I've been doing a bit of thinking. Instead of always reacting to the Europhile arguments, we should be taking the initiative and breaking open their claims with some in-depth studies of our own. But we can only do this is we can get past the basics and start focusing on these instead of rehearsing ancient arguments.
With some powerful minds, such as Dominic Cummings, now in play - and with Owen Paterson beginning take control of the agenda - I am at last a little hopeful that we can see an end to some of the internal squabbling, and the next few weeks could be pivotal. If some semblance of unity is possible, it will be these people, with the ExCom (as we much now call it), who will make it possible.
But our own group, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) will also have had an important part to play. Niall Warry, of The Harrogate Agenda, Edward Spalton of the CIB, Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group, and Anthony Scholefield, with his Futurus think tank, have all been putting in a massive amount of unpaid work, all directed at making an effective campaign happen.
That said, we will continue to see creative tensions, and it is the constant flow and exchange of ideas on this blog which gives me so much encouragement and inspiration. That's even (or especially) when I'm dealing with my own "black dog", or in throat-ripping mode with the sheer frustration of trying to overcome the obstacles and push the agenda forward.
But what brings all this to a head is a piece in yesterday's Financial Times, one picked over on twitter, as it is another of those FUD pieces on the car industry, this one headed: "German carmakers raise fears over Brexit".
The article itself has carmakers worried about disruption of supply chains, and then lets Matthias Wissmann, president of the VDA, the German carmakers' association, tell us that:
Britain would no longer be part of the single market. And questions of regulation would have to be negotiated, as we do now with Switzerland, between the UK and the EU. This could lead to difficulties on both sides.
This is entirely typical of the genre but, if the Eurosceptic community were united behind a determination to continue participation in the single market after we leave the EU, then this sort of claim, by now, would have withered on the vine. Instead, in the face of so many Eurosceptic factions which actually want us out of the single market, we are left with the weary task of shouting from the margins that we can maintain the single market, and none of the manufacturers' concerns would materialise.
Furthermore, when it comes to regulatory issues, we know full well that the bulk of vehicle regulation is now coming from UNECE, and the WP.29 agreements, to which both the EU and the UK are contracting parties. There is little chance under any circumstances, therefore, that we will lose regulatory convergence, so there would be few "questions of regulation" which would arise.
Given the Flexcit scenario, therefore, the effects on the car industry if Britain left the EU would be neutral – and that applies to continental car-makers as well.
However, over term, we have seen endless propaganda from the pro-EU press, such as in the Guardian and the Financial Times, with a thoroughly dishonest report commissioned by the SMMT arguing that "Europe is fundamental to the current and future success of the UK automotive industry".
When I was researching for this piece, though, I started to get a glimmer of a different vision which, far from supporting this claim, actually completely contradicts it. The UK car industry could very well be much better off outside the EU. Leaving would not be neutral but actively beneficial.
Nevertheless, the essence of this argument is complex. As it stands, the volume market in Europe is vastly over-supplied and competition is high, while car owners, taking advantage of improved manufacturing standards, are keeping their cars longer. As a result, there is enormous price pressure and, while production is expanding, overall profitability is poor.
For the industry, there are different ways of addressing this, but one way is to take advantage of the EU's single market (which for tariff purposes also includes Turkey) and move production to low-cost plants in eastern or central Europe of to Turkey. This is a trend which is expected to continue. It is even happening with high end production.
On the other hand, a way Britain can improve national revenue is to re-shore component manufacture, as we see from the Telegraph which tells us that only about a third of the parts that go into cars made in Britain are sourced here. By comparison, we are told, the figure in Germany is about 60 percent.
The German situation is presented as if this was a good thing, and efforts are being made to grow the UK supply chain. But one gets a clue from this report from the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) that it is not such a good idea.
ECIPE sees that lack of globalisation as a bad thing, partially explained by EU tariffs on car components and manufacturing equipment. Tariffs, it says, have more prohibitive effects on car supply chains due to the low margins and the vast number of technologies and components that are involved.
Given the variety of components and the vast number in each car (up to 30,000), it is unlikely that components are best sourced from one country or even one region. Tariffs put EU manufacturers "in a disadvantaged position".
Rather than protecting EU components and machinery manufacturers - since the R&D efficiency in the EU on average is lower, and better technologies are available from subcontractors abroad – we end up paying more for less-advanced components.
By leaving the EU, we are able to widen our sourcing and take advantage of the global supply chain. The net result is that we are able to make better, cheaper cars, improving our competitive position. And there is good evidence that, by transferring work to global suppliers, competitiveness improves. It also improves access to emerging markets - if we buy components from emerging markets, they tend to be more inclined to buy our cars.
What we lose in low-value component production, therefore, we gain in increased sales of finished vehicles and improved profitability. It is the need to improve profitability which is the greatest challenge and, if the UK industry can do that, we stand a better chance of keeping indigenous production. If plants are profitable, there is less temptation to move them to low-cost production centres.
Absolutely to nail this case would vastly strengthen the "no" campaign, but instead of doing this type of ground-breaking research, we and others are constantly having to devote our energies on revisiting the same issues, and going back to fight the same battles, all because there is no agreement on the basics.
Essentially, therefore, there is an urgent need to settle the basics, so that we can widen our own research base, and start doing real damage to the opposition. But if we keep getting dragged back to rehearse the same old arguments, instead of moving on, this ain't going to happen.
As for the scaremongering on the car industry, the evidence indicates that we are more like to lose our industry than keep it, if we stay in the EU.
Having taken no end of hassle from multiple sources for not being a "team player" – or words to that effect – in the anti-EU movement, it must by now occur to even the most ardent proponents of unity that Euroscepticism, and therefore the "no" campaign, has something of a problem.
It was only a couple of days ago that Lord Tebbit was commenting on this essential problem and now, from the other side, we have Lord Hannay making similar observations. But this follows on from my earlier piece on 2 June – exactly a month ago – when I wrote of the shambles in the anti-EU movement which, if anything, is further now from a unified stance than it has ever been.
Even yesterday, I heard reports of plans for a coup within the parliamentary Conservative Party to wrest control of the agenda from the recently formed Exploratory Committee, while it is an open secret that there are major differences between various factions in Westminster. With Farage mocking the lack of unity, there is not the slightest possibility of there being agreement.
If it wasn't for the fact that the putative "yes" campaign was almost as divided, and certainly its equal in incompetence, our multiple bidders to lead the "no" campaign would be in even more serious trouble than they are now.
The great difficulty for us, though, is that why a "yes" campaign can maintain a level of incompetence and still win, we can't. Already behind in the polls, and fighting against our own government and the representatives of the biggest trading bloc in the world, the default position of the "no" campaign is that we lose.
Putting this in a different way, in order to win the referendum, we are going to have to run an inspired campaign. And since Euroscepticism – with the possible exception of the anti-euro campaign – has a record of unmitigated failure, what went before becomes an unreliable guide as to how we should fight the coming campaign.
In short, if there is to be any chance of winning, we must try something different. And while that has inherent risks, innovation is less risky then following the tried and test route. In that direction lies certain failure.
However, there is another element here, which I am increasingly beginning to perceive as a crucial issue and one which over the next few weeks may dominate arguments on the planning process and the shape of the campaign. This is the mistaken belief that the referendum can be fought on the same lines as a general election.
Understandably, political pundits are homing on the similarities, and relying on their experience of campaigning to suggest ways of fighting the referendum, but they are being caught out by failing to realise that there are crucial and irreconcilable differences.
The interesting thing here is that it wasn't always this way, but a facet of campaigning that emerged with Blair's "New Labour" revolution. Up until then (although we can argue about the timing), we were dealing with conviction politics, where political parties held certain fixed principles.
In this political environment, the job of campaigners was simply to sell the party message. But, as Labour was perceived increasingly to be unelectable, it ditched its principles (as in Clause 4) and reinvented itself. Focus-group driven, the strategy became to find out what messages the electorate (and in particular the "swing voters") wanted to hear, and to give them precisely those.
This was possible because party leaders were in control and could define their manifestos. They were able to dictate what should be laid in front of the public and what should be hidden from sight.
If this can be described as "new", conviction-free politics, later to be adopted by David Cameron who has long since abandoned traditional Conservatism, it may still prove the winner for general elections. But it is not going to work for referendums – at least, not this referendum. This one has to be fought on "old politics" lines.
The essential difference in this "old politics" model is defined by the inability to change the message to suit the audience. We were putting to the public the question of whether we should withdraw from a supranational, treaty-based organisation called the European Union. Attendant on that, there are certain fixed events and consequences which cannot be changed.
The first of these fixed points is that the initial period of an Article 50 negotiation is set by treaty for a period of two years, a period which can be extended but only with some difficulty in a process that is uncertain and carries considerable hazards.
Planners, therefore, need to work on the basis of concluding negotiations within a two-year period. Yet, we learned yesterday, for instance, that Mercosur and the EU appear set to reach a formal agreement on tariffs and are close to concluding talks on a trade deal which have been ongoing since 1999 – 16 years so far to cover less ground than the Article 50 negotiations will be expected to agree on.
To agree at all, therefore, is going to take some inventive concessions if there is to be an acceptable outcome. There is no room for messing here. The reality of the treaty provisions cannot be altered. The message is unchangeable – to get through the process, we are going to have to accept a sub-optimal deal. There simply isn't time to negotiate an ideal solution.
Another unchangeable message is that, in order to win a referendum, we are going to have to preserve our participation in the Single Market. And, in order to achieve that, we will have to concede freedom of movement.
These two issues alone will have to define the way we fight the campaign, and there is no scope whatsoever for taking the easy way out and offering voters something more palatable. Old-fashioned skills will have to be re-learnt – the art selling political realities as they are, and not how you would like them to be.
Neither is this the extent of the differences. In a general election, a party can win office with a vote, in percentage terms, in the mid- to high-thirties. To win a referendum, we need more that fifty percent of those who vote, preferably on a high turnout. And to win convincingly, we need to be in the seventies.
Then, in general elections, we see the bulk of the campaigning energy focused on swing voters in marginal seats. In this fight, we have to carry the nation with us. Every vote counts, no matter where it comes from. That alone demands a different strategy.
Most of all, though, the campaign is about confronting inconvenient truths, and providing convincing answers to them. Lord Hannay avers that we haven't "heard a cheep from the Eurosceptics about how they would propose to support British agriculture or Britain's poorer regions or how Britain's scientific research would fare in the absence of the substantial net benefits our universities get from the EU's research programme".
Like the rest of his ilk (and much of the Eurosceptic community), he ignores Flexcit
. This Hannay has to do in order to assert that: "Perhaps those questions are just too difficult to answer, or perhaps the Eurosceptics cannot agree on the answers to give".
He's actually right on the second part, and he's also right when he says: "But answers there would have to be if we withdrew". The strategy of the diverse Eurosceptic groups at the moment, in the absence of answers, is to ignore the problem and/or to deny the consequences of their choices - like, for most of their choices, we see repeats of the scenes above, as trade grinds to a halt. Or they seek weak, anodyne non-solutions around which the movement could coalesce, in the hope that the difficult questions will not be raised.
The trouble is that Hannay is right. Answers will have to be given, and if we don't raise them, the opposition will. There is no possibility of a fudge, and no opportunity to alter the political realities to produce more palatable messages. We either grasp the nettle, or give up now and stop wasting our time.
This is "old politics". Then as now, they don't compromise, and they don't take prisoners.
In an obscure journal, we get another example of the steady drip-drip-drip of FUD coming from the pro-EU scare industry. This time it is Peter Gowers, CEO of the Travelodge hotel chain, who warns that the "hospitality industry must wake up to the potential dangers posed by Britain voting to leave the European Union".
Gowers is, of course, worried about freedom of movement within the EU, which might be seriously circumscribed if we withdraw. It would massively affect the £126bn tourism industry, adversely affecting nine percent of the UK economy.
If we adopted Flexcit, or a variation thereof, there would be absolutely no problem. The visa-free movement of people from the EEA area would continue, with tourism unaffected by our withdrawal.
On the other hand, if we were to allow the WTO option
to go ahead, or any settlement which excluded free movement provisions, we would be looking at very substantial damage to an industry which, as the UK's third largest employer, give jobs to 3.1 million people (2013), accounting for 9.6 percent of total employment.
As it stands, anyone who works directly in the tourist industry, or is closely related to someone who does, might have good cause to fear a "no" vote in the referendum, potentially driving six million or more (including relatives and dependents) into the "yes" camp. Those are votes we can ill-afford to lose.
A coherent "no" campaign, therefore, needs to have a serious, and well-thought-out response to claims that the tourism industry would be put at risk. After all, a case could be made that the UK stands to lose far more through job losses and other economic damage that it stands to save through stopping EU subscriptions.
But, the moment we seek to assure voters that freedom of movement will be maintained, up pops the vexed question of immigration. Somehow, we need a system which can distinguish between genuine visitors, and unwanted immigrants. That, in turn, requires a serious and sophisticated policy response, to achieve something which no current government has so far been able to achieve - real reductions in immigration.
Here, even walking away from the EU's rules on free movement is not necessarily an answer. While it can be argued that it is a necessary condition for us regaining control of immigration policy (as respects the EU), no one but the wildest of optimists would argue that it was, in itself, was sufficient
On the other hand, there is a credible alternative argument to be made. Firstly, we could accept the specific freedom of movement provisions of the EEA agreement, shorn of the horizontal agreements which have been added later, that give rights to dependants. Then, we could instigate administrative reforms to the Borders Agency, and implement a raft of measures to reduce "push" and "pull" factors.
By this means, we could achieve an effect comparable to that which could be gained by removing freedom of movement agreement, thereby retaining preferential access to the Single Market.
This, however, is not a certain outcome, but if we are to address the FUD – not unreasonable in the case of tourism – then we have to have some answers. That means a properly argued exit plan, with the authoritative backing of any official "no" campaign.
Those who would argue otherwise need to tell us how they would protect us form the FUD. How is the "no" campaign to counter accusations that hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk, and millions of pounds, if we pull out of the EU?
Among the things we need to know is how, if freedom of movement is removed, we would deal with the epidemic of "overstayers" who traditionally comprise a significant component of illegal immigration.It is all very well "closing the borders" to immigrants from the EU, but if there is then visa-free entry from the continent – and a substantial "black" economy - the only result will be a massive surge in illegal immigration from the 32 million who visit our country each year.
In any credible "no" campaign, such issues can't be ignored, and answers can't be delivered "on the hoof". And nor have they
been satisfactorily addressed by other sources. If we revert to "free movement of workers", which the original EEA agreement encompassed, then there will be no provision for free movement of people and we will have to revert to reciprocal visa arrangements.
That will, of course, will create no end of stresses, as the EU has made it crystal clear that it is in no mood to make any concessions on the fundamentals. We are not going to get cosy little deals, as between New Zealand and Australia. If we want reciprocity, we are going to have to buy into the whole freedom of movement package. We cannot assume there will be any compromises or half measures. To do so provides the illusion of a solution which is simply not there to be had.
The issues we have to confront, therefore, necessarily make for a complex, difficult and uncertain future. But seeking simple mantras and easy answers isn't the way forward. Complex issues are complex, by definition. We can only go so far in offering simple solutions before we lose touch with reality.
Therein lies the rub. The purpose of a political campaign is to communicate a message. But to complain that the message is complex and difficult, and thus to call for a change of message, is to defeat the object of the exercise. That is like a PR firm being engaged to sell soap and deciding instead to sell bananas because it is easier.
So yes, we have a problem. In the coming campaign, single market access and freedom of movement will be inextricably linked. Any solution will be extremely difficult to present in a clear, decisive way that will satisfy all comers. But there are solutions to be had, and with some inventiveness, we can find a way of selling them.
On the other hand, ignoring the problem, or selling bananas instead of soap, is not going to solve anything. We know what the problem is. We need to deal with it.
You have been prominent in the media recently, slated as a key figure in the development of an effective "no" campaign, and your role in the newly-formed "Exploratory Committee" has been well advertised.
As such, you are in a position to have a significant impact on the shape of the "no" campaign, to which effect it is extremely helpful and generous of you to air your initial views on your own blog on aspects of the campaign. In particular, you pose two questions – firstly as to whether there might be not one but two referendums, and then you ask whether it is necessary for the "no" campaign to produce an exit plan.
Since you have aired these issues in public, in the interests of openness and fair debate, I will answer your points on this blogpost. Because of the complexity (and importance) of the issues, it may take me a couple of days to complete this one post, especially as I intend to take into account any relevant comments of my readership – which is also entitled to express a view.
When the piece is complete, I will also send you an e-mail with a link, and if you wish, I can also send you a copy in any other format, should you want to circulate it further. It would help then to have a considered response, published out in the open, but I will not hold you to that. You are undoubtedly very busy.
However, I will state that, in my view, there are no more important a questions in relation to the forthcoming "no" campaign than, firstly, whether we should have an exit plan, and then, secondly, the nature of that plan (and, indeed whether there should be one or several plans).
Upon the outcome of this issue will depend my attitude to the campaign lead, and my degree of involvement in the campaign. I am sure many of my 10,000-plus readers will also be taking a keen interest in the outcome, and none of us will want to expend much energy on a campaign if it is doomed to failure from the outset.
With that in mind, I will address first the issue of whether the "no" campaign should have and exit plan, to which effect, if I understand you correctly, you are veering towards the view that we should not have one. To quote you on the matter, you wrote:
There is much to be gained by swerving the whole issue. No10 is dusting off its lines from the Scottish referendum. Perhaps they can be neutralised.
The key points which I take from this (which I assume is the expression of your opinion) is that we – i.e., the "no" campaign - is not a government and can't negotiate anything. Therefore we can't dictate terms, which are basically up to government. Instead, therefore, you propose an alternative, essentially arguing for a fear-based (i.e., negative) strategy, of scaring people into voting "no", essentially because, if they do not, they'll not get another chance in decades.
Different people have different ideas about the best way to leave. For example, some people suggest we should leave the EU but simply remain in the Single Market while we negotiate a new deal. Others have different ideas. Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade. But none of this is the real point. We are not a Government. We can't negotiate anything. A NO vote as a simple matter of law does not mean that we leave the EU tomorrow. A NO vote really means that a new government team must negotiate a new deal with the EU and they will have to give us a vote on it. If you want the EU to keep all the power it has and keep taking more power as it has for decades, and you're happy paying billions to the EU every year instead of putting it into the NHS – then vote YES. If you want to say "stop", vote NO and you will get another chance to vote on the new deal. If the country votes YES, we've lost our chance to change anything. We may not get another vote for decades, after we've had to bail out euro countries and had another few decades of the EU's useless and inhumane immigration policy. If the country votes NO, we can force politicians to get us a better deal.
I trust that I have properly and accurately conveyed the thrust of your argument – if I have not, please do get back to me and I'll make the necessary adjustments. But, on the assumption that I am correctly conveying the flavour of your stance, if at this point I say: "with the greatest of respect ... ", you will know exactly what that means.
Some long time ago – in March 2011, to be precise - I wrote a piece about what I called the Stokes precept. It was named after the Conservative MP Richard Stokes, who contributed to a debate in the Commons on 15 October 1940 (at the height of the London Blitz) on war aims. These at the time (and were to continue to be) an extremely contentious issue, whence Mr Stokes argued that that you cannot campaign solely on a negative. You have to give people something positive to aim for.
Arguably, it was the failure of Churchill to offer a positive vision for his war aims (resolutely refusing to discuss them, or permit a formal statement) that lost him the 1945 general election. And here you are suggesting that we fight on a negative basis, a strategy that, in my view, will ensure we lose.
What in fact I am arguing for is three things, what I've been calling a three-legged stool. I put this
up on the blog and any effort spent in reading it would be well rewarded. It goes through the argument in detail, for an exit plan and other components of what should form the "intellectual case" needed to underpin our campaign.
Specifically, I argue, we must have our negative case (as you have set out - although it needs much more). We then need a "positive" vision - a picture of what a post-exit Britain might look like - effectively conforming with the Stokes precept. But then, as I have written God knows how often - and in detail in Flexcit
, which you really need to read - no plan will be successful if drafted without reference to the capabilities and intentions of the enemy.
In this context, again and again we see - in practice and in terms of declared intent - that the pro-EU side intends to rely mainly on fear. More specifically, it is using FUD - fear, uncertainty and doubt - powerful tools which act in favour of the status quo
Therefore, in addition to our negative pitch, and our positive vision, we need a FUD neutraliser. When the enemy argues that leaving the EU is a terribly dangerous venture, we have to counter by illustrating that leaving the EU is a perfectly practicable proposition, entirely reasonable and safe. That is the purpose of an exit plan. It is not to second-guess the government. It's primary purpose is to demonstrate to the wavering voter that leaving the EU is possible and safe.
Elsewhere, I have painted a picture of people on the bank of a river, looking at an island in the middle, in which is situated a utopian village. To motivate them to go there, I argue, you must make the case that to stay where they are is not optimal (or even very bad) and that the island is a perfect destination. But you are not going to convince people to make the crossing if the waters are crocodile-infested and those who attempt to swim across face certain death. You must provide a sturdy boat, and a seasoned crew.
Thus do we complete our three-legged stool. We have our case for saying "no" – why we need to get out. We paint a rosy vision of what it would like to be out, and then we reassure people that it is safe to cross over into the promised land.
Putting this another way, this is basic motivational theory. I won't give you a specific link because there are hundreds which say much the same things. In essence, in order to get people to change (in this case, vote "no" in a referendum when they are inclined to vote the other way), you first have to establish the need. People need to be convinced of the need to change.
Secondly, you must identify the reward – the reason why the risk is worth it. Then, thirdly, you must remove the barriers to realisation. In this coming referendum, the most important barrier is fear (or FUD, if you like). That's what makes an exit plan essential. And I really do mean essential – not an optional extra, but a core part of the "no" campaign's intellectual trinity. Without it, I would argue, a campaign is unlikely to succeed.
Before leaving the matter there, however, I must return again to your idea that the detail of an exit plan is best left to government, because we, the "no" campaign, are not in a position to execute such a plan. What, in effect, you are saying is that the development of an exit plan should be left to those in the position to execute it.
You might care to pause to consider this argument for, if it was valid, it would negate much of the rationale for the think-tank industry that inhabits (some might say infests) London. Part of the necessary process of advocacy - often adopted by think-tanks - is not only to propose a course of action, but suggest to government the means by which it should be achieved.
It is by no means unusual for government then to borrow ideas from those think-tanks (or other bodies), in order to execute their policies. One might even observe that the whole idea of the European Union came from outside agencies, as indeed did the methodology for making it happen.
An important part of making an idea happen, therefore, is to suggest (sometimes in some detail) how
it might happen. This is another good reason why a exit plan should be produced independently by the "no" campaign, with the added advantage that in the event of success and the Government is forced to negotiate our exit, the plan can be used as the yardstick against which its performance can be measured. If it delivers a less advantageous deal than we suggest is possible, we have reason to ask why.
Finally, to conclude this part of my letter on this issue of whether we need an exit plan, I must refer once more to the activities and intentions of our enemies. In this context, one sees Sir Mike Rake, in his persona as President of the CBI openly taunt
the "no" campaign on its failure to coalesce around a credible exit plan. Thus, he said at the May speech to the CBI annual dinner:
No-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership. The current alternatives are not realistic options – little or no influence and the obligation to comply with EU principles whilst still paying most of the costs.
Sir Mike is not the first or only person to make this point. In November last year, we saw Juergen Maier
, chief executive of Siemens UK, note that, "It is perturbing that those who claim that Britain would be better off out have not put forward a detailed alternative for what 'out' means".
In the wake of Sir Mike's speech, we saw this theme picked up by a leader in the Observer
and, by reference to the Business for New Europe
(BNE) site, we can see this developing into a major attack point for the "yes" campaign, which will increasingly be used against us.
On this basis, and much more, its is overwhelmingly evident that the "no" campaign cannot go into this fight without a comprehensive, clearly thought-out exit plan. There is no gentle way of putting this: to argue against having such a plan is simply not a credible position.
Before moving on to address the question of whether there should be a unified exit plan, I now turn to your comments on a second referendum. In the first instance, you pose the question of whether the Government will suggest a second referendum, in the event that we succeed with a "no" vote. That raises some intriguing possibilities.
You suggest that offering a second vote would give the government the opportunity to reverse a loss in the first, so that "yes" would mean victory yet "no" would not necessarily mean defeat. European governments, you remind us, have held second votes repeatedly over the past quarter century.
On this basis, you posit a scenario where the government says: "If the public votes 'no', we will have to negotiate an exit deal with the EU and we believe that it is only right that the public has a vote on the final deal". If it did offer this option, you assert that it would be likely that Labour would do the same. You even argue that Labour might suggest this, and that the Government would feel obliged to agree.
Secondly, you ask whether the "no" side should demand a second referendum in the hope of forcing the parties to commit to one.
At this juncture, I might myself suggest that, when you get round to reading Flexcit
, you will note that we entertain the possibility of a referendum on the outcome of Article 50 negotiations. There is a reference to one on page 3, in the summary we so helpfully provide for people who haven't the time to read the whole document. There is another on page 123, and another on 393.
For sure, we don't make a big thing of it, not least because I have mixed feelings about the utility of a "yes-no" referendum. A "yes" vote would at least give democratic legitimacy to the agreement, but a "no" vote would present us with some problems.
There does not appear to be a facility within Article 50 for the departing state to reach a provisional agreement and come back for more talks if it can't get it ratified. The outcome would mean dropping out of the treaties without a replacement agreement. This, as we will see shortly, would be disastrous.
On the other hand – as we have observed earlier in this letter – a referendum on the Article 50 agreement would serve to keep the Government honest. If, for instance, it sought to broker a dishonest deal which meant rejoining the EU disguised as something else – which is quite possible – then a new "no" campaign could pull the plug, and warn the nation to reject the deal.
As to whether the "no" campaign might argue for a second vote, which is a scenario you discuss, I tend towards the view that we should do so. And if for no other reason, it sets the tone for a new, independent nation. If the Government took us into the EEC (and then the EU) without a vote, it can at least commit to a fully democratic process when taking us out of the EU.
You yourself argue that, "as a matter of democratic accountability, given the enormous importance of so many issues that would be decided in an Article 50 renegotiation – a far, far bigger deal than a normal election – it seems right to give people a vote on it". I tend to agree.
However, you also argue that it makes a "no" vote seem much less risky. "If you vote 'yes', you won't get another vote for another 40 years – if ever. You should vote 'no' to Cameron's rubbish deal", you suggest. "If you vote 'no', you will force a new Government to negotiate a new deal and give you a new vote. A 'no' vote is much safer than a 'yes' vote".
With this last argument, I am not sure I agree. It seems rather too convoluted and confusing – and thus easily demolished. The question is whether the initial "no" vote is safe on its own merits. And that depends largely on whether there "no" campaign can deliver a credible exit plan. We have gone full circle.
I now turn to another of the crucial matters that you raise, the question of whether we need a unified
exit plan, as opposed to the argument over whether we should have one at all. "Creating an exit plan that makes sense and which all reasonable people could unite around", you observe, "seems an almost insuperable task". You add, quite rightly, that: "Eurosceptic groups have been divided for years about many of the basic policy and political questions".
To address the key point, though, and to answer the question of whether we need a unified
exit plan, the response has to be, most emphatically in the negative. Unlike the advocates for European political integration, we do not need to be tied to a single, monolithic plan. We can embrace and rejoice in plurality and diversity.
Whether we need a "unified plan", therefore, it the wrong question. To get to the right question, we need to go back to Sir Mike Rake, who asserted that "no-one has yet set out a credible alternative future to EU membership" – or (unspoken) a means by which we could safely arrive at that future destination.
The operative word, therefore, is not "unified", but "credible". If the "no" campaign is to offer or endorse one or any number of exit plans, they must meet one test, that of credibility.
What we cannot afford is official recognition of any plans which do not meet the credibility test. Even if the "no" campaign also endorses a plan which is credible, the enemy will attack the weakest link. It will adopt divide and conquer tactics, and afford most prominence to the weakest plan.
In your blogpost, you kindly refer to our plan, Flexcit
, although you tell us that you need to study it more. You also state that, "Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade", which is a tangential reference to a plan given a number of titles and descriptions, but which is generically known as the "WTO option" - or sometimes the MFN-based approach
There are other options, and most (including the WTO option) are described and analysed in depth in Flexcit
, and you would find their study rewarding. The sections convey essential knowledge, without which you will struggle to understand the arguments being put forward.
Although we assert that Flexcit
should be adopted officially by the "no" campaign as a stand-alone plan, we are also quite relaxed about other plans being adopted. Our only proviso, on which our support for the official campaign is conditional, is that they should be credible.
However, what is happening at the moment is that a bid is being made to have the "WTO option" adopted as the official credo
of the "no" campaign. We also learn that Flexcit
, for reasons which have not yet been openly declared, should be discarded. Furthermore, it is my understanding that you are involved in the process of selection, albeit that an official "no" campaign has yet to be selected (and can only be by the Electoral Commission).
But, if there is to be a contest of ideas, it is healthy that it should be out in the open, not least so that justice is seen to be done. There has been far too much hole-in-the-corner stuff, some of which has been a disgrace to the good name of Euroscepticism. Your facilitation of an open debate is thus doubly to be welcomed.
Now, against that background, I will aver that, in whatever name or guise it might appear, the "WTO option", as a plan, entirely lacks credibility. We (for I am not alone in this) would go so far as to suggest that the ideas being advocated by a number of prominent groups are dangerously flawed, to the extent that, if adopted by an official "no" campaign, they could be instrumental in losing us the referendum. Their destructive potential cannot be overstated.
To be absolutely clear on what is being discussed, though, we will reiterate our understanding that the "WTO option" is one where the UK leaves the EU without having negotiated any trade agreements with the EU, either within the framework of Article 50 negotiations, or on the margins. Instead, it relies entirely on the multilateral WTO agreements covering trade-related matters.
As to this option, I've already trashed it on this blog
, I've taken it apart in Flexcit
and I've held seminars and workshops explaining why it's a non-starter. But like the resignation of a Ukip leader, just when you think it's gone, up it comes again.
As you review the living dead on your blog, I note that you assert that: "Global rules set by the World Trade Organisation provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade", and we also note from another source
the claim that: "Were the UK to leave [the EU], it would continue to have access to the EU's markets, as World Trade Organization rules prevent the EU from imposing unfair, punitive tariffs on UK exports".
Looking briefly at your comment, where you assert that the WTO provide some guarantees against European countries discriminating against British trade, one has to take note of the "some" qualifier as regards protection against discrimination. The point here, that you need to take firmly on board, is that the WTO rules only afford very limited protection against discrimination, and then only in respect of tariffs.
But, as the WTO site itself says
, "by their very nature RTAs (Regional Trade Agreements – as is the EU) are discriminatory", and, under WTO rules
, an amount of discrimination against third countries (and that would include the UK) is permitted. The WTO observes:
Modern RTAs, and not exclusively those linking the most developed economies, tend to go far beyond tariff-cutting exercises. They provide for increasingly complex regulations governing intra-trade (e.g. with respect to standards, safeguard provisions, customs administration, etc.) and they often also provide for a preferential regulatory framework for mutual services trade. The most sophisticated RTAs go beyond traditional trade policy mechanisms, to include regional rules on investment, competition, environment and labour.
The crunch issue here is the "preferential regulatory framework". Unless goods seeking entrance to the EU Single Market (i.e., British exports) conform to the regulations which comprise the framework, they are not permitted entry. Thus, the assertion that, if the UK left the EU, "it would continue to have access to the EU’s markets …", is simply not true. And - to spell it out - if it is not true, it is false.
With or without tariff issues being resolved – which are actually irrelevant to the access issue - the claim is false. Tariffs do not prevent access to a market. They simply impose a tax on entry. The actual barrier is regulatory conformity – what is known generally as a non-tariff barrier (NTB) or, sometimes, as technical barrier to trade (TBT).
Nevertheless, it is generally recognised that, in order to access the Single Market, goods must comply with EU rules. Conformity is the way of overcoming the NTB. But what advocates of the WTO option have not realised is that there is more to it than that – much more. Potential exporters not only have to ensure their goods conform, they must provide evidence of their so doing. This requires putting the goods through a recognised system of what is known as "conformity assessment".
We are at this point entering serious "nerd" territory. If your eyes are beginning to glaze over, all I can say is welcome to my world. It has taken me years of mind-numbing, tedious study to understand this amount of detail, and either your know it, or you don't. If you don't, you are going to make serious mistakes. And that is just what the "WTO option" advocates have done. Bear with me and you'll see why their mistakes are not so much serious as catastrophic.
And, for all that, the fundamentals are quite simple. The point about the Single Market is that border checks have been eliminated. The common rules are monitored by relevant national authorities and there is mutual recognition of standards. Thus, if you so desire, you can load a truck with grommets in Glasgow and ship them all the way to Alexandroupoli on the Turkish border, with just the occasional document check.
But the moment we leave the EU, this stops. Your grommet manufacturer may still comply with exactly the same standards, but the testing houses and the regulatory agencies are no longer recognised. The consignment has no valid paperwork. And, without it, it must be subject to border checks, visual inspection and physical testing.
What that means in practice is that the customs inspector detains your shipment and takes samples to send to an approved testing house (one for the inspector, one for the office pool, one for the stevedores and one for the lab is often the case). Your container inspection
is typically about £700 and detention costs about £80 a day for the ten days or so it will take to get your results back. Add the testing fee and you're paying an extra £2,000 to deliver a container into the EU.
Apart from the costs, the delays are highly damaging. Many European industries are highly integrated, relying on components shipped from multiple countries right across Europe, working to a "just in time" regime. If even a small number of consignments are delayed, the whole system starts to snarl up.
Then, as European ports start having to deal with the unexpected burden of thousands of inspections, and a backlog of testing as a huge range of products sit at the ports awaiting results, the system will grind to a halt. It won't just slow down. It will stop. Trucks waiting to cross the Channel at Dover will be backed up the motorway all the way to London.
For animal products exported to the EU, the situation is even worse – if that is possible. Products from third countries (which is now the UK) are permitted entry only through designated border inspection posts (BIPs). Only at these can they be inspected and, if necessary, detained for testing. But, for trade between the UK and EU member states, there are no designated BIPs. Until one (or more) has been nominated and equipped trade in these products stops dead - say goodbye to a £12 billion export trade.
If the way out of the country becomes blocked, very quickly the return route gets blocked and incoming trade from the EU starts suffering. In the UK, goods from the EU are no longer delivered. Trade slows. Manufacturers which depend on imported components start struggling and then have to close. And while the naysayers talk about losing three million jobs if we leave the EU, we are looking at twice that and more – seven or eight million jobs are at stake.
At this point, you might say, how can this happen? The "WTO option" advocates will tell you that countries such as China, the United States and Australia all trade with the EU without formal trade agreements, and therefore operate under WTO rules. They don't have these problem – so why would the UK? The answer, however, is tragically simple. These countries don't rely solely on WTO rules.
What our "WTO option" advocates have done is make a very basic but fatal mistake. They're obsessed with tariffs and haven't begun to focus on non-tariff barriers. Thus, by and large, they are only looking at trade agreements dealing with tariffs - a sub-set of international agreements which are registered with the WTO. But there are many different types of agreement and many which involve trade, either directly or indirectly, which are not registered with the WTO. These, for our "WTO option" advocates, remain under the radar. To them, they are invisible.
Yet one of the most important types of trade agreement is the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) on conformity assessment. This gets round the problem of border checks, as the EU will then recognise the paperwork on product testing and conformity certification. Throw in agreement on Customs cooperation – to ensure that official paperwork and systems mesh – and you are on your way to trouble-free border crossings.
China has a Mutual Recognition Agreement, signed in May 2014
, the United States has one on conformity assessment
which runs to 81 pages, agreed in 1999. Even Australia has one
. All of these are outside the remit of the WTO but they are nonetheless trade agreements, and vital ones at that. But look then what the think-tank Global Britain
- another "WTO option" advocate - is doing. "As an example", it writes, "Australia has no trade agreement with the EU ... ". It then goes on to cite an EU web page
, which actually tells us:
The EU and Australia conduct their trade and economic relations under the EU-Australia Partnership Framework of October 2008. This aims, apart from cooperation on the multilateral trade system and trade in services and investment issues, to facilitate trade in industrial products between the EU and Australia by reducing technical barriers, including conformity assessment procedures.
What is the EU-Australia Partnership Framework, if not (inter alia
) a trade agreement? The details are set out here
, and we also see that it sets the framework for the all-important MRA on conformity assessment. One MRA is here
, running to 110 pages, with an amendment here
running to a further 20 pages.
There are, in fact, 82 agreements between the EU and Australia, of which 18 are bilateral. There are 65 between the EU and China, of which 13 are bilateral. Between the EU and the United States, there are 135, of which 55 are bilateral. As regards trading agreements, not only is Global Britain
incorrect in its assertions, its authors apparently don't even read their own reports.
Such is the importance of agreements such as the MRAs that the UK would have no option but to seek deal with the EU, for which there is a facility within Article 50. But, the moment it sought such deals, it would no longer be relying on exclusively on WTO rules. It would be seeking bilateral agreements along the lines of the so-called "Swiss option".
One can say, unequivocally, that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the "WTO option". It would be an unmitigated disaster, and no responsible government would allow it. If, on the other hand, the official "no" campaign adopts it, the "yes" side will be counting its blessings.
Initially, we will be looking at a slow burn. In what is an arcane field, pro-EU analysts
are almost as ignorant as our own. And there is always a possibility that mutual ignorance would cancel out pro- and anti-EU campaigns. But, with this ticking time bomb at the heart of the "no" campaign, it would be unwise to assume that real trade experts will not brief the opposition on the implications of the "WTO option". If that happens, we can expect the FUD to be lethal. The chances of the "no" side winning would quickly recede to nil, especially if the demolition took place in the last weeks of the campaign.
But now, a further question arises, as to why a number of prominent bodies (and one in particular) got it so wrong, and are so keen to reject Flexcit
, even though it apparently delivers the answers – or so we would aver.
To reach an answer on why, almost simultaneously, most of London-based think-tankers have suddenly taken the "WTO option" to their hearts, one has to recall the shambolic IEA Brexit competition
last year when €100,000 was wasted on a trivial piece of work
, when all six finalists just happened to support the so-called "Swiss option", or variations thereof.
But, with the case for the Swiss option in tatters
and with the criticisms mounting
, out it all goes as the think-tankers turn on a sixpence
and go chasing after their latest hystérie du jour
. That's €100,000 for a master plan that has had a shelf life of 14 months before being unceremoniously dumped.
The point that has to be made, therefore, is that the London claque
is in the grip of a disease, identified back in 1896 by Gustave Le Bon
in his book The Crowd
. The disease is one of prestige, of which he writes:
The special characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they are and to entirely paralyse our judgement. Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.
When you come to consider the arguments above, you need to be sure that you are making an objective assessment, and are not clouded by this disease which leads so many people astray. I touched on this in a recent post
and conclude with the observation that there is far too much at stake to allow this to have its usual effect.
There is much more to write, and some of the points you raise on your blogpost I have not addressed. But this is neither the time or place: there are some other pressing matters I must attend to. Thus, I trust what I have written so far is helpful and I look forward to a continued dialogue. Before I finally do leave this, my own blogpost, though, I will quote your own words back at you:
To those who say these discussions should happen only in private, I strongly disagree. Much about a campaign has to remain secret but these big questions are necessarily part of public debate. A decade has been largely wasted. These big things must be confronted now in parallel to establishing a professional campaigning organisation and public discussion raises the probability of the NO campaign getting things right.
I could not agree more with those sentiments, and commend you wholeheartedly for expressing them. And I will add one sentiment of my own. I voted in the 1975 referendum and, having gone out and bought a copy of the Treaty of Rome – then to read the words "ever closer union" – voted "no". This time round, I will be fighting as well as voting, and with a determination to win. For those who do not share my commitment, I have a few words of advice.
Don't get in my way.
The "Big Three" global credit rating agencies – the US based Standard & Poor's (S&P), Moody's, and Fitch Ratings - have come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the global financial crisis, writes the Council on Foreign Relations.
Meant to provide investors with reliable information on the riskiness of various kinds of debt, these agencies have instead been accused of exacerbating the financial crisis and defrauding investors by offering overly favourable evaluations of insolvent financial institutions and approving extremely risky mortgage-related securities.
For this and other reasons, these agencies have come under the increasing grip of EU regulation, with additional regulation newly implemented and further scrutiny on the cards, as the rules bite.
It may, therefore, not be entirely a coincidence that Standard & Poor's
has lowered the outlook for Britain's triple-A rating to negative from stable, saying that it risked a downgrade because of David Cameron's decision to hold an EU referendum.
The vote, says the agency, "represents a risk to growth prospects for the UK's financial services and export sectors, as well as the wider economy". And if Britain looked likely to leave the EU, it could cut Britain's rating by more than one notch, while sterling risked losing its status as a global reserve currency.
As well as hurting Britain's economy, leaving the EU would damage Britain's ability to finance its large stock of public debt and its current account deficit, S&P said. "The UK government's decision to hold a referendum … indicates that economic policy-making could be at risk of being more exposed to party politics than we had previously anticipated", the agency added.
From any dispassionate view, however, this is an unduly pessimistic assessment. With the referendum unlikely to be held for another two years, and probably at least three years before the UK would be near quitting – just supposing the "no" campaign succeeded – there is plenty of time to take the economic temperature, on the basis or real evidence.
This move, therefore, has the hallmark of a politically-motivated intervention and, with the power the EU holds over the credit rating agencies, it doesn't take much to guess why. The craven servant is bowing to its master.
And so the FUD goes on and on. There is no relief in hand, and much more to come. But that is all it is: fear, uncertainty and doubt. The purveyors of fear have no reasoned case, so they turn to the only thing they have. But that weakness shows how strong we really are.
It makes a pleasant change to see reported trouble in the Europhile camp, with the Times telling us that Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the billionaire scion of the supermarket family, has begun work preparing for the launch of the "yes" campaign.
This is the business which, incidentally, recently posted news of falling sales for its fifth consecutive quarter. Once again, therefore, we have the boss of a failing business, which is not ill-disposed to a spot of mis-selling, seeking to tell us how we should be governed.
Nevertheless, despite the less than stellar performance of his business, Sainsbury has emerged as the driving force behind the campaign to keep Britain in the EU. The Labour peer is said to have a huge influence on the way the campaign will be conducted - even if he might be better employed minding his own business.
Sainsbury, whose own company has had its problems with corrupt staff, is now said to be "sharpening up" elements of the pro-EU organisation, and is considering who might run the overall "yes" campaign. That, though, is apparently not going to be Peter Wilding, founder and director of British Influence, whose organisation faces a funding cut by Sainsbury.
"It will be allowed to wither and quite possibly die", says a source close to the organisation. "It did not make the sort of impact it should have done. They were no good at public relations". It will get some funding from Lord Sainsbury, but "there will be a period of it going down".
Potentially forming the "yes" campaign are three organisation, including British Influence. The others are Business for New Europe (BNE), of "Lying Lucy" fame, overseen by Roland Rudd, the chairman of Finsbury PR, and the EU-funded European Movement, chaired by Laura Sandys, who stood down as a Tory MP in the general election.
Sandys and the BNE team are expected to play a significant role in the "yes" campaign, but it seems that the shape of the campaign remains unclear because no decisions have been taken about how Labour will organise its efforts during the campaign.
Some Labour figures, such as Andy Burnham, want to run a separate campaign organisation. However, some EU supporters fear the party may not give its full support for the EU if a leader such as Mr Burnham focuses excessively on winning back Ukip voters.
Here it starts to get even more interesting as Sainsbury is a Blairite, so there may be serious tensions in the camp – and even a split in campaigning objectives. The GMB union, for instance, may expect the "yes" campaign to push for strengthened enforcement of the minimum wage as the price of its support.
Perturbations in the "yes" camp, however, have implications for the "no" side, as the result may be a change in strategy. So far, we've seen the predictable but effective FUD campaign, and the negative "attack dog" ploy, picking up the inadequacies if the "no" side.
What we have barely seen is any attempt to see the "benefits" of EU involvement, or any intelligent focus on the inability of the "no" side to make an effective case for departure, or offer a credible exit plan.
For the Europhiles, though, and effective campaign is less important, as they main player on the pro-EU side is the Prime Minister, backed by the full resources of the Government. To a very great extent, that have as their ally the legacy media, which will happily bang the "reform" drum, confusing an already confused "no" campaign.
Nevertheless, on balance, to have a Labour billionaire businessman at the head of the Europhile effort is good for us. It serves to reinforce our message that the EU is a corporate ramp, loved by the fat-cats and the merchants who made "rip-off Britain" what it is.
If the "no" side have the sense to keep high-profile business figures out of sight, then we have clear blue water between the two campaigns, more so if the anti-EU fight is characterised as a people's campaign.
The very last thing we want to see is the overall campaign degenerate into a tedious squabble between rival business interests, over the economics of membership – making it playtime for the SW1 wonks, with ordinary people relegated to the status of bored spectators.
"I don't foam at the mouth", writes Tim Montgomerie in his column in The Times. "My eyes do not swivel. I don't howl at full moons. But there is nothing that David Cameron could bring home from his bratwurst, paella and trout tour of European capitals that would convince me to vote 'yes' in the forthcoming referendum".
With uncommon clarity, Montgomerie thus articulates the only coherent position to take in the forthcoming referendum unless, of course, you are in favour of continued EU membership. There is no credible middle way.
Yet, not a million miles away from Montgomerie physically, yet communicating from another galaxy, we have Matthew Elliott writing in the Telegraph. He says that the Prime Minister should "push on with delivering a far-reaching renegotiation", This should include "proper, full-on Treaty change" and a "fundamental change" in Britain's relationship with the EU. "He has the plan", says Elliott, "He has the opportunity. Now he deserves our help delivering it".
Yet it is Elliott, not Montgomerie, who as noted by Breitbart, is the man touted as the leader of the "no" campaign. This is also the very same man who told the Evening Standard that: "If the Government gets a two-tier Europe, we're very much in". In that case, we were told, diehard eurosceptics may well have to fight a "no" campaign without his outfit.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, while the "yes" campaign has hit the ground running, the Spectator is reporting that the putative "no" campaign is having trouble getting started. We are told that many of the potential participants, from politicians to donors (but including Elliott), are keeping their powder dry until they see the result of the renegotiation.
This is the "wait and see" strategy, which Matthew Parris wanted us to follow. Its popularity, Forsyth believes, is a result of intervention by No. 10, which has been "discreetly urging Tories not to undermine the Prime Minister while he is on diplomatic manoeuvres by declaring that they want out". But, if they wait until the negotiations are concluded, Forsyth says, "They will find themselves with much ground to make up".
That No. 10 should be trying to influence the management of the "no" campaign might sound rather disturbing, but this is not the first time we have seen such reports. On 8 February this year, the Sunday Times reported that Daniel Korski, Cameron's Downing Street point man on Europe, was "in regular contact with senior figures in European pressure groups who would lead the 'In' and 'Out' referendum campaigns — as often as two or three times a day".
That the "out" (or "no" campaign as it has become) representative in this instance was Matthew Elliott has not been denied, yet he is also the man who is actively promoting a strategy that would guarantee the failure of the "no" campaign.
The problem is that any departure from the Montgomerie line concedes the high ground to the "yes" campaign. The only way the "no" campaign can maintain an intellectual purity that is vital to its own credibility is to hold that membership of the EU is wrong in principle. There can be no circumstances where the UK can stay in the EU. Once the point of principle is abandoned, the referendum becomes a squabble over detail – a messy argument about whether the "reform" has been sufficient.
But the danger is that those like Elliott who want to play the "reform" game are not only conceding the strategic issue, they are also – at the very least - tactically inept.
In particular, they are under-estimating the degree to which Mr Cameron is able to control the timing, and his mastery of presentation. The Prime Minister will be stretching out his "renegotiations" until the last minute – even to days before the postal votes go in. He will then stage-manage bringing back his treaty from Brussels – his "Heston moment" - and saturate the "no" campaign in a huge amount of detail, which must be analysed and to which they must respond.
We must also take account the possibility that, even if Elliott himself does not change sides, the media may well do – in fact, that is more likely than not. And, with the entire weight of the Government and three major political parties supporting the deal, that will leave leaves the "no" campaign with days rather than weeks to ramp up their campaign.
At that stage, we won't be fighting on a point of principle, but on the details. The "no" campaign will be pointing out what Mr Cameron has promised at various times, accusing him of failing to deliver. On the other hand, the Government, supported by the media, will be pointing to the successes – the propaganda directed not at the hardened eurosceptics (who will be committed to voting "no", come what may) but to the soft middle.
Crucially, even if that "middle" is not fully convinced by Mr Cameron's brilliant deal, the "no" campaign still has the problem of reassuring voters that leaving the EU is a safe bet, and a pressing need. But, having sat on its hands for two years while the "yes" campaign has saturated the terrain with FUD, there will be, as Forsyth observes, "much ground to make up".
And here one is assuming that Elliott is genuinely committed to leaving the EU. But, since the inception of Business for Britain, his personal campaigning platform, Elliott has been consistent in telling anyone who would listen that he does not want to leave the EU.
We noted this in April 2013 when he was saying that B4B, "is absolutely not about leaving the EU". Then as now, he was arguing for the Government to, "seek a new deal for the EU and the UK's terms of membership".
"Instead of pushing the debate to the extreme corners of 'In vs Out'", he says, "we should be having a sensible discussion about what is right and what is wrong in our current arrangements". In Elliott's view: "Resisting renegotiation and denying people a say will push public sentiment further towards 'Out' and fast-track an EU exit".
In a line that is virtually indistinguishable from the Europhile Open Europe - now advising Mr Cameron on the renegotiation strategy - Elliott says: "We believe strongly that a negotiated large change in our relationship with the EU is highly achievable".
"To get that large change", he adds, "we need to bring to the negotiation clarity of purpose, and a strong, united will. And we will only get that change if we are prepared to vote to leave the EU if our objectives in the negotiation are not met. But if we get the change we need, we won't need to leave".
Thus, Elliott is not in any way committed to leaving the EU, but simply sees the threat of leaving as a mechanism for getting a better deal for Mr Cameron.
But what people like Elliot don't realise – and he always has had a very slender grasp of the issues – is that the political terrain has undergone a huge change since Mr Cameron gave his "Bloomberg speech" in January 2013, promising a referendum. His playbook is no longer valid – if it ever was.
The point at issue is that, at the time Elliott emerged with his B4B, Mr Cameron was assuming – and it was a reasonable assumption to make – that there would be treaty negotiation initiated by the "colleagues", onto which he could piggy-back his own demands. To that effect, it is germane to revisit the text of the speech, where he said:
At some stage in the next few years the EU will need to agree on Treaty change to make the changes needed for the long term future of the Euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek. I believe the best way to do this will be in a new Treaty so I add my voice to those who are already calling for this. My strong preference is to enact these changes for the entire EU, not just for Britain.
That, as we now know, is not to be but, even at the time, we were arguing that his timescale for a full-scale treaty negotiation by the end of 2017 was unrealistic.
However, in his Bloomberg speech, Mr Cameron has added the rider that, if there was no appetite for a new Treaty for us all, "then of course Britain should be ready to address the changes we need in a negotiation with our European partners". When his government had negotiated that new settlement, he said: "We will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether".
Currently, the Elliott view – supported incidentally by the bulk of the "eurosceptic" Conservative MPs - is that we should "wait and see" what Mr Cameron delivers, before we decide whether to reject the "new terms" and vote "no". But, without the full-blown treaty first envisaged, even the slender possibility of claiming a fundamental reform had evaporated.
This, then, puts Mr Cameron in the position of seeking a renegotiation which is doomed to failure before it even starts, yet Elliott and his Conservative supporters want us to sit on our hands until Mr Cameron comes home with a deal that he can't possibly get – arguing against a Prime Minister who says otherwise.
In promoting this bizarre strategy, though, Elliott has the backing of the likes of Daniel Hannan and Stuart Wheeler, as well as supposed "outers" like Ruth Lea and many more of the eurosceptic "aristocracy". They are the ones who have consistently promoted him as the leader of the "no" campaign.
On the basis of this promise, Elliott has occupied prestigious offices in the heart of Westminster, with a staff in double figures, playing out the role of "eurosceptic". Yet, weeks since the election, in terms of infrastructure, regional organisation, meetings, planning groups, literature, logos and all the paraphernalia of a campaign, we are seeing nothing coming out of London.
There is talk, however, of an "umbrella group" being formed, centred in SW1. But if this so much as includes Elliott's group – much less is led by it – then it is entertaining an enemy in the camp. Its "middle way" strategy will drag the "no" campaign down, dooming it to failure.
I think it was my son Peter who remarked that we now have journalists writing about the EU referendum in the Telegraph, who aren't even old enough to vote in it. And when that happens, all you get is superficial analysis.
In this case, we have the juvenile Tim Stanley querying David Cameron's "presumptuousness" in demanding treaty change. This, the lad thinks, "might doom the renegotiation process to failure".
Yet, scarcely had he pressed the upload button in the Telegraph's
notoriously slack newsroom, where most of the sub-editors have been fired and unchecked self-publication is the norm, then the BBC was contradicting him. It reported
that Angela Merkel had told Mr Cameron she did not rule out future treaty changes in "Europe" and will be a "constructive partner" to the UK in getting reforms.
Without the benefit of the prestige of the Telegraph
, which allows it to gets it wrong with such monotonous regularity and still survive, Autonomous Mind
has to get it right. This he does in his latest blogpost
, reminding us how much of this "renegotiation" process is being stage-managed.
It is obviously skilful enough to fool a goodly number of hacks. Hollande is being cast as the "bad cop" and Merkel the reluctant "good cop". The two are not scheduled to settle their differences until the final scene, when they will give Mr Cameron enough for his "Heston moment", allowing him to parade his pristine piece of paper before the adoring (hand-picked) crowd.
But it isn't only the hacks that are getting it wrong. Enter Farage, the very same whose tactical acumen saw his party halve its Westminster representation – from two MPs to one – in the general election.
Before the election, he was in full flow, claiming Ukip was going to get zillions of MPs and take over the known universe. We, on the other hand, were suggesting that he needed to learn how to manage expectations. Political success can be claimed if you get more than you predicted, but a better performance can be branded a failure if you have raised expectations beyond your achievements.
Now confronted with a referendum for which it is quite obvious that he has made absolutely no preparation, Farage has not even begun to learn that lesson. Instead, he is repeating his mistake in this different context. He is talking down expectations of Cameron's "renegotiations" to such an extent that he is making out that the Prime Minister will come back empty-handed.
While Mr Cameron's "renegotiations" are being heavily stage-managed, though, that does not mean he is going to bring nothing back from Brussels. Not least, as we've just seen, all the indications are that he will bring back a treaty change. But he will also be pulling together a number of concessions across a wide range of EU activity, to make up the so-called "Danish option
" about which we recently wrote.
Nevertheless, the Danes themselves are urging
Mr Cameron not to rely on this option, which relied largely on opt-outs. But they need have no fears. The Prime Minister seems to be going for a much more complex and sophisticated package, sufficient for him to claim that he has achieved substantial concessions from the "colleagues". By the time is it dressed up and padded out, there will be more than enough to fill a hundred-plus pages in a White Paper, sufficient to fool all but the cynical and the well-informed.
The reality, of course, is that the deal will be relatively modest. But the more people like Farage talk down the expectations, the easier it will be for Mr Cameron to over-perform, and therefore convince people that he has achieved something more than he has. Farage is being expertly "played", unwittingly setting the scene for David Cameron's "victory".
Less perceptive commentators, far from picking up these nuances, are looking at the fluff on the periphery of events. In particular, they are noting the rush of business-sourced scare stories, and affording them some weight.
On the other hand industry sources, in the Financial Times
, are beginning to take a more sanguine look at their own strategies. While we have been assailed with scare stories from the car industry, one critic notes that, "The car industry hasn’t been a great judge of its best interests", remarking that its decision to support the euro "bordering on the juvenile". "They don't have a great background to pontificate about this issue (Brexit) now", he says.
Certainly, some of the propaganda from business
could only be described as facile, even Lloyd's of London Chief Executive Inga Beale, who recently added her own ignorance to the common pool amassed by big name executives. If Britain left the EU, she complained, businesses would find it harder to sell their products across Europe with Britain is outside the region's single market.
With such stupidity being given rough handling in the social media – but not in the bovine legacy media – multi-nationals are beginning to tell their executives to keep clear of the debate, for fear of "reputational damage". Thus, we can expect the craven corporate to take less of a part in the campaign than originally expected, with even suggestions
that the "yes" campaign should not rely on the economic argument.
In the way the battle is shaping up, therefore, almost everything will hang on how well Cameron is able to stage-manage the negotiations, and on his presentational skills plus.
There also seems to be a deliberate attempt to rig the referendum procedures as we see with the amendment to S.125 of PPERA abolishing the 28-day Government purdah
before the poll date. This will permit the Government to send out a White Paper summary to all households after the "no" campaign has already sent out its referendum address, giving the Government the last word and a colossal advantage.
Thus, it is not so much the propaganda that wins the day. Rather, it will be the stage managing and Cameron's manipulative skills that are going to be decisive, together with one other factor - the utter inability of the eurosceptics to provide reassurance that leaving the EU is a safe bet.
In part then, Cameron will win it, matched by the eurosceptics who will lose it. No prominent, media-recognised figure apart from Owen Paterson is actually arguing coherently for the EEA, and even then he is currently only arguing for that one stage of a multi-stage process.
Sadly, it is not so much that the eurosceptics are not being heard in the debate. The problem is that not enough of them are making a coherent case. Far from helping, the likes of Messrs Farage and Hannan are muddying the waters – both in their own ways entirely out of control, even if they continue to enjoy the applause of their respective claques.
But, while we can rely on two constants - that the media in general doesn't have the first idea of what is going on and lacks the competence to understand what it sees - the Achilles' heel of Mr Cameron's strategy is that he will need his Parliamentary party to approve the outcome of his "renegotiations".
This is where the strategy could crack wide open. Some of the new Tory intake are holding seats with majorities only in double figures. There are more than enough with their seats at risk to wipe out the Government's slender majority. All of them are acutely conscious that they will have to face an electorate in 2020 which will not be kindly disposed to even a hint of betrayal.
Then there are also enough people in the real world able to see through Mr Cameron's theatricals. They do not depend on the media midden as they have platforms such as these, as well as the social media. They are capable of making another Conservative victory a forlorn hope.
Against all these clever experts who have spent nanoseconds studying the referendum dynamics, and who so presciently forecast the outcome of the general election, this might not count for much. But then it only took one boy to notice that the emperor had no clothes.
If Cameron, as expected, walks out with nothing more than a sun tan - and he can do little else - it will be noticed. And we will not be relying on the children in the media to cry foul. There are plenty of grown-ups who will be speaking out, and if the Cameron "fudge" goes through unchallenged, they will be intent on making this the last Conservative government for a generation.
In my view, the "out" campaign must have three things in order to do its job effectively. It will need to have a case for leaving the EU (why we should leave), a statement of what we aim to achieve by leaving (our "vision") and the exit plan (how we leave).
I have likened this to a three-legged stool, where the three "legs" must be in balance, and complement each other, in order to provide a stable platform from which to fight. There is no point, for instance, is making the case for leaving because of "excessive" EU regulation if we then say that, in order to leave, there will be little relief from regulation.
Even then, these intellectual properties will not in themselves win the referendum for us. They are essentially a sine qua non, so we must move on from there to build the structure of the campaign, acquiring the resources need to fight, and devising the tactics.
There is a linkage, though, between our "three-legged stool" and our tactics. Specifically, in making the case for leaving, we must identify the group (or groups) of people we most need to convince, and tune our message to make sure it convinces our target audience.
As one might expect, we are not alone in thinking in these terms. Peter Wilding, director of the Europhile British Influence is also ruminating along similar lines.
Interestingly, he has come to the conclusion that economic arguments alone "will not be enough to persuade British voters that the country should stay in the European Union". They are, he says, increasingly being dismissed as scaremongering. The case for EU membership has to be part of a "far bigger story" about Britain's future.
Thus, Wilding believes the "yes" campaign has to go "beyond the economic". The message, he says, "has to be that Britain is a leader in Europe and must get stuck in: Complete the single market, create jobs for our children and grandchildren. It's about emotion – people are proud of their country, they want it to do well – and hope for the future, not fear".
We can take some comfort from this, as we're obviously having an effect in neutralising the FUD. On the other hand, though, our own "side" is not up to speed, still focusing on the economic issues, trying to make this an issue all about business.
In fact, this is a path down which we don't want to travel. The very last thing we want to do is get embroiled about whether business does or does not support membership of the EU, or whether they want reform and, if so, what reform issues they will accept. Some do want to leave, some don't. Some want reform, but few can say what exactly it is that they want or will accept. These are arguments we can't possibly win, as a "yes" campaign is clearly indicating.
In other respects, the "yes" campaign is also getting its act together. British Influence and two other leading pro-EU groups, Business for New Europe and the European Movement, are working together as an embryonic "yes" campaign. The anti-EU movement is very far from forming a single group – and probably never will.
Wilding acknowledges that the polls have swung steadily in his favour over the past couple of years from "the largest gap in favour of leaving, to the largest gap in favour of staying". Yet the country is still divided in three: solidly pro-EU, definitely anti and undecided.
"The battle will be won or lost in the middle", Wilding says, "and it won’t be an easy one. The 'out' camp has developed an attractive narrative – here we are, shackled to a corpse, and we'd be better off out. I wouldn't presume to be confident of the result of this vote".
Says the Guardian, observers also point out that EU fatigue – witness last year's European elections – is, broadly, on the rise and recent EU referendums on the continent have invariably resulted in no votes. The paper also thinks that Britain "boasts both a largely anti-EU (or at least, highly critical) press and a partly 'europhobic' governing elite".
Factors that could play in the "yes" camp's favour include anxiety about a possible breakup of the UK. "One in five people say they'll change their no [anti-EU] vote to a yes if Britain's exit from the EU also means Scotland leaving the UK", Wilding says.
That is where we need to be, assessing specifically what it will take for our target groups to support us. But above all else, we need to define our positive "vision" and get the other two "legs" of our stool fully in place. Obsessing about what business wants is a distraction – that much we can learn from the "yes" campaign.
This wasn't even a proper European Council. Rather, it was an "International Summit" to discuss the Eastern Partnership with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
As such, there was no opportunity for formal (or any) negotiations on EU "reform". This was simply neither the time nor the place. And hence, it is hardly surprising when the Prime Minister sought to hijack the meeting for his own ends, he was forced to admit that his attempts to renegotiate Britain's relationship were not met with "a wall of love".
The Guardian, however, has Mr Cameron effectively pledging to make a nuisance of himself until he is heard. Yet, for all that, he has not set out a comprehensive list of "reforms" he is seeking.
Giving the game away, his aides are suggesting he may not want to reveal his hand publicly at any stage in the process, which is probably the truth of the matter. He will keep it deliberately vague, right up to a few weeks before the actual poll, and then bring out and array of "concessions", initiatives and declarations, all to fortify his "Heston moment" and give the impression of progress.
Having not set himself up as a target, by refusing to declare his hand in advance, he can then spin the results in the most favourable way, depriving his critics of the opportunity to compare promises with delivery.
In keeping with this strategy, Mr Cameron is keeping it vague, talking of such things as the UK's demand for an exclusion from the EU drive for "ever closer union", even though the moment the "British question" has been resolved, the "colleagues" will be seeking another treaty which will be aiming for precisely that.
Nor is Mr Cameron committing himself to a specific timetable. All he wil say is that the discussions "will take time". In his press conference after the summit, he said: "We've got to get our heads down, get on with it, have discussions and bring them to a successful conclusion". The meeting, he said, was "not the start of detailed negotiations but about making a start and setting out the issues and trying to explain to people what we want to achieve".
Nevertheless, it is very clear that Mr Cameron is still thinking in terms of bringing home his treaty. A British official source said the UK recognised there were "27 nuts to crack" – in reference to the fact there will have to be approval from every EU member state.
Mr Cameron argues that Germany has achieved treaty changes when it had problems with the eurozone and the UK deserves the same hearing for its complaints. Keeping up the momentum, he is also to host Juncker at Chequers this Monday. This is all part of the theatre, as the Commission President has no direct responsibility for treaty change.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has been accidentally e-mailed details of the establishment of a secret Bank of England propaganda team, to work on costs of leaving the EU. This is operation "Bookend", led by Europhile former civil servant Jon Cunliffe. It looks like another attempt by the establishment to rig the debate, adding to the flow of FUD as it prepares to detail supposed "financial shocks" that could hit Britain if we leave the EU.
Altogether, the Europhiles are risking there own credibility – not that they had much to start with. If they have nothing more than lies, deceit and scare stories, they may end up struggling to win this referendum.
"I don't tell you how to build aircraft so don't tell us how to run our country", says the Complete Bastard in a pithy response to the unwanted intervention by Airbus president Paul Kahn into the referendum debate.
Apart from the very real problems with the A-400M, one model of which recently crashed near Seville airport, ironically on Europe Day, the company has serious commercial issues with the A-380. There are strong indications that they have chosen to build the wrong aircraft for the market.
With such problems, one might expect the senior management to be focused on what they are paid to do – managing their company. But even if they thought this political intervention was appropriate, Khan needs to consider revising his pitch and coming up with a more imaginative set of lies.
A decision to quit the EU would raise doubts about Airbus's long-term future investments in the country, he says, apparently thinking that his audience doesn't have the skills or wit to look up the company investment patterns. Perhaps Khan, like his contemporaries, believes we are as ill-informed as he is.
Presumably, he believes we are incapable of remembering the words of his colleague Fabrice Bregier, the company chief executive, who last year said that if the exchange rate remained stable and the UK government continued to support for the development of the aerospace industry, "there would be no reason for Airbus to change our strategy in the UK".
Clearly, also, Khan doesn't think we are capable of looking up his own company's website on China
, to find that Airbus will have invested nearly $500 million in Chinese manufacturing partnerships by the end of this year, including building the first assembly line outside of Europe. The A320 final assembly line in Tianjin began operations during September 2008.
Of this, one has to ask whether a decision by China to quit the EU would raise doubts about Airbus's long-term future investments in the country. But silly me! China isn't in the EU, so it can't leave. And if being outside the EU doesn't affect investment in China, why should it affect the British operation?
The same might be said of the United States, where Airbus is building
a $600 million manufacturing facility for A-320s at Mobile, Alabama
, to add to its Wichita engineering operation, ready to produce finished aircraft by the end of this year.
This plant is all part of the $140 billion Airbus has invested in the US since 1990, working with hundreds of American suppliers in more than 40 states. So one has to ask whether a decision by the US to quit the EU would raise doubts about Airbus's long-term future investments in the country. But silly me! The US isn't in the EU, so it can't leave. And if being outside the EU doesn't affect investment in the US, why should it affect the British operation?
Any which way you put it, Khan's facile, shallow threats don't stand up to scrutiny, any more that do the vapourings of the Deputy chairman of that vast criminal organisation
, Barclays Bank.
Interestingly, its co-criminal conspirator, Citi Bank
, is also an energetic FUD distributor, recently asserting that, if the UK were to disengage significantly or completely from the single market the implications could be "dramatic". The UK population would face a drop in living standards as a result of lower wages or a weaker pound so that the same export performance could be maintained within the EU.
Jim Cowles, Citi's chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told the Financial Times
of "mounting concern" among clients about their ability to continue using the UK as a regional hub if the country were to exit.
We've also been getting similar rhetoric from Deutsche Bank, another criminal enterprise
that recently had to pay a $2.5 billion fine to settle the investigations into the Libor rigging involvement. It now faces a potential shareholder revolt over the poor management of the company, the profits growth, mounting regulatory fines, and restructuring plans.
"Last but not least, we are very concerned about of Deutsche Bank. It's not just the money. The findings of the regulators suggest very serious misconduct. It's something we think the management is responsible for," says one of the larger shareholders.
Yet Chuka Umunna
, Labour's business spokesman, wants company managers tell staff about upsides of staying in EU, asserting that local and regional bosses are best placed to show workers the consequences of a possible Brexit.
Umunna himself, it rather appears, needs to spend more time with his own portfolio, and has clearly lost the plot in believing that our thieving and incompetent corporates have anything useful to add to the EU referendum debate.
Campaigners from both sides of the divide, and especially those in the proto "out" campaign, need to be telling businesses to mind their own businesses, and to stop interfering in matters that are not their business.
They may feel entitled to express concern about matters that directly affect their enterprises, and ask for their needs to be taken into account – and even support the sides that they believe represent their views, but they are not entitled to spread lies and scare stories in order to influence the debate.
And, in the final analysis, how we the people are governed is no concern of theirs. These businesses should be very, very careful about abusing their power and influence. Public patience is wearing thin.
Where we lead, others follow, not that any of them have the balls to admit it. It's even got to the state where Booker has been instructed not to mention me in his column, and if he does put my name in, or mention EU Referendum, the references are removed.
We are, of course, used to this treatment. An earlier practitioner was Tim Montgomerie, who ruthlessly purged any reference to us from Conservative Home and banned me from the comments – even though he's been all over us when he wanted us to write for his news enterprise (for free), which he started up with Iain Dale (another one who has "unpersoned" me).
These people who now complain that we're so howwid to them, writing nasty things about them, forget their own history and their own actions. But, in boycotting us, they are making themselves look absurd to a growing number of people. All they are doing is excluding some of the best and most perceptive analysis on the EU and related matters.
Then we end up with Andrew Marr wittering in the New Statesman about how the pundits got it wrong – a man who would have benefited hugely from reading this blog. Then perhaps, he might have learned what questions to ask.
Courtesy of Scribblings from Seaham, though, we find that this overpaid pundit is now getting paid even more for telling us that he and the rest of his little claque got it wrong. He confides that he has been "sleeping and worrying" about how he does his job. But, despite that, he's still getting it wrong.
What the likes of Marr are going to have to do is be more discerning, and more challenging, instead of imbibing everything a politician says. There should be no place on the BBC website, for instance, for Farage's lies, as he asserts that: "I've put 20 years of my life into trying to get a referendum and now is not the time to walk away".
I sat across a desk from that man over a period of four years. He never then mentioned the possibility of a referendum, and has barely mentioned it in public until fairly recently, only agreeing to sign Nikki Sinclair's petition for a referendum when he was bounced into it.
Farage's game plan has always – since the very beginning – been the electoral route, initially trying to pressure the Conservatives into taking us out of the EU by damaging them in general elections. Then he had fantasies about holding the balance of power, and thus forcing a Conservative minority government into action, as a condition for his support.
Having recently spent most of his time and effort trying to prevent Mr Cameron getting a majority, and thereby honouring his referendum pledge, it ill-behoves Farage to claim he has been working for a referendum. He hasn't, he never has and, as a result, he and his party are totally unprepared to fight one.
For that reason, as well as others, Carswell is right. Farage is putting the anti-EU campaign at risk. And not only would he would alienate voters and condemn Eurosceptics to defeat, as Carswell avers, the man is a loose cannon who has even less idea of how to run a referendum campaign than he does a successful general election fight.
But just because Farage is the wrong man for the job, doesn't mean that Carswell's other ideas are any better. He argues that it would be better for the referendum "out" campaign to be run by a prominent business leader – which is precisely what we don't want. This is a very bad idea, at several levels.
First, we don't want a "leader" at all – whether a business person, a politician or even a sleb. We should not personalise this campaign – otherwise it becomes a biff-bam contest between our man and Cameron, the newly-successful Prime Minister. When it comes to reassuring the public, Mr Cameron will have enormous weight and authority – and "prestige". Our man (or woman) won't stand a chance.
Carswell himself talks about the campaign requiring, inter alia a "more collegiate style", and he needs to think this through, and get his brain properly wired. The term "collegiate" means what it says, and implies that we break away from the personality politics that the media so loves, and have multiple heads. Not least, this neutralises any decapitation tactics that might be tried.
But then the idea of a business leader is especially bad. This locks the campaign into an economic framework, which is the very last thing we want to do. That is partly why the 1975 campaign failed, as it got bogged down in discussions about the price of butter, and other petty details.
Blitzkrieg-style, we need to by-pass and neutralise the economic arguments, and take the high ground. Leaving the EU is about correcting a historic mistake, where we have vested power in a supranational authority, which is incompatible with our status as a democratic status. It is about how - and by whom - we are governed. That is not the business of business.
This apart, there is a significant lacuna in the Carswell rhetoric – a failure to acknowledge that the designation of the "out" campaign does not rest with him or anyone else, but rests with the Electoral Commission, which will select the lead campaigner from the applications submitted.
In what is most likely to be a competition, with a number of bids for the lead, all Carswell (or anyone else, for that matter) can do is seek to form a coalition (or umbrella group), in the hope of winning the bid. Incidentally, I would most certainly seek to oppose an application that fronted a business leader at its head, on the grounds that it did not adequately represent those campaigning for the "out" proposition.
This, though, points to a greater flaw. All sorts – Carswell included – are coming out of the woodwork with their views of who is to lead the "out" campaign, yet I'm hearing very little discussion on how we should win it.
Watching all this happen the pundits are allowing themselves to be sidetracked by the biff-bam theatre, and thus falling into yet another trap of their own making. They also are failing to think about what it takes to win, and who has the best ideas in that department. As always, they go for the cheap and easy story.
But there is also a generic failure, here, one which afflicts the eurosceptic movement as a whole. Devoted mainly to talking to each other, and telling themselves how awful the EU is, not a fraction of the effort is being directed at the main task which, as Boiling Frog points out, is fighting the FUD.
Instead, we're getting another episode of "The Egos have Landed", as Farage slurps up the love from his cult, and gears up to lose us the referendum.
We're already in a position to declare "we told you so", when what looks like being a train-wreck campaign fails to deliver. But, at this stage, that is a cop-out. We'll have to fight this battle through to the bitter end, before we can set out exactly why the campaign failed, in the hope that we don't repeat the same mistakes, yet again, next time round.
I am, though, getting sick to the teeth of the Kasserine Pass syndrome, where we have to fight through our "friends" to get at the enemy. Overall, I am reminded of the tugboat captain who, on the fall of France in 1940, was heard to remark: "Thank god for that - no more allies. Now, we only have to fight the enemy."
If it was only the enemy we had to fight, we could be sure of winning.
Matthew Parris in The Times is coming out into the open, suggesting his own fudge on the EU referendum. He argues that both the "yes" and "no" camps (or "in-out") should get behind Mr Cameron's "renegotiation" and then, only in the event that the outcome is unsatisfactory should the "no campaign" pitch in and argue the case for leaving the EU.
This, in fact, is a meme which is being floated quite widely within the Conservative "eurosceptic" caucus, where it is argued that it is tactically vital to give Cameron full support for his attempted re-negotiation.
Politically, Tory MPs feel they cannot afford to be seen to be rocking the boat at the moment. They are right behind the idea of a referendum but they don't want publicly to make too many sceptical noises about Cameron's prospects.
Privately, however, they tell us that they all know that Mr Cameron will not come back with anything worth a row of beans. So, when they see nothing but cosmetic concessions, that will be the time for them to come out in the open. Then they will be free to point out how pitiful it looks when measured against all that fluffy talk of negotiating a "new relationship for Britain with the EU".
In the interim, these Conservatives say, activity should be confined to planning and setting up a grand "rainbow alliance", ready for action when the time comes.
In reviewing this strategy, however, one has to observe that, if it is supported by Matthew Parris – an ardent Europhile - there has to be something wrong with it. As such, we could hardly be expected to take strategy advice from the opposition, without thinking it over very carefully beforehand.
In this case, one can readily see that there is a huge trap awaiting the "wait and see" brigade. The self-denying ordinance, clearly, will only apply to them. While they sit on their hands, the "inners" will be rampant, stoking up the FUD, as they have been doing for many months. What Parris is suggesting gives a massive advantage to the "inners".
Even without that, though, the "Parris" strategy is still one that is guaranteed to ensure that we not only lose, but lose badly - for reasons which include the following:
1. It concedes the high ground, tacitly accepting that there are circumstances in which continued membership of the EU would be acceptable. It thus throws away our strongest suit - that there is a fundamental mismatch between the UK and the EU and that subordination to a supranational authority is not acceptable as a matter of principle.Furthermore, it is unwise to assume that Mr Cameron will necessarily come back from Brussels with empty hands - or lacks the ability to talk up what he does achieve, and make it look more than it is.
2. It would fracture the anti-EU movement, creating even more of a schism than already exists. Those of us who are opposed to the EU on principle could not possibly endorse this strategy, which means that there would inevitably be divisions in the "out" camp. Not least, it is hard to believe that any Ukip supporter could get behind this strategy – yet the people who are proposing it are those calling for a "big tent" approach.
3. It hands the initiative to Cameron. If, like Wilson, Cameron finalises his deal late into the campaign, the "no" campaign will be on the back foot, having had to hold its fire until it has seen the details of the deal. That means that there will be insufficient time to argue the case, which in any case will be dangerously weak (see 1 above).
4. It turns the campaign into an argument about the finer details of our "relationship". This is exactly the way the Climate Change argument has gone, creating an exclusive, self referential clique, rehearsing arguments which have no traction with the general public. This is an argument we cannot possibly win - it will rely on prestige, and is one where the government can always trump anything and anyone we put into the fray.
5. It lacks vision. We would be arguing on Cameron's turf, for a very small and limited number of changes which, even if attained in their entirely, would not amount to very much. They would not constitute the "sunlit uplands" vision necessary to overcome the status quo effect, and thus accord with the Stokes precept. A more expansive vision would have no credibility, as the campaign would already have signified that it would accept a mess of potage.
In terms of the renegotiation, all but a very few seem unaware of the options open to Cameron, and his ability to present a plausible package. Using the Article 48 "simplified procedure", he is able to negotiate a new treaty within the timeframe afforded. If this is padded out with political declarations and then augmented by documented Commission Proposals and supported by the European Council, Mr Cameron will be able to present a very credible "deal" which will look very convincing.
To that effect, I fully expect most of the media - and especially the Telegraph
and Times - as well as the Daily Mail
to support the package and to advise its readers to vote for continued membership. Backed by the likes of Boris Johnson and most of the Tory "big beasts", the "outers" would be on the back foot, fighting to make up lost ground.
Thus, the best way of countering Mr Cameron's tactics – as I see it - is to get in early, warning people what to expect, in an attempt to pre-empt the propaganda and diminish it. To wait until he delivers his package, and only then to attack it, is leaving it far too late. It is a disastrously weak strategy.
With that, there is also another crucial element here. Despite some individuals assuming that they have a God-given right to nominate themselves as leaders of the "out" campaign, the designation of the "lead campaigner" for each of the propositions rests with the Electoral Commission.
Yet, as we have already pointed out
, one (of two) of the qualifying requirements is that the putative leader of the "out" campaign must "adequately represent those campaigning for that outcome".
Here, though, Parris is recommending that the "outers" should only be committed to the fight if and when the renegotiations fail to deliver an acceptable outcome. Any organisation representing such a position can hardly pass the hurdle set by the Electoral Commission. Against a competitive bid, representing mainstream euroscepticism, it will be out on its own.
If therefore, the Conservatives feel the need to adopt the "wait and see" approach, they are best off forming their own party organisation, separate from the main "out" campaign. There can be no "big tent" as long as there is such a wide divergence of views - not that such an idea was ever a practical proposition.
The Guardian is peddling lies - transparent and unequivocal. Its narrative is one of disaster for the academic community. Even the possibility that we'll vote to leave the EU would be a disaster for British science. The EU, it says, directly pays for much UK research and innovation, the paper tells us, and if we leave the EU we lose all that money (which we put in, in the first place).
Not to be swayed by tiny details such as these, the paper asserts that: "Given our public sector funding difficulties, and the understandably low priority research has in the political arena, we simply cannot afford to lose out on such a successful and empowering pot of EU money".
"Scientists love evidence, and the evidence is clear", the paper then asserts - thereby ignoring the evidence to the contrary. "Bluntly, if the UK were to leave the EU, we would massively and irreversibly damage an enterprise on which our future depends", it claims.
And so the inference goes that, if we leave the EU, the EU research funds dry up. But this is a lie - and totally contrary to the evidence. There is no requirement for a country to be a member of the EU for it to be part of its research programme. For heaven's sake, even Israel is part of the programme.
Those of you who have read Flexcit, will have picked up details on the Seventh Framework Programme and EEA members. It tells you that more than 2,350 Icelandic and Norwegian participants, including many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), were involved. Icelandic researchers contributed to 217 projects, receiving funding of nearly €70 million. The Norwegians took part in more than 1,400 projects, receiving €712 million.
If the UK leaves the EU and rejoins the EEA, it can continue participation in the research programme (currently Horizon 2020) without interruption. Even without EEA membership, it can participate – as does Switzerland. The Guardian is telling lies, indulging in outrageous FUD.
But this calumny goes beyond the Guardian and extends to a campaign website called Scientists for EU, where these propagandists can spread their lies.
This brings me to the broader issue that this piece illustrates. Talking yesterday to a senior politician, he observed that the "out" campaign should already have a rapid rebuttal unit up and running, to deal with this sort of thing. To my mind, it is an indictment of Ukip, which should already be equipped to handle false claims.
Perhaps that's the sort of thing that Carswell's short money could handle, but for the fact that it would doubtless be wasted.
It is this sort of thing, though, that leads me to believe that we will lose the referendum. I don't see that we have any real chance of winning - for many different reasons, but all boiling down to the fact that the "eurosceptic" movement is too fragmented, has no coherent vision and – with particular relevance here - has left preparations too late. The Norway "no" campaign had five years to prepare for their 1994 victory.
I think the best (and only) thing we can achieve is damage limitation - doing what we can to avoid losing too badly. If the gap is narrow, then at least we can claim some legitimacy in continuing the fight.
There should also, in my view, be a secondary objective. We should use the campaign to build a standing, non-party-political organisation on the lines of the Norwegian "no" campaign, better to equip us to fight a "treaty lock" referendum should it come.
That would be our real opportunity to force EU withdrawal. In the interim, though, we need to claw back the anti-EU movement from Ukip, and to organise it on a non-partisan basis, ready and capable to deal with the sort of lies the Guardian is trotting out.
That, maybe, is for the future, but what is so disturbing is that a newspaper can so easily trot out lies, without feeling any need to check the veracity of what it is saying. And if this illustrates how the referendum campaign is going to go, we're in for a long, hard couple of years.
Boiling Frog has revamped his site, and added a new post further discussing the possibility of a Wilsonian fudge following the Cameron negotiations.
This is precisely the sort of thinking and analysis that we need if we are going to prevail, as we know well that the odds are stacked against us if Mr Cameron comes back from Brussels bringing what he claims is a successful deal.
And we should be under no illusions that the newly returned Prime Minister is fighting to win, apparently having paved the way somewhat with his EU counterparts. And the insidious propaganda also continues, as from the likes of The Guardian in the piece linked, which cannot resist having a dig at the "Norway option".
Norway is held up as the alternative model [to the EU], it says, "standing outside the single market and its decision-making bodies, but forced to comply with the rules". Never mind that within the EEA, we are in the Single Market. The newspaper goes on to assert: "For one of the world's largest trading nations to go down this route would be bizarre. The UK needs to help set the terms of trade, even when the bargain is tough".
Thus is the straw man erected, a classic example of how the exit scenario is belittled and misrepresented. We are going to get a lot of this, and only by joining forces to present a common theme will we have enough power and reach to overcome the distortions.
Another handicap we're going to have to overcome are some of the "Tory right" MPs, who really do not seem to have their act together.
Enter John Redwood, who has conceded that "a treaty change was not on the cards" – even though it is – but then demands the repatriation of banking regulation, oversight of member states' annual budgets and the need to "regain control of our borders", the latter requiring the treaty that Redwood concedes is not on the cards.
Redwood and his supporters are, quite obviously, spoiling for the fight, but they are hardly focusing on what it takes to win it. There is no principled stand here, no grand vision and no plan - just squabbling over the detail.
That leaves Mr Cameron well-place to outflank the opposition, appointing George Osborne as his lead negotiator, planning on bringing back just enough concessions to make the renegotiations look plausible.
With Jean-Claude Juncker telling Mr Cameron, "I stand ready to work with you to strike a fair deal for the United Kingdom in the EU", the stage is set fair for a theatrical gesture that will easily neutralise Mr Redwood's concerns.
Sooner or later, though, he must declare his hand to the "colleagues", as indeed he is being called upon to do, and then it will be our turn to dissect what will be a thin case, lacking entirely in substance.
And even then, we may het help from unexpected quarters. "There is a limit to how far we are willing to go — and we're on the UK side. We're not looking for treaty change", says a senior EU official. "But", he continues, "the reforms we back will be for Britain, not a favour to the leader of a party trying manage his rebels. He must be careful, he can't let emotion get the better of him and ask for too much because the continent is fed up".
Another thing we have going for us is that we seem to have a better grasp of Mr Cameron's range of tactics, than even the great Wolfgang Münchau
, who labours under the impression that treaty change "can obviously not happen under Mr Cameron's timetable".
It is quite entertaining to discover how such ignorance pervades even the pro-EU camp, with Münchau failing to realise that the "simplified procedure" under Article 48 is an option.
The blind lead the blind on both sides, it seems – which is hardly a surprise to us. As the the usual suspects
pontificate, their narrow perspectives and failure to grasp the issues fortify their ignorance, leading them to offer flawed conclusions.
By contrast, we have more and better cards in our hand than might at first appear, and the knowledge and skills to use them wisely.
One grows to love the overweening arrogance of the London-based politico-media claque who, because they were blind-sided by the developments outside their foetid bubble, grandly assert that "no one" predicted the Cameron victory.
This total lack of self-awareness almost defines the bubble, and it is that as much as anything ensures that its denizens not only get it wrong, but will continue to get it wrong.
That much is going to be the case, in spades, during the EU referendum campaign. Not least, most of the pundits have a very slender idea of how the EU actually works, or of its politics, and they have next to no understanding or appreciation of the global trading system, and how it relates to the EU.
As the referendum campaign develops, therefore – and we see the torrent of words published by the self-same claque which predicted there would be a hung parliament – the only thing of which we can be totally sure is that the comment will be driven by the most profound ignorance. Most of it will be wrong.
It is in the nature of the self-referential claque, however, that it is an exclusive club. Its coprophagia ensures that no new idea will ever sully their stagnant minds as they recycle the same limited input and excrete it for others to consume. And that knowledge is one of ten points we need to build in to our referendum campaign, if we are going to win.
Again and again and again I hear people tell me they never believe anything that read in the papers (or hear/see on the broadcast media), only for them to regurgitate in various forms, with different levels of belief, exactly what they have seen and heard. Campaigners must be on guard against this. The media (even those apparently on-side) are not our friends, and nothing they say can be relied on.
The next point of which we need to take account is this. From their pedestals of profound ignorance, the claque
will try to take possession of the debate. They will want to own it, to use it as their plaything, with no commitment as to the result, and no concern that they may adversely affect an outcome that they may profess to support.
As with the general election, we will find the London-based media and the politicians trying to assert – and certainly implying – that they are
the debate, that they are its sole custodians. This we cannot allow, and have some powerful weapons at our disposal.
Here, not only do we have the internet, with the social media and all that goes with it, but we have the local media, including the letters columns, which are much easier to access than the nationals. But we also have many other options which we must develop and explore. Communication is not the monopoly of the claque
and we must make use of the resources available to us.
Particularly important in this context is a third point – the way the campaign will be fought. What we will be seeing is an attempt to define the contest in economic terms. We already see this with the pro-EU CER
, which has been quick to re-launch its 2014 pamphlet on "the economic consequences of leaving the EU".
The media will follow this lead. Some journalists (and politicians) will do so because they believe the EU is an economic construct, and do not understand that it always has been (and still is) a failed experiment in political integration.
Others, and especially those in the business sections, will run this theme, not only because most of them know nothing of the EU as a political entity, but it keeps them within their comfort zone. They stick to what they think they know.
We also expect the London-based think-tanks to pile into the fray, even though most have very little to offer. The pro-EU bodies such as Open Europe
will readily push the economic arguments, as this distracts from the political nature of the EU, and legitimises the call for reform. They will be bolstered by any number "useful fools" who fall into the trap of joining in the economic and business argument.
Unless we take steps to prevent it, the debate will go the same way as climate change, to become the plaything of a narrowly-focused claque, arguing increasingly arcane points. The discussion will get mired in "angels on pins" detail, driving the general public away.
Here lies great danger. We cannot win the argument by discussing economics (and nor do we want to). For every claim that we will save money, there will be counter-claims about how much withdrawal will cost. Eventually, if that is all that is on offer, the public – unable to judge the merits between the cases, and utterly bored and confused – will vote to stay in.
Therefore, we must shape the debate and focus attention where it matters - on the important issues. We must sideline the economic issue, and marginalise those who argue either way, for added costs or for extravagant cost-savings.
This is where Flexcit
comes in. It sets out an exit plan which is economically neutral. Economics, therefore, not relevant to the debate. Leaving is about the politics – this is a political issue, not an economic one. It is about how we are governed. Withdrawal becomes a celebration of nationalism and a reversion to intergovernmental relations, with a rejection of supranationalism.
How we dress our concepts up for popular view has yet to be decided, but these are the issues – not a sterile debate about pounds and euros.
Fourthly, we are going to have to address the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), which is going to be the lynchpin of the pro-EU campaign. To counter the FUD, it has already been suggested that we have our own acronym, based on Hope Assurance Confidence and Knowledge, allowing us to HACK IT. Such simple devices will be of inestimable value.
The crucial issue here is that most of the FUD will be based on the deliberate (and sometimes unknowing) elision of the Single Market and membership of the EU. We have to convey to a wide audience that the two are not the same.
In fact, the Single Market isn't even the EU. The area defined by the territories of the 28 Member States is the "internal market", the customs union. The Single Market defines the 31-member EEA. In our Flexcit plan, we aim to continue our membership of it. And with that, most of the FUD ceases to have any relevance.
That brings us to point five – we need to banish the false prophets. We are not going to succeed in countering the FUD if our supposed allies are offering their own nostrums which contradict what we are offering. Classic here is the Ukip exit scenario which eschews continued membership of the Single Market on the grounds that it requires acceptance of freedom of movement.
Again, this is where Flexcit
comes in, pointing out that it is perfectly possible to control immigration (and asylum seekers) which permitting the free movement of workers within the EEA. But there needs to be more. A successful campaign cannot afford to adopt a "big tent" approach with an alliance of players that has each doing their own thing.
There needs to be a unified approach and strict message discipline, otherwise the likes of the BBC will pick those with the weakest arguments and promote them mercilessly, destroying the "out" campaign in the process. The "inners" have the status quo. The don't need to win - all they have to do is avoid losing. It is for us to make the winning case - their role is to pick holes in it.
On that basis, we cannot take a passive view of weak plans. They are as dangerous to the campaign as the opposition's propaganda. They must be dissected, attacked and disowned. And, to that effect, we are going to have to be careful with our choices of allies. In terms of a formal organisation, a small unified group will be better than a larger group of discordant voices, insistent on promoting their own ideas.
A small formal organisation, however, does not mean that the campaign should be small. Point six tells us that we should never forget that a referendum is a decision of the people, not the politicians. The campaign, therefore, must be a people's campaign - not a toy for the posh people in London. Primarily, the formal organisation should be an enabler – helping the people fight, pointing them to the tools they need and guiding them on how to use them to best effect.
That point cannot be emphasised enough. This must not be a top-down campaign, feeding the egos of high profile leaders and celebrities, providing career platforms for ambitious wannabes. The people need direction – not leadership. The campaign must be facilitated, not possessed.
This brings us to point seven, in which we must be clear about what we are fighting for – and remove the baggage. This is a campaign to secure our withdrawal from the EU. We should not allow it to be hijacked by other interest groups, whether it is libertarian idealists, free traders, anti-regulation zealots or climate change "deniers". Primarily, we are looking to free ourselves from the embrace of the EU. Everything else takes second place.
Point eight requires of us that we should complete the intellectual portfolio. We are well advanced with preparing the exit plan, but we are going to have to think through certain aspects to conform with point six. Then there are two other elements. We need a "vision statement" – a short but well-crafted word picture, setting out the outcome for which we are aiming for in leaving the EU. This is the "sunlit uplands" that satisfy the Stokes precept, giving an idea of what the UK would look like, five, ten and twenty years after withdrawal.
The other element of the trinity is the negative case – coherent and comprehensive arguments as to why the EU is not for us. But it is important for the case to co-ordinate with the exit plan. We cannot, for instance, argue for leaving the EU because of the "huge burden" of regulation that comes with membership, if we are then to tell people that withdrawal will not bring relief from that burden.
For our ninth point, we must develop a first-class intelligence capability in order to determine and pre-empt the opposition's moves. We also need a rapid response capability, to disseminate our findings and give timely warnings.
Most importantly, we must be able to monitor closely and report on Mr Cameron's "renegotiations", analyse them and neutralise the propaganda. For instance, while we know he cannot achieve a full-blown treaty change, but he can fudge it, using the "simplified procedure" under Article 48. Combined with political declarations and bundled with Commission proposals, he can deliver what appears to be – to the uninitiated and the media – a substantial package.
Only by re-empting this ploy, and then spreading information about it, can we show the public that they are being misled.
Finally, much of this will depend on point ten. The campaign will be led by two designated "lead campaigners", one for each of the propositions - "out" and "in". These are designated by the Electoral Commission, and have special status, privileges and public funding. If we are to be able to run an effective campaign, we must gain the official "out" campaign designation. That we are working on – of which more later.
In effect, though, this defines the battlefield. The referendum, I believe, is winnable but only if we refuse to allow others to dictate our tactics and define the battlefield for us. We the people, must choose the ground on which we fight. We must take control of our own destiny. But that also means getting involved, and not waiting to be spoon-fed by an ignorant, politico-media claque.
The FUD continues unabated, as the Guardian reports that HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, has issued "a stark warning about the economic risks of the UK pulling out of the European Union", citing the economic uncertainty created by the risk of the UK going alone.
The Times is playing the same game, with scary headlines, proclaiming that HSBC has threatened "to quit City over fears UK could leave the EU". This comes as the bank has revealed it was threatening to move its headquarters out of London to another country, a threat that has not impressed Mark Gilbert of Bloomberg.
Writes Gilbert, there's a saying used to call the bluff of someone who threatens to flounce out of the room during an argument: "Don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out". That sums up, he says, how the UK should react to the bank's threat to move its headquarters to a different country.
The real issue, we also learn from Gilbert, is nothing to do with the EU, but the increased bank levy. And threatening to leave in a fit of pique every time there's a threat of increased regulation or a nudge in taxation smacks of teenagers threatening to run away from home because a curfew is too early or household chores are too tedious. HSBC is becoming a bore by regularly trying to blackmail the Treasury.
But, in terms of using blackmail, the Guardian and other media outlets which are running the EU meme are every bit as guilty, exploiting public ignorance and fear to sell a false bill of goods.
The point that the likes of HSBC and their media fellow travellers choose to obscure is that the banking industry is global and so, increasingly, is its regulation. In fact, there has been what has been described as a "Cambrian explosion" in international regulatory co-operation which has transformed the regulatory environment. This means that pulling out of "Europe" would not make any difference to the trading environment - power is no longer geo-located in Brussels (if it ever was).
Conveniently, the extent of this transformation has been charted by the OECD and by researcher from Arizona State University. And in their documents we see this helpful chart (below) which sets out the structure of global financial regulation.
Readers will observe the focal position of the Financial Stability Board
(FSB) and the remarkable number of organisations that make rules, set standards and co-ordinate regulation within this crucial field. But they will also note the relatively inconsequential position of the EU, which is a downstream organisation when it comes to framing regulation.
But this is all part of a much bigger picture, which goes under the classification International Regulatory Co-operation
(IRC), as charted by the OECD.
Not only has it recorded a staggering proliferation of organisations involved, the OECD, after an initiative launched in 2010
has identified eleven "mechanisms" of IRC, ranging from the formal and comprehensive to the informal and partial.
These run to harmonisation through rule-making by supranational or joint institutions such as the EU, treaties between states, regulatory "umbrella" partnerships such as the Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council, and intergovernmental organisations such as the ILO, OECD and WTO.
The territory also includes regional agreements on regulation such as APEC and UNECE, mutual recognition agreements, transgovernmental networks such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, national requirements to consider international standards, incorporation of international standards in national law, soft law instruments and dialogue/information exchange among regulators and stakeholders (see diagram below).
The UK government is fully involved
, as is the US government
, where IRC is subject to a Presidential Executive Order, with action directed through the Office of Management and Budget
. And it drives trade
relations between the US and Canada.
Yet, while writ of IRC is dominating the global regulatory environment, it is almost completely invisible to the media, to most politicians and commentators. This means that most of what we are told is superficial to the point of misleading. The way we are governed has undergone a revolution – an invisible revolution - and the media is not even close to putting us in the picture.
Instead, it gives succour to the propagandists, who would have it that the "Europe" of which they know so little is one which is essential to UK trade, unwilling or unable to recognise that, in this changing world, we can live without the political ambitions of the EU, and do better on the global stage, outside the EU.
The point they cannot seem to cope with is that globalisation has now advanced to such a stage that the original justification for having the EU running the European trading bloc has long since expired. "Europe" isn't working, and we need now to look for a new settlement, of which IRC is a major part.
But the media will never get close to explaining this. Their journalists do not have the intellectual architecture which enables them to understand what they are seeing, which leaves them fundamentally unable to report what is actually happening. The revolution to them will remain invisible, because they have no mechanisms with which to see the events around them.
Legacy media reporting of Blair's speech yesterday is all over the place, but then over 3,000 words is a little bit difficult to summarise, so this is hardly surprising. Sound bites are more the media's style.
Unfortunately, however, Tony Blair's speech at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe has some substance, and some good clues on how the coming fight over the EU might be played out - so we need to look at it in a little more detail.
For starters, the former prime minister offers a commentary that, turned around, we could use to our own advantage. He tells us:
Elections should never simply be about an exchange of rhetoric, the laying out of policy positions or the cacophony of the campaign. They should also be an investigation and a decision about our ambitions as a nation, who we are and where we're going.
For me Europe is an important litmus test. I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation.
It would be a momentous decision.
By way of illustration, we could just as easily say that leaving "Europe" would enhance Britain position in the world, strengthen our economy and highlight the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation.
I guess it's how you tell 'em.
And, on this, Blair is telling us that, should the Conservatives be re-elected on May 7th, they are committed to holding a referendum to decide whether Britain remains in the European Union.
Referring to the Scottish referendum, Blair raises the spectre of nationalism - "a powerful sentiment". Let that genie out of the bottle, he says, "and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles".
That in itself sounds terribly profound, but perhaps someone should tell Blair that nationalism has never been healthier
, and never more has the nation state prospered. In 1945, 51 states were members of the United Nations. Membership rose to 152 in 1979 and to 194 today
But in Blair's distorted mind, the EU referendum carries the same risk of resurgent nationalism. For that reason, he says, should the Conservatives win, the prime minister will be spending more energy, will have more sleepless nights about it, be more focused on it than literally any other single issue.
Mr Cameron, Blair asserts, knows the vastness of the decision. He knows the penalty of failure. He knows exit will define his legacy. And, following the Scottish referendum, he knows the perilous fragility of public support for the sensible choice.
It is this passage which the Telegraph
makes out that Blair is saying that the "public can't be trusted to make 'sensible choice' on EU".
Myself, I don't see it. "Trust" is not a word Blair used anywhere in his script. He is warning about the attraction of nationalism and the fragile support for the EU. And he is right to be worried – given the paucity of his case.
Nevertheless, Blair believes the referendum will be "a huge distraction" for the country – and for Cameron. It will take precedence over the NHS, education, law and order, the lot, even though he doesn't really believe we should leave the EU.
The referendum was a concession to Party, a manoeuvre to access some of the UKIP vote and a sop to the "rampant anti-Europe feeling" of parts of the media, Blair asserts. This issue, touching as it does the country's future is too important to be traded like this, he says, then continuing:
It is greatly to Ed Miliband's credit that he resolutely refused to make that trade. He faced down calls to follow the Tory concession from parts of the media and many inside our Party. In doing so, he showed real leadership. He showed that he would put the interests of the country first. He showed that on this, as on other issues, he is his own man, with his own convictions and determined to follow them even when they go against the tide. I respect that.
This the man, though, who joined with President Bush in invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and then "forgot" to prepare plans for administering the peace. This is the same Tony Blair who – like so many Europhiles – doesn't understand the distinction between membership of the EU and participation in the Single Market.
Over half our trade is with "Europe", he says. There are millions of UK jobs dependent on access to the European markets. Not joining the euro was one thing. Leaving Europe altogether is quite another thing. He goes on to say:
There is, in my view, also a complete under-estimation of the short term pain of negotiating exit. There would be a raft of different Treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be dis-entangled and re-negotiated. There would be significant business uncertainty in the run-up to a vote but should the vote go the way of exit, then there would be the most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war.
Then, digging himself in deeper, he says:
The Tory campaign talks of chaos should Labour win. Think of the chaos produced by the possibility never mind the reality of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy. And for what? To satisfy the insistent Euro-phobia of a group who will never be satisfied.
And there, writ large, is not the prospect of chaos but the need for "Flexcit
". We must have a credible exit plan on the table, one which takes account of the uncertainties and will ensure that there is no chaos. We need to put charlatans like Blair back in their boxes, neutralising the FUD and regaining the initiative.
But Blair does raise points which have to be taken seriously. He says:
There is a beguiling notion that upon Britain voting to leave, the rest of Europe would be in an amenable and friendly frame of mind in the consequent negotiation. They would have, it is said, a shared interest, in making it as amicable as possible.
Excuse me, but get real. As a result of our decision every other European Leader would be faced with big choices about the terms of Britain's relationship with Europe now as an outsider. This they would regard as a wholly unnecessary diversion from the critical domestic challenge of recovering their own economies. They will believe that Britain wants to have the benefits of the single market without the responsibilities. They will be determined to prevent that. Norway and Switzerland both are obliged, as the price of their access to Europe's market, to accede to a series of European rules even though they cannot influence their drafting. The rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring Britain gets no special treatment. This will be a horrible process. Don't be in any doubt about that.
Here we go again with the "no influence" meme but, that aside, Blair has a point. The EU is not going to roll over and give the UK a free pass – and we're only a third of the way into the speech.
And again, we're in no-man's land, as Blair rubbishes the very idea of a referendum – the man who offered us a referendum on the European Constitution – only to have his successor resile. But he does allow that: "We should have a referendum if we seriously believe that getting out of Europe is a national priority if our terms aren't met". If we don't, he adds, "then it is a completely unacceptable gamble with our future".
At this point, as one so often does with Blair speeches, one loses the will to live, so we bounce over the homilies about Britain's role as a "global player". We saw what happened in Iraq when Mr Blair staked his claim for that role. We need no lessons from him.
Blair claims that this current "alliance" with Europe was sought half a century ago by the then leaders of our country because "they knew that without it, Britain could not maintain its influence and its power. And of course it involves ceding or pooling some sovereignty. But it does so in order to gain sovereign power over decisions that in the reality of 21st Century geo-politics we will only exercise in concert with others".
Yet that is a gross misreading of history, again about which we need no lessons from Blair. He wants us to believe that globalisation is "blurring national boundaries and forcing integration on the world" – when, in fact, globalisation is bringing a renaissance to the very idea of a nation. The power is draining away from sub-regional cul-de-sacs
such as the EU, and back towards the nation states.
But Blair, locked into his "little Europe" paradigm, wants to play with "reform". The movement for change in Europe would benefit hugely from British input and leadership. Nationalist forces in Europe – see the National Front in France – are surging everywhere, he says.
One recalls, though, the end of his tenure as British prime minister, when he had lost faith in the idea of influencing the EU. And it was very obvious at the time. Mr Blair might have a short memory – we don't.
For those who believe we can do just as well out of the EU, if not better, Blair turns the argument to Ukip, and asks whether they represent the standard bearers of an open-minded culturally tolerant Britain. "Are creativity, innovation and curiosity about what we can learn from the world their hallmarks?"
That's a clever argument: if you want to leave the EU, look who represents the "out" case, he is saying. "We know what this movement to wrench us out of Europe is based on", says Blair. "You can see it on display when Mr Farage swiftly moves the debate to immigrants".
So, if we're to take anything home from the Blair speech, it's that we need a credible exit plan, that Ukip is not a good representative for the "out" case – and there is very little else we can learn from Mr Blair.
But then Mr Blair thinks that Labour and its Leader took a "brave decision" when they decided not to yield to pressure for a referendum, but instead chose to "make the principled and intelligent case for Britain in Europe".
I've yet to hear this "principled and intelligent case" for staying in the EU – mostly, what we get is FUD, to which Mr Blair is no stranger. He wants Labour to win on the 7 May and, for Labour, under Ed's leadership, to be the Government of our country on the next day.
Should that unlikely event happen, the government of our country will be as it was the day before – in the hands of the EU and the European Commission. But if Mr Cameron wins, we at least get a referendum. That, for what it's worth, is a brave decision, and that's why I won't be taking up Mr Blair's invitation to vote Labour.
Ruth Sunderland writes for the Daily Mail, telling us how much car makers are entitled to a voice in the debate on "Europe".
"Chief executives in the sector might not rush to sign up for a Labour Party advert on the subject, but they are terrified of a Brexit", she writes. "Feeling on the subject is so strong that the industry last year commissioned a report by accountant KPMG itemising in detail the risks to the sector".
"So far as the car makers are concerned", we are told, "membership of the EU is vital because it ensures free trade across their biggest single export market. Some 49 percent of UK-made vehicles are sold elsewhere in Europe, without any tariffs or regulatory barriers".
And there we go again – this continued attempt to elide membership of the EU with participation in the Single Market. If only everyone in the eurosceptic community could focus on the essentials, then we might defeat this type of FUD.
One wonders whether there is any real determination in some quarters to win this coming contest.
The minimal coverage given to Owen Paterson's Heritage speech tells its own story, but even our venal media should have made something of his responses to questions. As it is, only Huff Post picks them up, having Paterson say that "we would lose an 'out' referendum" because his "optimistic vision" has not been explained. "And 'out' is frightening", he added, "it's unknown and people will hang onto nurse".
Paterson's view is that, "we have to go the whole hog, get back to the trade arrangement, but we need time to explain there is a positive destination". He thinks we have "the most spectacular future outside the political and judicial arrangements [of the EU], embracing the trade, commercial and economic aspects", he said. "But at the moment that has not been explained".
"There is a protest party", Ukip, that has done no absolutely no work on the detail [of how to leave]", Paterson told the Americans, "and they are being attacked, quite rightly, for that because their image is backward looking and negative".
As a result, those like him agitating for the United Kingdom to leave the EU needed more time to persuade voters it was a good idea.
There, writ large, is precisely the predicament we're in, on which we elaborated recently, on the back of the YouGov poll that put the "inners" ten points ahead for the second month running.
By coincidence, yesterday we saw the publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey, which very much confirms the YouGov findings. It has 57 percent wanting to continue with EU membership, with only 35 percent wanting to withdraw.
As with YouGov, when a more nuanced question is asked, offering different options, the position changes. Those who want to leave the EU drop to 24 percent, while those who would like to see an attempt made to reduce its powers stands at 38 percent. Only 18 percent want to leave things as they are, ten percent want the EU to have more powers, and four percent want a single (European) government.
The Social Attitudes Survey thus sees most people as being "eurosceptic", defined as wanting to leave the EU, or seeing it with reduced powers. But therein lies the fatal confusion – the "reformers" are not "outers" and it cannot be assumed that they will vote to leave the EU in any referendum.
Here, Paterson's point has particular force. The "eurosceptics" are split between leavers and reformers, and – of the former – there are irreconcilable splits between different groups and sub-sets, and no clarity of vision from the main players.
If there has been any change, it is that these splits are being recognised, although there are no indications that different factions are prepared to debate the issues – or even explore the issues dispassionately.
Thus we have the likes of Ruth Lea arguing for the "WTO option" without troubling to explain why she has suddenly deserted the Swiss Option. And we also have Roger Helmer who tells us that UKIP cannot accept any deal, even an interim deal, that doesn't give us control of our borders.
This is the man who is confident that the UK could negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU but, like so many of his ilk, he simply doesn't do detail.
Presumably Mr Helmer expects the UK to work within the provisions of Article 50, so one assumes that he would be content to wait the ten or more years that it would take the negotiations to reach an agreement. And, all the while we would remain in the EU, paying the contributions, fully committed to freedom of movement – just because Mr Helmer doesn't like interim solutions.
On the other hand, if we went for the "Norway option" they hate so much – or "model" if you must – we could be out in two years, ready to negotiate a longer-term solution, which would include dealing with the vexed question of freedom of movement.
Meanwhile, the FUD flows and the lies proliferate. They are easy to rebut - although far too difficult for the aristocracy.
And that is perhaps the underlying problem. The eurosceptic "aristocracy" have long ceased thinking. And they are, of course, far too grand to debate issues with mere mortals - or get down in the weeds, where the real fighting is going on. Thus, their arguments are fixed in aspic, going nowhere and inspiring no one.
Along with Ukip, they are set to lose us the referendum – if we let them.