EU Referendum: a matter of accountability

Saturday 10 October 2015  

000a Leave-010 company.jpg

No sensible person, intent on fighting an effective "leave" campaign in the EU referendum, can look upon recent events with anything other than dismay. But, while we would all like to see the anti-membership forces lined up and unified, wishing things were different isn't going to make it so.

Bluntly, it is little short of childishly naive to expect the different groups to collect together under one umbrella, and "play together nicely", so that we can beat the big bad Europhiles, riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

The fact is that there are rival groups in play because there are different agendas - by no means all the players are honourable, or with good intent. And, in the absence of unity, the choice of a lead group is most likely going to have to be made by the Electoral Commission. Two or more groups will walk in, but only one will come out.

In many respects, the outcome of that battle is as important as the referendum itself. This cannot be simply put down as "infighting", with the different parties described as "splitters" after that now over-worn Monty Python sketch.

As I have written before, at stake is the heart and soul of the "leave" campaign. Determining which group takes the lead is, at this stage, far more important than any public campaigning. And while neither of the two big players so far declared are particularly attractive, there are sound reasons for not accepting the credentials of the Cummings/Elliott duo and their "vote leave" campaign. 

Not least, as we see from the Companies House record, Elliott and Cummings have turned their campaign into their own private property, having registered it as a company of which they are the sole directors. In this, Elliott has form having pulled a similar trick with the NotoAV campaign, registering the operating company as the No Campaign Limited, of which he was one of three directors (later to become two).

It really cannot be acceptable to have this sort of structure for a high profile political campaign, where donations are being solicited, and potentially tens of millions are being spent on influencing an important element of public policy. This should not be treated as a private business opportunity by a couple of opportunistic entrepreneurs.

In this type of operation, one might expect an independent, oversight board, with directors not directly involved in the day-to-day management of the campaign, charged with auditing the spending and management. Transparency and accountability are crucial elements, and both are almost entirely missing.

That said, an important part of the accountability process is public debate. Already the "vote leave's" insistence on profiling EU costs, in a lacklustre video, is being challenged. The case is unravelling even as we write. In particular, the £20 billion claim is a gift to the likes of Hugo Dixon who makes easy meat of the arguments.

Dixon actually argues that gross contribution after deduction of rebate is £12.9 billion (2014-15). If we then take up the Norway option, our total payments on a per capita basis for market access, services and the solidarity fund, would come to about £7 billion. We would also have to find payments for agriculture, rural policy, fisheries and regional policy, amounting to another £3 billion and bringing our annual payments to about £10 billion.

That would mean that our annual net savings – in terms of redistributable funds – would amount only to about £3 billion – assuming that we get a favourable deal out of Brussels and they don't demand compensation for us leaving the EU (in the same way that payments for contract termination are often demanded).

Therefore, the savings cited by "vote leave" are grossly overstated. For that reason, privately, I advised Cummings about using the cost argument, warning him that it could backfire. Yet he was insistent on using the figures, on the basis of poll results indicating that the "switch group" in the C-Ds were heavily influenced by EU costs.

What he didn't factor in was that high-profile claims would immediately provoke high-profile contradictions, ending up in a situation where Channel 4 observes that it "may be impossible to settle the economic argument before the referendum".

This is just what we needed to avoid, and if the opposition can question Cummings's use of the figures, I am not going to accept that I should be excluded from that debate – not allowed to question his strategic acumen. Some may want to call my intervention "infighting" but it is, in fact, a simple manifestation of the doctrine that we must be our own sternest critics. We do ourselves no favours by keeping quiet about flaws in our own campaign strategies.

Interestingly, the justification for this is to be found in an Independent headline, proclaiming: "EU referendum: Phoney war will continue until we see what EU deal Cameron can strike". The battle, it says, "could last for two years, and the public will not engage until late in the fight".

These are exactly the points I have been making for some time now. We are in for the long-haul. The battlefield hasn't been defined, and the battle has yet to be joined, so opinion polls have very limited value. Cummings, apart from anything else, has been over-interpreting the data.

But if we are being confronted by prima donnas, for whom being above challenge is more important than getting it right, then we have little option but to go public. If we don't sort out our campaigning strategies now, the prediction by the Independent will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The two camps "will exhaust themselves as they make claim and counter-claim", it says. They will "probably fail to land a knockout blow and slug out a draw, before the voters deliver a points verdict that could be very close indeed".

This is a newspaper's take on a strategies that we can already see carrying a high risk of failure. And when we see the Spectator is only too keen to endorse them, on behalf of the "vote leave" campaign, we know that this is something to avoid. It would help, of course, if the magazine revealed it has a financial interest in the designation outcome, standing to gain advertising revenue from the Elliott camp. 

Nothing, therefore, is quite what it seems. But as long as we have incompetent, self-serving campaigners – who have the capability to do more harm than good – accountability must come before personal ambition.

Getting it right is our most important priority, and there is far too much at stake for us to take a different view. And we are very far from being alone in asking whether Matthew Elliott is an appropriate person to lead the official "leave" campaign. We need better than anything he and his Second Cummings has to offer.

Richard North 10/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: "vote to leave" launch

Friday 9 October 2015  

000a BBC-009 launch.jpg

A new campaign group has broken cover, under the title "Vote to leave". Although the website calls for volunteers and applicants for paid positions to "join us", it is remarkably coy as to who "us" actually is.

While it is long on prestigious figures (always a bad sign), there are no details of the operational team – those who will be in charge of the day-to-day conduct of the campaign. For that, one has to go to the legacy media (and Breitbart), where one learns that the chief executive is Matthew Elliott and the campaign director the much over-rated Dominic Cummings.

In the build-up of this organisation, I have had several face-to-face meeting with Mr Cummings, and multiple contacts, and have delivered several detailed briefings – some of which have quite evidently taken root.

Throughout this period, it was understood that I would assist the organisation once it had launched, even though I have made it abundantly clear that there are no circumstances under which I will work for or with an organisation which had Mr Elliott as its chief executive. I do not trust him and have no confidence in his ability to run an effective campaign.

The response to this has been continued assurances from Mr Cummings that the head the organisation will not be Mr Elliott, on which understanding, I have been giving it my full support. Yet, as events turn out, this is not true and never was true. It has always been the case that Mr Elliott would take control. To that effect, Elliott and Cummings formed their own company, "Vote Leave Limited" on 18 September, with themselves as sole directors. The "Vote Leave" campaign is their private property.

However, there has been another issue relating to my association with this organisation. It seems that I am not allowed to criticise  the current Elliott operations, or express criticism of any of his supporters, such as Daniel Hannan. The writ is extensive, restraining me from offering critiques in any form, actual or implied - even when no names are mentioned. I am even required to censor my son, Peter, and ensure that he refrains from hostile comment.

Failure to comply has brought multiple and continued complaints, but not to me directly. That is not their style. Instead, the complaints are made to my sponsor, who has been under increasing pressure to cease funding me. It was made clear to me that unless I fully conform with unspecified conditions of censorship, and absent myself from a debate on strategy in which Cummings and others feel free to take an unrestrained part, my funding would be terminated.

Such has been the pressure that I have even had complaints about pieces I hadn't written, on blogs I do not control. Recently, faced with still more complaints, I decided to tell my sponsor to stop funding me, so that his support can no longer be used as leverage. This removes the restraints and allows me to return to writing freely on this blog and elsewhere.

Given these events, it should come as no surprise that my enthusiasm for Mr Elliott's enterprise is somewhat muted, and that I maintain my current stance of refusing to work with it. Nevertheless, insofar as it may contribute positively to the campaign, one should wish it well, even if the early signs are not promising. The launch video is - in my view - crass, and the emphasis on money-saving dangerously misplaced.

The lack of wisdom in such an approach is readily evident from this report, where the personality-obsessed Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor, tells us that "the arguments over whether we really gain or lose economically will be a central strand of the referendum debate".

What Kuenssberg thinks important signifies exactly the opposite. The very last thing we want is a campaign bogged down in "arguments over whether we really gain or lose economically" from leaving the EU. Yet this is exactly where Elliott and his idiot friends are taking us, with the all the strategic savvy of demented slugs.

Thank goodness, is all I can say, that it will be two years before we see a poll – enough time for these wunderkind to exhaust themselves and drive their supporters into tedium-induced comas, leaving the field for those with something interesting and relevant to say.

In the meantime, as befits a blog bearing the title, we will comment on the conduct of Mr Elliott's campaign as we see fit – reporting the good and the bad, as we do with other players. Freed from the insidious blackmail that has been going on behind the scenes, we will continue to stand by our view that, to succeed, we must be our own sternest critics.

Richard North 09/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: a non-barking dog

Friday 9 October 2015  

000a Duff-009 bid.jpg

An exegesis by Andrew Duff evaluates the current state of play in the never-never land of Mr Cameron's EU renegotiations.

In turn picked apart by Mr Brexit, Duff's work is worth the study as this former Lib-Dem MEP is one of the main proponents of building "associate membership" into the coming treaty, as a means of defusing the so-called "British question", a stratagem he advanced in 2006 as a means of rescuing the then stalled EU constitution, having already proposed it for the original constitution draft.

Picking up the threads in 2012, arguing that that the EU would need a new treaty, he advanced the view that the UK could not be allowed to veto deeper integration. "This means", he wrote:
… that the UK is headed directly either for complete withdrawal from the EU or, more likely, for a formal second-class associate membership based essentially on those aspects of the single market which the British find palatable and its erstwhile partners tolerable.
When in March 2013, a new treaty looked to be on the cards, with a convention predicted for the spring of 2015, Duff was putting clothes on the idea in an LSE blogpost, proposing "a new type of associate membership".

This would be one which both the UK and Turkey could espouse, "where countries would agree to the EU's values, but not to all its activities or political objectives". It would, he argued, "give some countries a springboard towards membership, and others, an alternative to it".

There was also a third category of European state for which a new class of associate membership might prove to be an irresistible offer, Duff advanced – the EEA states of Norway, Iceland Liechtenstein, "which have the status of virtual member states of the Union without any of the political trappings or institutional connections of a full member state".

These, plus Switzerland, could come into the fold as associate members, regularising what Duff considered to be "unsatisfactory positions".

Working up the idea of associate membership was something Duff set for the convention he expected to be assembled in 2015. It needed, he said, "to craft something other than privileged partnership outside the Union, something more than the EEA, yet something less than full membership".

Now it comes to his current exegesis and the mood has changed. Convinced that the Brexit renegotiation "is doomed to fail", he believes that it is increasingly likely that the referendum will result in a vote to leave the EU.

"Once that happens", Duff declares, "we are plunged into Article 50 territory and complicated secession negotiations lasting about two years. The end product will be a 'withdrawal agreement' in the form of a bilateral treaty between the UK and the EU".

"If treated with care", he goes on to say, "that new treaty might possibly comprise a package deal to craft a new form of affiliate membership of the Union that might suit the UK as well as other determinedly anti-federalist, non-eurozone states".

For careful watchers of federalist tracts, this seems a novel approach, for Duff has previously written that, "Should the UK ever stumble into associate membership of the EU, one would hope that it would be a temporary sabbatical from full membership rather than permanent relegation".

We do, however, see another writer, Prof David Phinnemore, of Queen's University Belfast, writing in September of this year that "establishing associate membership status need not wait for an amendment to the Treaty of the European Union". It could, he says, "be negotiated as the post-withdrawal settlement envisaged in Article 50".

This, however, does not seem to be what Duff had in mind – up until now, when he seems to be suggesting that Article 50 should be invoked as a means of achieving associate membership – precisely what Phinnemore is suggesting. Up until now, Duff has always been positioning associate membership as the alternative to the UK leaving.

What is particularly significant about this, therefore, is that Duff is not mentioning his own brainchild, an addition to a new treaty and a formal associate membership within the framework of the treaties. Given the ability of the Europhiles to coordinate their agenda, and pursue a common line, one could take it that his omission is not accidental – he is the dog that did not bark.

As to why he should be silent, there is a simple and plausible explanation. If associate membership is to have a positive impact, and the best chance of being accepted by the voters in the referendum, it needs to look as if it is the fruits of a long, hard negotiation – presented as a concession that Mr Cameron has wrung out of the "colleagues".

For Mr Cameron to be seen to adopt associate membership as a pre-ordained arrangement to stave off our leaving, creating – in Duff's own words – a second-class status, is not something that would play particularly well.

Of course, if Mr Cameron did want to present Article 50 as the preferred option, then we would not in any manner find ourselves objecting, but the option of a second referendum to approve the settlement (which Duff concedes as a possibility), would become essential. To leave the EU only to rejoin it under the guise of a bilateral treaty could hardly be acceptable.

Nevertheless, Duff's exegesis is charting interesting waters. It cannot be taken at face value, as Cameron – with the help of his Brussels advisors – is undoubtedly gaming the situation, and Duff may well be part of that. But one can infer from the non-barking dog that associate membership, in one form or another, is very much on the agenda.

Richard North 09/10/2015 link

Migration: dealing with the problems

Thursday 8 October 2015  

000a EP-009 joint.jpg

Picking on a topical issue as the "poster child" for a referendum campaign is a hugely risky strategy, and especially so if you are expecting a long campaign when circumstances are likely to change.

This looks like being the case with migration, and in particular the Mediterranean crisis which has been dominating the headlines over the summer. As the crisis has developed, it has been gleefully exploited by divers anti-EU groups as an example of the inadequacy of Union policy-making and delivery.

An example of this could be seen in the European Parliament yesterday when Nigel Farage responded to a joint address on the migration issue by Hollande and Merkel. This was the first joint Frenco-German speech to the European Parliament since Mitterrand and Kohl spoke in November 1989, which had Merkle describe the migration crisis as a test of historic proportions.

Said Mr Farage: "In what must count as perhaps the worst piece of public policy seen in modern Europe for half a century ... you compounded the already failing and flawed EU common asylum policy by saying to the whole world: 'Please come to Europe'. And we saw, frankly, virtually a stampede. And we learn that 80 percent of those who are coming are not Syrian refugees".

But what is undoubtedly a major problem for the EU now has the full attention of the "colleagues", and could be on its way to being resolved. If that is the case, it would create a serious problem for the anti-EU campaigns. The solutions will be cited as an example of the countries of "Europe" successfully working together, turning a campaign asset into a liability.

More astute campaigners have always seen this as a possibility. Even though the situation is getting increasingly difficult for Merkel, and dire predictions are to be found in the legacy media, the European Commission is already parading its solutions to the Syrian and Iraqi component of the crisis. Its latest plan is set out in a Draft Action Plan, "Stepping up EU-Turkey cooperation on support of refugees and migration management".

Amongst other things, the EU intends to "mobilise" €1 billion in funds to help Turkey increase the scale of humanitarian assistance it is providing, adding to the € 4.2 billion already "mobilised". Turkey is also set to benefit from a substantial increase of the EU Regional Trust Fund, which could account for billions more.

Some of the money will be used to support resettlement schemes and programmes, enabling refugees in Turkey to enter the EU in an orderly manner. And in exchange for this largesse, Turkey has promised to "continue and further enhance" the effective implementation of the law on foreigners and international protection by adopting necessary secondary legislation and raising awareness of its content among all parties concerned.

It will ensure that migrants are registered and provided with appropriate documents on a compulsory basis to enable to build a stronger migration management strategy and system. And it will ensure that the asylum procedures that have been initiated are completed, so that the status of refugee is granted without delay to those whose asylum requests are positively assessed.

If this is dry-as-dust stuff, as always with the EU the devil is in the detail. Even though the BBC downplays the deal, Turkey and the EU are continuing talks on what is opaquely labelled the "visa liberalisation dialogue", incorporating "the visa roadmap and the provisions of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement".

Almost entirely unreported by the UK media (along with so much else), this cropped up in December 2013, when the readmission agreement took a step forward when it was signed by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The essence of the agreement was that the Turkish government would undertake to accept the return of irregular migrants who had used Turkey as their country of passage en route to Europe, thereby overcoming one of the greatest problems encountered by reception countries – the absence of a "safe" country that would take them back.

This was ratified by the Turkish Parliament in June 2014, paving the way for visa-free travel to Schengen area countries for Turkish citizens. Coming into force three years after ratification, this is the turnkey that facilitates the readmission agreement.

Although we are not fully there yet, the current "Draft Action Plan" is another significant step forward which promises to reduce significantly the flow of irregular migrants coming out of Turkey.

This, though, is by no means the extent of the EU activity. We learn from the Times that EU Member States are planning the mass deportation of "hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers", after pressure has been applied to countries such as Niger and Eritrea, who have hitherto refuse to take back migrants.

Human Rights Watch is not happy, complaining that EU is intent on shifting its responsibilities toward refugees and asylum seekers to its neighbours, while the UNHCR fears that refugee reception centres set up with the aid of EU money will end up as detention camps.

But the agency also notes that the returns are due to start extremely rapidly, with Italy planning to start relocating refugees - a group of Eritreans – as early as Friday.

This stems from a European Commission initiative taken on 9 September, when it noted that in 2014 less than 40 percent of the irregular migrants that were ordered to leave the EU actually departed. With the Commission having been "invited" by the European Council "to set up a dedicated European Return Programme", this is one of the first visible results.

Following the Merkel-Hollande address, we can expect even more. And some of that will follow from the High Level Conference scheduled today, while the EU's operation against people smugglers may reap additional dividends.

Despite the media only just beginning to notice, these measures have been under development for some time and, as they gather momentum, their effects will intensify.

Given also a favourable change in the military situation in Syria, perhaps as a result of Russian intervention, it is not untoward to speculate that, by the time we head to the polls, the migrant crisis that has been preoccupying us for so long will have disappeared from the headlines.

That is not to say that the problems (any of them) will have been solved. The EU doesn't work that way. But the federal boot may have kicked them into some exceeding long grass – sufficient to neutralise them as a referendum issue.

There is, of course, always the possibility of the alternative scenario, where the problems spiral out of control, to a greater extent than they have already. If that happens, they will be a powerful asset to the "leave" campaign, without us having to labour the points. And on that basis, there is no great advantage in pressing buttons right now.

Since there are some potentially serious disadvantages, and it is never a good idea to put all your campaigning eggs in one basket, it would seem that caution is advised. We should think twice, and think again before using migration as a "killer issue" in our toolkit.

A two-year campaign has different dynamics to a short fight, and we need to be thinking not of the present but of what will be playing when the votes are cast. And then migration may no longer be on the agenda to the same extent that it is now.

Richard North 08/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: strategic errors

Wednesday 7 October 2015  

000a YouGov-007 leave.jpg

The growing certainty that we're in for the long haul, with no prospect of there being an early referendum, highlights one of the major strategic errors of the "leave" campaigns. The organisers are starting too early and dissipating their energies on fruitless public activities.

Given that we are going to need huge numbers of volunteers and paid staff, the early effort would be much better expended on recruiting (even if we don't yet know how people will fit into an overall structure) and then training. Like any large and successful enterprise, there is an absolute need for a trained "workforce", and it is a grievous error to believe that we can put them into the field without adequate training.

Interestingly, when I was once involved in a mass-training programme for a major corporation, with all senior staff required to attend a course and take an examination (which they had to pass to keep their jobs), one of the first candidates was the managing director.

The man told us (the lecturers) that he should set an example and, in any event, he was probably as ignorant as the rest of his staff. He passed, of course, and there are many supposed "high fliers" who could with advantage emulate his humility. The depth of ignorance of those who presume to lecture us is tragically apparent.

But if this is a major (if unrecognised) error, to add to the original sin of going to early, then it is only one of many. The strategic errors come in legions. 

The huge mistake being made, though, is in failing to define the near objectives of the campaign, within the context of the overall aim of winning the referendum as a step towards leaving the European Union. Actually, this is not one mistake but several, it that the key elements of the fight are, as earlier defined, to identify the schwerpunkt, to contain the thrust and then to mount a successful counter-attack.

To successfully deal with the first point, though, demands that we are able to decide who the enemy is in the first place, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by random noise and irrelevances. Unfortunately, some of the players can't resist the temptation to engage in irrelevant skirmishes that simply waste energy and confuse the public.

As British Influence are keen to exploit, we see from the recent YouGov poll that a 51-33 percent majority of Conservative Party voters in favour of leaving reverses to 56-29 percent in favour of remaining in:
David Cameron renegotiated our relationship with Europe and said that Britain's interests were now protected, and David Cameron recommended that Britain remain a member of the European Union on the new terms.
The key word is, of course, "relationship" – that is the schwerpunkt. As long as the campaign groups obsess about anything and everything other than this, they are making a grave strategic error. No matter how diligently crafted, propaganda about the perils of EU membership will be swept aside.

The likes of Dominic Cummings can belatedly wake up to the perils of the ECJ, and start issuing dire warnings about the implications of recent judgements to the EU referendum, but he completely misses the point.

We can expend huge energies telling people how ghastly the EU really is (for those who don't know already), but this is water off a duck's back. Mr Cameron will simply tell us that he "feels our pain" and agree with us. In that, he will be joined by his "eurosceptic" Chancellor, who will hijack our concerns and use them to his own ends. 

The only real effect of the anti-EU propaganda, therefore, will be to pave the way for the Prime Minister, who will offer his "new relationship" as a means of solving all our problems. All we will have doe is provide him with a platform from which he can launch his mission "to save Britain". 

The failure to understand this is yet another error to add to the list - a huge lacuna which effectively means that most of the campaigning is having an effect opposite to that intended. And despite the transparency of Mr Cameron's objective, and the timescale into which he is locked, there is no indication that the different groups are preparing to focus on the only issue that counts – the value or otherwise of the "relationship" he will be offering us.

Then, in terms then of a counter-offensive, there is not even the slightest evidence that serious preparations are being made by the high-profile groups, or that the need for a focused attack has even been recognised.

But the need could not be more pressing. The YouGov poll that had Conservatives switching in their droves also had 38 percent wanting to remain in the EU as against 40 percent wanting to leave, switching to 47 percent "remainers" and 29 percent "leavers" when confronted by a Prime Minister bearing gifts. Clearly, unless we address and then tackle the "relationship" issue, we are not going to prevail.

Even then, our travails are not over. Explored yesterday was the means by which we must deliver our message. Without that capability, no amount of intelligence or strategy will come to our aid.

And there, while the technology of communication provides us with valuable tools, the way minds are changed is through human relationships and trust. People either trust us, or they trust the Prime Minister. That is what this referendum will come down to.

Putting this all together, long-term readers will recall my warning that the default outcome of this referendum is that we lose. It is going to take an exceptionally skilled campaign to reverse the odds – currently 47-29 percent against, after Mr Cameron has exercised his magic, according to YouGov.

For all that, the referendum is winnable. But campaigns in the hands of amateurs, riddled with strategic errors, are not going to hack it. The efforts currently being expended, far from helping, are actually handicapping the fight. That puts even more onus on us to beat Cameron's strategic deception. We could do with a little help.

Richard North 07/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: the cascade system

Tuesday 6 October 2015  

000a Yahoo-005 Press.jpg

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: getting there at last

Tuesday 6 October 2015  

000a Independent-006 delay.jpg

I've lost track of when we first put our views on the timing of the referendum but we've been pretty consistent since the beginning of this year that it would be late in 2017 – despite idle speculation to the contrary.

Both Matthew Elliott and Nigel Farage have been convinced that there would be an early referendum, on the basis of no evidence at all. They've even ignored the Prime Minister himself, who has made it clear that a "better choice" would be to hold a vote by the end of 2017 after having had a chance to convince other allies to reform the EU and give the UK more freedoms.

But, what comes round goes round. Despite the certainty of these great "experts", we now get the Independent telling us that "David Cameron may delay the referendum … until 2017 in order to give himself more time to win concessions from other EU leaders".

Although September 2016 was "until recently seen as the most likely date" – but only by the pundits and media - one of Cameron's ministers is saying: "We may have to play it long. It would be better to wait if that means getting a bigger and better package of reforms".

That, in fact, was how it was always going to be. So, we're exactly back where we started – and where we would be if people stopped to look at the evidence, rather than indulging in their own fantasies. As it stands, we have all the campaign groups going off half-cock,  at the risk of running out of steam (and money) and driving the public away as the campaign drags. 

This, though, is a measure of the competence of the main players. And if they can't even get their act together on this issue – which has a massive impact on the conduct and pace of the campaign - then one can have little confidence in their management of the campaign generally.

In short, they're behaving like amateurs - mainly because that's exactly what they are. They have little ability to plan an effective campaign because they're failing correctly to interpret the intelligence. They may think themselves "experts", but when it comes to EU politics, they're out of their depth. 

Sadly, there is no natural limit to the number of mistakes they can make.

Richard North 06/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: misreading the signals

Monday 5 October 2015  

000a Hayes-005 brexiteers.jpg

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: agreement on a plan

Sunday 4 October 2015  

000a Independent-004 fears.jpg

The extraordinarily simplistic article in the Independent on Sunday on leaving the EU doesn't really matter. It's in a newspaper that's dying on its feet, has very little credibility and speaks mainly to its own kind – fanatical Europhiles wedded to the cause.

In typical style of its kind of propaganda, it raises the FUD – telling us that "Fears grow that European Union will impose tough conditions on UK after 'Brexit'" – total hyperbole, then adding the formulaic and completely unsubstantiated assertion that: "The threat will fuel further tensions within the Conservative Party, which is divided on the EU".

This is such empty invention that it scarce deserves a reply, but it is interesting to observe the techniques used. Having raised the scare, the paper then brings on the straw men in legions, claiming:
Eurosceptics have argued that the UK would still enjoy favourable trading terms with the EU even if it left, often citing Norway, which is not a member but is still the fifth biggest exporter to the bloc. Lord Lawson, the new head of a Conservative Brexit campaign, said last week Britain could "negotiate a free trade deal with the rest of Europe", entailing "a more amicable and realistic relationship".
But this is more than just straw men – it is bias by omission. With just short of 30,000 downloads behind it and a short version in preparation, Flexcit is by any measure a significant contributor to the debate, offering a structured and complete demolition to the Independent fluff.

Not least, Flexcit sets out a six-stage exit plan, with multiple fall-back positions, sufficient to protect UK interests against any known contingency. It easily answers the "fears" that the likes of the Independent raise.

But the paper ignores Flexcit, as do most Europhile organs, inventing any number of excuses for doing so, when challenged. But they all amount to the same thing. They dare not acknowledge it because it so comprehensively demolishes their superficial and facile arguments.

But they are considerably assisted in their task by being able to rely on the indifference of a diminishing tranche the eurosceptic community, who either have their own axes to grind, or labour under the mistaken impression that an exit plan isn't necessary. Some even argue that any single plan is so divisive that we must do without one.

On the other hand, it was the brilliant Second Cummings who argued (behind the scenes) that that Flexcit, with its six-stage structure, was too complex for the tender flowers of Westminster, prompting this response and the observation that:
If you want to qualify to the highest level in music, through the examination board of the Royal Schools of Music, there are EIGHT stages. Yet, to undo 40 years of economic and political integration, some people think SIX stages are excessive.
Amusingly, I noted on my Twitter feed today the post illustrated below, promoting the "14 easy steps" needed to become a runner. And there I thought it was about putting one foot in front of another, quicker than normal. 

000a runner-000 steps.jpg

But as long as the eurosceptic aristocracy are determined to ignore Flexcit, that gives the europhiles a free pass to do the same thing. In this case, the IoS relies on the fatuous Lawson – who really should know better having stitched up the IEA Brexit competition – who is bleating that Britain could "negotiate a free trade deal with the rest of Europe".

If this doddering fool stopped to think for one moment, he would know that it could take years to come to an agreement – far more time than is politically acceptable – opening the way for the Independent in a separate piece to claim that this would be "a long and tortuous process that would take many years and create long-term uncertainty".

When, years down the line, we still have spokesman for the "leave" campaign being caught out on the basics, it is time for all of us to ask whether we can afford to have these people representing us, or whether they should be put out to grass. Clearly, Lawson has learned nothing at all from judging the IEA competition.

However, while we can afford to ignore the Independent - for the time being – its input gives us an inkling of how the Europhiles are going to play it. Picking on the lack of an agreed exit plan is easy meat for them, and they will continue to exploit this lack of agreement for as long as it gives results.

For over ten years, I and others have been arguing that the anti-EU movement must get behind an exit plan and, after all these years, we are not much further forward in gaining broad-spectrum agreement.

Flexcit, of course, remains on the table, as does the offer of looking at any amendments that might be submitted – the work already having accommodated the thinking and arguments of many readers (with a corrected and improves version out shortly).

Most of the detractors, however, far from seeking to make the work better, seem not even to have read it, while the Elliott faction went into competition, with an error-strewn, incoherent door stopper that has all but disappeared with trace, unread even by the friends of Elliott.

The only thing different between now and ten years ago is that we currently have a plan in place. But until enough people put their weight behind it, and force its adoption, the way will be open for the likes of the Independent to pretend we are without one, and make mischief for us.

There is no use waiting for the great and the good to get off their pedestals on this. We the people have to take our own decisions and make the running – unless, of course, you are content to have the mighty Lawson blather on your behalf.

Richard North 04/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: guessing the date

Sunday 4 October 2015  

000a Independent-003 fast.jpg

One of the things I'm going to enjoy about the fest in Manchester this week is pointing out how so much of the media got it totally wrong on the timing of the referendum.

We have, for instance, the Independent of 25 July – about nine weeks ago – confidently predicting that David Cameron was set to hold the referendum in June next year and would "announce the fast-tracked date as the centrepiece of his party's annual conference in October".

At that time, the paper had it that George Osborne was believed to be keen for the referendum to be held later rather than sooner, but the Prime Minister had "calculated that a 2016 vote will give him a better chance of promoting what may end up being a limited package of EU reforms, and of highlighting the economic risks Britain could face if it left the EU".

At the time, this was repeated by the coprophagic Daily Express but now, we're getting the Sunday Telegraph telling us what we've known all along, that "the Prime Minister indicates that he will not be rushed into naming the date of the EU referendum".

That comes out of a pre-conference interview and is a thinly-coded confirmation that there will be no date set at the conference, not at any time in the near future. David Cameron is playing the long game.

The Telegraph has no cause to feel superior, though, as it was retailing on 19 September fears from rebel Conservative MPs that there would be an early referendum called, again announced at the party conference. This time, though, roles had reversed and it was George Osborne trying to get it "out of the way" as soon as possible.

Generally, all the papers have been playing silly games and getting it wrong, with the Daily Mail in June last predicting a referendum for October next year. Then, and many times since, a Downing Street spokesman dismissed the predictions as "pure speculation",

The off thing is that, when newspapers such as the Guardian are prepared to accept Downing Street dismissals of "associate membership" being "nonsense" and "speculation", the guessing game on the referendum date has continued unabated.

Not for nothing, therefore, does Lost Leonardo refer to the "moronic media". Ever since Cameron moved us to fixed-term Parliaments, the witless hacks have been robbed of their "guess the date" game for the general election, and are making up for lost time with the referendum.

Put bluntly, they are not capable of much else, so expecting them to write intelligently about this or any other aspect of the referendum is perhaps asking too much. They one thing they are good at, though, is glossing over their errors, so the one thing we need not expect is anything like an apology for their mounting errors.

Without so much as a blush, they will all be back at it over the week, adding to their litany of false predictions, blissfully unaware that their credibility is dribbling down the drain. But then, the great advantage of working for the legacy media is never having to admit you are wrong.

Richard North 04/10/2015 link

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few