With the EU Referendum polls showing a healthy lead for the Remain Camp and the Prime Minister seemingly on the verge of a deal in Brussels you would think that the various Leave campaigns would be directing all their available firepower at the vacuous nature of these orchestrated talks and the total lack of meaningful reform that they will provide. But oh no! At a seriously important moment in how this might play out, the Leave Camps have decided to direct their fire at each other and also within their own individual campaigns. For a committed Brexiteer, this is totally dispiriting and totally unnecessary. It is largely about the 3 campaigns jockeying for lead campaign status from the Electoral Commission but it is also a dispute about the key messages and how the campaign should be run. There are also large egos at stake, and the result is that at grassroots level activists are left bemused and dispirited. More strategically, the media is starting to portray the Leave Campaigns as a disorganised rabble with all that this means for how the matter is perceived by the general population. This is hardly a recipe for success, and so this morning I thought I would produce a plan that I believe could bring together the major Leave camps under one umbrella whilst allowing them to raise funds and campaign in their own particular way.
In designing this campaign structure I have held one thought in my mind, and that is that unlike a general election there are no political parties who can legitimately claim leadership. The leave movement is actually owned by ordinary people with the strongly held view that the UK should leave the EU. Importantly, it is not owned by those that would seek to organise the campaign; they are merely servants for a broader political idea. This is important because individuals have many different reasons for being prepared to get up early on a wet Saturday morning to deliver leaflets or man a town-centre stall. For some, it is about controlling migration. For others, it is about regaining sovereignty and for another group it is about saving money. All are valid reasons and it is right that the referendum allows these views to be examined otherwise the poll will not have achieved its democratic purpose of determining the people’s will. With this key point in mind, I believe that a united Leave Campaign should try to facilitate all these views. It is not for any one group to impose their will on how the arguments should be revealed. That is for the activists on the streets, in the media and writers in the blogosphere.
Before describing my proposed organisation it is worth mentioning the key campaigning themes as this seems to have been a source of much of the friction. Leave.EU seems to be of the view that immigration should be the major theme of the campaign and this is reflected in much of which is pushed out by their spokesmen. In my view, this particular theme is guaranteed to appeal to the key UKIP support but will not necessarily appeal to the moderate and undecided centre ground if it is couched in the terms often favoured by controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage. That said, the target audience for Leave.EU is still very important and if campaigning along these lines results in a large turnout of the UKIP rump support, then it could prove decisive in determining the result. On the other hand, VoteLeave’s target audience is the undecided centre ground who may be more attentive to arguments about sovereignty and finance. LabourLeave have equally valid messages for their target audience. The point is that all these target audiences will have to feel sufficiently motivated to make the trip to the polling booth and vote to leave and so all campaigns are important with nobody right or wrong. Like many grassroots activists, I don’t care why someone votes to leave so long as they do. With that in mind, my proposed campaign structure tries to reconcile the different views of the main campaigns by adopting a federal structure (sorry to use the ‘f’ word in a skeptic blog) which would allow the individual campaigns to run their own affairs under the umbrella of a joint steering group which would be the officially designated lead campaign. Here’s what it would look like:
The steering Group would have the following features:
1 Board members would be drawn fairly from the main leave campaigns. This would not necessarily be solely from the three campaigns I have mentioned. Board composition would have to be agreed as some individuals are divisive but whatever the differences, agreement must be achieved.
2. Members and the main spokesmen would have to sign up to some main principles. The most important of these is that the leave campaign is actually campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and not just using the referendum to leverage a better deal from Brussels. In this regard they should sign up for a single referendum and immediate use of Article 50 after a successful vote. I don’t believe that the leave campaign should try to be prescriptive about the question of exactly how the UK would leave as this will be a matter for the government of the day. Options can be provided, but the aim is to be clear that the government of the day must indeed take the UK out of the EU. Second, members should recognise that colleagues from the other campaigns may have different views on how the campaign should proceed. This should not be a recipe for argument but welcome diversity. The board is facilitating the campaign, not trying to run it.
3. The board would dispense public referendum funds to the various campaigns according to agreement and their relative size. Feedback from private polling of interest groups could also be fed down to the separate campaigns to maximise effectiveness.
4. The board would provide a point of contact for the media (media centre?). Better to have this at the top rather than allow the media to try and undermine unity by playing off the separate campaigns against each other. The stronger the leadership at the top and the clearer the message then the less likely this problem will arise. The key message is that diversity of opinion is welcome within the leave camp. The media centre could be manned by personnel from all 3 campaigns and queries answered by the individual most likely to receive a favourable response (e.g. VoteLabour rep vs Guardian enquiry; LeaveEU rep vs Daily Express etc)
Sitting under the steering group are the individual campaigns. These would lose their current strategic role and they would be reprofiled to face their activists. Their key role would be to assist activists and provide campaign resources to street level. The key features of the individual campaigns are as follows:
1. They would be free to raise their own funds subject to the rules.
2. They would be free to run their own campaigns as they wish and to determine their target audience subject to the same requirements as the Steering Group which is that they are actually campaigning to leave in a single referendum.
3. Their key role would be to provide logistic support to the ground campaign such as leaflets, campaigning gear, advertising and information support.
4. They would decide how best to run their campaigns and appeal to their target audience. e.g. mail shot vs leafleting vs street stalls
5. They would manage their database of supporters and sign people up as in the current way.
A key part in my plan would be the joint coordination centre sitting beneath the individual campaigns. This organisation would run a combined database of volunteers to ensure that activities take place across the country in a coordinated manner. It would put local coordinators in touch with volunteers of all complexions to allow manpower to be allocated to the campaigning task. It should be possible to coordinate activities quite closely. For example, leafleting activities could be arranged carefully to target specific audiences according to their likely receptiveness to different campaign themes. I am not prescriptive about how this would work other than to say that there must be some coordination of activities otherwise the street level campaigns will be ineffective and inefficient. The closer the coordination the more effective the results.
Finally, there are the volunteers. In my experience, most of the activists from the various campaigns recognise the joint endeavour and are quite happy to campaign alongside each other. For my part, I would happily man a town centre stall with 3 piles of leaflets and people from the other leave organisations. Questions from the public could be directed to the activist with the best knowledge and likely appeal. In my view, the current difficulties are not at this level, they are within the senior management.
In sum, we need a federal structure that allows the campaigns operational freedom but with a close element of coordination. The current set up is self-destructive and will doom us to lose unless it is gripped quickly. I commend this plan to all those who are in a position to make the changes. Please publicise the ideas if you agree.