EU Referendum: taking control


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On top of the Paterson piece in the Sunday Times, it seems we also have picking up the significance of Cameron's Chatham House speech and the "British model".

We can take the Goodhart piece as further (albeit indirect) confirmation of the "associate membership" thesis, leaving behind those who mistakenly believe there was no substance to the Prime Minister's speech.

Given these developments, and the drop of one day in response to Paris tragedy, I am going to extend "strategy week" to ten days. I'll go back and change the titles to "strategy ten". Up tonight will be a piece on the need for an exit plan.

Richard North 16/11/2015 link

Strategy ten: 4. Identifying the enemy


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Take a hypothetical situation, where analysis of the EU referendum dynamics strongly indicate that the "leave" campaign cannot succeed unless it is able to reassure waverers that the exit risks can be contained.

A carefully researched scheme is produced and published, aimed specifically at addressing waverers' fears, in the form of an exit plan. It shows how any adverse effects of leaving the EU can be neutralised or avoided.

Then, along comes an organisation which publically disowns elements of the plan, without itself having any equivalent or like measures. It also goes out its way to offer exit scenarios which, if implemented, would cause total chaos and which would thus deter voters from opting to leave.

In this situation, one has to ask: who is the enemy? Is it the active pro-EU campaign organisation or the one which – as you might guess – is ostensibly fighting to leave the EU but blocking the adoption of winning strategies?

Now refine the parameters, and hypothesise a situation where the pro-EU campaign is largely ineffective and, in any case, focusing on issues. These will have little relevance to the voters when they enter the polling stations. Tie that in with the situation where you have a pro-exit organisation rampant, doing more harm than good to the exit cause with crass noisemaking.

The question which now presents itself is this: do you devote your energy to attacking the pro-EU campaign, or do you spend most of your energy in attempting to prevent the "pseudo exiteers" damaging the campaign, and trying to undo the damage they have caused?

Let us now further complicate the situation. We assume here that the referendum poll is not going to be for two years. In between now and then, there will be a selection process to pick the pro-exit lead campaigner. Currently, there are several competitors.

In these circumstances – where the choice of lead campaigner may well influence the outcome of the referendum – do you still focus your energies on attacking the pro-EU campaign? Instead, do you try to influence the selection process in favour of the best (or least worst) organisation?

Now for the reality check. These situations are very far from being a hypothetical. They very much represent the world in which we live, where we have to make decisions reflecting the situation on the ground.

We've been confronting  elements of this problem for some time. I recall, for instance, August 2011 when Roger Helmer (one time Conservative MEP, now with UKIP) complained that, "Too many eurosceptics spend their time sniping at each other, rather than turning their guns on the real enemy, which in this case is Brussels".

Of course, that was at a time when Helmer was still a Tory and we were attacking Tory faux eurosceptics. Helmer solved that problem in his own way, by joining Ukip. He is now free to attack Tory faux eurosceptics – as indeed he must in order to get elected.

But Helmer unwittingly adds another complication to our scenario, in arguing that the "real enemy" is Brussels – i.e., the European Union. In respect of this referendum, that is not entirely – if at all – true. After all, it isn't the EU which is keeping us in. That power is reserved for our own politicians, currently led by Mr Cameron.

Furthermore, the EU isn't stopping us leaving, and it is not campaigning directly for us to stay in. In all cases, the front-runner is David Cameron and it is he, we argue, who should be treated as the real enemy.

If we factor this in to our not-so-hypothetical mix, how do we treat those campaigners who insist on targeting the EU? How should we look upon such activity when so much of it reinforces the "loony-tune" image of exit politics, and is thus likely to deter the "moderate middle" to which Mr Cameron will be appealing?

Then, if we did decide to ignore all these complications, and make unity our sole aim, who should we then support? We could go for Vote Leave Ltd, described by Alistair Heath – brother-in-law to Matthew Elliott, its co-founder – as run by "a small team of brilliant political strategists and campaigners". But this is the same Vote Leave which is attracting the ire of Eric Pickles for its crass tactics of targeting Europhile businesses and making a nuisance of itself? 

If we did support them, however, we could not support – just supposing we wanted to be associated with that train-wreck campaign. The two do not get on together, and nor do either want to work with Ukip – which is supposedly on the brink of bankruptcy.

When one looks at all this, it is easy to sympathise with those who ignore the reality and just want to get stuck and fight. And since the EU is the obvious (if misplaced) target, it is not surprising to see the ether filled with anti-EU rhetoric.

But if we are to win, we have to choose the right enemy – more important in some cases than having the right friends. And where there are multiple enemies, deciding on priorities is often the crucial strategic decision.

In many respects, though, our allies can do more immediate harm than our enemies. That certainly seemed so in France in 1940, and it was definitely the case in 1975. Then, the "no" campaign suffered the bad fortune of having the support of the unions – then the main blockage to the nation's prosperity.

At the time, it was thought that the competition from continental firms, brought about by membership of the EEC, would force a break-up of union power. Union opposition to the EEC reinforced that view, and led many people to vote to stay in. It could even have been the decisive factor.

In an exit referendum, therefore, unity is not necessarily a sensible option. Disowning potential allies, or those who purport to support the exit cause, may be a better idea.

Such issues – all the issues raised here – require strategic decisions. And advice from that score comes from William Norton, a business associate of Matthew Elliott. In 2007, prior to what we thought might be the referendum on the Constitution, he wrote in Conservative Home: You don't win a referendum by assembling a Big Tent or a Broad Church. "All that happens then is that lots of little groups who don't really have much in common end up having a veto over the campaign, and it falls apart".

Never mind that Elliott (with Cummings) has ignored that advice, going for the Big Tent. The predictable result is that the different factions can't agree on an exit plan – vital to reassure the voters. Thus, they end up vetoing each other's plans, and any introduced from outside. This leads the "brilliant political strategists" into a situation where the only thing they can agree on is not to have a plan.

But Norton had some more advice. A successful referendum campaign, he said, "requires a bespoke one-off specialist team in strong overall control, with the political parties in a secondary role (and seen to be so)". That applies, he opined, "to any pressure group which predates the referendum: everyone has an agenda and an ego and everyone carries baggage".

To have the best chance of success, he concluded, "the Designated Campaign should be a body without a past and without a future beyond the vote itself". He then finished off with the injunction: "No one owns this referendum".

What we will end up with, though – unless we prevent it – is a group in Vote Leave who believe they have inherited the right, as in "to the manor born", to run the campaign. It is their property, and theirs alone, despite the egos and the baggage that they bring with them.

This referendum campaign is this becoming battles within battles. A pretender, Arron Banks, is making a challenge – but he is proving to be just as exclusive - dog in the manger - as his competitor. He pretends he is interested in advice, but doesn't take it when he is given it. Gradually, he is showing his true colours. Like Elliott and his business associates, he wants to "own" the campaign for himself.

In a very real way, these bodies stand between us and victory. They are every bit as much an obstacle a Mr Cameron – if not more so. The Prime Minister's case is actually very weak, and easily beatable – but not if the "noisemakers" get in our way, confusing the message, blurring the issues and undermining our work.

Before we can progress, therefore, we have to address the strategic question: "who (or what) is the enemy". Until we answer that - and then take the appropriate actions - we are not going to get very much further.

Richard North 12/11/2015 link

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