We are only a few weeks into the campaign but already the shape of things is becoming apparent. We have a campaign that is largely an argument between senior Tories – Cameron and Osborne v Gove and Boris.
Gove and Boris represent Vote Leave Ltd. Their hands a re somewhat tied by the fact that they are really nothing more than ‘Tory Leave’, hence the jumping ship of others from its campaign. Criticising their own PM is going to be more difficult for them, and so then the miserable ‘renegotiation’ package that Cameron has come back from Europe with has been allowed to slide out of public view without the serious kicking it deserved. Let’s face it – if this was about trust, then the first issue that should have been raised was that the PM was simply lying about the nature of the agreement that he and others had reached. In the fact that they have had to go lightly on this, they have removed one of their most prominent weapons. Their other ‘campaign tactics’ have hardly been helpful!
Leave EU, or now Grassroots Out, is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not a grassroots campaign any more than Vote Leave is, but largely a UKIP front with a few prominent figures tacked on for good measure. In keeping with that personality, it has spent much of its time and resources preaching to the already converted with large road shows and public rallies. While this looks good when reported by the mainstream media and probably encourages the faithful, it’s hard to see what traction that a mix of Nigel Farage and George Galloway is likely to have in middle Britain, where in the main the vote will be won and lost. The undecideds will be reached by more sophisticated methods.
The largest problem that both campaigns face is that they are being continually challenged on ‘What out looks like’. And in this they face the same stumbling block, though for different reasons.
Vote Leave doesn’t have a declared position on what Out looks like. Their approach is to say that they don’t have to have one, because that would be the concern of government to negotiate and the campaign will have no bearing on what the government does afterwards if Leave wins. And in all honesty, they do at least have a point – what we campaign for will not have any direct effect on the government’s future negotiating position.
However, that’s where the agreement ends. If you cannot anticipate the most logical leave position and outline that for people, what are they actually voting for? Vote Leave want people to vote ‘against the EU’, without specifying what comes after. Now of course, they might have a unified plan in place ready to pull out at a crucial moment, but I rather fear that their own contradictions will be forced back upon them later – especially over Johnson’s ‘Canadian Solution’ , which doesn’t appear to have been at all well researched.
Think of it a different way. Image you have a letter in the post, says you have won a holiday. You don’t know where it’s to, how long it lasts, or even what clothes to pack for the journey. Would you go? I wouldn’t. And that is what Vote Leave is asking the electorate to do – to go on a journey for which they have no planned route, and only a vague destination.
If this is the major problem for Vote Leave, then GO/LeaveEU/UKIP is hardly responding to this gaping hole. They talk of a WTO Plus option (Ruth Lea the main proponent), but it is based on assertions of how the WTO works that cannot be substantiated, and a belief that the EU needs us more than we need them – and the public are not buying that because the size of the EU itself makes that a hard sell. In the brief discussions I have had with figures supporting the GO campaign, their intentions might be pure but they lack significant detail and are vulnerable to the more sophisticated attacks of the Whitehall machine. And they are far too focused on one issue – immigration. This alienates them from a large section of the electorate, the middle class and the metropolitan dwellers, who are doing OK and won’t vote for change if it might damage their current financial or social status.
At this stage of the campaign , Leave should be well ahead. Cameron’s deal was so thin even he doesn’t want to talk about it, and when he does he has forced to resort to lies to cover its inadequacies. Even the Commons Library fails to offer any real support for him. The deal is a sham, it’s entirely unenforcible. Yet we are still losing. Why?
The Political Betting website shows how the recent experience of leaders in general elections have been translated into the referendum by the two sides. Cameron v Miliband was a clear win for Cameron, hence the GE was lost by Labour for failure to have a credible PM in waiting. Applied to the referendum, this has led the campaigns to look for figureheads who they feel will be attractive to the public (or in GO’s case, particular sections of the Public). But the problem with this strategy is that Cameron is the PM – they are trying to fight fire with fire – our personality against yours, but they forget that in Cameron they don’t face a single adversary. They also face the weight of his office. Admittedly it is an office that has been devalued over the last 30 years by the mendacity of many of its occupants and their hirelings, but it is still the highest elected office in the land. Add to that that the figures involved have no central position (other than the obvious), then it is clear that the PM has the upper hand in combating this approach.
So what is the answer to this?
The only answer is to present the public with a clear plan, and campaign for it positively. And on Wednesday, at Great George Street in Westminster, we will publicly begin that task.
The Leave Alliance is not like the other campaigns, nor are we in competition with them. In fact, I hope very much that if we have some success then it will prompt the other campaigns to take a similar line and campaign on the basis of a researched plan to leave the European Union. In that event we offer our help and combined research to any of the leave campaigners who wish to make use of it. We are not seeking the designation of the Electoral Commission as lead campaigner, so therefore we are not seeking public funding to campaign. The independent bloggers who have been working towards this moment are entirely self funded, EU referendum blog and its direct participants and campaign activities funded only by donation.
Our aim is to bring the Flexcit plan as far into the public domain as we can. This is the only properly researched and viable plan presented so far for leaving the EU, reconnecting ourselves with the wider world and doing so in a manner which is not economically disruptive. On Wednesday 16th March at 2:30, at No 1 Great George Street, a campaign edition of Flexcit will be unveiled that is directed towards providing an effective reference for those who will be out there trying to reach the undecided voters. All are invited to attend and there is no pre booking or cover charge for the event.
Only when we move beyond the politics of personality, so effectively employed in the normal electoral cycle will we be able to win a majority for Leaving the EU. We must counter the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt cast on the Leave position by the Remain campaign with solid facts, and offer a distinct and workable vision based on proper research and understanding of the structures and bodies of both the EU and the wider regulatory world.
This is the aim of the Leave Alliance. Please Join us on Wednesday afternoon as the campaign proper begins.