Richard North, 01/07/2014  
 

Blogged by Purple Scorpion we learn of the doings of Dominic Cummings, more than a decade ago campaign director of Business for Sterling, now emerging to tell us how to run the coming EU referendum "no" campaign.

In a report for Business for Britain, "reformists" and wannabe leaders of the "no" campaign, Cummings reverts to exactly the device which probably lost the Conservatives the last two elections – the infamous "focus group". It was devices such as these which had election campaigners chasing after the supposed opinions of "swing voters" in order to decide how to pitch their messages.

The fact is, of course, is that there are no defined "swing voters" in a potential EU referendum. The last time we had one was in 1975, so one can hardly look at a single group and see what, if anything, might have changed their mind since last time.

What Cummings has done, therefore, is take those who voted for Mr Cameron in 2010 and might change their mind, using them as a litmus test of how to gauge the message to potential voters in a referendum which we might see in 2017.

In terms of campaign design, this exercise has almost no value. This cohort cannot be taken as representative of the nation as a whole. Nor does it have any particular relevance to a national referendum. We are not talking about a limited number of marginal seats on which elections will turn, but the sum of all the votes cast by the nation, where it is the majority that counts.

Thus, all we are getting is verbatim extracts of opinions given by people collected to talk about a referendum, giving some colour to an otherwise drab subject. More importantly, it provides a re-launch platform for Mr Cummings, which will stand him in good stead when he, Matthew Elliott and his London gang of think-tankers, make their bid for the campaign millions on offer from the Electoral Commission and other sources.

This is what they did with the North-East region referendum, swanning up from London to Hoover up the money. While the locals had to fight the campaign unaided, the maestros schmoozed with the donors, telling them how lucky they all were to have them, then writing books to tell everyone how clever they were in winning the poll.

Now they would have history repeat itself. As a referendum begins to look a likely proposition, the smell of money and kudos is enough to bring the gold-diggers and careerists out into the open, the pack leaders adorning themselves with the "CEO" title to signify their own importance. Bless!

Unfortunately,  these are the people, if we let them, who are going to lose us the referendum. Not one of them has the first idea of what they are fighting for or how to pitch a winning campaign.

Cummings, with the benefit of his magical mystery focus group, for instance, tells us that "the combination of immigration, benefits, and human rights dominates all discussion of politics in general and the EU in particular". 

It doesn't, of course. But this is a man that thinks the "biggest change in the EU debate since Brown announced in 2003 that we would not join the euro" is that "people now spontaneously connect the issue of immigration and the EU". It is no coincidence, though, that Cummings is the man that walked away from his paid position in Business for Sterling in 2002, and has taken little interest in the EU ever since. 

He is evidently a man who seems to have missed out on the Lisbon Treaty altogether. But now there is a whiff of money, he's back, ready to take his place in the ranks of the paid CEOs, prepared to fight to the last expense account.  

Setting up his pitch, the born-again Cummings now rushes to give us the benefit of his newly-found wisdom, gravely telling us that an "out" campaign would "not have to focus on immigration". It is a massive factor that needs no reinforcement, he says. Rather, the campaign would need to neutralise the fear of leaving and focus on what could be done with the money saved by leaving, both as a positive message and as an answer to the fear of lost trade.

So, from the giant intellect of this great campaigning genius, this is what we get: "neutralise the fear of leaving". Yet, if Mr Cummings had read our lowly blog (which he is far too grand to do), he would have discovered, with not a CEO in sight, that we had managed to work this out over eighteen months ago, all by ourselves. A successful campaign, we said, would be:
…. exploiting the status quo effect and the perceived importance to British economy of the totemic Single Market. In this context, the "out" campaign will only succeed in a referendum if it is able to neutralise the FUD.
This, we said at the time, is a sine qua non, having raised the issue of FUD in January 2013 and pursued it ever since, even labelling the phenomenon with the "FUD" buzzword, something that Cummings hasn't invented yet - although he will.

Some 18 months after the event, therefore, we have a Jonny-come-lately waltz in to tell us what must be done. Sadly though, it is only in the way an exasperated England fan might instruct his team how to win: "score more goals than the opposition, stupid".  But when it comes to exactly what needs to be done, all we get from the maestro is: "There are various ways in which this could be done but these lie outside the scope of this report". Clearly, the fee was insufficient and needs topping up.

That is actually classic Cummings. In fact, it is characteristic device of the golden boys. They swan around the London circuit oozing supercilious confidence, blithely informing their sponsors that the answer is soooo simple - something must be done. This is dressed up with impenetrable jargon and last decade's marketing buzz-words. And they are the ones to do it, for a fee of course.

In respect of the EU referendum campaign, though, there is an inbuilt trap which none of these golden boys have even began to realise exists. Much less have they any idea what to do about it, .

The problem is the very real conflict between the need to get out quickly, preferably within the initial two years afforded by Article 50, and the overwhelming requirement to protect the Single Market – the only way we are going to neutralise the FUD – by continuing to participate in the EEA.

Here, the trap is, of course, Freedom of Movement, which is an integral part of the EEA. Forget trying to release ourselves from it. It is entirely non-negotiable. Thus, on the face of it, we can either deal with immigration or we can "neutralise the fear of leaving". But, on the basis of what we are being offered by the likes of UKIP, we can't do both.

In fact, we can have our cake and eat it. Freedom of Movement is a red herring. The idea of "regaining control of our borders" is an empty mantra. Unless we are to adopt a North Korean style of government, with totally sealed borders, restrictions on immigration would be subverted by illegal immigration, asylum seekers and family reunification, none of which are resolved by leaving the EU. And then, none of those already here can be sent back.

With that, of course, we have not yet officially started the campaign. And, as we know from 1975, sentiment can not only change, it can completely reverse. With a huge humanitarian crisis in the making, where more than 5,000 migrants have been picked up by the Italian navy in the past 48 hours in several rescue operations between Sicily and North Africa, the sentiment can change here as well.

There are those who would sink the boats of migrants, coldly committing murder in the process, or return desperate men, women and children from whence they came, only for them to perish en route or be locked away in camps when they make landfall. But that is to invite a backlash which could leave the "no" campaign flat-footed. The immigration card needs to be played with the very greatest of care.

On the other hand, there is a way of squaring the circle. That is what this post, this one, this and this are all about, options which some readers have failed to understand. We avoid the simplistic, empty mantras and address the "push-pull" factors, dealing with the causes rather than the symptoms. Migration is a symptom. Let's deal with the causes.

All of this, necessarily, requires a far more  greater knowledge and understanding of the issues than we have seen to date, and a more sophisticated campaign, with a. But the likes of Cummings play down the need for  knowledge – if only because they lack any grasp of detail. 

Mr Cummings thus stresses that the tiny cohort with whom he chose to spend his time, "know almost nothing about the mechanisms of international trade, the EU's Single Market, the EU's Customs Union, and the interaction of all these complex systems with global regulation".

This means, he says, that discussions about the relative merits of the EU's or EFTA/EEA trading arrangements are not only distinctly foggy in Westminster - they are completely unintelligible to these people, who have not heard of EFTA or the EEA.

In his own condescending way, he tells us that the arguments that are discussed among the tiny number of genuinely knowledgeable people - "the sort of arguments analysed by those who entered the IEA competition" - have no grip on these people, who have none of the knowledge necessary to make sense of them.

In Mr Cumming's tiny little world, therefore: "All discussion of these issues rapidly runs into the sand and talk returns to immigration".

However, as I have already pointed out, the campaign has not even started yet. And in the 1975 campaign, many people very quickly understood what the three initials EEC meant. By the same token, when the 2017 campaign is over, a similar number of people will be familiar with the EEA, and the related concept of the "Norway Option".

Where Cummings and his London friends fall down, of course, is that they rely on what they read in the legacy media. And because the "smart set" can't get their brains round complex issues, they think the electorate is going to be similarly vacuous. They will want a "Janet and John" campaign that insults the intelligence, and deals with none of the substantive issues.

What will be needed, though, is for the case to be fully worked out. That is what Flexcit is for. Not one in a thousand will read it, any more than many Christians read the Bible or the average football fan reads the 148-page FIFA manual on the laws of the game. But, if FIFA needs 148 pages to play football, to deal with something as complex as leaving the EU is going to need a lot more.

Then, and only then, will we know where we stand, and have the wherewithal to devise a strategy. And only then can we simplify the case. But having a full version as backup means we will have all the important angles worked out. We will rarely, if ever, be caught out and, as far as the Europhiles go, we will be ahead of the game. Meanwhile, campaigners will benefit from the knowledge that their campaign has substance, and will derive their confidence and will to win from that.

All Cummings can offer, by way of an "obvious idea" though, is "to develop a roadmap and the framework for a new UK-EU Treaty 'Wiki-style'". Such decentralised movements have achieved astonishing things in science and could in politics, he says.

This again is typical of the breed. Apparently plausible, especially to those who have no experience of campaigning in the real world, any such open access device would immediately become a target for hackers and trolls. Massive effort would have to go into defending something which, by the time it had been savaged and disrupted, would not be worth defending anyway. Flexcit is the obvious alternative - a crowd-sourced "roadmap" with better editorial control.  

Nevertheless, that is not going to make any difference to the "smart set". The referendum is a game for them to play, with careers and names to make, and money to dribble through their fingers as they play. The only thing that won't worry them is whether they win or lose. The game is simply for playing - for as long as the cheques roll in.






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