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

Quitting the EU is not an extremist view


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Owen Paterson wrote this for the Sunday Times which appeared online.

The prime minister has embarked on a classic piece of triangulation strategy of the kind pioneered by Bill Clinton when he was US president and later by his disciple, Tony Blair. Broadly speaking, this involves Mr Cameron defining both sides of the European debate as extremes and then positioning himself as the voice of reason in the centre.

One "extreme", in the Cameron narrative, is the Eurosceptic movement, represented by myself, many other Tory MPs and Ukip leader Nigel Farage, agitating for a complete break with the EU and the restoration of Britain status as a self-governing democracy. The other is slavish subservience to all things Brussels, of the kind to be found in much of the Labour party and a small minority of the Conservative party, best represented by Euro-enthusiasts Peter Mandelson and Kenneth Clarke.

The prime minister has neatly positioned himself midway between these two views, presenting himself as the man who will reform the terms of British membership of the EU, curb the migrant crisis, reduce job-destroying red tape, eliminate the threat of absorption into a European super-state, and stop Eurozone states from ganging up against the City.

He will pose as the pragmatic fixer in the centre, striving to protect British interests and rising above the sound and fury generated by rival Remain and Leave camps. He will pitch his appeal at the "moderate middle" of public opinion – people who sense there is a lot wrong with the present arrangements but who find the idea of quitting the EU a leap in the dark. And he will collude behind the scenes with the Eurocrats to create the impression that he has secured a great deal for Britain in the teeth of European opposition.

In addition, Mr Cameron is also working towards a rebranding of British membership of the EU. The most critical section of his Chatham House speech was when he declared that we need "a British model of membership that works for Britain and for any other non-Euro members", calling this "a matter of cardinal importance for the United Kingdom".

There has already been plenty of chatter at Westminster and in Brussels about Britain becoming an "associate member" of the EU – a reassuring phrase suggesting an arm's-length relationship with the EU centred on free trade – the deal we wrongly thought we were getting when we joined the EEC more than 40 years ago. The prime minister has developed this idea and rebranded it as the "British model", a reasonable centrist arrangement whereby we get the benefits of EU membership without any of the tiresome costs.

Mr Cameron’s requests in his letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk have been roundly panned in the press for their timidity and lack of ambition. As my colleague Bernard Jenkin said: "Is this it?"

I agree – the requests offer no serious prospect of restoring British independence, of enabling us to take back control of our borders and other vital national interests.

Make no mistake. Mr Cameron's "moderate" British model would still mean the supremacy of European law and the European Court of Justice. It would still mean Britain being outvoted in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. We would still be bossed around by the European Commission.

I would urge like-minded MPs and citizens who support our departure from the EU to study the government's tactics and strategy very carefully. Conservatives for Britain, the group representing Tory parliamentarians committed to fundamental reform of our EU membership, meets on Tuesday to discuss our response to the PM's proposals. Part of that response must be an appreciation of the dangers of the "spin war" that will have such a bearing on the outcome of the referendum.

Forty years ago, another wily political operator, Harold Wilson, succeeded in persuading the country that he had secured a great deal for Britain in his European negotiations. He had done nothing of the sort, as the intervening years have demonstrated. We cannot let the wool be pulled over our eyes once again.

Richard North 15/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: identifying the enemy


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Take a hypothetical situation, where analysis of the EU referendum dynamics strongly indicate that the "leave" campaign cannot succeed unless it is able to reassure waverers that the exit risks can be contained.

A carefully researched scheme is produced and published, aimed specifically at addressing waverers' fears, in the form of an exit plan. It shows how any adverse effects of leaving the EU can be neutralised or avoided.

Then, along comes an organisation which publically disowns elements of the plan, without itself having any equivalent or like measures. It also goes out its way to offer exit scenarios which, if implemented, would cause total chaos and which would thus deter voters from opting to leave.

In this situation, one has to ask: who is the enemy? Is it the active pro-EU campaign organisation or the one which – as you might guess – is ostensibly fighting to leave the EU but blocking the adoption of winning strategies?

Now refine the parameters, and hypothesise a situation where the pro-EU campaign is largely ineffective and, in any case, focusing on issues. These will have little relevance to the voters when they enter the polling stations. Tie that in with the situation where you have a pro-exit organisation rampant, doing more harm than good to the exit cause with crass noisemaking.

The question which now presents itself is this: do you devote your energy to attacking the pro-EU campaign, or do you spend most of your energy in attempting to prevent the "pseudo exiteers" damaging the campaign, and trying to undo the damage they have caused?

Let us now further complicate the situation. We assume here that the referendum poll is not going to be for two years. In between now and then, there will be a selection process to pick the pro-exit lead campaigner. Currently, there are several competitors.

In these circumstances – where the choice of lead campaigner may well influence the outcome of the referendum – do you still focus your energies on attacking the pro-EU campaign? Instead, do you try to influence the selection process in favour of the best (or least worst) organisation?

Now for the reality check. These situations are very far from being a hypothetical. They very much represent the world in which we live, where we have to make decisions reflecting the situation on the ground.

We've been confronting  elements of this problem for some time. I recall, for instance, August 2011 when Roger Helmer (one time Conservative MEP, now with UKIP) complained that, "Too many eurosceptics spend their time sniping at each other, rather than turning their guns on the real enemy, which in this case is Brussels".

Of course, that was at a time when Helmer was still a Tory and we were attacking Tory faux eurosceptics. Helmer solved that problem in his own way, by joining Ukip. He is now free to attack Tory faux eurosceptics – as indeed he must in order to get elected.

But Helmer unwittingly adds another complication to our scenario, in arguing that the "real enemy" is Brussels – i.e., the European Union. In respect of this referendum, that is not entirely – if at all – true. After all, it isn't the EU which is keeping us in. That power is reserved for our own politicians, currently led by Mr Cameron.

Furthermore, the EU isn't stopping us leaving, and it is not campaigning directly for us to stay in. In all cases, the front-runner is David Cameron and it is he, we argue, who should be treated as the real enemy.

If we factor this in to our not-so-hypothetical mix, how do we treat those campaigners who insist on targeting the EU? How should we look upon such activity when so much of it reinforces the "loony-tune" image of exit politics, and is thus likely to deter the "moderate middle" to which Mr Cameron will be appealing?

Then, if we did decide to ignore all these complications, and make unity our sole aim, who should we then support? We could go for Vote Leave Ltd, described by Alistair Heath – brother-in-law to Matthew Elliott, its co-founder – as run by "a small team of brilliant political strategists and campaigners". But this is the same Vote Leave which is attracting the ire of Eric Pickles for its crass tactics of targeting Europhile businesses and making a nuisance of itself? 

If we did support them, however, we could not support – just supposing we wanted to be associated with that train-wreck campaign. The two do not get on together, and nor do either want to work with Ukip – which is supposedly on the brink of bankruptcy.

When one looks at all this, it is easy to sympathise with those who ignore the reality and just want to get stuck and fight. And since the EU is the obvious (if misplaced) target, it is not surprising to see the ether filled with anti-EU rhetoric.

But if we are to win, we have to choose the right enemy – more important in some cases than having the right friends. And where there are multiple enemies, deciding on priorities is often the crucial strategic decision.

In many respects, though, our allies can do more immediate harm than our enemies. That certainly seemed so in France in 1940, and it was definitely the case in 1975. Then, the "no" campaign suffered the bad fortune of having the support of the unions – then the main blockage to the nation's prosperity.

At the time, it was thought that the competition from continental firms, brought about by membership of the EEC, would force a break-up of union power. Union opposition to the EEC reinforced that view, and led many people to vote to stay in. It could even have been the decisive factor.

In an exit referendum, therefore, unity is not necessarily a sensible option. Disowning potential allies, or those who purport to support the exit cause, may be a better idea.

Such issues – all the issues raised here – require strategic decisions. And advice from that score comes from William Norton, a business associate of Matthew Elliott. In 2007, prior to what we thought might be the referendum on the Constitution, he wrote in Conservative Home: You don't win a referendum by assembling a Big Tent or a Broad Church. "All that happens then is that lots of little groups who don't really have much in common end up having a veto over the campaign, and it falls apart".

Never mind that Elliott (with Cummings) has ignored that advice, going for the Big Tent. The predictable result is that the different factions can't agree on an exit plan – vital to reassure the voters. Thus, they end up vetoing each other's plans, and any introduced from outside. This leads the "brilliant political strategists" into a situation where the only thing they can agree on is not to have a plan.

But Norton had some more advice. A successful referendum campaign, he said, "requires a bespoke one-off specialist team in strong overall control, with the political parties in a secondary role (and seen to be so)". That applies, he opined, "to any pressure group which predates the referendum: everyone has an agenda and an ego and everyone carries baggage".

To have the best chance of success, he concluded, "the Designated Campaign should be a body without a past and without a future beyond the vote itself". He then finished off with the injunction: "No one owns this referendum".

What we will end up with, though – unless we prevent it – is a group in Vote Leave who believe they have inherited the right, as in "to the manor born", to run the campaign. It is their property, and theirs alone, despite the egos and the baggage that they bring with them.

This referendum campaign is this becoming battles within battles. A pretender, Arron Banks, is making a challenge – but he is proving to be just as exclusive - dog in the manger - as his competitor. He pretends he is interested in advice, but doesn't take it when he is given it. Gradually, he is showing his true colours. Like Elliott and his business associates, he wants to "own" the campaign for himself.

In a very real way, these bodies stand between us and victory. They are every bit as much an obstacle a Mr Cameron – if not more so. The Prime Minister's case is actually very weak, and easily beatable – but not if the "noisemakers" get in our way, confusing the message, blurring the issues and undermining our work.

Before we can progress, therefore, we have to address the strategic question: "who (or what) is the enemy". Until we answer that - and then take the appropriate actions - we are not going to get very much further.

Richard North 12/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: a bigger game afoot


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Given the rush of publicity on the EU referendum during the week, mainly centred on the Prime Minister's intervention over the Norway Option, one might have thought that the Sunday newspapers would follow through and develop the story. Instead, referendum coverage has been relatively light.

On reflection, this should not be a surprise. The legacy media has, almost without exception, imbibed Mr Cameron's lies intact. Without the wherewithal to challenge his claims, and lacking any understanding of the issues raised, the journalists have little more to say. We have, in effect, an ignorance-induced news vacuum.

It is thus left to the growing band of bloggers to continue the debate, with particularly good contributions from The Brexit Door and White Wednesday, of a quality and depth that the legacy media could not even begin to match. Lost Leonardo is also stoking the debate,and The Boiling Frog's piece is still on the table, so there is plenty of meat to keep the discussion going.

But what are also emerging from the Cameron intervention are questions as to his motivation. Bizarrely, Dominic Cummings thinks the Prime Minister was goading "leavers" in to supporting the Norway Option, which he regards as "a suboptimal fixed fortification". That, Cummings believes, is very bad strategy.

As a late comer to the EU debate, however – having been out of it for many years – Cummings is perhaps looking at the Prime Minister's intervention in isolation, not appreciating that the Norway Option has been a target for a considerable time, long before he belatedly climbed back into the ring.

Mr Cameron even made an attack on Norway a prominent part of his 2013 Bloomberg speech, in which he announced his commitment to a referendum. That alone seem to suggest that he had something more in mind than Mr Cummings.

In fact, the Norway Option, as it stands, represents one of the most credible ways of securing a swift, trouble-free exit from the EU. Used partly as a halfway house for countries seeking to join the EU, it is equally valid as a halfway house for the likes of the UK, which are aiming to leave.

It is this function as a halfway house – an interim option - that makes it so dangerous to the "remainers". His failure to recognise this illustrates Cummings's almost total lack of strategic acumen. Far from being a "fixed fortification", the EEA is simply the most accessible route to achieving full single market participation after we have left the EU, buying time for us to fashion a longer-term solution. This is not "fixed". It is a dynamic solution to a complex, dynamic problem.

That alone is an extremely good reason why Mr Cameron should want to be rid of the Norway Option, and one has to ask why, if the option is as bad as he makes out, it was necessary to tell so many lies, exaggerating the payments and the laws adopted, and underestimating the influence.

But there is more to it than that. As we have seen from the Bertelsmann/Spinelli Fundamantal Law, there is a proposal extant to wind up the EEA and bring in the EFTA states, together with Switzerland, into the maw of associate membership.

Should the UK pre-empt this move and join EFTA, this trading association would become the fourth largest trading bloc in the world, after the EU, the United States and China. As such, the members would be significantly more powerful, and able to deal with the EU and other partners - becoming more reluctant to accept the second class status of associate membership.

Clearly, a more powerful EFTA would not be a desirable outcome, either to the EU or British Europhiles. Neither would it be a happy development for the Europhile political élite in Norway. Demolishing the case for Norway, therefore, would seem to be an essential part of Mr Cameron's strategy – and very much in the broader interest of the EU.

The removal of the Norway Option also has the merit – from the Europhile perspective – of narrowing down the alternatives available to the "leavers", who are being led by the nose into the trap of advocating the unachievable "bespoke" free trade agreement (FTA).

Already, the "remainers" have had Global Counsel doing the work to support the claim that "the path to Brexit - and beyond - would be long and uncertain, taking ten years or more.

This ticking time-bomb sits dormant, ready to explode in the faces of Dominic Cummings and all the rest who are pushing the idea of an open-ended FTA. With all their eggs in one basket, the relatively simple destruction of their fantasy will render the "leavers" impotent, with nowhere to go.

For these reasons, the Norway Option must be kept on the table. It is the height of madness to close down your options at this stage in the campaign and utterly crass to allow your opposition to do this for you, as has Vote Leave Ltd.

Fortunately, neither Vote Leave Ltd nor (and nor even Ukip) constitutes the totality of the "leave" campaign. There are enough to keep the Norway Option flame burning and, despite the best efforts of both sides of the divide – with the complicity of the legacy media , it is very far from extinct.

Richard North 02/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: internet nutters


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More than ten years ago, and I others were arguing strongly that we needed to develop an exit plan, for when we had an opportunity to leave the EU. The need became even more apparent when the prospect of a referendum emerged.

The essence of an exit plan is reassurance. People are not necessarily going to read it – most won't. But the very fact that a credible plan exists, and is recognised as such, means that they will be more willing to vote for leaving the EU.

The one thing we must not do, we have argued, is to go into a referendum campaign without a plan. That would expose us to criticism form the opposition, who would simply have to point out that it was lacking – thus emphasising that leaving is a leap in the dark.

And now, even before the campaign gets fully under way, that is precisely what is happening. Yesterday, the naysayers had a field day, with two pieces in different newspapers, capitalising on the perceived lack of a plan.

One of these was Professor Iain Begg, writing in the Telegraph under the headline, "What might Britain leaving the EU look like? No-one really knows", with the sub-title, "The EU referendum debate has gone on as if there is a clear vision for what a 'leave' vote might mean, and this should be a cause for concern".

What Begg has to say really isn't important – the fact that he is able to say it is what matters. And that applies equally to Phillip Collins, writing in The Times, who commented on Owen Paterson's interview on Newsnight, saying he "betrayed the emptiness of the 'out' position by being unable …to describe what Britain on its own would look like".

"Instead", Collins asserted, "he blathered on about taking a place on global councils, as if they are there for the asking once this small island of 64 million people off the shore of Europe decides to go it alone".

The tiresome quip about a "small island" aside, Collins does have a point, as does Beggs. The noisiest of the campaigners, "Vote Leave Ltd", is in the thrall of the Svengali-like Dominic Cummings, whose determination not to have a plan is matched only by his tactical ineptness and the strategic void left by his absence of planning.

The Cummings void is intensified by the lack of input from Leave.EU and the almost complete absence from the field of Ukip, exacerbated by the almost total refusal of the media and the political establishment to acknowledge the work of campaigners who are not part of the groups they choose to recognise. This dire game intensifies as the legacy media continue seeking to frame the debate and impose unwanted leaders on the campaign.

As to the broader campaign, there is, of course, some merit in the argument that the "leave" campaign should not go public with a fixed plan too early, as it provides a target for the opposition to focus on – but this thinking is easily outweighed by the danger of not having a plan at all.

As we have seen, this simply opens us up to sneering accusations that we have no plan. And when – if ever – the groups that the media do recognise actually come up with a plan, they will be on the back foot, responding rather than leading and with very little room to manoeuvre.

Despite this and Cummings's concern at presenting a stationary target, it seems his idea of campaigning is to repackage the same tired old memes that have already been chewed over and discredited, presumably in an attempt to bore voters into submission.

Most of all, though, Cummings (and others) fail to understand the concept of Flexcit - a flexible response and continuous development. With the plan in its 24th edition, we are able to accommodate changes and new thinking, as well as a continuous flow of updates.

Crucially, if we are to have a debate that is going to keep people engaged, then it must be over new ideas – such as the effects of globalisation and the ways to develop the single market, breaking away from the stale thinking that is dominating the campaign, and driving us all in catatonic boredom.

A measure of quite how detached from reality this stance has become emerges when the those engaging in the vibrant debate going on outside the grip of the establishment groups are described as "internet nutters".

This actually points to another dynamic in play, the determination of the Tory-dominated Vote Leave Ltd to exclude dissident voices. For them, the concern is that the referendum campaign will create dangerous stresses within the party, which can be reduced if the attack is channelled away from sensitive targets.

Thus, while the real enemy - and thus the logical target for this campaign – is David Cameron, Cummings and his business partner, Matthew Elliott, are more interested in keeping the focus on the EU and away from their party leader. Criticism of the EU is permitted. Attacks on the leader are not.

This became clearly evident over the last few days when David Cameron launched his attack on the Norway Option – which we believe offers the best interim solution for a rapid exit - the eurosceptic "aristocracy" represented by Vote Leave Ltd chose to side with the Prime Minister.

With the general incompetence already displayed by Vote Leave Ltd, this becomes another strong reason why such a partisan group should not be the designated lead campaigner. 

Whoever does get the designation, though, it looks increasingly as if the "internet nutters" will be driving the real campaign – the only place where there is intelligent discussion and anything interesting to relate.

Richard North 31/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: in the deadly grip of "Europe"


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There is something very odd about the grip the EU has on British politics, not least in suspending the normal rules that inhibit our politicians from uttering direct lies. Thus we find David Cameron, our prime minister, weighing in on his first major intervention in the EU referendum campaign, to tell us that the "Norway option" won't work for Britain.

With the propaganda at full tilt, he declared that, "it is very important in this debate that we are clear about the consequences" of being, like Norway, a member of the European Economic Area but not a part of the EU, then adding: "Norway pays as much per head to the EU as we do".

This was picked up by the Financial Times and other newspapers, each time in quotes, so there is little doubt that this is a verbatim quote – especially as the very words came from Mr Cameron's lips on Newsnight.

Yet, according to the Norwegian government's own figures, its total EU mandated payments (gross) are approximately £435m (€600m) per annum. With a population of five million, that is approximately £86 (€120) per head (gross). Net payments, however, are about £340m (€470m) per annum, or about £68 (€94) per head.

On the other hand, in 2014, the UK gross contributions to the EU were £19.2bn, less £4.9bn rebate. That gives an equivalent gross payment of £14.3bn. After rebates and other receipts, our net contribution was £9.8 bn. 

With a population of 64 million, that puts our gross contribution (without rebate) at £300 per head, our equivalent gross payment at £223 per head, and our net per capita payment £153 per annum – more than twice the Norwegian payments.

As such, what David Cameron is telling us is a lie. Our prime minister is telling a clear, direct and unequivocal lie. And this, it seems, is perfectly acceptable for a prime minister - as long as he is talking about the EU. Compounding the lie, Cameron then went on to utter the fatuous slogan, "while they pay, they have no say" (on the rules), thereby ignoring the huge skein of consultation and the influence of Norway on global bodies.

But just as the Prime Minister is doing his best to dissuade us from following the Norway route, and lying through his teeth in the process, we find supposedly anti-membership campaigners like John Redwood actually agreeing with him.

Alongside Redwood stands Douglas Carswell, Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave Ltd and Ruth Lea who blithely told British Influence that "we all agree". Norway, she said, "is not the way. The way is WTO + FTAs + EFTA". Stephen Pollard of the Daily Express also chips in to tell us that, "No one wants the so-called 'Norway option' and Great Britain is not Norway".

The arrogance of these people in deciding that they are qualified to represent us is matched only by their complete inability to agree amongst themselves as to what they actually want. We hear so many calls for "unity" but, in fact, there is nothing to unify with – just a mish-mash of vague, unrealisable aspirations.

Thus, we have the extraordinary situation where the only unity, for the moment, is between the "remains" and the "leaver" aristocracy. Each for their own reasons have set their faces against the Norway Option, the latter walking away from the most powerful and credible answer to the problem of how to manage the first stage of EU withdrawal.

In an attempt to justify his malign stupidity, Cummings would have us believe - on the basis of unpublished poll results - that the Norway Option is "toxic" because of the "no influence" meme, neglecting to test the concept of an interim option to buy us time to pursue a better long-term solution.

What the claque have done, therefore, is walked eyes wide-shut into an elaborate trap. The effect of David Cameron's intervention is to get them to vacate the high, fortified ground of the Norway Option, and descend onto the swampy plain of free trade agreements. Out in the open, bogged down in the swamp, they will be slaughtered.

Completely lost has been the opportunity to promote the idea of an interim solution, and the chance to tackle the "no influence" meme by exploring the role of globalisation that Norway has been so adept at exploiting and which could serve us so well.

This, though, was our first real test. If the response is a measure of the campaign is going shape up once the pressure is really on, we might as well pack up now and save our money (those that have any). That won't happen, of course, but I would not rule out there being a point at which the "leave" campaign is so obviously ramshackle that we will have to walk away from it.

Against that negative note, we have to commend the Twitter operation, which kept the flag flying, and some superb blogging, which has filled the gap left by the increasingly crass legacy media. There, amid the gloom, quite possibly lies our salvation – our release from the deadly grip of "Europe".

Richard North 29/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: don't mean nuthin'


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The CBI is at it again, telling us how the EU is "good for business". Membership of the European Union has its downsides, it says, "but the disadvantages are significantly outweighed by the benefits we get in return".

The thing is, we've heard it all before and there is nothing the CBI can say that is novel, or of any interest. Corporate Britain has decided, and it thinks that its views are important, compared with the decision we are facing, on how Britain is governed.

Furthermore, in pushing its case, it is making the classic mistake in eliding membership of the EU with participation in the Single Market. The two are not the same, and the one is not dependent on the other.

This is something Ukip and others are going to have to come to terms with. If they want totally to destroy the CBI case, they are going to have to live with the idea of preserving the Single Market, and it is inevitable that this will require, pro tem, continued adoption of the EU's freedom of movement and establishment provisions.

While that is clearly sub-optimal, what I find difficult to understand is why there should be such rooted objection to this as an interim solution. After all, if it is a case of adopting a purist position and losing the referendum, or adopting a compromise position and winning, then the choice is pretty obvious.

The other thing that too many people seem to have difficulty with is the idea of a phased extraction. We have spent more than forty years going through increasingly complex processes of political and economic integration, encompassing thousands of agreements within the framework of successive treaties. It is not credible to expect that we can withdraw in one hit.

However, the idea of an interim solution and a phased withdrawal means that the optimal solution is not reached immediately. But the ultimate objective is still to go for the optimum.

What we need to do is break out of the Brussels-centric market, and go for a genuine European Single Market, which could be arranged under the aegis of UNECE, based in Geneva. That would also release us from the EU's "four freedoms", as we would not longer depend on Brussels for market access.

In terms of a final solution, not even this is optimal. What we really need is a global single market. And, for this, the CBI provides the rationale. "One set of rules not 28, cutting costs for business", it says – thus extolling membership of the EU.

But surely, what's good for 28 countries is even better for 161 countries – the current membership of the WTO. We need one set of rules not 161, cutting costs for business. And that means engaging at a global level rather being trapped in the narrow confines of little Europe.

Here then are the antidotes – we take the interim route to extraction, preserving the single market and buying us time for better solutions, initially at a genuine European level – as a precursor to going global.

The beauty of this is that the CBI has shot its bolt, making the same error as the other campaigners, in starting prematurely. We now have two years to tell people how and why the CBI have got it wrong – assuming we are able to get our act together as a campaign and adopt the winning arguments.

Failing that, we (or some of us) can continue bleating about negotiating a bespoke free trade area – a non-solution favoured by the likes of Matthew Elliott, ensuring we have no credible exit plan, and thereby doing our best to lose the referendum.

Once again, therefore, we see in the CBI no threat at all. What they have to offer don't mean nuthin'. The problem is our own side, which cannot get behind the solutions that negate the CBI propaganda. And that is a much bigger problem than the CBI.

Richard North 22/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: the hidden battle


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I have to admit to slacking over the weekend, as another project briefly took precedence. In a moment of madness – knowing that his uncle commanded the ship - I offered to make a model of the Flower Class corvette, HMS Poppy, for Booker's Christmas present.

As work progresses (pictured above), I'm remembering why I don't make ship models, and more so this particular one. An old Revell mould, re-issued, many of the parts don't fit properly and there are major inaccuracies, all of which require remedial work on the back of laborious research.

Add to that, all I have is a couple of blurred wartime photographs to work from, to make the modifications that are not in the original kit, and I'm beginning to think that I've bitten off more that I can chew. It'll be finished for Christmas, but I'm not prepared to say which one at this stage.

Howsoever, the process of model-making is so very different from the referendum campaign that it provides a very necessary contrast, helping to clear my mind in order then to focus on the essentials, and penetrate the fog of war.

This is going to be increasingly necessary. If, as the evidence strongly indicates, we have nearly two years to run before we go to the polls on the EU referendum, this becomes a test of endurance. We have to pace ourselves, so we still have the energy and the interest to see the battle right through to the end.

As such, the very last thing we need to be doing is attempting to run a high-profile public campaign at this stage. Instead, we should be using the time to devise and hone our strategy, to recruit the right people to help execute it, and then to train them in the fundamentals, so that they are properly equipped to do the job.

Crucially, we must then work on the assumption that, once the campaign nears its end, and the real opposition – Mr David Cameron and friends – reveal their hand – the media will fall in behind the "remain" proposition, along with all the main political parties (with the exception of Ukip).

It follows that, in order to get our message out in the final stages – when it really counts – we must have our own communications system, independently from the legacy media. This, we are going to have to build, almost from scratch.

As for the campaign so far, we are assailed by the closed minds of "Vote Leave Ltd", prop Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, and "", run by Arron Banks. For a variety of reasons, Banks has become our best hope for an effective campaign.

In my discussions with the man, he admits that his operation is scrappy but he is prepared to listen to criticism, without rancour. To improve matters, he has hired US referendum guru Gerry Gunster to work up a broader strategy, into which the campaign activities will fit.

Where Banks also differs is in being very focused about immediate priorities. Unlike the bulk of the media and the presumptuous Open Europe, which thinks it can frame the debate, he is under no illusion that the first crucial battle is to secure lead campaigner designation from the Electoral Commission.

Whatever the failings of his operation, there can be no doubt that the game is over if "Vote Leave Ltd" wins the designation. With Elliott asserting that the referendum is simply a ploy to get a "better deal", even if we actually won, we would lose.

More specifically, there can be no trust in any organisation that has so muddied the waters, and where its directors are potentially set to make millions out of the data mining opportunities afforded by running a national referendum campaign.

Thus, strangely – without the media or other noisemakers acknowledging it (and many being unaware of it) - there is a close-fought battle in progress, the outcome of which will determine whether we even have the possibility an honest campaign on the "leave" side.

That is not to say that "" will be any more competent, or that the RPG will not move in and gain the designation, but what it does suggest is that the broader campaign is of little relevance until this matter is resolved.

Then, but only then, will the emphasis need to change. We need to be aware that this contest is unlikely to be about the EU. As so often in referendums, the question on the ballot paper is unlikely to be the one that voters answer. Most probably, they will be addressing the question of whether they trust the Prime Minister to deliver a new relationship with the EU.

Such framing will make Mr Cameron the central protagonist in the fight, and the main target for the designated "leave" campaign. The official "remain" campaign will be (and already is) an irrelevance – a distraction from the core issue, of whether Mr Cameron can deliver.

That makes "Vote Leave Ltd" an even more dubious proposition. Even in the unlikely event that it could surmount the hurdles of trust and competence, it would have to make Mr Cameron its main target, in what will have to be a very personal attack. And, as the man says: "not going to happen".

Thus, we are committed to that "hidden battle", the one that we must win before we even get to close with the real enemy. For the moment, this is the one that matters.

Richard North 20/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: a parade of ignorance


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Ten days ago, I was writing about the EU's draft action plan on migration and the continued negotiations with Turkey on the "EU-Turkey readmission agreement".

On the whole, this action is both benign and necessary, if we are going to get a handle on the Middle East migration crisis. Without the active involvement of Turkey, which currently houses over two million refugees, there is going to be no long-term resolution to the crisis.

In return for relatively modest cash payments (detailed in my previous post), and carefully controlled visa liberalisation, Turkey is to agree to take back irregular migrants from Europe, who have come to region via Turkish territory.

The EU (and EFTA states) stand to be considerable beneficiaries of this programme, which is by no means generous. It has provoked a less than enthusiastic response from the Ankara government, which feels that its contribution to holding back the flow of refugees has been overlooked.

However, the plan has now been endorsed by the European Council and, in the Council conclusions, from this week's meeting, there is also reference to the need to "re-energize" the accession process, something of a ritual that is unlikely to go anywhere – other than an offer, in due course, of associate membership.

Predictably, this has evoked a terse response from Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dismissed talk of EU membership as "insincere" – which indeed it is. Erdogan is caustic about EU Member State efforts. "They announce they’ll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that", ha says. "We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares".

This gets closer to the reality. The Independent takes the view that, "in the absence of a serious commitment to staunch the migrant flow, the draft agreement with Turkey is simply more Euro moonshine, wishful thinking on both sides, offering Ankara concessions Europe has no wish to make in return for actions Turkey has no intention of taking".

Nevertheless, despite the tentative nature of the EU's proposals in what is a "draft" plan, and the lack of any settled detail or commitment to it, some "leavers" (illustrated top) are leaping prematurely into the breach, to spread their own brand of ignorance. In so doing, they have completely misread the situation.

"Informed" by Nigel Farage, we are supposed to believe this deal "borders on insanity". Yet, if it works (and it is a long way from that), it is the shortest and best route to the outcome Mr Farage himself wants. No one with the slightest understanding of events is under any illusion that little is going to be resolved without the active participation of Turkey.

But such is Farage's quite astounding ignorance that, despite this stemming from an initiative in 2002, initialled in 2012 and signed in 2013, the Ukip leader believes this has come "quite out of the blue, without any rumours or warning".

When the "leave" campaign is plagued with this level of ignorance, it is time to be seriously alarmed. No campaign so seriously lacking in its knowledge base can ever be successful. We cannot continue in this way - it is embarrassing even to be associated with such malign amateurism.

Richard North 17/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: biding our time


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I was in London yesterday, attending the fourth formal meeting of the Referendum Planning Group (RPG). We represent now six groupings: CIB, Bruges Group, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda, plus and now, Restore Britain's Fish, formerly Save Britain's Fish, with John Ashworth at the helm.

Contrary to Arron Banks's claims, none of us have formally joined his grouping and, if anything, our resolve to pursue an application with the electoral Commission for designation as the lead "leave" campaigner has strengthened. And, although we are totally under the media radar (which is the way we want it for the moment), we represent between us many thousands of activists. 

Yesterday, we were discussing whether and when to launch our group publicly. However, while it was initially pencilled in for November, we have decided to delay it until February, on the basis that the noise level is too high at the moment. It will also give us more time to produce the short version of Flexcit, which we aim to publish at the time of the launch.

Our reason for pursuing the lead designation is that neither of the two high profile groups – nor Ukip – represent the entirety of the "eurosceptic" community. Furthermore, none of the groups are capable of planning and execute an effective "leave" campaign.

If we were to gain the designation, we would inject the missing component to the campaign – an effective strategy. But to ensure that the full range of activists is represented, we would act as a commissioning agent, contracting campaigning activities and functions to any group which is prepared to carry them out, and which we judge competent to do so.

By this route, we will be effectively offering the Electoral Commission the opportunity to force the different factions to work together. We would hold the £7 million expenses quota and, without our assent, other groups will not be able to incur expenses in excess of £700,000 during the referendum period.

When it comes to running the campaign, one of our strongest suits is that we are the only group to have adopted Flexcit, and thus are the only group promoting a comprehensible and credible exit plan. We will, therefore, be telling the Electoral Commission that we are the only group will be able to satisfy the statutory test of adequacy. None of the other groups have credible exit options.

We will also be able to point to a number of egregious failures, such as the ill-advised focus on EU costs by Vote Leave Ltd. This has spectacularly backfired as the claims have been contradicted, leaving us with a tedious squabble that is going nowhere.

The worry is that such inept campaigning will be reflected in the polls (and the final result). We are thus looking carefully to see whether any trends develop, such as that which may be emerging from ICM. 

In September, the company was recording 43 percent voting to remain in the EU, with 40 percent wanting to leave. Now, after a month of intensive campaigning and two launches by "leave" groups, the same pollster records 45 percent wanting to remain, and 36 in favour of leaving. 

If this does become a trend, we will be telling the electoral Commission simply cannot afford to have these groups making the running. Even their silence would be a better option.

Richard North 14/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: lured into the trap


Now that Ukip and both of the main "leave" groups have been lured into the trap of early launches, and In Campaign Ltd have set up their BSE "mad cow" distraction unit to keep them occupied - while giving the media something to play with - the government can afford to be more candid about the timing of the referendum.

Thus we have David Lidington, as reported in the Guardian, telling us that there is a "nine month window" for the poll, starting in the summer of next year. A poll during the UK presidency, Lidington says, is "not the optimum solution", although he does not rule it out.

In fact, a period earlier in 2017 is not plausible, as there are both German and French elections. Lidington's claim has to be taken with a punch of salt. It has the smell of the government setting up its alibi, for being "forced" into holding a later referendum.

However, one thing is absolutely certain. We are not going to see a "snap referendum" in the spring of next year. That was never going to happen, yet it should not be forgotten that both Mr Farage and, separately, the current "Vote Leave Ltd" campaign (prop. Messrs Cummings & Elliott), were convinced there would be an early poll.

Therefore, when we hear opinionated spokespersons for Ukip and for Vote Leave Ltd, telling us about fighting the referendum, we should bear in mind their track record. We should also note that theyhave both launched their campaigns prematurely, on the basis of their flawed assessments.

Strategically, we should still be preparing for a referendum in October 2017 - while being ready to handle one in the spring of that year. But, amateurs aside, overall, planning should be geared to the long haul - as has long been recognised by those who had the acumen and experience to work it out.

Richard North 13/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: the cascade system


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After physical attacks on journalists by protesters at the Conservative Party Conference, Ian Dunt, who calls himself a political journalist, writes for the Yahoo News blog in defence of the media. However, he does concede that people's anger about the press is not completely misguided. "Political journalism", he says, "is often a trivial failure".

The journalists "are far too often interested in tittle-tattle about leaders than they are the consequences of their policies", Dunt adds, also telling us that they also engage in political compromises of their own, in which they give average ministers good write-ups in expectation of stories in return.

But Dunt does not confine his criticisms to the media. "Those warped incentives", he says, "do not just lie with journalists, but with readers. The brutal truth is that stories about policy failure – the effect of welfare cuts, the reality of life in prison, the hardship faced by asylum seekers – does not get anything like the attention of a piece about the latest ministerial faux-pas or whether it's still OK to say 'first world problems'".

"The web", he reminds us, "offers editors unparalleled information about what people choose to read. If they read more investigative journalism – the kind which takes time and money – more of it would be written". 

And there, whether you like it or not, the man has a point. Editors read the runes: if it's read, they publish more of the same, and if it doesn't sell, material like it rarely gets a showing.

Perhaps an example of this comes with yesterday's flood of fringe events devoted to the EU at the Conservative Party Conference. One struggles to find any detailed reports of proceedings, while the Telegraph gives space (quite a lot of it) to Anna Soubry, minister for small business, telling eurosceptics to "get a life".

Whatever else, this is certainly an example of the trivialisation of political journalism, and yet another example of why the media is totally untrustworthy. And that is before even it ceases to pretend euroscepticism, changes sides and supports Mr Cameron's negotiation package when he reveals it to an expectant nation.

Discussing this problem with several people yesterday, in a day which seems to have been spent mainly on the 'phone, all are concerned that, as a result of this, a successful referendum campaign is going to have to bypass the media and deliver its message to the people unaided.

The obvious answer here is to use the internet. Some 92 percent of all households in the UK have internet access, so this provides a cheap and effective means of reaching large numbers of people, very quickly.

However, there is also an obvious limitation in the use of the medium, in that we are seeking to do more than simply convey information. We want to change minds and thereby get people to vote in our favour in the referendum.

But if communicating information was sufficient to achieve this, Ukip would be in government. It is a mistake to believe that putting facts in front of people is sufficient to change their behaviour. Even targeting specific people, with messages tuned to their particular circumstances and expectations, is not enough. And this is why the wizz-kid data miners and processors are going to fail.

This is because the crucial element needed in the mix is prestige – about which we have written a great deal on this blog, over term. People judge the importance and veracity of the information they receive not by its accuracy or the quality and attractiveness of its presentation, but by the prestige of its source.

In this referendum campaign, our main protagonist – as we keep stating – is not going to be the "remain" campaign, with its tawdry cast of nonentities. It is going to be the Prime Minister. And in this conformist, obedient society of ours, holding this office confers a great deal of prestige – a huge hurdle for us to overcome.

As the great guru Lynton Crosby tells the Times today, "Voters will be heavily guided by David Cameron. If he comes back from the negotiations in Europe and tells voters he has achieved a certain outcome that people should support I think that will be highly influential".

Favouring us though is the fact that prestige exerts itself in different ways. High-prestige characters (like the Prime Minister) can influence people from a considerable distance. But those with low prestige, such as friends, relatives and workmates, can also exert influence. However, it tends to have most effect at shorter range, and usually works between small groups.

Between distance and height, though, there is a cross-over. At very close range, a low-prestige person can over-ride a more distant high prestige messenger (distant in time or place, or both). Thus, the closer we get to our recipients, the greater effect we can exert. 

To do that, rather than employing the top-down, direct marketing techniques (whether physical or electronic), we are using what we call the cascade system, to get the message closer to the recipient before it is delivered.

The crucial element is this is the network of blogs we are building, each of which will carry the key messages through the campaign – and especially the response to anything the Prime Minister might communicate.

But the blog is much more than just a medium of communication. Through the comments sections and with the active participation of their authors, the aim is to build communities, with whom there should be a relationship of trust. The blog then becomes the lynch-pin of the community.

The next stage is for the readers themselves to form their own communities – through Twitter, Facebook, forums or YouTube, and through more conventional means, passing the messages onwards. That next layer then forms communities, and so on and so on.

In getting the message over, Crosby places great value on Facebook - but thinks Twitter is of little importance because it had little impact on ordinary voters. "Britain has the highest proportion of people on Facebook. We have targeted voters in marginal seats on Facebook", he says "Twitter is a different thing ... [it] does not influence ordinary voters. It's just the voice of the angry".

He's actually wrong, because he's in the top-down communications game. We see Twitter as an activists' tool, permitting "horizontal" communication, and a means by which we can all keep in touch.

And as a theoretical illustration of the potential power of the cascade process, we could assume a network of a 100 blogs, with an average readership of 1,000 (this blog already has 20,000, so we have a head start). That gives a potential "reach" of 100,000. And if each reader has 1,000 followers through Twitter, Facebook and various other means, that brings our total reach to 100 million – more than the entire population of the UK. 

Of course things don't work that way, but smaller numbers and a larger number of layers can still reach huge numbers of people. What we need is the system in place, the focus and message discipline.

The beauty of the system though is that it starts with a mere hundred blogs. Archimedes once said, "Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world". In this campaign, give us 100 good bloggers, leading their own communities, and we will win the referendum. We've already made a good start.

Richard North 06/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: misreading the signals


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Jerry Hayes is not normally a name in the front of my mind, but a link to his blog caught my eye, taking me to a diatribe on the state of the EU referendum contest.

Says Hayes: "The right are horribly divided but spend more time indulging in insults than trying to gain a narrative with the electorate". He adds that, "It's just a screaming match and a jockeying for power by some rather unpleasant people. A psycho drama between Dominic Cummings and Aaron Banks who are the sort of relatives whom you would normally lock in the attic".

With that under his belt, Hayes then feels entitled to come to some conclusions, thus gravely informing us that, "rather than there being a seamless robe of Eurosceptics united in their zeal to remove Britain from the wickedness of Brussels they are a complete shambles".

For sure, the campaign is a shambles, but not for the reasons Hayes makes out. Intellectually, it is a train wreck and, unless we get our collective acts together, this campaign is going down the pan.

Organisations are a different issue. The two main groups, Leave.EU and Campaign to Leave have set up their offices, appointed some staff and are pulling their administrations together. They are both thinking about strategy and are both working up applications to put to the Electoral Commission in the hope of gaining lead designation.

What seems to offend Mr Hayes, though, is that there are two operations. That, to him, makes for the shambles. One assumes that, in his tidy little world, there should be just one campaign – and no Second Cummings or Arron Banks.

Tim Montgomerie in the Times is similarly offended by the "simmering civil war" amongst Leave supporters, which he thinks has "bubbled to the surface" in the last 24 hours, personified by the spat between Nigel Farage and Lord Lawson.

Then the famous Matt Goodwin is also on the case, again in the Times, opining that the "Eurosceptics risk shooting themselves in the foot". With the same amount of prescience he applied to his analysis of Ukip, he concludes that "things within the Eurosceptic camp are not well".

Definitely in "no sh*t Sherlock" territory, this great sage goes on to comment on the Ukip conference in Doncaster, remarking that "a few Eurosceptic groups, including some of the most prominent, were not there". As an "outside observer", this to him "seemed bizarre", as he records that Carswell and Arron Banks spent much of the time briefing against one another.

Goodwin, however, describes the differences as "infighting", suggesting that it is "not just about strategy" but also "wrapped up in long-held grievances, personality disputes and rivalries". Those tensions, he says, "are now organised around one question in particular – what to do about Nigel Farage and Ukip".

This lightweight analysis is entirely typical of Goodwin, perhaps explaining why he is such a favourite of the media, his only reference to the rival Elliott/Cummings group being made in the context of Ukip risking alienating those expressing their allegiance to it.

To Goodwin, therefore – who also notes that the polls seem to be shifting towards "leave" proposition – it is evident that eurosceptics do not yet have a viable collective strategy for taking advantage of the shift. "Unless they find one", he opines, "they risk shooting themselves in the foot".

Nowhere from Goodwin or any other legacy media pundit is there any hint of the personal tension between Banks and Elliott, or of the growing reservations over the role of Elliott and his commercial interests – especially in view of his dubious behaviour during the No2AV referendum.

On that basis, Goodwin has got it spectacularly wrong. Far from risking "shooting themselves in the foot", Banks supporters are aware that the referendum is almost certainly lost if Elliott and his mercenary group get the lead designation, and are trying to rescue the campaign from certain disaster.

Furthermore, it is not only the commercial interests of Elliott's group that are likely to interfere. With its predominantly Conservative make-up, the tribal loyalties of the group will prevent it mounting a full-frontal attack on Mr Cameron when he delivers the results of his "renegotiations".

No one could say, on the other hand, that Mr Banks would be in any way constrained, making his group a natural ally in what is an increasingly tense battle to keep Elliott from getting the designation.

With Banks now securing the support of Toby Blackwell and the Bow Group, he is possibly edging ahead in the designation stakes, although Elliot's Campaign to Leave - another of his group of companies - is scheduled formally to launch later this week when, we are told, it will announce a new raft of Conservative donors.

Elliott has the further advantage of being treated as the heir apparent by the media, being awarded a slot on the Marr Show next week, arguing against Will Straw's ill-named "in" campaign - a "clash" that promises to be an exercise in applied tedium.

Nevertheless, by this means, the media is hoping not only to frame the debate but also define the protagonists - thereby controlling the agenda. But the crucial battle is not between the "remain" and "leave" groups, but between Elliott and Banks, the victor of which will have to take on the real enemy – David Cameron.  

As always, the media is misreading the signals.

Richard North 05/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: flawed understanding


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One of the most prominent women in the Square Mile has suggested that the perils of Britain leaving the EU have been exaggerated - citing the "hollow warnings" about not joining the euro a decade ago.

This was Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, as reported by the Financial Times, commenting at the "Renegotiation, Brexit and the City" event in London, jointly organised by the City of London Corporation, Business for Britain and Business for New Europe. Its purpose was to "air the opposing points of view over Britain's EU membership".

What is depressing about this is that the FT describes it as both sides of the debate "fine-tuning" their arguments ahead of the EU referendum. Yet the idea of "fine-tuning" suggests that the arguments are all but complete, with only final adjustments to be made. But, to judge from Ms Morrissey's input, that is very far from the case.

Described as a member of Business for Britain, one of Matthew Elliott's business ventures, this woman would have it that the EU was turning out to be a "flawed concept" because it had monetary union without fiscal or political union.

Seemingly a small detail, the EU cannot be regarded as a flawed concept for this reason. The very essence of the single currency was to launch an incomplete construct in the knowledge that the stresses would create political pressures which would drive further integration.

This is the mechanism of engrenage, at the core of the so-called Monnet Method, relying on the doctrine of the beneficial crisis. It is not, as they say, a bug, but a feature. The European Union was designed to act in this way.

It is not as if this was arcane detail – it really is basic information, freely discussed in Brussels circles. Even the Financial Times was recently telling us that: "There is a comforting cliché in Brussels that the EU needs crises in order to progress".

So, in one short statement, therefore, Morrissey actually demonstrates her fundamental ignorance of the functioning the EU, standing up in front of her peers, parading that ignorance for all to see.

That actually tells us a great deal about the Business for Elliott coterie – who have in common the most profound ignorance of how the EU works. And this is why they consistently get the EU wrong. If you don't have a firm grip of the basics, then you will fail to interpret correctly the information that comes to you.

The resultant inability to see the wood for the trees is highly visible not only in the ranks of self-important pundits, but terrifying evident in much of the media coverage, with Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph retailing the empty prattle that has been doing the rounds in SW1, as if it was news, and something important.

Relying entirely on bubble gossip, the current legend has been that Osborne – having staked his reputation on bringing the EU "renegotiations" to a successful conclusion, is now regretting his intervention and is now looking for a way of cutting his losses.

According to the bubble-prattle, as retailed by Fraser Nelson, Osborne does have an alternative. He can return from Brussels saying that tried his best but, in the end, they would not offer Britain a good deal – so, with a heavy heart, he would have to recommend an "out" vote, then pushing for an early referendum.

These hacks still can't get their heads round the fact that we're looking at a "remain" vote but, that notwithstanding, there is no way on this side of Hades than either George Osborne or David Cameron are going to come back from Brussels and campaign for "leave".

In part, that is misdirection – propaganda that has been doing the rounds for months, pushed out by Downing Street to keep the gullible hacks busy and off the scent. In greater part, it is lapped up and regurgitated by the likes of Matthew Elliott, with the second Cummings panting in his wake, used to sell the idea of a spring referendum – an ideal means of keeping the sponsorship flowing.

All it takes is a little gentle prodding from the likes of Dennis MacShane, and the legend acquires a solidity that only the Westminster claque can deliver. This will then be locked in as the received wisdom for the next six months – until the hacks can find another hare to chase.

The more immediate problem, though, is that the hacks simply cannot cope with referendums, where power passes briefly from the political élites to the people, who become responsible for making decisions on issues which has been abandoned by the politicians.

Thus, we have the Times offering what it purports to be a serious piece of journalism, delivering "research" from the europhile Open Europe, "showing that 69 Tory MPs are likely to vote to leave the EU, while 203 could swing either way in the referendum".

This may be of interest to the bubble but, frankly, who else cares? In an electorate in excess of 45 million, the sentiment of less than 300 Tory MPs is a complete irrelevance. But there, writ small, is the evidence of the total failure of the legacy media and the rest of the bubble to cope with something they don't understand. They lack even the capacity to understand, and if the answers were painted on billboards in letters ten feet high, they still would not understand what they are being told.

Not anywhere are we going to get any sense out of the legacy media, and even Arron Banks is apparently losing his marbles by inviting Farage to quit Ukip and lead his campaign. If this was actually true, it would ensure that Arron would be able to do even more damage to the cause than he is already doing, killing his own campaign and completely marginalise his already faltering effort.

With the Conservative Party conference coming up, though, we're going to get all sorts of inane reporting and idle speculation. For want of having anything intelligent to say, the hacks are anticipating a feeding frenzy they hope to engineer over supposed "Tory splits" on the EU. This will save them the trouble of moving out of their comfort zones and reporting on things that are actually happening.

Meanwhile, as Mr Brexit points out, we are being taken for a ride with misleading coverage from Hammond, which keeps the space filled between the adverts and the public in the dark. Yet, sadly, there are plenty of those who believe the theatre and look no further, sharing the flawed understanding of their self-appointed "betters".

Richard North 03/10/2015 link

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