EU Referendum: Tatler Tories

Monday 30 November 2015  

000a Mail-030 blackmail.jpg

Yesterday was the day when the Mark Clarke story went mainstream big time, with the entire front page of the Mail on Sunday dedicated to the story, and many other newspapers devoting front-page space to the story as well.

This was the story dismissed by journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer less than two weeks ago on the grounds that most voters "couldn't care less" as it is "hard to engage with [a] story about nonentities".

Well, those "nonentities" have led to the resignation of Grant Shapps, a Conservative minister, with the future of Lord Feldman, one of Mr Cameron's close political allies at stake. And as the scandal intensifies, with more people crawling out of the woodwork each day, the Conservative Party is tearing itself apart.

On this blog, we've been watching from afar, but have not reported on something that looks too much like intruding on private grief – grief which is palpable in the case of Elliott Johnson's parents, who are still mourning the loss of their son after his suicide brought about by events which are the subject of this major controversy.

However, when over the days and weeks one reads headlines about bullying, bitching, backstabbing, blackmail and betrayals in the Conservative Party, I have increasingly found myself thinking of Vote Leave Ltd – the Tory element of the "leave" campaign.

The reason for this is that much of the behaviour reported in respect of Mark Clarke and those around him is manifest in those associated with the Vote Leave referendum campaign. There is an extraordinary cross-network of Tory activists, where the same names keep cropping up again and again, many of which are actively involved in the "leave" campaign, or close supporters of key figures in the campaign.

For a start, one of the organisations which occupies a central role is the Young Britons' Foundation, "inspired by the success, drive and spirit of the American conservative movement" and founded by two activists, Donal Blaney and Greg Smith.

This organisation had Mark Clarke as its "director of outreach" but it also boasted Daniel Hannan as its president, a man no stranger to bullying and blackmail. This is the free market champion who has done his level best to silence this blog, by demanding of my sponsors that they cease funding me unless I come into line – a stratagem so far successful in that I am no longer funded.

Another voice which keeps cropping up is the Guido Fawkes blog, where the financial and business relationship between its founder, Paul Staines, and Vote Leave Ltd founder, Matthew Elliott, have been well established by The Boiling Frog.

Crucially – as reported by The Boiling Frog - we see the blog writing pieces in support of Vote Leave, while also writing various uncomplimentary pieces about rival Arron Banks and his operation.

However, co-editor of Guido and author of many pieces is Harry Cole, who has been voluble about the resignation of Grant Shapps – although somewhat less than candid about his role in the affair and the extent of his knowledge.

Tim Fenton in the blog Zelo Street, suggests that Cole, like the others, "has been advancing the pretence of faux horror at news of bullying which he almost certainly knew about all along". Harry Cole, says Fenton:
… is the modern face of Nixonland. He is congenitally dishonest, utterly without either principle or shame, and quite prepared to verbally and physically bully anyone and everyone who opposes him. He and Mark Clarke are honoured and, indeed, decorated alumni of the Young Britons' Foundation. He knows all about bullying in politics because he is one of its most able practitioners.
Not only is Cole an alumni of the Young Britons' Foundation, however, he was also celebrated by Conservative Home with evident approval as one of the "Westminster Brat Pack", a "London-based group of friends and professionals, who drink, blog, tweet, and network together". And, of Cole, CH writes: "His parties south of the river (hosted at the flat he shares with Christian May) are, apparently, the stuff of Brat Pack legend".

Another of the "Brat Pack" is Sam Coates, formerly deputy editor of Conservative Home and a close associate of Tim Montgomerie, who is now whinging in CapX that the Tory bullying scandal "reveals [a] shrunken, centralised, flawed party".

This is the man who complains that "people who crossed the party leadership a decade ago are never forgiven", yet forgets how quickly he banned from CH any commenters who spoke against David Cameron, when young Montgomerie was in his "hail the great leader" phase. This is also the man who ruthlessly blocks people from his Twitter account for daring to disagree with him.

Another close associate is Mark Wallace, now executive editor for Conservative Home, but formerly of the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) where his boss was Matthew Elliott. Wallace, also a member of the "Brat Pack", uses his editorial position on CH to write puff pieces supporting his friend and former boss in his ambitions to become the lead campaigner for the "leave" side of the referendum.

Still another Bratt Packer is Matthew Sinclair, who took over the role of Director of the TPA when Matthew Elliott left to head the No2AV campaign (during which Paul Staines was paid handsomely as a media consultant). Now a consultant for the EU-funded Europe Economics, Sinclair maintains his links with Elliott and is a frequent contributor to Conservative Home.

There is nothing overtly sinister about these relationships, but they do go to show how introverted and closed the "SW1 crowd" has become, where you are either "one of us" or, in their eyes, you don't exist – you become a nonentity.

And within that "in crowd", we see that bullying, bitching, backstabbing, blackmail and betrayals are the common currency of these people, from amongst whom are those who consider themselves ideally fitted to run the "leave" campaign.

If it had not been for the intervention of Arron Banks, Mr Elliott's "Vote Leave Ltd" and his gang of Tory Boys would have been a slam dunk for lead designation. But, if nothing else, the Mark Clarke affair shows us that we should be even more reluctant about letting these people anywhere near the campaign.

The Tory "brand" is tarnished goods, and their supposed "brightest and best" are not to be trusted. If we are to win this referendum campaign, we must look elsewhere.

Richard North 30/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: a journey through time

Sunday 29 November 2015  

000a Breitbart-029 Candles.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard North 29/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: campaigning on the issues

Saturday 28 November 2015  

000a YouGov-028 negs.jpg

Adding to my piece yesterday on polling results, we have an additional survey from YouGov which looks at responses to various EU "renegotiation" scenarios.

In the first of three, respondents are asked to imagine that David Cameron has secured a small change in Britain's relationship with the EU, obtaining guarantees over some key issues that he said protected British interests, but without any major change in policy areas in which the European Union has powers.

The second scenario has respondents imagining that a major change in Britain's relationship with the EU has been secured, with substantial changes to the rules Britain has to follow and British opt-outs from EU rules in several different policy areas.

Third comes a failure scenario, where David Cameron does not secure any change in Britain's relationship. The referendum is held on Britain's relationship with the EU as it stands now.

In each case, respondents are asked how they would vote. In the "small change" scenario, the "leavers" get a small victory: 38-37 percent. When Mr Cameron succeeds with big changes, he gets a comfortable win, scoring 50 percent against 23 – more than two to one in favour of remaining. In "failure mode", though, a substantial victory goes to the "leavers": 46 as against 32 percent.

Caution is advised in all cases, and the "don't knows" and non-voters are high, coming in respectively at 25, 27 and 22 percent. Across the board, the margins are sufficient to tilt the verdicts into the opposite camps.

A year ago, YouGov had already conducted with exercise, but without the "small change" scenario, giving a 58-25 percent victory to a Mr Cameron who brings back "significant reforms", with the "leavers" claiming a 43-35 percent victory in the event of failure.

Interestingly, there are slight movements in the figures year-on-year, with an indication that the "failure mode" penalty is strengthening. Either Mr Cameron delivers, or he is toast. The electorate don't seem to be in a mood to accept half measures.

The greater utility of these polls, though, is that they point to the decisive factor in the referendum being the outcome of Mr Cameron's "negotiations". The referendum is not going to be decided on the issues.

Despite this, we have the likes of Goodwin et al seeking to determine the effects of different arguments on the referendum. They show that none of the common arguments raised "had statistically significant effects on the 'remain' or 'leave' vote at the aggregate level".

But even to attempt to determine an effect is a mistake. All their work does is confirm that which we already know: the various issues (as defined) are irresolvable. Whatever argument there is on one side can be matched by arguments on the other side. There are no clear black-and-white answers.

In these circumstances, one then has to look for other decision drivers. For these one can rely on basic human psychology. When confronted with the need to make crucial decisions, where it is impossible to make a rational decisions due to conflict of evidence (or even information overload), people use different stratagems.

Mostly, the will seek advice from people they know and trust, or from those in authority - people with prestige. And in this referendum, the dominant, high-prestige player will be the Prime Minister. He is the only who will be seeking to convince people that there has been a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations. He will be putting his reputation on the line, exploiting his prestige to maximum effect.

As one might expect, Goodwin et al show no signs of understanding this dynamic. There is no indication that they are even aware of its importance. Nor indeed do the high-noise campaigners, who are apparently committed to fighting the campaign on specific issues.

Most probably, they are failing properly to distinguish between elections and this supremely complex referendum. But, while elections are sometimes defined by specific issues, this is not the case with this referendum. The focus thus far on issues, such as the cost of UK contributions, has been a waste of time and money, and will have no effect on the outcome.

However, whether or not the noisemakers start focusing on the pivotal issues currently seems less important than whether Mr Cameron can deliver a credible renegotiation narrative. If it is too weak to convince, then the tactical errors the Prime Minister has already have made could seal his fate.

The essential difference between the two sides, though, is that in a real life situation when the voters are fully focused on the contest, the "leave" campaign has additional hurdles to surmount. Mr Cameron may fail to convince, but to be sure of winning, we must offer an alternative vision and credible assurances that delivery is feasible. Otherwise the "fear factor" kicks in and the electorate holds on to nurse.

Thus, even if Mr Cameron fails to win, we can still lose the referendum. It is us to us to make sure that does not happen. The good news is that this might not be as difficult as we first thought.

Richard North 28/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: reading the polls

Friday 27 November 2015  

000a BMG-027 poll.jpg

An interesting poll in the Evening Standard has more than half the public thinking that the British economy would be either better off or no worse off if Britain were to quit the EU.

The polling company is BMG Research and the unmodified figures have 42 percent thinking that leaving the EU would harm the British economy. On the other side, 35 percent think Britain would be better off economically outside the EU while 23 percent think the economy overall would be neither better off nor worse off if Britain left.

One might have thought that the "neither better off nor worse" respondents were actually "don't knows" but BMG Research seem to think their input is relevant. Added to the 35 percent "better offs", the two make 58 percent. Contrasted with the 42 percent, that gives the majority to those who are unworried by the effect of leaving on the economy.

More interesting though is the relationship between these data and the raw voting intention figures. These have the "remains" and the "leavers" equal on 39 percent while the "don't knows" and "won't says" come in at 22 percent.

The immediate point is that there doesn't seem to be any direct correlation between either side and their concern for the economy. While 39 percent want to leave, 58 percent are comfortable with the effect on the economy. Then 39 percent want to remain, yet 42 percent think the economy is a big deal.

Arguably, those who are unworried about the economy ought to be happy to see us leave, but the absence of the relationship suggests that the link between economic outcome and voting intentions might be tenuous.

In terms of expectations of Mr Cameron's "renegotiations", getting the right to cut immigration from EU countries has 52 percent of respondents thinking this is "very important", cutting red tape affecting British firms has 44 percent, opting out of "ever closer union" 33 percent, letting groups of countries combine to block new EU laws they think would be harmful, 30 percent and letting individual countries veto new EU laws they think would be harmful gets a score of 39 percent.

Clearly, immigration is a key issue, a finding reinforced by the finding that 80 percent of respondents think that it is the top issue - coming just at the time when record immigration is being reported.

However, things are not quite what they seem. While the polling company (and the Evening Standard) make a big deal about the declared respondents being at parity, the fact that we have 22 percent uncommitted is significant. These are the people who are going to decide the referendum. And they are the one who are most likely going to be most influenced by the "renegotiation" outcome.

This we can surmise from another poll in the Evening Standard, published last November. This one was conducted by YouGov: it had 45 percent "remains" and 37 percent "leavers".

But, according to that poll, if Mr Cameron delivered "significant reforms", such as "placing a limit on the number of immigrants allowed to enter Britain", the "remains" climbed to 58 percent and the "leavers" dropped to 25 percent.

On the other hand, if the talks failed, the situation reversed. A majority of 43 percent would vote to leave, while only 34 percent would want to remain.

From this, we could play with the hypothesis that it is not current expectations that will determine the referendum result but the outcome of the "renegotiations" – or the perception of what has been achieved. Theoretically, it could turn a 33 point victory for the "remains" into a nine-point defeat.

In such a scenario, a successful campaign strategy will be one which is able to demolish any claims made of such negotiations. The better the demolition job, the more likely is that we will win.

But, following on from the piece yesterday, I am getting a sense that the mood music could be shifting in our favour. According to the Financial Times, amid all the other strains and stresses affecting the EU, tensions over the Paris terror attacks and Europe's migrant crisis is affecting the Franco-German relationship.

There is also tension spilling over between Germany and Poland, exacerbated by the Polish refusal to take Syrian refugees, when Mrs Merkel is counting on EU burden-sharing to defuse the growing political tensions within Germany, caused by the migrant issue.

The Germans note bitterly that Poland continues to receive huge subsidies from the EU, much of that funded by German taxpayers – and that millions of Polish citizens have moved to other EU countries.

The fact that the Polish government has said that it will no longer fly the EU flag at press conferences, has only added to the bitterness. The Poles, for their part, accuse Mrs Merkel of unilaterally changing EU migration policy, by announcing an open-door policy for Syrian migrants.

This rising tensions between Germany and its eastern and western neighbours come in the wake of the euro crisis – which had already led to an estrangement between Germany and much of southern Europe.

Meanwhile, Britain's behaviour over the membership issue has long been a source of frustration in Berlin, adding to Germany's irritation. As one German civil servant says: "The European house is burning down and Britain wants to waste time re-arranging the furniture".

The FT remarks that the Merkel years have seen Germany emerge as the undisputed leader of the EU. But the combination of migration, terrorism, Brexit and the euro also mean that Germany looks more isolated from its European partners than for many years.

And that "isolation", if it is real and continues, cannot help but have an effect on Britain's renegotiation prospects. Mr Cameron needs a supportive Germany, with Merkel at the helm, to manage the renegotiation theatre, and deliver the promise of a treaty at the right time.

This is especially the case if the Guardian has got it right. It tells us that the French are said to be cutting up rough on several of the UK's negotiation fronts. It is stating that it will be almost impossible for Cameron to secure the "permanent, legally binding, irreversible" changes the UK is demanding without rewriting the Lisbon treaty, which cannot be done.

This we already know, but of more concern is the UK's demand that the EU be declared a "multi-currency union" - the essence of the "two-tier" Europe. This, apparently, is also being rejected by the French. They are concerned about the longer-term impact of a binding deal that ties the hands of the eurozone in a concession to Britain.

If nothing else, this adds to the uncertainty, and makes it more difficult for the Prime Minister to finesse his end game. It's far too early to tell yet, but if someone suggested that the game could be moving in our direction, I would not be the first one in the line to disagree.

Richard North 27/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: an optimistic view

Thursday 26 November 2015  

000a brexit.jpg

As the year begins to drain away without anything tangible in terms of Mr Cameron's supposed renegotiations, we get Catherine Bearder the last and only Liberal Democrat MEP, doubting whether the UK would be allowed the Norway option if it did leave the EU. "The deal will be very difficult, because they [other member states] don't want any other country to join us", she says.

She likens the scenario to someone leaving the family home after a divorce, remarking that, "You don't give them the front-door key and tell them to use the sitting room any time they like".

Insofar as this means anything, it is a neat reminder of the "better deal fallacy". The EU has too much at stake to give us an easy ride, so it will deliver as much as it needs to, and no more. However, there is little dispute that stresses are building up within the Community and, according to Nicolai von Ondarza of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, there is an urgent need for the EU to legitimise its current situation.

Von Ondarza argues that the numerous successes of eurosceptics in the European elections, and above all the subsequent national elections, have already impaired the functioning of the Union. Without the consent of the people, it is condemned to failure in the long term.

Nothing immediate can happen but the medium-term political perspective will be dominated by three looming events: German Bundestag elections and French presidential elections in 2017, and the British referendum in 2016 or 2017.

Until then, von Ondarza concedes that there is not a great deal more that can be done. That which can be done will only pave the way for tackling a treaty revision after 2017.

Germany can and should play a key role in this process. Not only does Berlin occupy at least a leading position in the Eurozone, London also orientates its negotiating strategy largely on Germany.

If Berlin wishes to advance the Union's development it needs to use these levers, above all to achieve the necessary political agreements in the short and medium term. And in the longer perspective the German government must declare its willingness to tackle the challenge of a regular treaty amendment, including a Convention.

Doubtless, the role of France will also be crucial but, in 28-nation Union, any single member can end up blocking change. A referendum in any one of a number of countries could delay or even block those medium-term plans.

But there is obviously something in the wind, as we are also getting ruminations from Nick Witney former chief executive of the European Defence Agency.

He warns that Britain is pushing its luck and the patience of the "colleagues" is wearing dangerously thin. While a properly committed and engaged UK would be widely welcomed, the departure of the obstructive and unhelpful UK of recent years would, in and of itself, elicit few tears.

Any efforts partners are still ready to make to help Cameron in his "renegotiation" will be made less by warmth towards the British than fear of Brexit's impact on the cohesion, the balance, and even the sustainability of the remainder of the EU. Thus, we have the possibility of a situation where the "colleagues" might walk away and leave Mr Cameron to his fate, letting him fight the EU referendum unaided.

This might especially be the case if the Union is unable to agree to a new treaty announcement before Britain goes to the polls, in which case the Prime Minister will be going to the people with empty hands. And having promised "full-on" treaty revision, not even to have the promise of a future treaty would leave him in a very weak position.

In that event, if the "leave" campaign could come up with an attractive alternative to the EU, and offer credible assurances that an orderly departure is feasible, then we could be in with a serious chance of winning the referendum.

This must be obvious to the Prime Minister, who must be aware that he needs the promise of a treaty in order to win. And since there can be no treaty announcement until the Spring of 2017, that more or less settles the date of the poll.

Therefore, as far as the current state of play goes, we have nearly two years to convince the British public that there is a credible alternative to the EU. And if we get it right, 2017 could actually see us on our way out.

Richard North 26/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: missing out on globalisation

Wednesday 25 November 2015  

000a Telegraph-025 sham.jpg

One struggles with the problem these days over where to direct one's wrath: at the malign ignorance of what passes for journalism these days, or the leaden stupidity of the eurosceptic "industry" which is so keen to pick up any passing meme and adopt it as its own.

All that has to happen is from some idle hack to write a vaguely critical piece on the EU and, within nanoseconds, it is being tweeted enthusiastically in support of the anti-EU agenda – thereby perpetrating the original ignorance.

Into this category plops a piece by Ben Wright in the Telegraph who, in looking at the current progress of the "Solvency II" financial regulation package through the system, makes the unwarranted assertion that, "The single European market is looking increasingly like a sham", with the rider that, once again "the problem is regulation".

It is not so much that this assertion is wrong though, as completely irrelevant – a non-sequitur which frames the story in the wrong context and misleads readers.

What we are supposedly being informed about is "Solvency II", a complex set of "prudential" rules applying to insurance companies doing business in European Union member states. It is in that context that Ben Wright asserts that one of the main arguments in favour of the UK's continued membership of the European Union is that it will ensure British companies retain their access to the single market.

The sector that is thought to most benefit from such access is finance, he tells us, and then lays out his pitch. "It may come as a bit of a shock to Britain's Europhiles that leading senior executives of UK insurance companies are privately protesting that the single market in which they supposedly operate is a sham", he says.

The problem, he says, "unsurprisingly enough", is regulation. Specifically, it is the Solvency II package with new standards on accounting, capital, governance and the like. It was designed, Wright adds, to make the insurance companies safer, and level the playing field across the continent. It may achieve the first aim, he then claims, but "it appears to be falling some way short of the second".

The point here, though, is that the package wasn't designed primarily (or at all) as a single market measure, and therefore it was never structured or intended to "level the playing field" within the EU/EEA market area.

Specifically, the "Solvency II" package on capital requirements, based on Directive 2009/138/EC, implements recommendations from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the International Actuarial Association and nine other agencies alongside the World Bank and the IMF.

As we point out in Flexcit, this is truly an international instrument, with the standards developed by global bodies and implemented globally. At a European level, the key player is the EU's Frankfurt-based European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority (EIOPA), which works alongside Member State regulatory bodies.

At international level, alongside the IASB is the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation and, as this document points out, they are treating Solvency II very much as unfinished business. There is much more to come.

Thus, while Ben Wright can regale us with tales of woe about legislation that comes into force on 1 January 2016 – as indeed he does – it is irrational to blame the problems on the "single European market" and doubly so without making reference to the international origins.

As PWC helpfully point out, this is part of the global response to the global financial crisis and we are now moving into the era of global regulation. And into this mix, a new player, the Financial Stability Board – as the executive arm of the G20 – is taking an increasing role.

From the viewpoint of the "leave" campaign, this is highly significant. As long as we are in the EU, our representation at the global top tables is being weakened. Another crucial effect is that the process of adopting international standards is being needlessly complicated by having the EU in the middle, translating them into EU instruments which are not attuned to the specific requirements of the UK industry.

Therefore, problems with Solvency II should not be treated as just (or at all) another opportunity for a whinge about EU legislation. Far more importantly, they point up the effects of globalisation and the increasing difficulty of trying to shoehorn global standards into the EU mould, while  keeping them relevant to the UK market.

And there we're missing the trick. Instead of pointing out the advantages of leaving – in being able to manage the process of globalisation more efficiently by cutting out the middle man - we're still grubbing about in the weeds, bitching about EU law, in that tedious, on-going fest of negativity.

This, in fact, was precisely what's own "experts" have said we shouldn't do, and what we've been warning about for years. But the leave campaign seems incapable of dragging itself out of the weeds. Locked into "whinge mode", it is failing to capitalise on some of the strongest arguments we have in favour of leaving.

Richard North 25/11/2015 link

EU Referendum: working in a public space

Wednesday 25 November 2015  

000a Banks-023 doorstop.jpg

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".

000a Statement.jpg

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

Tuesday 24 November 2015  

000a lebon-022 crowd.jpg

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

Monday 23 November 2015  

000a Balloons-022 York.jpg

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

EU Referendum: strategy on autopilot

Sunday 22 November 2015  

000a leave-022 gunster.jpg

In February 2013, names more familiar to British audiences now than they were then appeared in the Huffington Post, talking about Mr Cameron's (then) "in-or-out" referendum.

The names were Gerry Gunster and Ben Goddard, respectively senior partner and chairman of Goddard Global, the company now engaged by Arron Banks and his operation as strategic advisors. To this pair, David Cameron's call was fascinating for "those of us - mostly Americans - who study and practice the science and art of 'ballot measure' campaigns".

Americans, we were told, routinely vote on hundreds of state and local referendums each election cycle, settling and resettling debates on issues ranging from tax policy to alcohol regulations to how governments are selected.

But a world power deciding such a monumental, non-retractable, international issue as EU membership "in one swift referendum" is, they said, "somewhat unusual and trepidatious - even to the ballot issue happy cousins on this side of the pond".

In what might turn out to be an apocryphal comment, Gunster and Goddard went on to tell us that "referenda" are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced". Like most EU issues, they said, this debate will be contentious and emotionally charged. There will be charges and counter-charges, fear tactics, negative messages, conspiracy theories, misleading polls, half truths and full lies.

But, we were told, "experience teaches us that those succeed in defining the terms will win the debate". Doing that requires "the use of sophisticated research, targeted communications and organization of a broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street".

So, more than two years before Mr Cameron had won the election which was to lead to the referendum, Gunster and Goddard were telling us how to fight our unique referendum, and in terms that quite clearly applied to the contests they had experienced in the United States.

Armed with that experience, they tell us that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest". Thus, they aver, "the side that speaks to the self interest of a majority who vote on election day is the side that will win".

Then came what could be taken as the sales pitch. "It takes sophisticated research to determine how your side can best appeal to the self-interest of the most voters - messaging that creates a bond between your cause and a majority of voters", we are confidently informed.

Not stopping there, though, Gunster and Goddard decide to tell us that the most common mistakes campaigns face is "the trap of the false consensus." Those who feel the strongest about an issue tend to wind up in charge of the campaign. They also tend to believe their own arguments.

Emphasising their utility, they declare that: "Only a commitment to using good research and sticking to a consistent message is a sure path to victory, as we have demonstrated in over 95 percent of the campaigns we've been involved in and helped lead over the past four decades".

And then we get a final point. "Yes" votes are more difficult to win than "No" votes, say Gunster and Goddard. For over 100 years the "Yes" side of the campaign has failed 60 percent of the time.

This is quite obviously the status quo effect, but the way it is framed might be confusing to some British readers, yet the pair make no concessions to this. In the United States, where the referendum is a so-called "initiative" question, the "yes" answer goes to the side proposing change.

Thus, when the question was put in Massachusetts as to whether to expand the bottle deposit scheme, to improve recycling rates, those who wanted the scheme expanded had to vote "yes". Those opposed had to vote "no". In the EU referendum, though – at the time – to leave the EU (the proposition for change) was to get the "no" vote while the status quo (staying in) was to require a "yes" vote.

One might have thought that the Americans would adjust their rhetoric accordingly, but they didn't. It might be a small point, but it might also be a telling one. These people lack empathy, and make allowances for the nuances.

However, from this emerges the Gunster-Goddard recipe for winning referendums (which the insist on calling "referenda"). Those wanting change (in this case, to leave the EU) "must convince the public that a problem exists, that it is their problem, and that the problem is so acute that they must take action". The public must be convinced that "the specific proposed solution that will appear on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted".

On the other hand, those supporting the status quo, say Gunster and Goddard, just have "to convince a majority of voters that the proposed solution does not solve the problem". A common theme in support of the status quo is: "right problem, wrong solution".

If that was over 30 months ago, however, one might have expected the company, with the benefit of watching the UK scene for a while, to be speaking in more nuanced terms.

But, in October 2015, we see similar boilerplate opinions, this time from Gerry Gunster on his own. We thus have the referendum guru believing that, "the side that best succeeds in appealing to voters' emotions will be the one that wins". Thus, he says, "You have got to get into that emotional side of a person … Everybody has some self-interest".

In over two years, therefore, he has hardly moved at all, still telling us that: "For a voter that self-interest usually means family, community, pocketbook, wallet and, am I safe? Ultimately people make those decisions based upon whether or not … voting on this particular issue will protect those basic principles".

It turns out, though, that Gunster has a standard template which he trots out, irrespective of the audience. Thus, on a Washington advocacy blog, he declares that the challenger to the status quo must convince voters that a problem exists, the problem is the voters' problem, the problem is so acute that voters must take action, and then that the specific proposed solution on the ballot is the right answer to the problem and should be adopted.

This was written in July 2015 and, if it has a familiar feel to it, it is because this is exactly the same nostrum offered to the Huffington Post more than 30 months ago. Dissection of the template, however, does not inspire confidence.

One difference on the ground, for instance, is immediately manifest. This is not going to be a "swift" referendum. And the dynamics of a long-drawn-out campaign are very different from the short, sharp contests that our American friends are used to.

Moreover, in this referendum  there can hardly be any need to convince voters that there is a problem, or that action must be taken. Both are "givens" and by both sides, the "remains" as much as the "leavers". The dispute is over the solution: either we "reform" or we "leave".

In terms of leaving, the proposed solution clearly lies outside the competence of Gunster and his company to devise. Furthermore, nothing they have said in any way indicates that they are prepared for the complex task of defining an exit plan. And even if they do, they have to deal with all the warring tribes who have their own ideas of what it should be.

But all we have had from, so far, has poisoned the well. We got the crass statement from Arron Banks that he could negotiate "a better economic arrangement" with the EU than is afforded by the Norway option, thereby walking eyes wide shut into the better deal fallacy.

Against whatever solution Gunster is able to broker, there will be Mr Cameron. Supposedly, all we have to do is convince a majority of voters that Cameron's proposed solution "does not solve the problem", and then substitute our own.

But, with the assistance of much the leaver "community" (including, Mr Cameron has already managed to damage the most plausible solution – the Norway option. Now he is unveiling his "British model" which, at a superficial level, will sound highly attractive. To counter that, Mr Gunster has empty hands.

One suspects, though, that Mr Gunster is more concerned with tackling his contention that every successful referendum campaign "must be based on a very simple truth: Everyone votes their own self interest".

We've already seen some of this, in the recent polling commissioned by Clearly, Mr Gunster is trying to ascertain which issues give the strongest responses, so that he can focus on them and play them back to the voters.

For this technique, Mr Gunster needs his "sophisticated research [and] targeted communications". He thinks he also needs to organise a "broad-based coalition capable of taking the winning messages to the street". But it is no coincidence that his research tools are extremely expensive. It is these that make referendums an extremely lucrative business.

But as to how he gets his "winning message" to a UK audience, thereby changing minds, Gunster doesn't have a clue. He has not the least idea of social dynamics over here, and next to no knowledge of how the UK media works. He has given no thought as to how it is likely to behave over the span of this referendum campaign. Yet, being able to make informed predictions will be vital to the success of the campaign.

His strategy undoubtedly does work for the types of referendums that he has been dealing with. But then, when it comes to questions on sick pay, drivers licenses for immigrants, banning the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting, and the famous bottle deposits referendum, the issues are relatively easy to define.

When it comes to the EU, though, we are in a completely different league. Not only are the issues multi-faceted and complex, there is absolutely no accord on whether the problems of the day will trigger an exit vote in perhaps two year's time. Nor is there any way of knowing whether the problems Gunster defines will be accepted by voters as ones which need us to leave the EU in order to resolve them. 

More to the point, we already see that Mr Cameron is carving out his "middle way". In this play, the more strident the "leave" and the "remain" camps are, the more "moderate" he looks and the easier it is for him to get his message accepted. Therefore, the very strategy that Gunster so expensively defines as essential to win will be one that aids the other side.

Then, if – as we anticipate – Mr Cameron acknowledges the EU as being problematical and offers his new "relationship" (the British model) as the solution, the ballot will become a battle of opposing solutions.

Further, in the very specific context of this referendum, as it is likely to pan out – Mr Cameron will not be able to give cast-iron assurances that he can deliver his proposed solution. But then, neither will we. Thus, the core issue which the voters will have to address is whether they trust the Prime Minister, or whether they trust an insurance salesman or a gaggle of arrogant Tory Boys.

Thus, there is a good chance that we are going to be confronting a situation where the question on the ballot paper is not that one that is answered by the voters. We may see "remain" or "leave" in front of us, but the question we answer may well be, "Do you trust the Prime Minister?"

Nothing in Gunster's previous experience prepares him for this viper's nest, and nothing in's current statement indicates that they have any measure of these factors. Referendums are "neither for the faint-hearted nor for the inexperienced", Gunster says. But this is a man who lacks any of the experience needed to succeed in fighting an EU referendum in the UK.

Instead, committed to playing with his expensive toys, he is putting the cart before the horse. The political analyses should come first, and drive the data collection. "Big data" should be the servant, not the master. Gunster is simply leading his employers down an expensive cul-de-sac, with a strategy that has next to no relevance to the special conditions which prevail here. In so doing, he is already wasting the time and efforts of leavers. If the strategy does not change, is will simply pave the way for Mr Cameron's own play.

That's the thing about strategy. It tends to be either right, or wrong. There is rarely any such thing as half right. And if you get it wrong, you most likely – albeit unwittingly – end up helping the enemy.

For Mr Gunster, all he will suffer is an amount of reputational damage – although we intend to make that penalty as high as possible. But we have a lot more at stake, far too much to entrust our fate to a man who shows no signs whatsoever of being equipped to fight this campaign, especially as he seems to be flying on autopilot.

We really can do without this. When we are fighting for our lives on the question of bottle deposits or whether to ban the use of bait when hunting bears, we'll be sure to give Mr Gunster a call. But, in this battle, we need people who know what they are doing. They must understand the complexities of this EU referendum and be committed to the cause.

On current form, it does not look as if Mr Gunster of his company get anywhere near qualifying.

Richard North 22/11/2015 link

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few