Richard North, 04/01/2016  
 


The latest encyclical from Vote Leave's Dominic Cummings has hit the inboxes of devotees and others, listing nine "lessons" for campaigners. Soon enough it will be posted on the illegible website, where only a few more people will manage to read it.

In better times, I might have been inclined to give these "lessons" a detailed analysis – just for the intellectual exercise. But such self-indulgence could scarcely add to the single observation that, in seeking to offer us so many "lessons", Mr Cummings is simply demonstrating his failure to learn the single most important lesson of them all.

This comes not from a lesser mortal such as myself, but from the undisputed master, Sun Tzu, whose choice of words we reproduced earlier and evaluated more recently, all to convey the crucial point. No campaign is ever going to succeed unless strategy is developed with reference to the enemy's intentions, and then continually modified to take account of circumstances as they develop.

If there weren't such thing as an enemy – such as our Prime Minister who will take to the field in due course – then Mr Cummings's nine "lessons" might be useful in a Janet and John sort of way. However, the absence of any serious attempt to divine the enemy's intentions renders his attempts at strategising almost completely valueless.

This is evident in his first item of instruction, where he tells us that we must "persuade people that the scare stories about a 'leave' vote are wrong" – a focus on neutralising the FUD that we were looking at three years ago. But since then we've seen Mr Cameron adopt a triangulation strategy which largely renders the fight over FUD irrelevant.

Ideally, Mr Cameron would like us to engage in a stand-up fight with the opposition, preparing the ground for him to waft into the "moderate middle". We will then find him "sharing our pain" and positioning himself to take the moderate view, graciously acknowledging some merit in both side's claims.

For his second "lesson", Mr Cummings then wants us to "build a dense national network of business supporters to explain locally the benefits of a 'leave' vote". This is all very well – but for our experience in this matter. By and large, we find most business people are too busy running their businesses to make reliable campaigners.

Where our instructor skids badly off the track though, is in his third "lesson". Here, he tells us that "we must explain that the choice is not between 'change' versus 'status quo'". Not only does the EU takes more power and money every year, says Cummings, "the official EU plan is now for another Treaty centralising more power in Brussels".

The problem with that stance is that we're kicking at an open door. Mr Cameron probably has no intention of selling us the "status quo". Instead, he too will be attacking it - as he already has done, telling us we need a "new relationship". To resolve that, he will offer us the "British model", neutralising any complaints we might make. 

I suppose, though, that we must concede something to Mr Cummings when he tells us that we must explain how a "leave" vote means we will end the supremacy of EU law and take back vital powers over issues such as tax, regulating our economy, migration and so on. This is our fourth "lesson", and if you and your audience can stand the boredom, be my guest.

Likewise, we can humour Mr Cummings on his sixth "lesson" and explain how the EU is going in the wrong direction, with economies in debt and unemployment rising. There is always room for negative campaigning as a baseline, although the Stokes precept suggests we go lightly on this.

But we will not agree that we should "explain how the money we will save could be better spent on our priorities, like the NHS and fundamental science research", etc., etc, expressed in terms of the "£350 million per week we send to Brussels". Apart from the fact that the figure is misleading (we do not pay that sum), getting into a bun-fight over money is a big no-no.

Nor do I see any value in explaining how a vote to "leave" will help Europe - not just Britain. It's a nice thought, but David Cameron got there first. We'll simply be fighting a battle over who is the nicest of them all. That isn't going to win us any Brownie points.

That brings us to "lesson" eight, where we are supposed to "explain the record of the Establishment" and how they have "consistently misunderstood the process of European integration". "They have", Cummings tells us, "consistently made wrong predictions. They have consistently promised things that have not happened. They cannot be trusted". 

"Whitehall", in Mr Cummings's opinion, "has no answers apart from the same people sitting in meetings and failing every year". He thus instructs us: "We need a new path".

And now to the finalé – lesson number nine. Firstly, though, we must bear in mind Mr Cummings's warnings about people who have "consistently misunderstood the process of European integration", the "establishment" which has consistently "made wrong predictions" and "promised things that have not happened". They "cannot be trusted".

With these warnings in mind, we are prepared for the stroke of absolute genius from Mr Cummings. After we vote to leave, he says in his ninth lesson, "a new government team will negotiate a new UK-EU deal". Yet is this not the Establishment? Is this not the very same Whitehall, about which Mr Cummings has been so uncomplimentary? 

Nevertheless, he believes that their deal should be put to the people in another vote. According to Cummings, we can reassure people: "You can vote leave safely because we must have another vote on the new deal - it is the only sensible path for our democracy".

What he doesn't tell us, of course, is what happens if Whitehall delivers a bum steer. What happens if we are forced to vote against it – after the Article 50 negotiations have been completed. What then, Dominic?

Clearly, our man has learned nothing. Desperate to avoid coming up with a "plan", he does not understand that, if Mr Cameron reveals his bright, shiny new "British model", enough people could vote for it to win the referendum for him.

Therefore, we need to be quick off the mark. As soon as it emerges, we must tell as many people as possible about its disadvantages. But then we must offer an alternative vision. We cannot rely on the men in Whitehall to write it - we have to do this ourselves. And, to go with that, we must reassure people that there is a credible way of delivering our vision - the so-called exit plan.

But these "lessons" are not for Mr Cummings. He's happy to trust the untrustworthy Whitehall to define our new deal. And this is the "genius" we should trust to lead the campaign? 

We trust not in Cummings.






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