Richard North, 09/11/2015  
 

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If Leave.eu had listened to The Boiling Frog when he warned about the lack of wisdom in using Guy Fawkes night as a jokey backdrop to suggesting we blow up the Berlaymont, it might have avoided this adverse headline in the Mail.

An individual can get away with remarks about blowing things up but, in the cut and thrust of a vicious campaign, the same response from an organisation holding lead designation could elicit a damaging reaction. To that effect, a campaigning group needs to be very careful what it says, so TBF was warning Banks of what he might expect.

Yet, no sooner had that been done then the Leave.eu website was back in trouble with an ill-judged intervention on Remembrance Sunday. Never mind the fact that the dead of two world wars is used as the primary justification for European political integration – succinctly noted by Pete. Once again this was a misstep by Leave.eu, another to be remarked upon by TBF.

What was might also note of the Twitter account is that it is so devoid of content that the administrators are reduced to tweeting material from Ruth Lea – member of the advisory board for Business for Britain – a competitor for lead designation status. Also tweeted was the storm in a thimble over the CBI, one set up by the "odious" Cummings – another initiative by the competition.

It cannot say very much for an organisation which has ambitions to get lead designation from the Electoral Commission, that it has to filch stuff from its competitor. But when a campaign almost completely lacks strategy, this is what tends to happen.

Nevertheless, that lack is unsurprising: founder, Arron Banks, gives no indication of even understanding what the term means. And, for want of a strategy, on 18 November - with the aid of his US guru Gery Gunster - he is to unveil the results of a massive opinion poll on the referendum, commissioned at great expense by Leave.eu.

As one might expect, respondents have been asked, inter alia, to identify issues most likely to influence their vote, and it comes as no surprise to find that immigration tops the list. But the fact that the survey is telling us something we already knew is not the only reason it is an exercise in applied futility.

The main reason why Mr Banks is wasting his money and our time is because of that well known dynamic in referendums, where the electorate does not necessarily answer the question on the ballot paper. With most likely two years to go, it would be a brave man who can predict what question the electorate will actually be asking. But more to the point, even if we knew (and we can guess), voters have yet to engage: they can't at this moment offer reliable (or any) indications as to how they will vote.

Looking back at the 1975 referendum, we know that in August of the year before, 50 percent expressed a preference for leaving the EEC, against 32 percent who would vote to stay in, a "huge" lead of 18 points. At around the same time, Gallup confirmed these proportions, with a poll coming out at 47-30 percent in favour of leaving, giving a lead of 17 percent.

As we well know, nearly a year later, 67.2 percent voted to stay in, while those voting to leave had fallen to 32.8 percent – a lead of over 34 percent in favour of staying in, representing a swing of over fifty percent.

What made the difference was that, by then, prime minister Harold Wilson had delivered the results of his "renegotiations". And although it is well known that these were a fudge, they were sufficient to carry the day. Now history is about to repeat itself, with Mr Cameron preparing his own personal fudge, probably in the form of an associate membership, or "two-speed Europe ", as Guy Verhofstadt would have it (screen grab pictured).

Most likely, it is how this is presented, its timing, how it is perceived, and how the "leave" campaign responds – and their success in communicating their views – that will determine the outcome of the referendum. Nothing of that, at this stage, is amenable to opinion polling, except in the most general of terms.

But, if Arron Banks is leading a train-wreck campaign, the "competition" – Vote Leave Ltd – is performing little better. Running the campaigning end of that business enterprise is Dominic Cummings – a man who has been out of the picture for over ten years and whose grasp of matters EU was never more than slender.

Currently, he is attempting to revisit past glories when, in 1999, Business for Sterling had a hand in persuading the CBI to drop the euro campaign. But although, this was as much to do with the efforts of Brigadier Anthony Cowgill (see page 40), Cummings claims the sole credit.

While attempting to re-fight old battles keeps Cummings in his comfort zone, it is of little relevance to the current debate. The CBI may have been a major player in the euro campaign, but it has much less impact now. It will probably not feature at all in the final stages of the campaign.

For the rest, what passes for Cummings's general strategy seems to be based on his findings from focus groups conducted in 2014, which I reported on at the time. Some of my observations on the comment thread seem remarkably prescient.

Crucially, of Cummings's so-called strategy, it is quite obviously drafted without reference to the capabilities and intentions of the enemy. In fact, so slender is his grasp of David Cameron's intentions that he clearly does not understand the play. As a result, he is seriously under-estimating the prime minister's strategy, and failing to appreciate the danger it represents.

Never more, however, has the game been clearer, bolstered by Philip Hammond on Sunday's Marr show, when it became evident that he understood that the British public could not be "fobbed off with a set of cosmetic alterations to the way the EU works".

Said Hammond, there would have to be "substantive legally-binding change" if the British public were to vote for it in the referendum, adding: "This is about fundamental change in the direction of travel of the European Union".

From this it is evident that the slender lists being listed in many newspapers – and assumed to be the substance of the UK government's demands, are going to be totality of what Cameron expects from the EU. There must be something more if Mr Cameron is to convince the public that there has been a serious renegotiation and a meaningful outcome.

As to what this will be, if we didn't already have a good idea, another clue came in Merkel's speech last week at the same event at which Osborne spoke. 

Acknowledged as giving her backing to some British demands, Merkel declared that: "The Europe of today is no longer a one-speed Europe". This is a major concession, representing a public admission that the EU must abandon its pretence that it is a single, homogeneous entity. It paves the way for associate membership, and the makings of Mr Cameron's "victory", especially if it is presented as his idea. 

If Leave.eu and Vote Leave Ltd were on the ball, they would be devoting all their energies to undermining Mr Cameron's "play" - and so unattractive is associate membership that, with the combined effort, it would be relatively easy to beat. But with the "noisemakers" out of the picture, we are going to be hard put to beat this play.

However, that does not mean we can't win. We most certainly can. Simply, in the absence of any support, we are going to have to fight that bit harder. And, difficult though this will be, it is not impossible. We do not need formal groups in order to fight, and if we fight effectively, we can win.

Thus, for the next ten days, in conjunction with Leave HQ, we are going to dedicate this blog to a series of linked posts, bringing together all our thinking on the strategy, to help focus efforts on the real fight. We will also offer some campaigning advice. The first post will be tomorrow, when we will revisit the nature of strategy, and why it is so important.






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