Richard North, 16/05/2016  

Predictably, the Guardian is having a field day with the latest effluvia to dribble from the mouth of the idiot Johnson. But I can't add to anything said here or here, and nor do I really want to.

And nor do I really care what the man-child actually said. Johnson has made the classic mistake of invoking Godwin's law or, more specifically, the corollary that has it that once a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler is made, whoever mentions it automatically loses whatever debate was in progress.

Yet, typically, tribal Tories are rallying to the defence of the idiot, thereby compounding the original offence and multiplying the damage caused.

As he does so often, Johnson injects his inane comments into the debate, or does something more than usually stupid or thoughtless, and distracts the media and the chatterati from the more important issues, wrecking any semblance of a debate.

It comes to something, therefore, when Nicholas Soames is actually given the opportunity to say something useful and apposite, calling Johnson, "The unchallenged master of the self inflicted wound".

Once again, this malign fool has become the story, dragging down to the tone of the debate and making a mockery of our attempts to keep focused on the important issues.

Johnson's intervention has given diverse "remain" pundits open house to attack the leave campaign, a perverse but predictable consequence of yet other Johnson miss-step. We're even seeing suggestions that this is a deliberate ploy, an attempt to divert attention from the inability of the "leave" campaign to win the economic argument.

There may be some merit in this argument. Despite the obsessive repetition of the "£350 million" meme, it is losing its power, creating a gap that Vote Leave desperately needs to fill. But, if playing the "Hitler card" is their answer, it is yet another illustration of the inadequacy of the official campaign. Cummings the Almighty is looking increasingly absurd.

Beyond all this, though, is the opportunity cost. While Johnson and his "faceless Tory friends" are frittering away time and energy, the real work of the campaign is not being done.

For this blog, the lack of direction is increasingly frustrating. On our own, our reach is necessarily limited. As many are only too keen to tell us, we need to be united. But within Vote Leave, there is the Gove-Johnson-Cummings faction which is running its own show, locking out any other players.

Senior figures outside the "core group" are being excluded from mainstream planning and campaigning activities, while and Farage, with his Grassroots Out, are also being consigned to the fringes – each fighting their own campaigns, setting their own agendas which give testament to a lack of any unifying theme.

This is not just (or even) a matter of personalities. These are structural problems that have long troubled the eurosceptic "movement", weakening its impact and reducing its appeal to the wider population. And far from being a unifying force, the stress of the referendum campaign is exacerbating existing divisions.

The great concern now is that, as polling day approaches, voter sentiment tends to drift towards the status quo. To ensure victory, we need at this stage to be more than ten points ahead. Yet, by all accounts, we are level-pegging. This does not auger well.

But when it comes to the unity necessary to present a common frint, the schisms in the movement are far too deep to heal in the short-term. Not even the prospect of winning a once-in-a-generation referendum is sufficient to bring the parties together.

Despite the long-term nature of this failure to unify, though, the reasons for it are not difficult to discern. Some six years ago, I wrote a two-part blogpost entitled "Retreat to Victory", in which I referred to the need to retrench and rebuild the eurosceptic movement. In the second part, I argued that the target for eurosceptics needed to transcend the single objective of leaving the EU. We needed, I argued, to address Britain's role in the world.

I had come to the view that the failure to address this question had given rise to many of the ills in our society. As had our politicians internalised, so had the population. Lacking a higher calling – the sense that there is something more to our nation than the pursuit of comfort, prosperity and a plasma television in the corner – we had become self-obsessed, inwards-looking and selfish.

In effect, we needed to be looking for the "vision thing" – a sense of purpose as a nation, a uniting ethos which will restore our sense of pride and reinforce our national identity which the EU has been so assiduously undermining.

That "vision" is what is missing. The disparate groups have no unifying vision, which means they are simply going through the mechanics of fighting a campaign. Now, it seems we are revisiting Proverbs 29:18, and desperately need to full the gap.

Nevertheless, I fear we may have left it too late.

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