative controls and systems, applied as post-entry controls by a range of authorities. They will also require private sector cooperation, from the likes of banks, landlords and employers.

The essence of this, therefore, is not a matter of border controls, but the ability to determine immigration policy, and then to match resources and enforcement to the need.

But then, we also need to address the migration issues mandated by the ECHR and the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, and – as White Wednesday pointed out - look again at some of our bilateral agreements.

As with the Article 50 controversy, these issues will be resolved by discussion and argument, largely without media participation, only journalists such as Booker taking an interest.

But we do see people locked into their obsessions, which tend to take them further and further from reality. The mantras assume lives of their own, with their advocates losing sight of their own objectives, as the obsessions take root.

Fortunately, though, we find that such objections – lacking a credible evidential base – tend to evaporate as fast as they take root, when exposed to enough scrutiny and debate. There are enough people who do realise that compromises are necessary in the real world, and that the need to leave the EU outweighs the doctrinaire obsessions of the vocal minorities.

The clamour for an effective Brexit plan is being more widely heard, from multiple sources, which means that the obsessive will no longer be able to dominate the argument. Equally, there are alternative voices being heard on immigration.

As outsiders then start recognising the points, we will get to the situation where sense prevails and nobody will even admit to having opposed that which becomes the received wisdom.

It is a pity that we have to expend the energy going through this tiresome routine, but it seems to be an inescapable part of getting any new ideas lodged. There will always be those who oppose, merely for the sake of opposing, and they will demand their 15 seconds of fame before they disappear into the obscurity where they belong.

Richard North 12/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: the lies sharpen


The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, which insists on calling itself "Stronger In" – as opposed to the more obvious BSE – has (rightly) made a feature of the leavers' confusion over an exit plan, producing a deft compilation (above) which makes the point.

But no sooner has moved to remedy the mater, a teenage scribbler in the Huffington Post takes the low road to miss the point, while BSE strengthens its determination to lie its way through the campaign.

Responding to the announcement that is to adopt Flexcit as the basis for its own exit plan, this remain campaign immediately jumped the gun by looking at the original draft and assuming that this is to be the final version.

This, of course, is not the way things work. have asked me to submit a draft, which I have done. It is now online, under the title The Market Solution. But its status is only that of my submission. will look at, and then we will discuss changes. If any are needed to meet the greater objectives (and I am sure there will be some), I am quite happy to look at them, as long as they do not breach the underlying concept.

In the meantime, it is going to take a little time to get a working arrangement functioning. This is the real world and complex, grown-up issues take time to resolve.

Nevertheless, this did not stop "Stronger In" from issuing a press release claiming: "Leave campaign backs 'Still pay, No say' model for UK outside Europe", asserting that had "adopted the controversial 'Flexcit' model". This, they claimed, "would see the UK continue to pay into the EU budget and accept free movement of people - contrary to the UKIP position on immigration".

This is the moronic level of what passes for comment from "Stronger In", with its "Executive Director" Will Straw arguing that: "Leave.EU's new policy shows they accept EU budget contributions, would keep free movement, would keep all EU laws, but would remove the UK's influence over the most important economic regulations we would be forced to accept".

It doesn't seem to matter how many times we write that this is a multi-stage process, and that the first step is an interim – a stepping stone – to allow for an expeditious exit within the two-year Article 50 period.

This is not even a nuance. It is the central element of the plan, but one which our critics on both sides seem to have difficulty getting to grips with. Nor can the famed Will Straw seems to be able to cope with the idea that much of the regulation that we will keep in place arises from global or regional bodies. This is another area where comprehension so often fails.

Also, seeking to make trouble, the press release talks of a "dramatic split" from UKIP immigration policy, which they claim "will enrage many Eurosceptic allies. It is, they say, "laying bare the increasing divisions inside the Leave campaigns and highlighting the massive disagreements still raging about what they see as an alternative to membership of the EU".

Actually, what has been encouraging is that, apart from a few hard-liners, the initiative has been well received. We are, after all, totally at one in agreeing that immigration must be managed. The difference is that we see the need to leave the EU first, in order to achieve any long-lasting and effective policy improvements.

Predictably, "Stronger In" wants to see the division, picking out this "scathing" section, which states:
To ignore the interplay between policy domains is rank amateurism, something which is manifest in Ukip's refusal to consider remaining in the EEA because of the requirement to maintain free movement of labour. This is a party which has failed to declare what it is trying to achieve in policy terms, declaring only the aspiration of "managing" borders. Thus, this political party is prepared to abandon a proven and workable trade relationship because it interrupts an indeterminate process aimed at producing an undefined effect, with no specified outcome.
This, in fact, heralds a pragmatic approach. And there are plenty of people on our side who see the sense of taking the tactical steps necessary to achieve success, rather than risk all in seeking unattainable objectives to achieve an indeterminate effect.

However, "Stronger In" does observe that Vote Leave "is now the only major organisation active in the campaign refusing to clarify which model they back for the UK". That really does leave them out on their own, being challenged to "speak up and set out their alternative to EU membership".

The irony is that, as long as Will Straw is around, it will not make very much difference what we do. He will either misunderstand or misrepresent it, resorting to low-grade polemics which neither enlighten nor entertain.

Bizarrely, when it comes to Flexcit, Straw relies almost entirely on the two-page summary, which leads him to surmise that the plan "appears to suggest the UK re-joining the EU, by the EEA countries being given what sounds like full member status".

This is what he actually takes from my description of the third stage of Flexcit, "which involves initiating negotiations to transform the EEA into a genuine, Europe-wide single market, with common decision-making for all parties".

This rather underlines my point about Straw's complete inability to understand what has been written. Fortunately, in the Herald, we get a Leave.EU spokesman saying: "Will Straw's gross misrepresentation of Flexcit ... betrays his woeful understanding of life outside the gilded cage of EU membership".

Indeed it does. "Far from having to 'pay with no say', countries like Norway and Iceland participate in hundreds of EU committees, helping to shape the Single Market regulations which they apply", says this spokesman, "retaining a veto where they find them particularly objectionable". Moreover, we are told, "they have full control over their agricultural policies, external trade and fishing waters, unlike EU members".

And then we get the point that evaded Mr Straw: "In any case, Flexcit sees the EEA as a stepping stone rather than a final destination". And that really is the issue. To get a lot, we have to give a little. The final outcome is what we have to keep in sight, with the eventual objective of redefining the entire post-war settlement.

In what is then a very fair representation of what I actually said, I am cited as saying that: "BSiE clearly haven't read Flexcit, from their comments. They don't seem to have understood what's written in it anyway. The idea of 'No say' is a complete lie, as even within the context of Efta and the EEA there are structured negotiations and consultations built into the system".

I add: "The Norwegian-style model would only be a staging post towards our endgame of going back to Winston Churchill's original vision of an arrangement covering the whole of geographical Europe under the banner of the UN Economic [Commission] Europe in Geneva, with nations co-operating as equals in a 'European village'".

Those people who have taken the trouble to read Flexcit and have the sense to understand it will realise that we are being far more ambitious then simply seeking to extract us from the EU. That, as I keep saying, is only the start of the process. We're playing the long game. We aim to achieve far more and end up far better placed than we could from just grabbing what we can get and running.

Richard North 09/01/2016 link

EU Referendum: a surfeit of leavers


On 3 October last year, the Telegraph was announcing that a grassroots "out" campaign had won "business and Tory backing".

This was, which had attracted the support of Toby Blackwell, owner of Blackwell's bookshops, and the Tories' oldest think-tank, the Bow Group. At the time, it was expected that this would boost's chances of being designated as the lead campaigner, "amid bitter rivalries between competing Eurosceptic groupings on the Right".

Now, three months later, almost to the day, we have reported the launch of another "major new campaign" to mobilise support for the "leave" proposition. And this one is also a grassroots "out" campaign, only it is called "Grassroots Out", or GO for short.

Despite its name, however, the only declared supporters at this time are MPs "from across the political spectrum", including Tory MPs Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove, Labour's Kate Hoey and UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Previously, Kate Hoey has been listed as co-chair of Labour Leave, and a fully paid-up member of Vote Leave. Farage, on the other hand, has pledged his support to and also hinted that he could support the Tory "posh boys" of Vote Leave.

Bone, who has previously not declared attachment to any particular group, was in November 2014 talking of campaigning from within the Conservative Party. But he now aims to bring together "people from the disparate anti-EU groups to knock on doors".

Bone, MP for Wellingborough, and his Corby neighbour Tom Pursglove, and the others in his little band, also aim to "draw up a series of campaign plans for individual constituencies across the country".

He says: "At the moment, every day that passes while we are not organised at the grassroots is a wasted opportunity to spread our message on the ground, gifting the advantage to our referendum opponents. GO will help to redress that imbalance".

Pursglove adds: "I know that all those out there in our country who want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, have a simple message: get together and make it happen".

Remarkably, he then asserts that, "At the moment, the activity on the ground is needlessly fragmented, handing the advantage to those who wish to keep us in". Despite adding to that fragmentation, he tells us, in the true style of a politician, "GO will help put a stop to that and shift the emphasis firmly onto grassroots Brexit".

Kate Hoey says that it is "essential that people from all parties put aside their political differences and work towards the common end, which is to get the UK out of the European Union", and Farage calls on politicians from different parties to "work together and speak with one voice".

Politicians, one assumes, are his idea of the "grassroots", enabling him to declare: "I wholly support GO and its ethos of bringing everyone together at grassroots level". Yet, since there are no indications of any alliance with Vote Leave, once can assume that there is no Cummings in GO.

However, this has not prevented six Tory MPs from the class of 2105 not getting together to work with Mr Farage. Instead, organised by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Berwick-upon-Tweed MP, MPs James Cleverly, Craig Mackinlay, Royston Smith, Paul Scully and Scott Mann do seem to have linked up with Vote Leave.

This might be a little unfortunate for the group, reinforcing its image somewhat as a Tory group. This is more so with the apparent loss of Kate Hoey, one of the few Labour MPs in the group. Even with Douglas Carswell who, according to The Sun, has been forced to deny plotting to kill his leader, the group can scarcely call itself cross-party.

But, with also in the field – and the Leave Alliance planning to launch officially in March - we seem to have something of a surfeit of leavers. Unlike the EU, though, we are supposed to regard competition as a good thing. Dare one suggest that the best leaver should win?

Richard North 05/01/2016 link

Merry Christmas


This actually started it in late August as a Christmas present for Booker – in memory of his uncle, who was captain of the ship this model represents: HMS Poppy. I posted a picture in October showing limited progress but, in November discovered that the ship had undergone what appear to be unique modifications, that had to be built-in from scratch.

The picture above shows how far I've got – and it looks more than it is, as a lot of bits are dry-fitted and not yet glued into place, and there's a lot of touching-up and cleaning up to do. I can't even begin to estimate when it will be finished so this is as close as Booker gets to his present for the moment.

This rather reminds me of the old Telegoons skit where Neddy, lacking a suitable weapon, held up a bank with a colour photograph of a gun – only to be given a colour photograph of some money. Booker gets a colour photograph of a model.

As we contemplate taking the day off – the only one in the year when I take a complete break – I think we deserve some time to prepare us for the work ahead.

That is certainly going to be demanding. In many respects, the election was Christmas come early. We got our referendum and our chance to set in train the process of leaving the EU. No one then was under any illusions that it was going to be easy, but there was no reason that it should have be quite as difficult as it is turning out to be.

Here, we're having to contemplate the reality that there is more than one game in town, and the practical implications of that. We already knew it was going to be something of a problem.

About three years ago, we were getting wind of a pending take-over, when Matthew Elliott was declared "heir apparent" by a group of his supporters at a meeting called by the Campaign for and Independent Britain. And so it has come to pass with Vote Leave making a bid for lead campaigner for the "leave" proposition.

What has been perverse about the latter part of the year, therefore, is that we've spent much of our time focusing on the "enemy within" as we have on the "real" enemy – whoever that actually turns out to be.

Yet, those who want a simple life with their calls for unity are the ones who are being unrealistic. Even within Vote Leave there is no unity, and none of the key players actually agree on the way forward. There is no agreement between Vote Leave and and then there is the wild card, otherwise known as Ukip – which itself is split between the Farage and Carswell factions.

On the outside, there are other groups which have come together to form what we are calling the Leave Alliance, for which Pete has prepared a superb website under the handle Leave HQ. That, with a resurgence of campaigning blogs, and we beginning to carve out our own identity – under the horizon for the moment, which is where we need to be.

If I was able to grant ourselves a magic Christmas present, then I would perhaps consider a disappearing trick and wish all our opposition away, except that I personally never had any ambitions to lead, or even run this campaign. Rather, I was hoping that we would see a collegiate approach, where different groups could play to their own strengths, all working to a common theme.

That's where it's all come unstuck, of course. We have in the Elliott faction a group which, despite lacking the necessary knowledge and the skills, is determined to "own" the campaign, demanding conformity to an as-yet unknown game plan, and complete loyalty to their disparate group.

Despite being warned of an all-too-predictable outcome, I nevertheless spent a lot of time this year negotiating with Dominic Cummings, feeding him information, writing briefing notes and directing him to useful material.

The last time I met Cummings face-to-face, we parted on good terms, shaking hands and agreeing to continue working together. It was he – with no explanation or contact – who broke off relations, leaving an e-mail unanswered and refusing to telephone me, as he had been asked to do by a senior figure in the campaign.

Sadly, alliance-building is needed to make this campaign work. But, as they say, it takes two to tango. With no willingness to work together and no good faith, there can be no progress. And that's where we stand on Christmas day, hurling brickbats across an unbridgeable divide.

With that, it's not as happy a Christmas as I would like, and with so much unfinished business and so much to play for, it's hard to sit back and be totally relaxed. But, we have to take what we can get in this life, so I'll wish Booker - minus his model - and all my readers a very Merry Christmas, with a special word from the long-suffering Mrs EU Referendum - who gets her dining room back for the day.

We can also hope for a more productive New Year, even if I can't promise a happy one. For that, we'll have to wait until we've won the referendum – and that is not going to be in this year coming.

Richard North 25/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: lost in the mire


It may be transparently obvious when you think about it, but to me it is in some sense an epiphany – the realisation that the legacy media are not going to improve their reporting on the EU because they don't believe they are doing anything wrong.

And now we have it in spades, as the media pile into their "Tory splits" meme. Trilling about "civil war" in the Conservative Party buts them slap bang in the centre of their comfort zone.

This is a space they will occupy to the exclusion of all else as it saves them the trouble of trying to understand the intricacies of the referendum and the complex interweaving of British and European politics, where they are totally out of their depths.

This makes the extensive and consistent failure of the media part of the referendum story. It has long been held by any number of authorities that a free press is an essential requirement for a functioning democracy and thus, where the media are entirely dysfunctional, that must reflect on the quality of the debate and the way the issues are understood (or not).

But it seems to me also that newspaper readers (and especially online commenters) can't entirely walk away from any responsibility. Occasionally, in the line of duty, I am required to look in on the Telegraph comments, only to find that it is an extremely unpleasant place to be.

Most significantly, though, what strikes one is the inability of most commenters to stay on-topic. There may be a thousand or more comments on any one article, but one can often count the number which actually address the subject of the article on the fingers of one hand. Not uncommonly, it is evident that commenters have not even read the article, displaying that ignorance by the way they write.

In that sense, these are not "comments". They function more like online chat rooms, affording an opportunity to sound off in a general way about the subject in question, the end product usually being the low drone of ignorant prejudice which conspires to inhibit learning and understanding.

This is actually a great pity because it legitimises the tendency of media writers to ignore their own comments. If all they have to offer is this low-grade drone, then there no more point in wading through the mire than there is on dwelling on the contents of a cesspool in the back garden.

For all that, though, this is also the media's fault. It is an unfortunate fact of life that these comments need moderating at two particular levels – one to remove the ugly ad hominems that descends into profanity and the personal criticisms that are entirely unrelated to the matter at hand.

In that context, the greatest sin of all is, apart from the occasional diversion, that tendency for comments to veer off-topic and to stay off topic. And that boils down to moderation. Done properly, culling of the comments will not remove criticisms of the pieces – or even of their authors – but they will clean out the irrelevances and allow the readers to focus on the issue at hand.

An excellent example of this is the current article by Matthew Goodwin, offering an analysis of the current polls on the referendum and, in his own inimitable style, pontificating about the prospects for the campaigns.

What is highly relevant to any predictive work by Goodwin, however, is that there are few professional pundits who have been so consistently and spectacularly wrong in the areas of his supposed expertise. Picking up his many errors is like picking legs off flies.

Another highly relevant point is that opinion polls are very poor predictors of political referendums, and especially where – as in this case – a "renegotiation" is in progress, which can profoundly change the perception of the offer. To predict possible outcomes from current data, therefore, is seriously to mislead. 

However, if the newspaper insists on employing a tarnished pundit, to offer useless analyses – and thereby lacks any self-critical capacity –it falls to the readers to make the necessary points. But, of well over two thousand comments on the piece, I doubt whether even a handful actually address the issue. Any attempt to do so would simply be lost in the swamp.

And there is the crucial point. There is little use in complaining that we do not have power, when we do not use the power we have. Hunting as a pack, readers could drive low-grade pundits such as Goodwin from the media – making them the laughing stock that they deserve.

Instead, we get unfocused self-indulgence which pollutes the website and which can be safely ignored – and is best ignored as it does the "leaver" cause no favours at all.

Richard North 22/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: reactivating the blogosphere


I have to admit to a certain schadenfreude on seeing Mr Farage being accused of "sour grapes" over Jeremy Corbyn's "unexpectedly comfortable" victory in Oldham West & Royton.

For so long, a few of his supporters have levied that tedious accusation against me personally (and some still do behind my back), so I would be less than human (as some also allege) if I didn't take some enjoyment out of any otherwise wholly unsatisfactory situation.

The trouble is that we've seen this dynamic so many times before. Farage and his close party supporters talk themselves into a frenzy, convincing themselves that they are going to win, most often based on flawed political analysis bolstered by an unhealthy dose of self-deception.

Then, when they fail to deliver the goods, it's always the fault of someone or something else. Only this time, the racism is scarcely concealed: "brown  people who don't speak English have robbed me of my prize", is an easy construction to put on his words.

No one sensible will dispute that there are valid causes for serious concern about the way our electoral system is developing. Neither will anyone disagree that Ukip is disproportionately affected by the failings in the system. But a "sulky" Farage going off half-cock about elections being "bent", without being able to produce credible (or any) evidence, is of no value to anyone except the party's detractors.

Now, despite the work of a large number of well-meaning volunteers and the expenditure of a great deal of money, the outcome is headlines in The Times and many other media outlets, all casting Ukip in an unfavourable light. Once again, Farage has tarnished his own party's reputation and damaged its electoral prospects.

If that was the end of it, it would be of no consequence or concern to us. If the leader of a political party chooses a path of self-destruction, then ordinarily that is a matter for its members and supporters. We are neither.

But as long as Ukip is so closely associated with the "leave" campaign, such actions not only damage itself. They damage all of us fighting the cause, dragging us back and making it harder for us to attract support. That makes the party our concern.

There are several ways we can respond. One is to attempt to change the party from within – a task that has been attempted by many and which will have no effect as long a Nigel Farage is party leader. Another way is to take the charitable view that the party needs encouragement. By dint of providing it with information and support, it may be prevailed upon to mend its ways.

Since that has even less chance of working than the attempts to seek change from within, the only real alternative is to disown the party. Effectively, we need to say of its activities, "not in my name". It does not represent the "leave" campaign and we do not share its views and opinions.

Sadly, the one thing we can't do is ignore it, any more than we can ignore the stupidity of Vote Leave or any other organisation which goes out of its way to contradict or damage our work. It really matters not whether they are friend or foe. As in a shooting war, "friendly fire" can be just as lethal as any other kind.

Nevertheless, there is something more positive that we can do. That is to promote useful and sensible material more widely, making it accessible to more people. By weight of numbers, we can match or even drown out some of the noise, and the wild stupidity of the sort being produced almost daily by the Telegraph and the rest of the media.

Without doubt, one of the most effective (and certainly one of the most cost-effective) ways of doing this is to encourage greater use of blogging and thereby to reactivate the British political blogosphere.

When we started blogging, back in 2004, we were in the vanguard of something new and exciting in British politics – the emergence of blogging as a political force. It was one that was having considerable impact in the United States, where it has matured into a potent political force, where even aspirant presidential candidates take care to keep the blogosphere on-side.

In the UK, though, the blogosphere has not taken off to the same extent. The reasons could form the basis of several PhD theses, but the deliberate sabotage by the legacy media and especially the Daily Telegraph, certainly contributed. Then there was the selfishness of the SW1 claque which took the genre for its own and, with the help of their media friends, froze out the independents.

However, now that we are embroiled in the referendum campaign, an independent political blogosphere is needed more than ever before. Working loosely as a pack, bloggers can achieve collectively far more than they can as individuals working on their own.

Some high quality bloggers have already emerged, and we are doing our best to keep up with their latest posts, such as from White Wednesday and Lost Leonardo, just two examples of a dedicated and growing band of writers focusing on referendum matters.

Our activity, though, tends to be sporadic. Recruitment is more hit-and-miss than we would like. But, together with Leave HQ, we are working on helping to improve the reach and performance of the blogosphere. Rebuilt, an independent political blogosphere will be a powerful political force, a hundred or so writers having a huge influence on the campaign.

I'll be writing again on this topic shortly and, if certain developments come off, we'll be in business with a vengeance. But, come what may, the blogosphere is back and it is growing again. We're going to help make it work. And it's going to be one hell of a ride.

Richard North 05/12/2015 link

By-election: no change at Oldham


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Labour has retaken the seat at Oldham West and Royton with a healthy majority of 10,835 on a turnover of 40.26 percent compared with 59.6 percent at the general election. The Labour vote was 17,322 with the share up seven percent on the general election. The party took 62 percent of the votes cast.

Ukip polled just 6,487, gaining 23 percent of the votes cast, its share up three percent. It hasn't made a breakthrough even though, prior to the election, Farage was happily proclaiming that, "Corbyn is a gift to us in Oldham".

When it comes to the result, though, Ukip wasn't even close to taking the seat - and there was no sign whatsoever of an adverse Corbyn effect. In fact, Labour took its highest share of the vote on record, since the formation of the constituency in 1997. But then it was unlikely that Ukip ever would make significant headway - even though Farage is complaining vociferously over the postal vote. Its gains were made at the expense of the Conservatives.

The Conservatives were third on 2,596. The Liberal Democrats made 1,024 and the Greens 249. The Monster Raving Loony party were last, on 141.

It would be nice to think that Ukip will now focus on the real issue - the EU referendum - except that its capacity to damage the cause is such that we're probably better off when it is focusing on the political irrelevancy of a by-election. One might even wish for a succession of such events to keep the party out of the way, while we get on with fighting the campaign.

That is not to say that we do not wish to see Ukip members fighting. There are still some good people left in the party - seasoned campaigners. We would be pleased to be fighting alongside them. However, this fight is about people versus the politicians. They - like us - will need to fight without party political badging. And this contest we have to win.

Richard North 04/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: Vote Leave – the bullying


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From Huff Post comes an intriguing tale of stresses within the Tory Boy Vote Leave campaign, which has apparently occasioned the defection of a key activist to

This is Richard Murphy, until recently Ground Campaign Director and also the Head of Field Operations and Regional Campaigning. He left Vote Leave after an alleged disagreement over strategy with its Campaign Director Dominic Cummings and digital consultant Andrew Whitehurst.

That Andrew Whitehurst is on board is another indication that one of the main functions of Vote Leave is to provide jobs for Matthew Elliott's associates, Whitehurst being one of the original directors of Mr Elliott's WESS Digital company which he formed to make a financial killing out of running campaigns.

On the other hand, Murphy is not the only one in recent times to cross swords with Dominic Cummings, whose reputation for bullying puts the Westminster Brat Pack to shame. Even senior MPs and media consultants have incurred his wrath recently, over "unauthorised" communications with the media, with Cummings demanding the right to veto any media contacts not personally approved by himself.

This aggressive behaviour from Cummings is seriously disturbing sponsors, which may account for rumours spread by Breitbart that Vote Leave is running seriously short of cash.

Insiders also suggest that the serial missteps by Cummings, including the demonstration by activists at this year's CBI conference, is making sponsors nervous. Some are said to be on the point of jumping ship.

Other insiders point to the track record of Dominic Cummings, who had to be bought out of his contract as strategy chief for the Conservative Party, after he had alienated so many senior workers that they were refusing to work with him. After his spectacular failure to support his own think tank, the New Frontiers Foundation, Cummings's track record is also being questioned.

Particularly, as the "Tory bullying" scandal intensifies, his role as advisor to Gove is being recalled, where he dominated a regime regarded by many as an "us-and-them aggressive, intimidating culture", and perceived by some as "intimidating".

With a similar regime prevailing in Vote Leave, which has already seen this writer walk and triggered the high-profile defection of Richard Murphy, few believe this will be the last. As the pressure intensifies, many expect Cummings to engineer a major internal row and then walk, blaming others for his own failures.

Certainly, with the focus now on bullying within the Tory party and associated campaigns, senior supporters are less inclined to continue turning a blind eye to complaints about Cummings's behaviour. They are being pressed to bring the Vote Leave campaign under greater scrutiny.

Elliott's preference for employing friends and business associates on lucrative consultancy contracts – including in the past Telegraph journalist Dan Hodges – is also reinforcing the exclusive "us and them" culture in Vote Leave. But this time round, donors are more sensitive about how their money is being spent in what is going to be a long and expensive campaign, where there is competition for the lead designation. 

For a some years, though, Elliott has effectively regarded himself as the heir designate to lead the official "leave" campaign. More people are now prepared to question that assumption and, for the first time since Mr Cameron declared his intention to hold a referendum, his expectations of an easy ride to the top are seriously in doubt.

Richard North 01/12/2015 link

EU Referendum: a journey through time


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Cited as an example of the "EU nanny state", Breitbart has got itself excited over a Commission Decision on candle safety, laying on the heavy irony as it tells us that EU Member States "have voted to enter the essential business of candle regulation, just in time for the Christmas tradition of lighting Advent candles".

Lifting from the German website Focus, which illustrates its report with the headline "Fire is a Fire Hazard" used by one local paper, it describes the initiative as "new Brussels madness just before Christmas".

Eurosceptics, says Breitbart "will finally be able to move on from deriding cucumber length and apple size regulation". Get ready, it adds, "to hear all about the specific safety requirements for candles during the British referendum on European Union membership".

Senior German MEP Herbert Reul, head of Germany's CDU/CSU delegation in the European Parliament, is also cited. He has recently expressed dismay at the move, pointing out that: "while Europe's problems burn, the Commission more cheerfully regulates all the small shit", He asks: "What has become of the promise to care only about the big things?"

Such is the typical cheap shot from the ignorati, enthusiastically endorsed by many of Breitbart's commenters, not least KeepKickingMarxists, who tells us:
All these communist EUSSR regulations are the personification of evil, designed specifically to destroy our economies and enable stupid people from communist third world cesspits to sell products into our markets. Make no mistake about it!
Yet, a few years ago, I would not have been a million miles from the Breitbart position, mocking as I was in February 2008 the EU's intervention in a spat between European candle-makers and the Chinese, the latter being accused of dumping cheap candles on the European market.

At the time, the European Candle Institute, was waxing lyrical – to coin a phrase – about Chinese prices which were below those for the raw material, It said that China has doubled its share of the EU market to 40 percent in the previous five years, accounting for £210 million of the £626 million market.

Currently, the mantle is being picked up by the European Candle Association (ECA), which in its press release is endorsing the Commission Decision on the "future standardisation mandate for candles and candle accessories".

"In contrast to some media reports", it says, "this initiative does explicitly not aim at regulating the slightest detail. The future standardisation mandate will only define the cornerstones that are important from a consumer protection perspective". The ECA then goes on to say:
It will be the task of the European Standardisation Committee CEN to transpose these rather general requirements into more detailed European Standards, or more precisely, representatives of industry, testing institutes and authorities as well as experts for consumer protection will do this. Involving all relevant stakeholders in this process will make sure that these standards will work in practice.
As the standard-making body is CEN, the members of which include Turkey, and the four EFTA countries, EU membership is not required. But the standard-makers will have their work cut out. There can be no doubt there are consumer safety issue here, especially the risks caused by inappropriate candle containers and burners. And few will disagree that warning labels are appropriate. The London Fire Brigade states that candles are one of the biggest causes of fires within homes. 

The problems are indeed serious. A few years ago the Independent was reporting that aromatherapy and the fashion for using candles and tea-lights in home decoration was causing dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries from house fires. So serious was the problem that, in 2011, the Government launched Candle Fire Safety Week in a bid to reduce the toll of accidents and deaths.

The drive for better standards, however, came from the candle industry itself. Already, it has produced a set of three European Standards which became active in 2007. They specify labelling and warn consumers about safety. Even with these standards in place, the number of fires has significantly decreased, says the ECA.

Stefan Thomann, Managing Director of the ECA and Chairman of the standardisation committee CEN/TC 369 on Candle Fire Safety, now says: "If authorities and industry were always cooperating as ideally as this was the case here, the European Commission would have a much better reputation with the citizens".

But there is another agenda here, and that harps back to the dumping problem with the Chinese in 2008. The clue is in the ECA's statement that "the future standards will further increase the level of consumer protection, particularly for imported goods" (my emphasis) For this reason, and because the safety requirements were coordinated with all stakeholders, the industry bodies "explicitly welcome the European Commission's initiative".

What, in effect, is happening is that the codified, officially mandated standard will be used as a trade protection measure against cheap Chinese imports. And the tactic is perfectly legitimate if it means excluding products which don't meet minimum safety and performance criteria.

There's the rub. Unless there are specific, officially-mandated standards in place, it is not possible under WTO rules to exclude such products. Thus, we see why the industry is so enthusiastic.

The reason why such moves are legitimate is that they are not discriminatory. If the Chinese products meet the standards, they have to be admitted to the European market. But in meeting them, they lose much of their price advantage, levelling the playing field.

This effectively describes two of the crucial roles of international regulation. On the one hand, it acts to level the playing field, and on the other it works as an enabler, ensuring that those who meet the standards are able to sell their products without artificial or unreasonable constraints.

As such, this initiative is nothing special - just another component of the international trading system. And in this case, it will replace numerous national standards. But the standards are by no means unique. In the United States, similar standards have been adopted. These are regarded largely as interchangeable with European standards.

For these reasons, this initiative is not "Brussels madness". The regulations that stem from this initiative (or something very much like them) would apply whether we were in the EU or not. The crucial thing is whether we have a role in making the standards. And, as long as we are in CEN, we will still be in the loop. EU membership is not required to sit at the table.

If Breitbart and others think this is referendum fodder, therefore, they are going to be badly disappointed.

Richard North 29/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: working in a public space


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Backing up the Reuters report from Sunday, we now get the Financial Times informing us that Brussels has told Downing Street it must "finalise its negotiating position on EU reform within a week" if David Cameron is to achieve his goal of securing a deal by the end of the year.

Unless you know different, of course, there never actually was a formal intention expressed by Mr Cameron to conclude an agreement by the end of the year. The last I heard of any substance was at the end of September, when the scuttlebutt had it that the plan would be to reach an agreement by March next year, with a view to holding the referendum by the autumn of 2016.

That is actually just as unlikely as a referendum in the spring, but it does at least have the merit of being possible, unlike the earlier date, even if there is still speculation that an early referendum in June or July 2016 could be called.

However, as the months slip by, the original alarms about an early referendum are beginning to fade, although these will be replaced by intensifying speculation about a poll in October 2016, which will continue through into next year. Not a single journalist, as far as I am aware, has been able to join all the dots and argue cogently for a referendum in the autumn of 2017, which is still my expected option.

Needless to say, both the "big leaves" have committed to premature launches, both of them falling into the trap of expecting a early referendum, alongside Nigel Farage, whose strategic and tactical acumen is well known after his stunning success in the 2015 general election. We are so lucky now that he is applying his skills to fighting the referendum.

With all sides committed to a long campaign, though – even if most haven't yet come fully to terms that the referendum is going to be two years hence – it is not surprising that there are moves afoot to cut costs by merging the leaves, initiated in this instance by Arron Banks.

The Telegraph claims to have an exclusive on this, even though the Express posted the story earlier. Of the two papers, the Telegraph carries the fuller account, including the text of a letter sent by Banks to Matthew Elliott, self-styled CEO of Vote Leave Ltd.

Banks's obvious concern is that the two campaigns are replicating similar staffing at great expense and duplicated campaign structures that are vying for attention with the media. He thus writes: "It is time that we put all disagreements to one side and remember our ultimate objective – leaving the European Union".

However, the story was a short-lived one, not even lasting the day when the Spectator, amongst others, was telling us there would not be a merger.

There had been no talks and were not likely to be any, not least because there was some "disgruntlement" in the Vote Leave camp that the letter has been ended up in the public domain before its Board has met to discuss it.

There were also issues related to Banks personally: the Vote Leave campaign is wary of his close ties to Ukip and Farage, which may cause issues with the Electoral Commission designation as the official "leave" campaign.

Additionally, there were the "caustic remarks" about Douglas Carswell, when Banks had described the Clacton MP as "borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in". With Carswell sitting on Vote Leave's Parliamentary planning committee, said the Spectator, "it's unlikely he will be endorsing a merger".

Surprisingly, nothing was said of Mr Banks telling us that the two campaigns have focused on very different things, with Vote Leave having produced "great technical analysis such as the 1,000 Page document, 'Change or Go'". This is somewhat different to what he was saying in September when he described it as the best door stop ever (pictured). Probably, he was right first time, but expediency makes diplomats of us all.

What was less forgivable was Banks tells us that his group has "hired the very best people in the world to run the strategy of the campaign with experience of over 30 referendums or issue-based campaigns worldwide". Their advice, we are told, "is that we need to run a positive, uplifting campaign, which focuses on the fact Britain could do so much better outside the EU". And this "is the message we have been pushing in our media activity".

Doubtless, this was well intended, but I wonder if Mr Banks can even begin to understand how insulting it is for him to bring an American "guru" over here to play back to us exactly that which I was writing in March 2011 and many times since - and then claim they are the "best". 

But what is especially galling is that there is no sign whatsoever of actually adopting the advice from the "very best people in the world". A review of both the Twitter account and the website yields an unremitting diet of negativity – effectively one long whinge about the European Union.

On the other hand, through Flexcit and this blog, we have done everything in our power to promote leaving the EU in a positive light, as well as develop a strategy which can exploit our positive message. What's holding us back are the crass activities of the less well-equipped, who have not given a fraction of the thought we have devoted to the problem of leaving the EU, and are undermining the work we do.

Yet, we still find people on Twitter and elsewhere telling us that we should "work together" with this people as part of a unified campaign. We also get people who tells us that we should work with one or other of the leave campaigns. Yet neither have a message anywhere near as coherent as the one we have produced, and neither are able to unify, even internally.

When, most recently, I was told that we "have to work with the out camp" – whatever the "out" camp is - I decided I'd had enough. I thus wrote and posted on Twitter, a message for new recruits to the "leave" campaign. There were, I thought, "a few things need to be made clear".

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First, it must be realised that the campaign is a public space. No-one owns it. Second, although it is public, that does not mean it is uninhabited. Others have been tilling the fields, some for decades. I'm one of them and there are about ten thousand of us.

Nevertheless, I wrote, we ourselves have no rights over others to dictate how others campaign. But that works both ways. And it should be remembered that we were here first, which makes things a little different. When we see others arrive with their metaphorical bulldozers and start ripping up the turf, we believe we have earned the right to ask them what they think they are doing, and what they hope to achieve.

In the absence of satisfactory (or any) answers, I then said, no one has the right to expect us to co-operate with these newcomers or assist them in their campaigning. Nor do they have any right to criticise us for not so doing. We will assist them if we think fit, but we also reserve the right to comment on their failings if we believe them to be damaging the cause.

To do so is not being "disloyal" to the cause. Because the newcomers have money and are able to make a lot of noise does not automatically make them effective campaigners. We owe them no loyalty other than that which we owe to the cause as a whole. And blundering around the shop calling yourself a "leave" campaign is not a magic potion that renders you immune to criticism. 

Furthermore, having laboured in the field for so long, we believe that, at the very least, we deserve the respect of those who have come belatedly into the field and seek to add to what we have already been doing for so long. When you have worked for as long, and contributed as much, then you too may be entitled to some respect.

In the meantime, I concluded, we owe you nothing. And that is not an unfriendly statement. Nor is it, as one pundit averred, "arrogance". That is such an easy charge to make - but no one dares to stand and justify it. They poop and run, like the cowards they are. Like or not, we are better than most of the workers in the field - because we have put the hours in, and we know what we're doing. To say so is simply to make a statement of fact.

As another matter of fact, throughout this long saga, I have been more than willing to work with other groups. I have gone out of my way to be helpful to anyone who asks for advice. We even went the extra mile with Vote Leave Ltd (at considerable expense to my self, freely giving help and advice). That fell apart when Cummings lied to my face about the group's intentions and then sought to close down my ability to express myself on this blog and elsewhere. 

As to, I am still, after much stopping and starting, negotiating with Arron Banks and his team. And, as I have said on Twitter, "we'd be more than happy to have them work with us". "Unfortunately", I went on, "they don't as yet meet our exacting standards, although we're working informally to bring them up to speed".

That sentiment is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. Something like that must define our future responses. If anything, I have been too passive and apologetic about our relations with other groups. We work well with the CIB and with the Bruges Group and many others. The failure of some other groups to work with us is as much their fault as ours - if not more so.

For our part, we have put some brutally hard work into getting where we are, and we know what we're doing. While we would not even begin to claim that we have all the answers, and are constantly learning more, we are streets ahead of others. We have nothing to apologise for in demanding high standards of ourselves, or expecting others to work to those same high standards.

Effectively, therefore, if anyone wants to work with us, they have to meet our standards. We owe the campaign that much. And, as this remains a public space, we do not need any permissions from anyone to take that position. Nor do we have any reason to apologise for so doing.

Richard North 25/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the role of prestige


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In the beginning, there were only a few voters in each constituency. Everybody knew everybody, and it was relatively easy for candidates in elections to communicate with their electorates.

As the franchise expanded, political parties became more active, with local party workers doing much of the heavy lifting, getting the message out to the voters. But, as the political parties shrink and local activism has died, elections are increasingly managed from the centre.

Television in the early days helped, but as the distinctions between parties narrowed, other parties muddied the waters and party loyalties waned, getting the message out became more difficult.

And so have developed more and more sophisticated mechanisms for reaching target audiences, including the concept of "microtargeting". This involved defining with ever more precision specific interest groups and tailoring messages specifically for them, based on the unique information collected about them.

This is supposed to be future of campaigning. Certainly, we are seeing in this referendum two groups gearing up to use this techniques. There is the BSE Campaign on the one hand and on the other, using Cambridge Analytica to do their number crunching. We also know that Vote Leave Ltd are planning to use this technique.

There is obviously some validity in this technique. Ostensibly, people need information on which to base their voting decisions and if you can supply them with crucial information, at exactly the right time, finely tuned to match their needs and prejudices, then there is a chance you can influence them to vote in your favour.

However, there are three major problems with this technique which, in a referendum contest of the complexity that we're dealing with, may neutralise the technique, or even render it counter productive.

Firstly, there is the sensitivity issue. Collecting data about people is not a neutral activity. It requires a certain amount of intrusion, which a lot of people find offensive. Yet, when targeted messaging is used, it is often very obvious that it relies on data collection and analysis.

But, when someone writes (or e-mails you) out of the blue, with your correct name, delivering a message that indicates an amount of knowledge of your preferences, this can be both alarming and offensive. Rather than provoking the sort of response you are after, it can have completely the opposite effect.

The second problem is simply that of competition. If you are the only ones using the technique, then you may have the drop on the other side. But if both sides are using it, they may simply cancel each other out. More likely, it leads to an arms race, where more and more sophistication is demanded, at greater and greater expense. Targets also tend to get saturated, which means they are likely to switch off, neutralising your expensive campaigning.

The greater of the three problems, though, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the way voting decisions are made, and what influences ordinary people. The standing fallacy is that people make decisions rationally. From this stems the false assumption that, in order to influence them, all you have to do is inform them of the "right" facts.

This we've seen in the Ukip camp, where this belief is prevalent. Many thus believe that, if people are not listening, the answer is to shout louder. We've also heard it from Conservatives following election defeats, when it is so often observed that: "we are not getting our message through".

However, simple reference to Haidt and The Righteous Mind has us informed that: "reason is the servant of the intuitions". People tend to make their decisions first, and then find the facts to justify them.

As to what influences them in the first place, one of the crucial elements, if not the most dominant, is that mysterious property of "prestige". From Gustave Le Bon, we've quoted this before:
The special characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they are and to entirely paralyse our judgement. Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.
Our opinions, to a very great extent, are determined by the prestige of the source. The greater the prestige, the more likely it is that we accept what we are told – particularly the English, who seem more bovinely conformist than many other nations.

Arron Banks, on the other hand, tells us that his polling showed different non-political voices that the public trust most, asserting that they "hate" all politicians. This justifies the exclusion of politicians from the campaign process.

But there is a danger here that such findings can mislead. Firstly, it is unlikely that people are telling the whole truth. I've lost count of the number of times people have told me they don't believe what they read in the papers, only then to see them citing stories in a manner that makes it evident that they believe them. Even people you might have thought were hardened cynics display a gullibility verging on naivety when it comes to the media.   

Then, in decision-making terms, "hate" and "prestige" have wholly different properties. A prison officer, going about his duties, may be hated. But he will carry prestige and will be able to function as a result. People accept and act upon information delivered by those with "prestige", regardless of their personal feelings for them. 

Furthermore, people are able to – and quite commonly do – distinguish between the office and the office holder. This is especially the case with the prime minister. At home, he may be David Cameron – a Conservative politician. But, representing his country, he is the Prime Minister, carrying the considerable prestige of that office.

When it comes to the referendum, we the "leavers" will be confronted by that prestige. This will be a massive obstacle to overcome. Additionally, David Cameron will have the support of most of the political and business establishment and probably the media as well, with all the prestige that that confers.

In attempting to neutralise all of this, there is a suggestion that we should use "ordinary people" as spokespersons. The thinking is not altogether off the wall, but it can't deal with the situation in which we will find ourselves. For instance, while one might trust a fireman if one's house was on fire, when it comes to the question of whether we should remain in the EU or leave, the premier's prestige is likely to prevail.

As a possible counter, we have explored a possible inter-relationship between distance and prestige, with the idea of building local and online "communities" which can shorten the chain between source and point of delivery. Essentially, we need to be building social capital within multiple networks, as a means of offseting high-prestige communications.   

But, as Pete points out, much will depend on the gravitas – the underlying authority - of our campaign. As such, we cannot afford to be seen intimidating CBI companies, or fulminate about migrants, or associating ourselves with some of the more extreme views on Muslims. We cannot even afford to be pushing for non-existent bonfires of regulation.

Furthermore, neutralising the Prime Minister's prestige only buys us a ticket to the next stage of the debate. We then have to offer the electorate our own vision for a post-exit UK and come up with credible assurances that it is achievable – our exit plan by whatever name we care to give it.

Putting all this together, our first task is to build ourselves a reputation as an authoritative, credible campaign. While doing this, we need to be assessing the state of the campaign with a view to detecting any shifts in public attitude towards the question, and we need to be devising a strategy of countering the prestige of our opponents. Then we will have to have our vision ready, and our credible exit plan, with a structure in place that can communicate it to our target groups.

This is a tall order. So far, I don't think we're anywhere near surmounting even the first hurdle. We still have time, but even two years is going to stretch us.

Richard North 24/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: the joys of journalism


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On 9 November, the Times ran a front page piece headlining "Cameron gambling on EU referendum in June", a classic example of idle speculation from an ill-informed legacy media. I didn't even bother reporting it.

According to the Times at that moment, David Cameron was ready to hold the referendum in June if other leaders agreed to the bulk of his reform package at the December "summit", with the newspaper citing anonymous Whitehall officials as its source.

Needless to say, even if that unlikely condition was fulfilled, it was not going to be possible to have a referendum at that short notice, but the Times evidently thinks that mere facts should not get in the way of a front-page story.

Somewhat raining on the parade, though, we now see a report from Reuters. It tells us that "European Union leaders" are not only unlikely to reach a deal next month with Britain on its demands for reform of the bloc "but may not even narrow differences at a pre-Christmas summit".

In other words, we are exactly back where we started before the Sunday Times took its ill-informed punt, and none the wiser for all that expenditure of time and journalistic effort. The one thing we can be sure of, however, is that this newspaper will not carry the Reuters story.

In fact, this week there is precious little in the Sunday Times about the EU, a thinness of reporting which is seen throughout the legacy media this weekend. It typifies the way the subject is being treated. Reporting is at such a superficial level that coverage of any event is quickly exhausted, as journalists have so little to say about it.

This was the week, thought, where the geniuses in Vote Leave Ltd thought the really cool thing to do was go to York and hand out free helium balloons, in the hope that this would convince people, two years hence, to vote to leave the EU (pictured). With such vitality and imagination, how can we possibly lose?

Nevertheless, that seems to offer slightly more promise than the ill-considered plan to intimidate the CBI, which seems to be having precisely no effect, as its new Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, has "backed Britain remaining in a reformed European Union" – exactly the same stance, incidentally, taken by Mr Elliott's Business for Britain.

On the other hand, had the legacy media decided to do some serious reporting, (near-impossible though that is), it might have offered some more analysis of the media extravaganza last Wednesday, as it got very little coverage at the time, despite the cost and effort put into it.

However, while the weekend press was silent, it was left to Isabel Oakeshott in Conservative Home to peep out of the bubble in a vain attempt to tell us what was going on – a useful exercise in that it went a long way towards revealing the depth of ignorance of the bubble-dwellers.

"Few at Westminster know much about Arron Banks", she trilled. "By contrast, Matthew Elliott, who runs rival campaign Vote Leave, is a "familiar figure" in SW1. "His is a slick, professional operation supported by numerous Tory MPs and peers as well as three Labour MPs, and Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP", we were told.

La Oakeshott then had us "throw in Dominic Cummings, the brilliant former special adviser to Michael Gove", then to tell us that "it is easy to see why the commentariat (myself included) has rather taken it for granted that Elliott will run the Brexit campaign". That is your bubble, for you – reporting exactly what is in front of its nose, with all the depth and perspective of a child's paddling pool.

Having attended the Wednesday meeting, however, Oakeshott took from it the conclusion that "there are signs that this assumption may be misplaced". With about as much perspicacity as she displayed in her original assumption, she then delved into the factoids from the publicity handout.

Oakshott obviously found some of these impressive enough to cite, coming up with the stunning observation that Banks is "cleverly positioning" his outfit as the "People's Campaign". That she had only just noticed this tells us a great deal about the insulating properties of the SW1 bubble - and the inability of its denizens to report on the world around them.

But with the same penetrating intelligence that brings us this news, this woman also asserts that it is "blindingly obvious" that Vote Leave Ltd and "should join forces – and fast".

Having absolutely no understanding of the dynamics between the groups, she then decides that, "much time has already been wasted on the power struggle" and that "Farage should now be kingmaker". Says Oakshott: "The sooner he knocks heads together, the sooner all concerned can get on with fighting their real enemy – the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU".

With so much ignorance, it is hard to believe it could be packed in such a small frame, but they are used to working such miracles in SW1. Stupidity is commonplace. Ocean-going ignorance just requires a little application. No wonder Oakshott is headed for the Daily Mail.

Funnily enough, the theme David Phipps also chooses for his latest piece is "brain-dead hacks", this addressed to Philip Stephens, Chief Political Commentator of the Financial Times, another one who is incapable of seeing the world around him.

That is turning out to be the curse of this referendum. We are surrounded by information that no one knows ho to use, or has the wit to understand. But it doesn't even stop there.

Over the weekend, we were briefly entertained by Matthew Goodwin, trying to pretend that he hadn't predicted that Ukip would get six MPs, attempting to rewrite history, saying only that he believed Ukip "stood a very good chance" in four seats.

Our reward for such noble endeavour was to be blocked on Twitter by young Mr Goodwin, he having already vacated the field to the likes of Oakshott and Stephens to drivel round the edges of a subject they clearly have problems understanding. Meanwhile, a small piece in the Times told us that Britain in Europe is poised to hire Jim Messina, the US digital guru who supposedly "helped to mastermind the Conservative party's election success".

Messina is acknowledged as "a leading expert in digital communications", and would be a prize hire by the campaign for his ability to target "shy Tory" voters who are thought to be the key to winning the referendum.

This is something a moderately intelligent journalist (if there is such a thing) might pounce upon for, if we tie this in with what are telling us, and the delving of The Boiling Frog, we see that these players are all investing heavily in "big data" campaigns – the supposedly war-winning weapons.

What has evidently not occurred to these geniuses is that if everybody is using the same tools, and somebody has to lose, then they can't in themselves be the winning weapons that so many people think them to be. Where, for instance, these sophisticated techniques allow messages to be targeted with more precision, little gain can be expected if the message itself is badly framed.

And there is perhaps the story for the type of journalist who no longer exists – one who is actually interested in writing real news about the referendum campaign, is able to do the necessary research, and has the access to the media.

If she was still working for a newspaper, perhaps M E Synon could have put the real story together. That is, effectively, how the "leave" campaign is being wrecked by incompetent amateurs, to the extent that it would make very little difference which of the "big hitter" campaigns got the designation – or even if they combined. After all, two train-wrecks are not better than one.

That said, this is only what we expected, and we have already made plans to compensate for the failings of the main players. The only really irritating thing about all this is that, when we do pull their chestnuts out of the fire, they will be queuing up to claim credit for our work.

But then, that is so often the case that it's practically the natural order of things.

Richard North 23/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: the opportunity in our hands


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According to Gerry Gunster, who came over from the US to attend the scarcely reported "media event" held by on Wednesday, the EU referendum is a "double bank slot". We have to "show there is a problem", he says, and then "show there's a solution".

A few weeks ago, before he left for this event I had a long talk with Mr Gunster, attempting to appraise him of some of the realities of politics in the UK and the peculiarities of this very special referendum. But if he benefitted from the experience, he gave no sign of it during the event on Wednesday, nor during his brief interview with the Daily Politics show.

It was during that interview that he emphasised the importance of data in his work, telling us: "Numbers do not lie, quantifiable data will direct the message and the messengers. I'm going to follow the data".

At two levels, therefore, Gunster has got it wrong. And with his employer, Arron Banks having already spent £2 million on the campaign, one can only observe that, if he is guided by Mr Gunster, much of that money has been wasted – and especially the fee paid to Mr Gunster's company.

However, Mr Banks is nothing if not profligate. Only recently he offered Dominic Cummings £200,000 plus a "winning bonus" if he came over to join This is the man described as the most self-aggrandising and destructive agitator the modern Tory party has produced, yet Mr Banks still wanted him on board.

"Cummings", we are told, "is determined that everyone knows that he is the cleverest person in the room. He has absolute contempt for those who disagree with him. It's not enough to beat them in argument, he has to destroy them".

Yet it is Arron Banks (with advice on strategy from Mr Gunster), and Dominic Cummings who, from their respective campaign platforms, and Vote Leave Ltd, have taken it upon themselves to define the strategy for the "leave" campaign.

Neither of these men are experts in the EU, or have even displayed any understanding of the intricacies of the relationships between the UK and the EU institutions and Member States. And in the case of Gerry Gunster, we have a man who has no direct knowledge even of British politics.

In neither case have these Banks of Cummings sought to initiate a public debate – amongst the wider "eurosceptic" community – on campaign strategy and, while both have sought advice from individuals such as myself (Banks casting his net wider than Cummings), that advice has been largely ignored and, in many respects, contradicted.

One warns these characters not to do certain things, or to cease certain activities because of their potentially damaging effect, only to have those warnings disregarded. More often, we find them going out to do precisely things which we have warned against. Complaints are then treated as evidence that "we are impossible to work with".

The trouble is that, in this referendum campaign, these are the "facts on the ground" – two dysfunctional egotists who demand support and unity, when both are running train-wreck campaigns and cannot even agree internally what their strategies should be, much less agree with each other.

From the majority of activists, though, they get a remarkably easy ride. But then I had very recently a communication from a former senior Ukip activist, now working for, telling me that: "If we all do a little bit of something then with combined effort we can win public support at the referendum".

"I'm not the sort of person", he told me, "who is going to sit back and talk about strategy as that does not convince individual voters".

These are the sort of people who are running the "grass roots" campaign. They share the common fallacy that activity equates to outcome: all that is needed is a high level of campaigning and the public will flock to the cause.

Not for him and his likes do the dictums of Gene Sharp have any relevance. A failure to plan strategically, he says, "means that one's strength is dissipated, one's actions are ineffective, energy is wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilised and sacrifices are for naught".

And from that, my own view emerges that, if we do not plan strategically, we are likely to fail to achieve our objectives. A poorly planned mixture of activities will not move us forward. Instead, it will more likely strengthen the opposition.

With that in mind, one needs to have a closer look at Gerry Gunster – and specifically in the context of this exploratory series, in which our own ideas of strategy take shape.

What we concluded was that, in this referendum, highlighting the "problem" is of less relevance than might otherwise be. Both sides acknowledge that there are problems with the EU – that much is common ground. The dispute is over the solution. Mr Cameron and his supporters want "reform" and/or a "new relationship". We want to leave the EU.

In pursuing solutions, though, Mr Cameron has the initiative. He is the one who will make the offer which sets the tone of the campaign, and it is he who can determine the timing. Therefore, our first need is to build an intelligence gathering capability, to give us an early intimation of his intentions, together with an analytical capability which enables us to understand and use the intelligence we gather.

Once we are confident we have the measure of the "offer", our next step is to take it down. We have to attack it (and its proposer), to diminish its attractiveness, preparing the ground so that our target audience is then prepared to consider an alternative. Our third element is then to superimpose our own solution, which has to encompass our vision of what a post-exit UK looks like.

However, it cannot stop there. In this complex campaign, we than have to "de-risk" the choice, showing people that there are credible mechanisms which will enable us to extract ourselves from the EU, without disruption or unacceptable cost. This is different from and in addition to the "vision" and takes the form of a comprehensive exit plan.

Far from being the "double bank slot" that Gunster advances, therefore, this is a complex, four-headed strategy, only one element of which this supposed guru has correctly identified. And he would also have us wasting time on highlighting problems on which there is common ground.

We then see Gunster tell us that "quantifiable data will direct the message and the messengers", and that he is "going to follow the data".

This is from a man who regales us with the story of one referendum where the decision was whether to permit the use of jelly babies and pizza as bait for bear hunters, all in the context where the majority of referendums follow the status quo. Gunster's success record, therefore, is gained by getting hired by supporters of the status quo.

In this referendum, if there is a status quo (and part of our argument is that there isn't one), then we are opposing it, which immediately puts us on the back foot. But more problematically, this is not a simple question of jelly babies and pizza. As we have argued in this series, at this stage we do not actually know what question the voters will be addressing.

This takes account of the phenomenon in referendums where people disregard the question on the ballot paper, and substitute their own. And, in the absence of a settled position, where the electorate have not yet begun to engage, no amount of data will assist the campaign.

This is why we argue that political intelligence must guide the campaign. Data collection and analysis is a useful tool but, as we pointed out in this post, it must be the servant, not the master. Mr Gunster – with no understanding of the politics of this campaign – is quite the wrong person to decide the strategy. He is putting the cart before the horse.

Then, as to the messengers, when talking to Gunster, he professed to understand the British "class" system and its effect on communication. But class, per se isn't the problem. It's prestige, which is related but different. Gunster thinks he can overcome the problem by using ordinary people as spokespersons. This won't work, because he doesn't understand the problem.

What he also doesn't understand – a failure common to his ilk – is that both sides are going to be using data-driven campaigning. The "remains" have just stepped up their activities in this respect.

The thing is, one of the sides is going to lose. Simply using data to drive the message is not a winning stratagem. It is the combination how that message is delivered, and by whom, that makes the difference. This is a combination that Gunster doesn't understand and hasn't even considered.

Looking at the overall problem, Cummings in his own way is just as deficient in strategy, with a behavioural pattern that has some asking (with some justice) whether he is setting out deliberately to sabotage the leave campaign. We have, therefore, two major-league campaigners, both of them self-appointed and neither with any idea of how to formulate an effective strategy.

On the other hand, we could look at this problem in another way. Neither of the groups are competent, but both are self appointed. Gunster, with the support of his employer, represents himself as the "referendum guru", while Cummings, traipsing around Westminster in his scruffy tee-shirt and jeans, is happy to allow himself to be described as a "genius".

A point is though, that we do not have to take these people at their own valuation, or as described by their friends and supporters. They need our support to validate them, but if we withhold that support, they are nothing. Much as they would represent otherwise, they do not own the campaign, and they do not control the debate.

Interestingly, some recognition of those points comes from a Surrey University academic who holds the view that "the UK has suffered for a long time from a lack of deep public debate about European integration".

This is Simon Usherwood, who declares that "the referendum is probably the best opportunity there will be for a generation to get people interested and engaged enough to talk about, so we should make the most of it". Yet there are those, including Cummings and Banks, who would close the debate down, who demand conformity and unity, even though they themselves can't unify and have no coherent position to offer.

But, says Usherwood, the debate doesn't need to be brought to life by politicians or the media, because we enjoy a public space that is more open and accommodating of different voices than ever before. And nor, we would aver, do we require the permission of self-appointed guardians to have that debate. Usherwood goes on to say:
If those people who do care about having the debate can start to build it, then there is an opportunity to create something that is organic, considered and useful, however the referendum turns out. That opportunity is in our hands, not anyone else's.
And on that last point, he is absolutely right. The opportunity is in our hands. We can be bovine conformists, waiting to be led down the muddied track to an uncertain future, or we can strike out on our own, and dictate our own terms of participation. We have the tools – we do not need the input of second-raters who are in this way over their heads.

Richard North 19/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: communication


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On 6 April 1975, the Sunday Times carried a story by Peter Kellner revealing a "major gulf" in Wilson's cabinet, with ministers having a blazing row over the stance on the EEC.

In his "youthful naivety", he tells us in last weekend's edition of the Sunday Times, he thought his story would have a big impact on the referendum, then just two months away. "Here", he says, "was specific, irrefutable evidence from inside the government party that undermined the prime minister's position".

Effectively, the row had revealed that, on a key objective of the negotiations, Harold Wilson had failed. One would have thought that it should have made a difference. But Kellner was wrong. His story had no effect at all.

The "no" campaigners leapt at what he had disclosed but everyone else ignored it. The "yes" campaigners could not dispute the critique of their position and did not try. They just carried on with a soft-focus campaign that promoted the hope of a peaceful Europe working together.

Of the general public, Kellner says "the dream counted for far more than the detail". What mattered was that the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, all favoured a "yes" vote, as did most of the business community and every newspaper except the communist Morning Star.

All of these easily brushed aside the opposition of half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party. On the day, the UK voted by two to one to remain in the Common Market.

This may seem bizarre to us now, but it is the case that anyone who wanted to know in 1975 could easily have deduced that he negotiations were a fraud. All they had to do was read Kellner's piece on the front page of the Sunday Times.

At the time, it seems to me, there was a sort of collective delusion. People didn't know that the negotiations were a sham, because they didn't want to know. They didn't know that staying in the EEC meant "ever closer union", because they didn't want to know.

But there was something more to it – a lot more. What we were also seeing were the effects of "prestige". On the one side there were the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, most of the business community and almost every newspaper – plus the BBC. On the other, as Kellner points out, there was "half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party".

In truth, the issues hardly mattered. Not one in a thousand had any real idea of the political ambitions of the EEC. The majority were prepared to have their opinions handed down to them by people who were endowed with that magical property, "prestige". They were not going to argue with the prevailing wisdom.

Forty-plus years later, if anyone thinks things are going to be any different, they are being delusional. In the information game, one just has to put a big name newspaper report against a blog post (which may be better written, more accurate and with more detail) and the newspaper will win every time.  Simply compare the reach the idiot Boris Johnson with that of lesser mortals.

Kellner resorts to the cliché that "history never repeats itself exactly". And indeed it does not. But we have to face the possibility that there will be more similarities with 1975 than we would like. Barring about 50 MPs (and possibly less), we can expect the whole of the Conservative Party to support their leader. All other main parties, including the SNP, will fall in behind Mr Cameron, leaving only the weakened rump of Ukip to beat the drum on immigration.

If not all of business, much of the corporate aristocracy will be looking to remain, together with the powerful and vocal environmental NGOs, many other NGOs and charities, universities, professions, and most unions.

We must also work on the basis that most of the legacy media will be backing Mr Cameron – either openly in the case of newspapers, or covertly as in the case of the broadcast media: the BBC, ITN and Channel 4. Possibly, of the print media, only the Daily Express will support the leavers – and that newspaper hardly matters any more.

With that as the background, we can expect Mr Cameron - relying on the considerable prestige of the office of prime minister – to offer his version of Wilsonian negotiations. Supported by the prestige of other political and establishment figures, we could find ourselves looking at a re-run of 1975. It may not be an exact re-run of 1975, but so close as to make no difference.

A significant difference, though, is that we now have the internet. This gives us the ability to communicate with people directly, by-passing the media. With that, we are able to broadcast our message in a way that we could not in the first referendum.

However, even (or especially) on the internet, "prestige" exerts its influence to just as great an extent as it does with traditional media. As a result, mere delivery of a message, in itself, does not mean that it will be heeded. People are still overly influenced by the prestige of the source rather than the content. So dominant is the prestige effect that people select their sources according to perceived ranking. 

As part of our overall strategy for the referendum, therefore, we not only have to develop plans to communicate with our target audiences, but we also have to devise a way of ensuring that messages reach them in a way that neutralises the effects of prestige.

Here, I have a theory as to how this can be achieved. It is based on the interaction of prestige and distance. We start with the general premise that prestige is graduated. Not only does great prestige have a greater effect, it also over-rules less prestige. King, therefore, trumps Lord who trumps Knight, and so on.

But, if we factor in distance, we can assume that prestige wanes over distance. Those with lesser prestige but who are closer to hand can over-rule those with greater prestige. The general's orders may be absolute in his own headquarters, for instance, but in the trenches the sergeant's word is final.

Exploiting that interaction, I would argue that we need to get our sources as close to the ground as possible. Preferably, we need to ensure that our sources are separated from their recipients by not more than one or two removes. If people get their information people close to them – trusted figures, or those with authority – then the local prestige can neutralise the prestige of a prime minister.

This is not a matter, as Gerry Gunster of maintains, of appointing ordinary people as spokespersons to deliver the message. At a distance, they carry (at best) only the prestige of the organisation they represent. That may not be enough to overcome even more distant but greater prestige. The source of the message must be close and personal.

It is for this reason that we are promoting the cascade system. At its core is a hundred or more bloggers, each of whom have the task, through their interactive blogging, of building their own communities of trust. Ideally, each will have a thousand or more regular readers.

Via comments sections, twitter, facebook, forums, e-mail groups - right down to old-fashioned telephone conversations, together with formal and informal meetings - this loose community of bloggers can each build their own communities. From there, these secondary communities can go on to build tertiary communities. Ask not who your leader is. It is you.

The arithmetic here is staggering. One hundred bloggers each reaching 1000 readers brings us a network of 100,000. If each of those can reach just a hundred others, we have a "conversation" encompassing ten million people. Carefully targeted, that is enough to win us the referendum.

At the top of the "cascade" are a small number of information blogs – like this one and LeaveHQ, plus Futurus, the Bruges Group and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

These can provide material for independent bloggers, on an ongoing basis, and there are also hybrid blogs such as The Boiling Frog and the Red Cliffs of Dawlish and Lost Leonardo - plus many more – who can provide their own original research.

In fact, we expect all blogs to have hybrid capabilities, but the majority will be "translators" – people who can take information and turn it into material that can reach their own communities in a way that only they can judge.

Thus, while Vote Leave Ltd thinks that communication is about having people "following us on Facebook or Twitter", spreading or endorsing their top-down message, we believe that an effective communications strategy is about building and developing communities. In a community of equals, our task is to assist members to keep each other informed.

As well as that, there  remain the more conventional forms of communication, from the public meeting to the leaflet. But even these can be used in community-building. One can, for instance, deliver thousands of general leaflets, but even if they are read, they are still one-time hits. On the other hand, if they are used to advertise local websites, they can be building blocks that help develop a conversation. And once there is an ongoing relationship, there is the potential to influence and change minds.

Similarly, leaflets can be used to advertise meetings, which in turn can be used to promote websites. Again, the aim is to build long-term relationships.

And this is real life. While so many campaigns are on "transmit only" mode, on this blog alone – through the comments and linked e-mail account - I have come to know hundreds of people. Most of them I have never met, yet I have come to regard many as friends. There is in a very real sense, an community. If they are influenced by the blog, that is a major bonus.

Come the crucial period, when Mr Cameron goes public with his miracle "cure" for all known evils, it will be the power of such communities that will see him off. Top-down doesn't cut it. Communities of trust will.

Richard North 19/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: immigration


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Of all the issues that may decide the EU referendum, immigration (or migration) may prove to be the most contentious – and dangerous. Ostensibly helpful to the cause, it also has the potential to do great damage if handled the wrong way. It is truly a two-edged sword.

As such, a strategic view must be taken. It is far too risky to leave the handling of the issue to chance. The approach must be methodical, carefully considered and gauged, at the very least, to do no harm. 

What we certainly do not want are interventions of a sort that Nigel Farage feels impelled to make, and especially not the speech he gave on Monday evening on the Paris attack and Syria. Described by his own party as "the most important intervention from a mainstream British politician on the subject of Syria and the UK's security situation", Mr Farage once again went out of his way to confuse the issues.

Complaining that the "EU's soft-touch approach of open borders and welcoming of all to our shores is now clearly imperilling the safety of our society", he went on to refer to the Common Asylum policy (as a "complete failure") and then finished up asserting that "free movement of people means free movement of guns, terrorists and jihadists".

Here, we see Farage being less than clear about whether he is talking of open internal borders (internal to the EEA and the Schengen area) or external borders. And he deliberately confuses asylum policy with free movement.

The point, of course, is that these two issues are separate. Asylum rests for its legal base on the 1951 Geneva Convention on the treatment of refugees, and the 1967 protocol, bolstered by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights – which in turn rests on the Geneva Convention. Freedom of movement, on the other hand, relies on treaty provisions and applies only to citizens of EU Member States.

Given the separate legal bases and the very significant differences in terms of practicalities, we are dealing with distinct phenomena with separate causes and, ultimately, their own separate solutions to the problems arising.

More specifically, when we dissect Mr Farage's statement in this light, we see that his claim that "free movement of people means free movement of guns, terrorists and jihadists" is manifestly untrue. This is political ambulance-chasing at its very worst.

Despite the Ukip leader's manifest inability to present these issues honestly and with any clarity, however, it is the settled position of Vote Leave Ltd that they should not intervene in this debate. Dominic Cummings takes they view that his group should stand aside and leave it to the likes of Farage and

Such a strategy is mistaken. Asylum policy has a strong international element to it – especially in the Geneva Convention. Take this and the unwillingness of the EU to deal with the root cause of the refugee crisis in Europe- a Convention which is no longer fit for purpose - and the current crisis presents us with the makings of an extremely strong case for leaving the EU.

Free of the encumbrances of the EU, Britain could resume its seat on the key international bodies and, with its new-found independence, could push for revision of the diverse international instruments which define asylum policies. With freedom to determine its own trade partners and in full charge of its aid programme, the British government could also direct policies at better managing migrant flows, easing pressure on the system.

On the issue of freedom of movement, it is likewise essential that we take an active role in what is a matter of crucial importance, which manifests itself as an inherent contradiction at the heart of the campaign.

On the one hand, we need to show voters that we can protect our participation in the Single Market after we leave the EU – in order to neutralise much of the FUD. On the other, we need to reduce immigration from EU Member States, this ostensibly requiring release from freedom of movement obligations. The problem is that we can do one or the other, but not both.

We are confronted, therefore, with a dilemma. We will have to choose between the Single Market and freedom of movement.

In Flexcit, we square the circle by adopting an interim position. This protects our Single Market participation and puts on hold changes to freedom of movement until we are able to broker a longer-term solution. But, pending that solution, we see scope for improving the management of immigration which, over the short- to medium-term, can help stem immigration flows.

This is not an optimum position, but the alternative – pulling out of the EU's freedom of movement provisions – would lose us access to the Single Market. There is no compromise on this. There are no half-measures. The European Commission has made this abundantly clear. Access to the Single Market requires adoption of the four freedoms. This is not negotiable.

In my judgement – shared with very many others – without continued access to the Single Market, we cannot win the referendum. This then leaves us with the difficult pitch that, in order to get a majority in favour of leaving, we will have to compromise. But, as I argue, a "quick and dirty" exit, accepting continued freedom of movement for a while, is better than losing the referendum for lack of compromise.

The trouble is that we can't walk away from this problem - we can't fudge it. We have to confront it, deal with it and then sell the choice to the voting public. If we try to evade it, we fall between two stools and will be unable to offer a coherent position. Our campaign will lack credibility.

But that's exactly what is happening. Vote Leave Ltd is evading the entire issue, and Farage's Ukip is pushing for the end of freedom of movement while ignoring the consequences. Instead, it is inventing fantasy scenarios that somehow magic away the ill effects.

Then there is Today, it has its press event going through recent Survation polling. An early release to the Express has 76 percent of respondents wanting to restrict entry to highly-skilled workers from other EU Member States, with an "Australian-style points system" used to manage entry.

On top of that, over half of the respondents wanted annual net migration from the rest of the EU limited to a maximum of 10,000 a year – something which, of course, is unaffected by EU membership.

Never mind the Australian system is not actually a points system. The points simply gets you onto the waiting list. In reality it is an annual quota system, which is managed by applying a series of bureaucratic hurdles. These are what regulate the numbers. Whether the British economy would benefit from such a blunt management tool is a question that is never answered.

The more substantive point, though, is whether has thought through what it is trying to achieve by highlighting this scenario. If it supports ending freedom of movement, it too must confront the consequences. The fantasy island solution is not good enough. It must have some real answers.

And there is our big issue. Large elements of the leave campaign are sharing a collective delusion that they can be all things to all people. They can't, and before very much longer they need to produce a grown-up strategy that deals with the real world.

If they are going to tell us that they can close down with freedom of movement, they must tell us how they are doing to deal with the loss of access to the Single Market, and the effect it will have on our economy. If they want to maintain market access, they are going to have to tell us how they propose to limit immigration.

If they do neither, and carry on with their dismal pretences, they will drag as all down.

Richard North 18/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: the need for an exit plan


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Anything as complex and challenging as leaving the European Union will present significant problems. Therefore, you do not need a focus group to tell you that, when confronting the prospect of an EU referendum, voters will need to be reassured that a choice to leave is not a leap in the dark.

That much has been obvious to anyone who has even begun to look at the issue. More specifically, I have long argued that we would need to produce a credible exit plan. Without that – as I was writing in May 2008, over seven years ago – our opposition would rely on the status quo to support their case and, in particular, the assertion that there is no alternative (TINA) to our membership of the European Union. At that time, I wrote:
… what few people even begin to realise is the depth and complexity of our entanglement with the EU. After 36 years of membership, imbibing fifty years-worth of integrationist measures, our administrative and legislative systems are so interwoven with the EU that to remove them would be equivalent to dealing with a metastatic cancer with a surgeon's knife. In theory, it could be done – but it would almost certainly kill the patient.

This is actually what presents itself to anyone who has seriously examined the reality of leaving the European Union. If team Cameron ever get down to such an examination, its thinkers will come to the same conclusion. They would also discover that, such would be the complexity and political capital expended, it would neutralise the political process for years to come, entirely frustrating any attempts the Conservatives might have to develop a distinctive domestic agenda.

So fraught with risk would be such a process that, wisely, any sensible politician (i.e., one who wishes to remain in office) would run a mile from it.

That is not to say that the complexity could not be addressed and overcome, but the word means what is says. Complex is, er … complex. To come up with a well-founded strategy for leaving the EU – and thus replacing the web of EU policies with distinctive national policies of our own – would take a massive amount of work, requiring a huge team of experts familiar with every aspect which the EU touches.

That work has not been done – there is no likelihood of it being done in the immediate future. Yet, unless and until the British public (and the politicians) can be offered a reasoned and better alternative to the EU, like it or lump it, TINA lives.
It actually took five years, until June 2013, for the IEA to trigger the process of producing an exit plan, with its Brexit Prize. But so badly managed was the competition – and then ultimately rigged – that the winning entries added nothing to the debate and have disappeared into the obscurity they rightly deserve.

The one happy outcome of the competition, though, was the emergence of Flexcit, a "crowdsourced" exit plan running to over 400 pages. Available online, it has now been downloaded more than 35,000 times.

In 2014, a year after the IEA had announced its competition, we got useful confirmation from market research carried out by Dominic Cummings that the fear of leaving would indeed be a significant factor. And in my assessment of his work, I concluded that the primary role for Flexcit would be in countering the fear factor. It would provide reassurance that all the necessary issues associated with our leaving the EU had been explored and could be dealt with. Of this, our exit plan, I wrote:
Not one in a thousand will read it, any more than many Christians read the Bible or the average football fan reads the 148-page FIFA manual on the laws of the game. But, if FIFA needs 148 pages to play football, to deal with something as complex as leaving the EU is going to need a lot more.

Then, and only then, will we know where we stand, and have the wherewithal to devise a strategy. And only then can we simplify the case. But having a full version as backup means we will have all the important angles worked out. We will rarely, if ever, be caught out and, as far as the Europhiles go, we will be ahead of the game. Meanwhile, campaigners will benefit from the knowledge that their campaign has substance, and will derive their confidence and will to win from that.
All Cummings could offer, though, by way of an "obvious idea" was a suggestion that we "develop a roadmap and the framework for a new UK-EU Treaty 'Wiki-style'". Such decentralised movements, he said, have achieved astonishing things in science and could in politics.

We were not impressed, and nor was I able to show much enthusiasm for his later solution. After a successful vote to leave, he decided the government would produce the exit plan, followed by a second referendum to approve it. This, it was held, would "de-risk" the choice and thereby remove the fear factor.

That this has been unequivocally ruled out by no less a person than the prime minister saves us from having to discuss it in detail. But it is worth rehearsing the reasons for this strange choice, even if there is no straightforward explanation. The essence starts with the simple proposition that no credible plan can be produced without the effort of many minds, and the applied skills and knowledge of many people, all on the back on an open and prolonged debate.

For more than forty years, though, that debate hasn't happened. This is largely due to the malign grip of a small number of individuals – mainly London–based, who dominate the public arena. These are the so-called eurosceptic"aristocracy", currently including the likes of Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan, the self-styled David Campbell Bannerman, Roger Bootle, Lord Lawson and Ruth Lea – as well as the two co-directors of Vote Leave Ltd, Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings.

These people regard "euroscepticism" – insofar as it is an intellectual movement – as their own personal domain. They believe they "own" it. And, far from fostering the widest possible debate, they try to contain it – to keep it to themselves and thereby block others from taking part in it.

This floating group of members acts as a malign praetorian guard, defending the orthodoxy and sustaining a litany of stale ideas and clichés which has changed little over forty years. New ideas are rigorously excluded and outsiders who seek to widen the debate are variously ignored, scorned, denigrated and excluded.

In that context, Flexcit is not seen as a plan. It is treated as something close to heresy, on a par with an unauthorised version of the Bible in medieval England - something that should be shunned by any God-fearing eurosceptic.

As a result, the plan has been studiously ignored by the "aristocracy". With lofty contempt for our efforts, they have gone out of their way not to mention it, even though its influence is clearly evident in the way that it is forcing the debate into areas they would rather avoid.

Ironically, many of the "aristocrats" claim to be free marketeers, and all would claim to support free speech. But in their world, there is no free market in ideas and freedom of speech does not extend to their critics. The closed self-referential circle prides itself in defending the orthodoxy, and the aristocracy considers it should be immune from and criticism.

Yet, for all that, it is an intellectual cul-de-sac. It is not the creator of new ideas. Few of this self-regarding élite do any serious work, or undertake original research. Those that do often produce low-grade and derivative work of little value.

The culture relies main on the oral transmission of information – mainly though gossip circles. It is heavily influenced by prestige. Its doyens are treated with reverence of the like accorded to the High Priests of some ancient religion.

But this is not a monotheist creed. It has many gods – many different versions of how Britain should stage an exit. All are superficial, and the group tends to cycle through them as ideas become fashionable and then drop out of fashion, only to re-emerge later in a slightly different form.

Therein lies the ultimate problem – which Cummings found to his cost, and was not honest enough to address. Between the different factions in the "aristocracy", there is never any agreement at any one time as to what a plan should be. No sooner does one variation become fashionable and take root, then another is already vying for attention.

As a result, the team most favoured by the élites, Vote Leave Ltd, have opted for cowardice. To avoid argument and recriminations, they have gone out of their way not to have a plan. There only plan is not to have a plan – not for any sensible reason but simply because there is no agreement amongst the aristocracy as to what the plan should be, and they are not prepared to force the issue.

As nature abhors the vacuum though, this poverty of ambition opens the way for any number of charlatans and publicity-seekers to peddle their own personal nostrums, most often without any concern for the effect that they might have on the campaign, and the damage they might do by offering hostages to fortune that can be unpicked by the opposition.

Latest of a long line of such charlatans is David Campbell Bannerman, two-times a renegade, having come from the Conservatives to become a Ukip MEP, then to desert the party and take his seat back to the Conservatives.

Until recently peddling a plan he called EEA-lite - an option so lightweight that it almost completely lacks substance – he now pops up in the Telegraph trying to convince us that the EU could arrive at a withdrawal agreement - a deep and comprehensive trade and political agreement – under Article 50, within the space of two years.

If we didn't get an agreement, he then avers that we could rely on "an automatic deal under the all embracing World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules". Combined with trade deals with third countries, Bannerman asserts that, with what he calls "WTO Plus":
… we'd retain access to the "Common Market" and without barriers, but save the £20 billion membership fee (£12bn net would build 80 new hospitals or 400 new schools a year) and take back control of whole swathes of policy that we have willingly or unwittingly given up from Westminster to the EU: control over our own trade deals, of fishing, farming, financial services, energy, transport, foreign affairs, defence, and of course border control/immigration.
On top of all this, says Bannerman, as only eight percent of the UK economy trades with the EU and just five percent of UK businesses.
… we could strip out in theory the overburdensome and job destroying EU red tape on 92 percent of the UK economy and 95 percent businesses, whilst also saving every household in the UK nearly £1,000 a year. We'd be Big Globalists not Little Europeans; and be better able to capitalise on the reality that 90 percent of economic growth in the next 10-15 years will take place outside the EU.
Such, of course, is nursery-level fantasy. Carefully, we have debunked such facile, low-grade assertions in Flexcit, and carefully, and meticulously on the blog, on several recent posts, including this one and this on the ruinous effects of the so-called WTO option, plus this on the "better deal fallacy", of which Bannerman seems completely unaware.

On regulation, Pete has put in some painstaking detail and drawn attention to the flaws in his work, but this has no impact whatsoever on Bannerman.

His attitude seems to be that it is perfectly acceptable for him and his ilk to undermine our work. But we are not entitled to draw attention to the poverty of their work or its potential for damage. They are permitted to snub us and detract from our efforts. We are not even allowed to complain.

Yet, even if he is disposed to ignore us – and run away from any debate (as he always does), with threats to report us to the "authorities" - Bannerman also ignores weighty input from the other side, such as the article in the Sunday Times by David Smith, which easily demolishes his more ludicrous assertions.

Then, when it comes to Cummings, he mounts a defence of Bannerman that can only be described as dishonest, delivered with a combination of patronising arrogance in which he specialises. It is that which announces that he is the only one in this world with anything of value to say.

However, when the Vote Leave Ltd strategy is stripped down, it reveals that Cummings has no mechanism for projecting reassurance to voters. Even if he could prevail on his own people to produce an exit plan, he does not have the confidence to defend it against all comers, notwithstanding that he will stand by the Bannerman fantasies. Consistency does not come easy to Vote Leave.

Thus, we are in the position where the self-proclaimed front runner in the designation stakes lacks one of the most important tools in the armoury – a credible exit plan. Without that, he cannot reassure voters that we are on top of our game., the other major contender, seems to be in a similar position. Their associate, Global Britain, through co-founder Richard Tice, delivers a similar, incoherent mish-mash of ideas in a sparse 18 pages that cannot even begin to do justice to the issue.

The reluctance of either group to commit to a sensible and workable exit plan does neither of them credit, and is a betrayal of the campaign as a whole. Without such a plan, we will find it extremely difficult to convince voters that leaving is a risk-free option and, as long as the Bannerman style of fantasy is allowed to prevail, the failure will undermine our efforts.

And there we finish on a personal note. Despite having devoted thousands of hours to producing Flexcit, with help from hundreds of readers, one is sometimes made to feel almost like a criminal for daring to embark on such an ambitious task. Yet, for all its many flaws, there is nothing anywhere which gets close to it, in structure, depth, clarity and practicality.

We will not sit quietly while others damage the campaign with their shoddy work and can confidently assert of anyone who has not read Flexcit that they are not even in the game. And that applies to the bulk of the "aristocracy" who are far too grand to soil their brains with the efforts of us mere plebs.

But, we are still here, and this issue is not going to go away. A strategic approach demands a proper, honest debate about where we are going, a commitment to agree a common exit plan, and the discipline to stand behind it when it is produced, with the aristocracy burying their egos. It is either that, or the opposition will bury us.

Richard North 17/11/2015 link

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