Richard North, 19/11/2015  

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On 6 April 1975, the Sunday Times carried a story by Peter Kellner revealing a "major gulf" in Wilson's cabinet, with ministers having a blazing row over the stance on the EEC.

In his "youthful naivety", he tells us in last weekend's edition of the Sunday Times, he thought his story would have a big impact on the referendum, then just two months away. "Here", he says, "was specific, irrefutable evidence from inside the government party that undermined the prime minister's position".

Effectively, the row had revealed that, on a key objective of the negotiations, Harold Wilson had failed. One would have thought that it should have made a difference. But Kellner was wrong. His story had no effect at all.

The "no" campaigners leapt at what he had disclosed but everyone else ignored it. The "yes" campaigners could not dispute the critique of their position and did not try. They just carried on with a soft-focus campaign that promoted the hope of a peaceful Europe working together.

Of the general public, Kellner says "the dream counted for far more than the detail". What mattered was that the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, all favoured a "yes" vote, as did most of the business community and every newspaper except the communist Morning Star.

All of these easily brushed aside the opposition of half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party. On the day, the UK voted by two to one to remain in the Common Market.

This may seem bizarre to us now, but it is the case that anyone who wanted to know in 1975 could easily have deduced that he negotiations were a fraud. All they had to do was read Kellner's piece on the front page of the Sunday Times.

At the time, it seems to me, there was a sort of collective delusion. People didn't know that the negotiations were a sham, because they didn't want to know. They didn't know that staying in the EEC meant "ever closer union", because they didn't want to know.

But there was something more to it – a lot more. What we were also seeing were the effects of "prestige". On the one side there were the three main party leaders, Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Thorpe, most of the business community and almost every newspaper – plus the BBC. On the other, as Kellner points out, there was "half the Labour party, most trade unions, Enoch Powell and the Scottish National party".

In truth, the issues hardly mattered. Not one in a thousand had any real idea of the political ambitions of the EEC. The majority were prepared to have their opinions handed down to them by people who were endowed with that magical property, "prestige". They were not going to argue with the prevailing wisdom.

Forty-plus years later, if anyone thinks things are going to be any different, they are being delusional. In the information game, one just has to put a big name newspaper report against a blog post (which may be better written, more accurate and with more detail) and the newspaper will win every time.  Simply compare the reach the idiot Boris Johnson with that of lesser mortals.

Kellner resorts to the cliché that "history never repeats itself exactly". And indeed it does not. But we have to face the possibility that there will be more similarities with 1975 than we would like. Barring about 50 MPs (and possibly less), we can expect the whole of the Conservative Party to support their leader. All other main parties, including the SNP, will fall in behind Mr Cameron, leaving only the weakened rump of Ukip to beat the drum on immigration.

If not all of business, much of the corporate aristocracy will be looking to remain, together with the powerful and vocal environmental NGOs, many other NGOs and charities, universities, professions, and most unions.

We must also work on the basis that most of the legacy media will be backing Mr Cameron – either openly in the case of newspapers, or covertly as in the case of the broadcast media: the BBC, ITN and Channel 4. Possibly, of the print media, only the Daily Express will support the leavers – and that newspaper hardly matters any more.

With that as the background, we can expect Mr Cameron - relying on the considerable prestige of the office of prime minister – to offer his version of Wilsonian negotiations. Supported by the prestige of other political and establishment figures, we could find ourselves looking at a re-run of 1975. It may not be an exact re-run of 1975, but so close as to make no difference.

A significant difference, though, is that we now have the internet. This gives us the ability to communicate with people directly, by-passing the media. With that, we are able to broadcast our message in a way that we could not in the first referendum.

However, even (or especially) on the internet, "prestige" exerts its influence to just as great an extent as it does with traditional media. As a result, mere delivery of a message, in itself, does not mean that it will be heeded. People are still overly influenced by the prestige of the source rather than the content. So dominant is the prestige effect that people select their sources according to perceived ranking. 

As part of our overall strategy for the referendum, therefore, we not only have to develop plans to communicate with our target audiences, but we also have to devise a way of ensuring that messages reach them in a way that neutralises the effects of prestige.

Here, I have a theory as to how this can be achieved. It is based on the interaction of prestige and distance. We start with the general premise that prestige is graduated. Not only does great prestige have a greater effect, it also over-rules less prestige. King, therefore, trumps Lord who trumps Knight, and so on.

But, if we factor in distance, we can assume that prestige wanes over distance. Those with lesser prestige but who are closer to hand can over-rule those with greater prestige. The general's orders may be absolute in his own headquarters, for instance, but in the trenches the sergeant's word is final.

Exploiting that interaction, I would argue that we need to get our sources as close to the ground as possible. Preferably, we need to ensure that our sources are separated from their recipients by not more than one or two removes. If people get their information people close to them – trusted figures, or those with authority – then the local prestige can neutralise the prestige of a prime minister.

This is not a matter, as Gerry Gunster of maintains, of appointing ordinary people as spokespersons to deliver the message. At a distance, they carry (at best) only the prestige of the organisation they represent. That may not be enough to overcome even more distant but greater prestige. The source of the message must be close and personal.

It is for this reason that we are promoting the cascade system. At its core is a hundred or more bloggers, each of whom have the task, through their interactive blogging, of building their own communities of trust. Ideally, each will have a thousand or more regular readers.

Via comments sections, twitter, facebook, forums, e-mail groups - right down to old-fashioned telephone conversations, together with formal and informal meetings - this loose community of bloggers can each build their own communities. From there, these secondary communities can go on to build tertiary communities. Ask not who your leader is. It is you.

The arithmetic here is staggering. One hundred bloggers each reaching 1000 readers brings us a network of 100,000. If each of those can reach just a hundred others, we have a "conversation" encompassing ten million people. Carefully targeted, that is enough to win us the referendum.

At the top of the "cascade" are a small number of information blogs – like this one and LeaveHQ, plus Futurus, the Bruges Group and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

These can provide material for independent bloggers, on an ongoing basis, and there are also hybrid blogs such as The Boiling Frog and the Red Cliffs of Dawlish and Lost Leonardo - plus many more – who can provide their own original research.

In fact, we expect all blogs to have hybrid capabilities, but the majority will be "translators" – people who can take information and turn it into material that can reach their own communities in a way that only they can judge.

Thus, while Vote Leave Ltd thinks that communication is about having people "following us on Facebook or Twitter", spreading or endorsing their top-down message, we believe that an effective communications strategy is about building and developing communities. In a community of equals, our task is to assist members to keep each other informed.

As well as that, there  remain the more conventional forms of communication, from the public meeting to the leaflet. But even these can be used in community-building. One can, for instance, deliver thousands of general leaflets, but even if they are read, they are still one-time hits. On the other hand, if they are used to advertise local websites, they can be building blocks that help develop a conversation. And once there is an ongoing relationship, there is the potential to influence and change minds.

Similarly, leaflets can be used to advertise meetings, which in turn can be used to promote websites. Again, the aim is to build long-term relationships.

And this is real life. While so many campaigns are on "transmit only" mode, on this blog alone – through the comments and linked e-mail account - I have come to know hundreds of people. Most of them I have never met, yet I have come to regard many as friends. There is in a very real sense, an community. If they are influenced by the blog, that is a major bonus.

Come the crucial period, when Mr Cameron goes public with his miracle "cure" for all known evils, it will be the power of such communities that will see him off. Top-down doesn't cut it. Communities of trust will.

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