Richard North, 30/01/2016  
 


It is very easy to mischaracterise the ongoing spat between Vote Leave and Leave.eu, and then to conflate it with the infighting going on between individuals and factions within the Vote Leave grouping. 

That is the role of Mark Wallace in Conservative Home and sundry other journalists and pundits who have dipped into the issue, one of the latest being Asa Bennett of the Daily Telegraph.

In fact, there are not two but three separate issues which are being rolled into one, confusing those reporting it and most of those reading about it.

In the first place, there is a very real and perfectly healthy competition between two groups for right to represent the official "leave" campaign, a context that will eventually be adjudicated by the Electoral Commission in accordance with criteria approved by a democratically elected parliament, in what is known as the designation process.

No free-marketeer, or any advocate of the healthy role of competition, could mount a valid argument against the idea that there should be two or more groups competing with each other for an award which also involves the grant of a substantial amount of public money. The competitive process is an accepted mechanism for securing best value, thus allowing the best group to come forward.

This is especially valid in the historical context, where we have seen individuals, and in particular one individual – Matthew Elliott – assume in the manner of "to the manor born" that they have some God-given right to lead what was to become the "leave" campaign.

All this was well before Mr Cameron gave his referendum speech in January 2013. Even then, be were conscious that certain factions within the eurosceptic "community" had anointed Mr Elliott as the heir apparent, and were expecting the organisation he was planning to be a shoo-in.

Without the emergence of Arron Banks and his Leave.eu organisation, that might have been the case, whence the interests of broader leave campaign would not have been well served.

Then, even had Banks not emerged, there were other groups waiting in the wings, some united by no more than a cordial dislike of Mr Elliott, who were also preparing to contest the designation. At least one of this, the Leave Alliance which is to be launched on 16 March, is keeping its options open as to whether also to contest the designation.

Now, distinct from all that – although with tangential relationships – is the infighting within Vote Leave. This is primarily the result of tensions within the organisation arising from the authoritarian management style of Mr Elliott, and the aggressive, confrontational style of his campaign director, Dominic Cummings.

Given the characters and styles of these senior executives, the squabbling that has broken out over the last week was going to happen anyway, at some time. It is only an incidental issue that Mr Banks, in seeking a unified campaign, has been exploiting those tensions in an effort to destabilise these men and thereby facilitate a merger.

The outcome of these interwoven plays is yet to be concluded, with Cummings – who was the initial target – having so far resisted pressure to depose him. But he now stands to be one of the few left in a much depleted organisation, which will have many of its current members jumping ship, either to Leave.eu or its related group, the Grassroots Out (GO) organisation, which also includes Ukip.

As it stands, the issue could then be resolved by these two groups making a combined bid – possibly with others – against Vote Leave, with a good possibility that they will take the designation.

But even the resolution of these separate issues – one a competition, the other "infighting" – will not resolve the underlying and protracted dispute between multiple eurosceptic groups and factions as to the vision for a post-EU Britain, and the best way to secure that independence.

Currently, though, a facile Independent editorial is saying that the Brexit campaign has "splintered before it has begun", referring to the competition between the groups. The greater truth is that it has always been "splintered" – at least, in living memory. Furthermore, it will remain so until the underlying dispute is resolved.

This is a battle that should have been resolved decades ago, but is one which has been suppressed by a loose-knit group of what we have come to call the eurosceptic "aristocracy". They have essentially "owned" euroscepticism and ruthlessly excluded any free debate. It is they, therefore, who been largely responsible for our lack of preparedness.

Since factions which make up this "aristocracy" span the two main groups, and the political parties - including Ukip and the "eurosceptic" branch of the Conservative Party – we will still be left with this third battle to resolve, even after the other two have been settled.

And it is this third battle which is more important – despite it being obscured by the other two. But it is not until it is joined and won, and the "leavers" can unite behind an agreed vision and exit plan, that we stand any chance of winning the larger battle – the one to leave the EU.

Yet, many of those who are calling for unity are actually skirting this issue. Instead hankering after the semblance of unity, having all the campaigners work together but without a common cause. This unity for the sake of unity is a useless endeavour - it is the unity of the Lemmings as they pour over the cliff-edge. United we fall, as the saying goes.  

Therein lies the most fundamental of all issues. We are not seeking to leave the EU and thus to regain our freedom of action simply for the sake of it. Leaving is the means to an end. It what we intend to do with our newly-acquired freedom that really matters and until we have a convincing answer to that, we will never leave.

If our victory is then to come in time for this coming referendum, we must not only dispense with the two battles tardily recognised by the media and other pundits. We must then confront and win that third battle. This may well prove the hardest of them all.






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