EU, Sovereignty and Democracy – A BBC Newsnight Failure

democracy

 

Yesterday evening, BBC Newsnight screened the first of a series of programmes that they claim is to inform the public on matters surrounding the EU Referendum. It was such a shambles. A so-called impartial Evan Davis allowed Peter Mandelson to completely dominate the discussion such that the views of a panel of emminent experts with alternative ideas went pretty much unheard. The car crash was made worse by a facile attempt by the BBC to explain the principles of sovereignty with a small vignette designed to introduce the discussion. Such was the failure of the programme that I have felt compelled to produce my own article on the matter which I hope you will enjoy. For me, sovereignty and democracy issues go right t the heart of the matter and I feel very strongly about them. If we are not a country, what are we?

It’s a peculiarly human quality that we passionately seek to influence the things around us that affect the quality and conduct of our lives and the society that we live in.
If you look back at history, you can spot those critical moments when momentous events or decisions changed the shape of countries, continents or even the world. The end of slavery, universal suffrage, the end of the Second World War, the end of the Cold War. All such moments marked big changes in the way human beings decided to interact with each other and they allowed us to shape the countries that we live in today.

Often such events were the result of changes in people’s political views or they were precipitated by brave decisions taken by political leaders. In all cases, however, the ship could only change course because the people took command of the ship’s wheel and they willed it.

Our desire to exercise control and influence over our lives was the catalyst for the development of western democracies. Initially, like-minded people bound by geographical, language, cultural and ethnic ties came together in common interest, to engineer a better life and to provide mutual protection from outside threats. As countries coalesced, it was found that leaders were necessary to represent the common view.

In some cases, these leaders chose themselves and imposed their will through subjugation. However, history shows us that such regimes rarely endured because they lacked popular legitimacy. Stable and enduring leadership is only possible if there exists a solid contract between the people and those leading them. This unspoken contract allows leaders to lead but only if they command the support of the people. In return, the people allow those leaders a degree of freedom to act in the best interests of the country. In this country, we test that legitimacy every five years in a General Election and, of course, we call it democracy.

The important factor though is that this model of democratic nation states only works if the people are themselves defined by common language, geographical boundaries, culture and ethnicity. If they possess these common traits then they are more likely to be able to agree that the leadership is legitimate, and in this case, the people would be recognized as a nation state and would be described collectively by the Greek term demos. On the other hand, if the people did not share such common attributes, then there would be no hope that elected leaders could represent the people because the people themselves would not be of similar mind and would not share a common interest. In this situation, the contract would be certain to fail because the people would be unable to agree that the leadership was legitimate or that it represented the common good. It is only because we are bound to our fellow kinsmen by the glue of common bonds that we are able to accept the majority view even if we profoundly disagree with it. And I shall return to this shortly.

Now, how you view the value of the democratic nation state also depends on your view of history, and it is here that we encounter the fundamental divergence between British and European opinion. It is this schism that has distorted relations since the end of the Second World War and which infects the political debate about the EU today.

In this great country of ours, we are, by in large, proud of our achievements and history. With some exceptions, we have not fought amongst ourselves for hundreds of years. Collectively, we have spread British influence across the globe whether that be through our politics, the industrial revolution or our unique system of law. We tend to ignore the significance of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, but it is almost revered in the United States as a founding symbol of freedom and democracy. Whilst we might occasionally take the Magna Carta slightly for granted, we nonetheless see our history as a benign influence and by in large a force for good.

The situation in Europe is quite different, however. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries were marked by terrible wars and hardship, and most of this can be traced back to a violent, iron-clad nationalism within certain European states. This is the fear that stalks the corridors in Brussels today. Whereas we see our national identity as a benign force for good, EU politicians see national identity and national interests as a destabilizing influence that has caused dark times in the past. It was the fear of a nationalistic resurgence that prompted the founders of the European Union to forge their project and it is the driving force for every closer union that exists in Brussels today. It is a project designed to batter down the nation state by drawing power away from national governments and instead to invest it in a centralized supranational political body based in Brussels.

Now, I have no doubt that the intentions of the EU blacksmiths are entirely honorable, but I don’t agree that their project is a catalyst for stability. I contend that by taking power further away from the people they are paradoxically sowing the seeds for the kind of instability that they are seeking to suppress.

First, there is currently no identifiable European demos. The EU member states are quite different culturally and ethnically and, aside from a common desire for peaceful trade, there is little else in common between a Frenchman, a Rumanian or a Turk, for example. Without that demos, there is no hope that a centralized EU could be described as a state or adequately represent a so-called European people because the people are far too different. It therefore would lack legitimacy for the reasons I have already provided.

The second difficulty is that a centralized European political and legal body not only fails to provide adequate representation for a common people, but it also takes decisions too far away from individuals. I mentioned earlier about our powerful instinct to influence those things around us that affect our lives, and that means that we not only want our government to be representative but we want to feel that our vote can actually change something. This is an argument for bringing decision-making closer to the people by decentralizing government within practical limits rather than sucking sovereign power further and further towards the centre and away from individuals such as they start to feel disenfranchised. History shows us that when people feel disempowered then instability often follows. We are already seeing this today in Europe with widespread electoral apathy, the rise of populist parties and the shadow of the extreme right. EU officials say the answer to this is more Europe but by insisting on this they are making the situation worse such that the eventual disintegration of the project will be far more painful with potential violence and disorder.

My third objection concerns the dishonest way that the EU is being shaped, and it is here that we need to consider cause and effect.

Whilst we in Britain have always wanted the EU to be a trading system as a means of liberalizing trade and opening up markets, EU politicians have always been clear that trade would be used as a lever to engineer political union and indeed a European State. Consider this astonishing statement by Jean Monnet the founding father of the EU:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will irreversibly lead to federation.”

So rather than the EU being forged as a consequence of globalization, the EU is cleverly using the tools of globalization covertly and incrementally to undermine nation states and to bind countries together so closely that in the end full political union and a United States of Europe would become inevitable. Free trade is said to be inextricably linked to the freedom of movement of people whereas in reality such freedom is attached to trade as a precondition whose real purpose is to break down national borders and for social engineering to break down the ethnic and cultural glue of nation states in a futile attempt to form a European demos.

But it is not just trade that is a tool for closer integration and the imposition of a supranational state. Another example is the single Eurozone currency. The Euro was said to be necessary to facilitate trade but its real purpose was as a Trojan horse for the harmonization of a host of fiscal and financial policies in yet another step towards a United States of Europe.  In 1997, Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt gave the following joint statement:

“One must never forget that monetary union is ultimately a political project. It aims to give a new impulse to the historic movement towards a Union of the European States. Monetary Union is a federative project that needs to be followed by other steps. “

Well those other steps have indeed occurred, and recent EU research papers suggest that there are further integrationist steps in the pipeline. Where is the referendum discussion on these future measures and the ultimate destination of the EU? We now have the European Court of Justice whose powers are ever expanding. This court takes precedence over our national laws and it not only pronounces on trade matters but continually intrudes into matters of law that cover all manner of policies that affect our life in Britain. Did you ever ask for this court to do this? I didn’t.

There are other examples, but the important thing to note is that each incremental step towards further integration is on a ratchet. You can step forward towards the unstated goal but the ratchet will never let you step back. The direction of travel is fixed which is why the referendum we are about to have is so important because we have a chance to go in a different direction. We are truly at a fork in the road. The choice is to embrace the EU project with all the implications for our democracy and way of life or to strike out and build a new home for our country in the international system. The Prime Minister seems to be suggesting that there is some kind of halfway house or fudge but in reality this really is our big moment. It is either all in or all out.

But to choose that path we first need an honest discussion, and this is where our national debate is failing miserably. During the last EU Referendum and also in this one, sovereignty concerns have been dismissed. Why can’t the Prime Minister, the media and the Remain Camp just be honest about the true purpose of the EU and its intended destination? We could then debate whether the path to an EU State is one we wish to follow? Instead, we get regurgitated dark threats about the future of trade and jobs if we don’t conform. It is a sad reflection on the EU project that proponents have to disguise its true purpose in this way. If it’s so good, why don’t Remainers just make an honest case for it rather than adding more weight to the trade lever that the government is deploying daily to scare us into staying. It is persuasion by fear but it is also dishonest because it masks the main sovereignty issue and the intended EU final destination.

So far, media discussions and public debates have focused on trade and migration but in my view these tend to obscure the bigger picture and are really two sides of the same coin. The question is who should exercise control over such matters? Should it be our nation state with its legitimate government or a centralized European Superstate without a recognizable demos and with no legitimate claim to power? In my view, matters such as immigration policy directly affect our way of life, and are therefore best controlled by the democratic nation state that has served us so well.

The power of ordinary people to use the ballot box to affect their own lives should not be pawned to a European system of government that doesn’t represent us or apply the same glue that binds each of us to our fellow Britons. In the referendum I shall vote to leave so that we can make our elected MPs accountable for all the things that affect us and regain control of our democracy. I hope after some careful reflection you will make a similar choice. In the meantime, thanks very much for making it until the end.

A Draft Speech for a British Prime Minister

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Good evening

When I announced an In/Out EU Referendum in 2013 I laid out my vision for a fundamentally reformed European Union which would be better equipped to face a competitive world beset with economic and security problems. I identified three key challenges that needed to be addressed, namely, problems with the eurozone, competitiveness and the role of national governments including a recognition of the importance of national sovereignty. In my speech I identified 5 principles that supported my vision. First, there should be improvements to European competitiveness by reforming the European Commission to provide a more nimble organisation more focussed on global free trade. Second, the EU needed to adopt a more flexible approach with less emphasis on one-size-fits-all political solutions, and safeguards that recognised national interests and diverse opinion. Third, I wanted power to flow back to the member states, and, fourthly, a greater role for national parliaments to improve democratic accountability in the absence of a European demos. Finally, I wanted to see a fair settlement that balanced the interests of those inside the Eurozone against those outside. My speech was positive and delivered in the spirit of a committed member of the European Union who could see a better way.

Since the General Election of 2015 you will be aware that I have visited most EU capitals and campaigned tirelessly for the kind of changes that I believe are necessary to produce a European Union best equipped for the 21st Century and to secure the UK’s position within it. It is important that people realise that most effective international diplomacy is conducted in private and outside of the glare of the kind of publicity that we have seen in Brussels this week. Proper diplomacy is quiet work, and it relies on relationships that in some cases were forged and nurtured over hundreds of years. I have to tell you that over the many private meetings that I have held in the last 10 months it has become very apparent to me that there is no collective will for the kind of changes that I outlined in my Bloomberg vision set out in 2013. It seems that the UK sees our place in the world differently to others and that this difference can not now be resolved. We have therefore truly arrived at a fork in the road.

The deal that has been agreed in Brussels this week therefore marks the high water of institutional change that other EU countries are prepared to accept. I expect that most of you would agree that it falls very far short of my 2013 vision of fundamental EU reform, and it highlights that the direction that other EU countries wish to follow is based on closer political union and centralisation something that the United Kingdom finds hard to accept. Some of you may well ask, why did you battle so hard for the deal if it was not something that fulfilled your expectations? Well, the reason is that I wanted to negotiate the very best terms that could be achieved and then let the British people decide if it was enough. Whatever international deal is presented to the people, it is the duty of a Prime Minister to ensure that it was the very best that could be achieved on behalf of his nation. If you hold the deal to be insufficient then I would much prefer that it was because it represents a difference of international opinion rather than because your Prime Minister didn’t try hard enough.

To my mind, the reasons for either remaining in or leaving the EU are now finely balanced. It is the most important strategic decision that we will make as a country since the Second World War and therefore it is right that the British people conduct a serious and mature debate on the matter before making their decision. Whilst the deal may seem poor, it needs to be viewed in the context of all the other reasons for either remaining or leaving this organisation. A poor deal alone may be insufficient reason to leave as there are a myriad other factors that also need to be considered. For example, there can be no argument that in some situations it is better and stronger to act as a group of like-minded countries. But on the other hand, does common action require a political union that draws sovereign power away from the people in individual countries and reduce the value of their vote?

I do not intend to set out all the factors that need to be considered as this will be played out in detail during the coming months before the referendum which I now announce will take place at the earliest opportunity on 23rd June. However, I do wish to make some remarks on the conduct of the forthcoming campaigns. First, it is right that such an important matter for the country is debated in a mature and objective manner. In this regard, I hope that both campaigns will set aside the usual political point scoring and negative campaigning and set out their cases objectively and factually. This is not only important to achieve a result based on proper democratic foundations but also because it will be played out in the full scrutiny of the the rest of the international community. One of my priorities has been to minimise the diplomatic fallout resulting from this referendum and the manner in which we conduct our national debate will reflect on us internationality.

It is also for this reason that I have decided to adopt a neutral role in the debate. Myself as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will play no part in the debate other than to facilitate it. There is important diplomatic business to conduct over the coming months including the economic recovery, the refugee crisis, Syria, Iraq and Libya. This will require close contact with many countries that will be affected by our vote in June, and it would be untenable for us to attend such meetings if we had adopted any other position than a neutral one in the matter of the EU referendum. Aside from these three senior government politicians, the rest of the cabinet is released from cabinet collective responsibility with immediate affect to campaign as they see fit. I have placed some constraints on ministers but these are minor and intended to ensure that a proper amount of time is spent on other ministerial duties. I am determined that whilst the debate may rage, the government will not be sidetracked and will continue to deliver on the promises made in our manifesto. It is also important that Britain now holds the fullest and most meaningful of debates and with this in mind it is important that elected politicians play a full role in examining the issues before the people finally decide.

This country has played a huge role in international affairs over the course of our long and proud history. The direction in we choose to go will not only determine our own future but will also set a model for the rest of the world who will watch with great interest and in some cases with a degree of fear. Closer to home, it is important also to recognise that there will be no second referendum on the matter. Our decision in June will set our course for the foreseeable future and therefore it will also be important that we come together as a country to unite around the collective will of the people once a decision is made. It is a big moment for us but I am confident that the British people will conduct their deliberations carefully and soberly before deciding wisely.

Could Cameron do a Hugh Grant on Saturday?

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The differences between the Prime Minister’s EU aspirations outlined in his 2013 Bloomberg Speech and the thin gruel seemingly contained in his draft EU renegotiation agreement are so stark that I find it perplexing. In no way, could the draft agreement constitute the promised ‘fundamental reform of the EU’. It throws some minor titbits in the UK’s direction but the EU itself is largely unchanged and will lumber on regardless especially as there is no legal cement provided by treaty change. However, Cameron is no fool, and all this makes me wonder what he is really up to? I can’t accept that what seems to be on offer is the end of the story and I find myself wondering if he could really be a Leaver who might be prepared to throw caution to the wind and declare an honest hand in the manner of the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant in the film, Love Actually

Then I woke up!

And yet. Surely, the Prime Minister can’t think that the British voter will fail to notice a dud deal when they see one. David Cameron is far too clever for that, and I therefore fully expect that he is playing a subtler game and that his real strategy has yet to be revealed. Here are some thoughts on how things could unfurl

In the first scenario, the conventional narrative is correct and what you see is what you get. In this case, the Bloomberg Speech contained promises that, in the context of a 2013 Coalition government, the PM never thought he would have to keep. The majority he gained in the 2015 election was unexpected and so he now finds himself having to wriggle out of his previous declarations. In this case, Cameron has already decided that the UK will stay in the EU and he has calculated that he can scare the voters into supporting him. He is following the Wilson model and he will brazen it out by trumpeting what a great deal he has secured. His assertions will be supported by a ‘3-shirt, acrimonious’ meeting with fellow EU leaders from which he will emerge bleary-eyed and victorious after a hard-fought battle with the French playing the traditional role as the defeated European foe. If he feels his side of the campaign needed an extra boost he might even walk out of this weekend’s talks before returning to ’emergency’ talks a month later to secure the ‘important’ terms that he demands. The press might have you believe that this would constitute a ‘failure’ on the PM’s part but in the eyes of his core vote and the undecided middle ground it would probably be seen as a show of strength and reinforce the idea that the deal is actually something substantive and worth fighting for. This is the scenario being played out in the press but it is the least likely to my mind. The deal is so transparently a paper tiger that there is a real likelihood that the electorate will reject it and vote to leave, leaving the PM on the losing side and the wrong side of history. It’s why I believe it’s not that simple.

Before moving on, we should briefly address the key question of which target audience is the PM addressing with his recent remarks? It can’t be his party who increasingly see his round-robin of european capitals as a begging mission and a bit of a national humiliation. I don’t think either that it is the europhiles who are largely convinced ‘Remainians’ anyway. In my view, he is addressing European politicians and the public in other countries, and I need to explain this.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is absolutely right that a British Prime Minister should seek to minimise the diplomatic damage that will undoubtedly result from the referendum process as to do otherwise would be against our national interest. If we end up leaving, we need to minimise the strategic fallout which could be considerable. On the other hand, even a vote to remain in the EU could undermine long-term diplomatic relationships if it was secured clumsily. With this in mind, I believe that the PM had no choice but to enter into EU negotiations seeking realistic (weak) changes and to portray the UK as ‘willing’ Europeans and ‘reluctant’ potential leavers. If he had entered into talks demanding huge and unrealistic changes that could never be accepted in other capitals he would have been perceived as a pre-determined leaver and the EU would have just given up on us amid much diplomatic rancour and long term damage.

If this explains the PM’s behaviour and remarks in the last few months, it also raises questions about what he is really seeking. If it is indeed a diplomatic charade, then it raises the possibility that the Prime Minister actually does want us to leave the EU or is at least agnostic. I noted that the PM has not unequivocally signed up to Tusk’s draft letter and there have been remarks from No10 and Ministers about it ‘being the basis of a negotiation’ Does this mean that the UK might attempt to introduce new and as yet unseen material into the talks? Certainly the French are alive to the threat as even President Hollande remarked last week that there should be nothing else in the talks beyond what is stated in the draft agreement. If the UK wanted to ensure that the talks were unsuccessful, then I can think of no better way of engineering it than by making a late bid for new clauses. The effect of failed talks would be electrifying. In the extreme case, the PM could come home on Saturday declare himself a reluctant leaver and campaign to leave. This would be the Hugh Grant option. Does this explain why some of the more senior ministers seem to have gone silent? In reality, probably not although its a nice thought. I believe that it is more likely that he plans to use the failed talks as a lever to gain something altogether different such as the Associate Membership model. Under this plan, the UK would sit in outer ring of slowcoaches whilst an inner core forged ahead with closer political integration. To my mind, Associate Membership would constitute a second class status which I would vigorously oppose but I mention now to illustrate that the Prime Minister’s position is still opaque.

There are probably a number of other scenarios that you could think of and any one could be true. The important point though is that nothing is ever as it seems with politics and international affairs. David Cameron is a wily animal and in my opinion we have not yet see the half of it. The clues will be in his remarks and by careful consideration of which audience he is talking to. The BBC’s Andrew Marr show may well provide the clue. The weekend ahead promises to be extremely interesting.

A Single Leave Campaign – An Outline Blueprint

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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:

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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.

Why The FCO is the Enemy Within.

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So the former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has come out for the Remain camp in the EU Referendum campaign joining other foreign secretaries like Jack Straw and, in all likelihood, the present incumbent Philip Hammond who has yet to declare his hand. For Hague to discard his well-documented euro-scepticism in such a public way seems surprising but in fact he is merely following a well trodden path of politicians who enter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with one view of world affairs and then leave their term of office with completely different opinions altogether. The questions is: why? And why should this matter to all of us?.

The first thing to say is that the mandarins in the FCO see many politicians of different complexions come and go but regard their role as ensuring that British foreign policy remains consistent and predictable, and that, above all else, there are no sudden and unexpected policy lurches in one direction or another. In essence, they see ministers as transient and the civil service as providing the continuity. Now if you think about this it does seem to make quite a lot of sense. Friends, allies and trading partners have a view of the UK’s place in the world and they want to know that at the international level the UK’s actions will be predictable and consistent. I can’t say for sure, but I am willing to bet that this point is hammered home during a new minister’s induction briefings. It is also easy to imagine that most new ministers would be encouraged to view their role in non-political terms. This makes them more susceptible to advice from their civil servants than perhaps in other offices of state. Now, whilst this may sound harmless, what if the FCO’s global perspective is based on theories that undermine the very essence of our democracy? What checks and balances are there to protect the interests of the British people who may see the arguments as largely academic even though they cut to the heart of what it means to be a nation?

The FCO’s model is essentially based on theories expounding globalisation and the inter-dependence of states. This is a complex area, and if you want to read into it then google will provide any number of long academic papers written largely in the 1990s and early 2000s after the end of the Cold War. In essence, these argue that improvements in communication and transport coupled with large global flows of people and capital have reduced the effectiveness of national geographical boundaries. They say that in this ever complex world, governmental power is circumvented and made redundant, countries are unable to solve problems alone and they increasingly have to rely on cooperation with other states to derive solutions which they cannot provide by themselves. It is a theory that promotes the idea of expending or pooling sovereignty through membership and acceptance of supranational bodies like the UN and more topically the EU. It is seen as a mechanism for peace because it suppresses the nation state and violent nationalism. In some respects, it is an argument for big government, even global, and it is an NGO’s and lobbyists’ dream. But as I shall explain, the effects of globalisation can only reach so far because of our desire as individuals to be capable of influencing the world around us and to change those things that affect our lives.

Please bear with me as we get a little technical, but it all comes down to the nation state and for a fuller explanation I recommend that you read this wiki article providing a definition and the historical and contextual background. Please think carefully about the following two quotes from wiki:

“A nation state is a geographical area that can be identified as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign nation. A state is a political and geopolitical entity, while a nation is a cultural and ethnic one.”

In another wiki article Sovereignty is described as follows:

“Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity. It is a basic principle underlying the dominant westpahlian model of state foundation.”

Now, I would say that countries have evolved into nation states through common interest, ethnicity, culture and the need for collective protection. Sovereignty occurs because of the critical relationship between national leaders and those they serve. It is an agreement that sees a population bound by common ties investing in leaders whose role is to protect and serve the nation state. The leadership derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people and this is the basis of sovereignty. If the leadership is seen to subvert, undermine or pawn that sovereign power then the bond is broken, it is no longer serving the basis of its power and it ceases to be legitimate.

If this sounds largely academic, what does it mean in practice? At this stage I would like to look at the EU because there is confusion between cause and effect. The EU is a particular case of interest because it is being forged with the tools of globalisation rather than as a consequence of it. To explain this we need to remember why the EU came about. The founding fathers always saw the EU as a means of suppressing the dangerous nationalism that caused so much suffering in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The idea was that if the people of Europe could be united by a common political structure and ideals then ‘parochial’ and ‘dangerous’ national concerns would evaporate or could be circumvented. They saw a powerful EU as a vehicle for peace, and they viewed the mechanics of globalisation as a means for breaking down national sovereignty and driving the project forward. However, it is interesting how historical perspectives influence views on these matters. For the most part, the UK has never suffered from the effects of the extreme nationalistic ideologies that we have seen on mainland Europe in the past. At least until recently, Britons have been completely at ease with our history, who we are and what we stand for. Our patriotism has never had undesirable nationalistic undertones and in fact we fought several wars against the extremism which the EU founding fathers worried about. I would also argue that our sense of national identity and common endeavour have been a catalyst for great cultural, educational and scientific innovation, and our liberal values have been an inspiration across the world. This difference in understanding about national identity is the root cause of the differing attitudes between the UK and our EU partners about the purpose and extent of the EU project. Our vision is different because we are unabashed that our rich history of national identity is in our very soul rather than the European understanding that it is something that should be hidden and suppressed. It is worse than a mere difference of understanding, however. The EU leaders are actively using the tools of globalisation to batter down national sovereignty. Think about how EU policies seek to destroy those critical characteristics of the nation state such as Schengen (geographical boundaries) and the freedom of movement of people (cultural identity and ethnicity). However, the real dishonesty is that such policies are presented as unavoidable components of free trade whereas the real intention is to use them for an altogether different purpose.

But does any of this matter? Well, I believe that the crucial relationship between the people and the leadership of the nation states is already starting to fragment, and that by imposing policies designed to weaken sovereignty, the EU is actually causing the very tensions that the project was designed to prevent. These tensions include the rise of populist and extreme parties and a dangerous electoral apathy. There is a feeling by people that their vote makes little difference and that they no longer have a voice. Trust in leaders is at an all-time low and there is strong whiff of revolution in the air. This cannot end well in my view: the bond between people and leadership is dreadfully weakened and can only be restored by bringing decision-making closer to the people not further away. People need to see that they can make a difference and that the power of globalisation will not overpower their ability to change their lives. The Westphalian model of the nation state and western style democracy remain the best way of achieving this, and I refute the idea that it has to be dismantled to prevent European states going to war with each other. Another European war is inconceivable because trade links and capital flows alone are enough to cement common interest and cooperation without any further need to unpick the very glue that binds the people together. I do accept that globalisation complicates decision-making in international affairs and that countries should cooperate to solve problems. That said, I refute entirely the notion that globalisation heralds the end of the nation state and the version of supranational government being peddled by EU leaders.

As with many things in the political arena, it comes down to balance. In my view the foreign policy wonks at the FCO need to revisit their academic assumptions on international affairs and balance them with democratic factors. As for politicians, they come and go. Perhaps we’ll get one with great vision who can spot the dangers but don’t hold your breath.

This article provides the main reason that I shall campaign to leave the EU. The fundamental reform promised by the Prime Minister could only be delivered by reinforcing the foundations of the nation state and this is something he is not seeking to change or that the EU is willing to address. We need to protect our nation state by voting to leave. International cooperation can continue afterwards regardless.

The Political Games of the EU Referendum

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There is an unsavoury alliance between the media and Westminster politicians which perverts analytical debate and promotes voter apathy to the detriment of our democracy. It infects all major political discussions and it will never change unless the media is forced to change its behaviour by public opinion and viewing taste. As such a change is highly unlikely, it is a situation which will continue to prevail which means that campaigners have to live with it and try their best to use to their advantage. I have discussed the toxic effects of this sad fact in an earlier blog. However, today I wanted to use the issue of ministerial resignation over the EU as a case study of the problem.

Now, over the weekend there was a great deal of media speculation about cabinet collective responsibility and whether ministers should be able to campaign against membership of the EU in the forthcoming referendum or whether they would have to resign from the government first. This is a touchy subject for many Tory MPs because if the matter is mishandled the effects of any party schism could last for far longer than the outcome of the referendum itself. The media has cottoned onto this and the papers are now full of speculation about where individual ministers sit on the matter. I won’t add to the speculation about this other than to say that I am told that several ministers and a large number of Tory MPs are waiting to see which way the wind is blowing before stating their position. Thus, being on the winning side is the most important factor in the decision rather than an individual’s views on the EU. Such high principles, eh?

The first question to ask is whether any of this matters, and to my mind it does but only for a short time. The euro-sceptic views of many MPs are well known so when someone comes out onto one side or the other it shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone unless there is a major volte-face. The importance to the 2 camps is the way it is reported by the media and in particular the timing of any resignation announcements in relation to other campaign issues. If a minister decides to resign today and join the leave campaign then it will be big news….for a couple of days. If it occurred on the same day that Cameron announced that his renegotiation had been successfully completed, then the political effect could be considerable. Ministers going early will soon be yesterday’s news. By the time the phoney war ends and campaigning starts in earnest, that individual will be just another former minister like Liam Fox and his views will be lost amongst all the other noise. Now, Cameron must know this and I believe he will want to get all the bad news out of the way before he brings home his piece of EU paper and declares peace in our time. With that in mind, there will be a number of stories planted through friendly media contacts which are designed to infuriate sceptics and flush out wavering ministers early. He will judge that the earlier ministerial resignations occur, then the better for his campaign to Remain. I believe these provocations have already started and one example can be found in the Daily Telegraph today which informs us that:

“David Cameron is already preparing a pro-European Union dossier that will be sent out to British families ahead of the in-out referendum.”

“It will lead to accusations that the Prime Minister is pre-judging the result of his ongoing renegotiation with Brussels and comes amid speculation that at least one Cabinet minister will resign in the New Year in order to campaign for Britain to leave the EU. The dossier is being likened by sources to a pamphlet issued to every British household by Harold Wilson ahead of the 1975 referendum setting out an “independent” government analysis of his renegotiation, alongside the pro- and anti- campaign literature.”

Then we get the source:

“The plans were disclosed by Mats Persson, a No 10 adviser and former boss of Open Europe, in a briefing to senior Conservatives last month.”

Then the real issue:

“Conservative eurosceptics are increasingly angry at what they see as a “sham renegotiation” by Downing Street.
At least one Cabinet minister is known to be considering whether to in the coming weeks resign and join the “Leave” campaign.
Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers are all committed eurosceptics and there has been speculation about them quitting if Mr Cameron does not guarantee that he will allow members of his Cabinet to campaign for Britain to quit the EU.”

So the story originated in No 10. You would expect them to be keen on suppressing speculation about ministerial resignations unless Cameron has already decided that they are going to occur anyway and that it is best to get them out of the way before they can cause any real damage to the Remain campaign.

What a joke this game is.

Could Cameron Vote to Leave the EU?

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Are there any circumstances where David Cameron could decide to campaign for the UK to leave the EU? Well yes, according to a senior source close to one of the campaigns and I tend to agree but for different reasons than those provided. Popular opinion is currently that the Prime Minister is a committed europhile who will do anything to secure an agreement in his so-called renegotiation with EU partners. They say his list of demands has been made deliberately trivial to secure an easy agreement which he can then sell to the British people to win the referendum for the Remain side.

However, there are also those of us who think there is a cleverer strategy at play here which will be revealed once the current political theatre has achieved its purpose of providing a smokescreen. This plan would see David Cameron eventually announce a new deal for the UK offering Associate Membership of the EU. This status would be sealed by a new EU Treaty which would see the eurozone states forge a much closer political union with others, like the UK, on the periphery. Whilst it would undoubtedly be hyped as a special arrangement, probably referred to as the British Model, in reality it would leave the UK in its current situation, still subject to the same disadvantages of EU membership but in a far weaker position on the periphery. It would be sold as a new arrangement but would actually be a solution securing the status quo. It would not, in popular parlance, be Brexit and it would not allow the UK to realise any of the benefits of leaving or joining a looser trading arrangement like EFTA. This hidden strategy is explained in detail by the Bruges Group in this excellent paper here. Worryingly, their analysis envisages that even if there was a vote to Leave, it would still result in Associate Membership being offered as the only choice in a follow up referendum. This highlights one of the fundamental weaknesses of the current Leave campaigns which are seemingly unable to offer an alternative Brexit model and which instead make vague references to an undefined future bilateral agreement that would hopefully be secured after a further negotiation. The choice is thus about staying in the EU under the Prime Minister’s arrangements or something undefined. This leaves the Leave side wide open to scaremongering by the Remain side who will rely on voter fear, uncertainty and aversion to risk during their campaign.

Whilst I do agree with the Bruges Group that Associate Membership is the likely offering, I wonder if there is an even more complex and multi-layered approach to David Cameron’s strategy. My source tells me that Cameron is mildly eurosceptic but he felt in the early stages of his premiership that it was unnecessary to expend much energy and political capital on the EU issue. I am told that Cameron believes it is, on balance, in the UK’s interest to be part of the single market but finds the political process tiresome and unnecessary. That said, my source also says the Prime Minister does not like to be taken for a fool, and like a friendly grandfather provoked beyond reason by a petulant child, he could lash out at EU colleagues if they don’t cave in to his demands or seemingly humiliate him. In these circumstances, my source could see the PM returning home from Brussels and campaigning to leave. Now, the problem with political sources is that they often superimpose their own agenda or, more charitably, their hopes on their analysis of a situation. In this case, I think the source could see Cameron on the Leave side as a winning asset and he was therefore applying a large dose of hopium to his thoughts. However, his remarks did set me thinking about Cameron’s motivations.

One thing that marks most national leaders is that they tend to start doing things to ‘secure their legacy’ especially when they have had more than one term in office. In many cases this includes forays into foreign policy and global affairs. In David Cameron’s case, the referendum is likely to mark the end of his premiership, and the outcome of the poll will forever define his legacy rather than the last years of domestic politics which in historical terms have been relatively unremarkable with the exception perhaps of the Scottish Referendum. In political terms, a vote to leave could be of monumental importance constitutionally but it could also have huge geo-strategic and governance implications for the EU, Europe and to some extent the world. With this in mind, I believe that for Cameron, the most important factor, above anything else, is that he is associated with the winning side of the referendum even if that turns out to be a vote to Leave. Bearing in mind the Bruges paper, even a win for the Leave camp could still result in Cameron’s preferred outcome of Associate membership. He could therefore attach himself to a winning Leave campaign and rely on his successor to secure Associate Membership. So, whilst Cameron would probably prefer to avoid the diplomatic fallout of a volte-face to the Leave side, his legacy is uppermost. He is likely to see which way the wind is blowing (like many of his Conservative MPs) and then position himself accordingly especially if it seems his opinion is being marginalised and overtaken by events. If Leave really starts to make headway expect the renegotiation talks to seemingly stall and for dark mutterings to emerge about the duplicity of our EU partners. The announcement could then take the form of an embattled Prime Minister addressing the country and telling it that there is no option but to vote to leave.

So, returning to my question. Yes, Cameron could campaign to leave if he felt he was in danger of being on the losing side. I would accept that it is an unlikely prospect because under the present campaigning it all seems to be heading towards his preferred option of a Remain win along with Associated Membership. That said, never underestimate the power of political hubris, self-interest and opportunism to trump high principle. Importantly for Leavers, the Prime Minister’s endorsement does not mean that he would be an asset to the Leave campaign. The various Leave campaigns need to wake up to the Bruges Group paper. The only counter is to offer an alternative brexit model to voters (in my view membership of EFTA) so that the poll is about competing visions of Europe rather than the Prime Minister’s recommendation. To achieve this the main campaigns need to unify and campaign under one banner and message. There needs to be a defined brexit model. Otherwise, The Bruges Group Catch 22 situation will prevail and we will never escape this madness. Please lobby your campaign leadership accordingly.

Campaign Issues for All Leavers

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This is a plea to Leave Campaigners of all complexions.

We seem to have entered a phoney war for the various EU Referendum campaigns. The ‘Remain’ side has clearly got a strategy that it is so far unwilling to reveal whilst ‘Leave’ is divided into various camps dominated by LeaveEU (linked closely to UKIP) and VoteLeave (linked to Westminster Eurosceptics). There is also a number of smaller campaign groups with some good ideas and I will refer to one of these in particular later on. As a committed Leaver, (reasons here), I am concerned that the Leave side is putting out contradictory and confusing messages which will fatally weaken the campaign and that some groups are adopting tactics that will fail to convince the undecided centre ground who will ultimately determine the outcome of the poll. We will only have one shot at this so it is important that everyone sets aside political tribalism and preconceived ideas for a higher purpose and to ensure that we get it right. To this end, I thought I would cover a few factors that I believe are key to our success. If you agree, I ask you to lobby your camp with these ideas.

The first is unity. The various Leave campaigns must come together and agree a consistent message. If not, ‘Remain’ will exploit the differences and portray leavers as inconsistent and lacking any clear plan for what would happen following a vote to leave. George Osborne has already made comments to this effect and we can expect much more of the same unless things change. There are positive reasons for a Leavers’ union too as both camps could bring important strengths to a combined campaign. VoteLeave could provide media and westminster access, expertise and personalities whist Leave.EU has an existing army of well-organised, extremely enthusiastic and dedicated UKIP activists that could be easily tapped into for local campaigns and doorstep campaigning. Such a union would also allow a single campaign to disassociate itself from any particular political party and all the tribalism that such associations promote. Whilst the grassroot supporters of VoteLeave and Leave.EU seem amicably disposed to each other, their respective leaderships are too wrapped up in egotistical arguments over leadership and related tribal politics. The news yesterday that the two sides had failed to agree to any kind of merger is a massive blow to Leavers of all camps and I would recommend that supporters of both sides lobby their leadership to make them think again especially as it seems the differences are more about leadership personalities than campaign technicalities. If we enter the referendum with these two large camps operating separately then Leave will lose the referendum. Its as simple as that. More background to this issue can be found in an article here.

The second dynamic is the Leave message. If we are unable to offer a clear and easily understandable vision of life outside the EU and what would happen after the vote then Remain’s tactic of preying on voters’ fears of the unknown will prevail and we will lose the poll. Undecideds do not like strategic risk as we saw in the Scottish referendum. The problem is that many leavers have conflicting visions of life after Brexit and are rarely able to agree a model which, to some extent, is a matter of political taste. With this in mind, we need a known entity that at one stroke could be supported by all leavers, defeat the fear mongering and provide reassurance to voters. That solution is initially through membership of The European Free Trade Association often known as the Norway model. At this stage, I should refer readers to a very clever individual called Dr Richard North who heads up an organisation at eureferendum.com. Dr North and his denizens have devised a strategy that would see us apply for EFTA membership to protect access to the single market and to allow a controlled exit from the EU. Importantly, the plan envisages membership of the EFTA as only a first step towards adopting a more global position in the world. It would allow a controlled withdrawal from EU institutions and from laws that have 40 years of complexity and inertia behind them, and it is therefore less risky (and therefore more voter friendly) than a bilateral brexit agreement that could be acrimonious and disadvantageous. Importantly, it would protect UK interests (including access to the single market), make exit negotiations far easier (as EFTA is an existing entity) and finally it offers voters a known brexit model that would allay fears. Now detractors would say that EFTA membership would still mean that the UK would be subject to single market rules including freedom of movement and that is partially true but the important point is that this would only be a first stage and one that would make a referendum victory much more likely. Most importantly, Dr North’s plan is a process it is not just about membership of EFTA which is only the first step. In my opinion, Dr North’s commitment and frustration occasionally affects the tone and accessibility of his site, and I feel his treatment of the media and the 2 main leave campaigns is mistaken and counter-productive because it deters some who might otherwise be supporters. That said, I utterly endorse his well-researched proposals for this brexit model and I believe we should all rally around his ideas. I have very much simplified his work and the plan is far more comprehensive than I can represent here. Whatever your political complexion and allegiance, if you are a leave campaigner do nothing else today except read this paper and think about how Remain and Leave will try to convince the crucial uncommitted voters in the middle ground. Dr North’s strategy is known as FLexCit and can be found here. You can also hear him describe his ideas on this 30 minute video.

Turning next to timing, it does seem that the current media focus on a renegotiation decision by February parrots Remain propaganda. The media is making much of the forthcoming EU summit this week but in reality there is a far more complex strategy in play here. Cameron’s so-called ‘demands’ are actually an irrelevant side-show whose only purpose is provide media theatre so that when the actual agreement is produced it can be heralded as a great victory for Britain in the face of severe opposition from the other states. And this agreement will be called Associate Membership. It will no doubt be referred to as the British model but in effect it will relegate the UK to the periphery of the EU and allow eurozone states to further integrate towards political union. It will be portrayed as a great victory but will actually change nothing from the current situation except make the UK a more irrelevant sideshow. Now, Cameron’s strategy is very clever as you would expect from a PR executive but can be easily countered if his fox is shot early before it is produced. With this in mind, I would implore leavers to publicise this briefing note on the Cameron strategy to supporters but also directly to reporters of the mainstream media. You will see from the flow diagram that Cameron’s is trying to engineer a position whereby Associate Membership occurs whatever the outcome of the referendum and in my view this is another reason why the Leave Campaign should be based on the EFTA solution. We need to ensure that the vote becomes a plebiscite between competing models rather than Associate Membership or…er…Associate Membership which is what Cameron is trying to engineer. A last point on timing. In my view, there will not be a vote on this for a long time and we need to careful that we don’t bore people with all the arguments too early. This is a time for getting the campaign infrastructure sorted out. We need cash, activists, a combined campaign and an agreed message. This can only be provided by campaign leadership but I fear it will only occur if supporters make it clear to their leaders that the outcome of the vote trumps all other concerns. Please write to your leaders and make your views known as this is too important to ignore.

I would like to end with a note on media (I don’t admire them but they are unfortunately a necessary evil (My views are here). This is one area where I do disagree with EUReferendum.com’s approach. They correctly identify the problem concerning the lack of proper analysis but they seem to react to this by throwing brickbats at individual reporters and media organisations. The tone is aggressive, and in my view will alienate the very people that we need to culture in order to get key messages across and to prevent the slick propaganda machine of Remain having primacy. They refer to them as ‘legacy media’ but I feel this might be wishful thinking by committed individuals who perhaps feel somewhat ignored. It is fine to suppose that social media and the blogosphere will provide the platform for transmitting messages but these hit the wrong target. The vast majority of the undecided middle ground is not following bloggers or twitter feeds that discuss the EU referendum. Social Media audiences are largely (but not exclusively) composed of other bloggers, activists who have already made up their minds or journalists looking for feeds. We are talking to ourselves and missing the main target. Where social media is useful is for making contact with individuals and organisations and seeking to modify their attitude towards your campaign (which I suppose I am trying to do here!). So, for example, we should be lobbying individual mainstream reporters about the Cameron Strategy discussed above, and using persuasion not brickbats to get them to look more deeply into the situation. It will also culture useful contacts for the future. I would propose that campaigners address friendly and persuasive tweets to individual reporters on the subject matter such as the Bruges paper mentioned above. If enough people do it, then eventually people like the BBC’s Andrew Neil will take notice and set the news agenda which is what we need.

Good campaigning to you all. I’ll be the one carrying a pile of leaflets.

Returning to the (European) Sheep Fold

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After a summer break, I have felt the need to return to some occasional blogging. Whilst I will post articles on a broad range of subjects that take my interest, it seems to me that the burning issue for the next couple of years is likely to be the EU Referendum. I have recently developed some quite strong views on our EU membership, and so it is likely that many of my articles will cover the various campaigns as we run up to the vote. I confess to being a committed ‘leaver’, and feel strongly enough about it to have done a lifetime first: I have signed up to one of the campaigns and volunteered to do some practical doorstep campaigning when the time comes. However, as we currently have no date for the referendum, I expect that there will have to be a lot of hot air and rumination before we get to that stage.

In a previous post, I outlined the reasons for my euro-scepticism, and these largely related to constitutional and democratic factors. In coming posts, I intend to explore these ideas further but will also cover other factors that I believe make it preferable for us to adopt a global outlook rather than be shackled to a dated and unwieldy EU political structure that is beyond its sell-by date. As always, polite debate is encouraged.

Polls: Bad for Debate?

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In this general election we seem to be bombarded with polls on an almost daily basis. Whilst it is fascinating stuff for the political wonks to pour over, I wonder if it is skewing the debate in an adverse way that is bad for the democratic process.

It seems to me the polls affect matters in two ways. The first issue is the media treatment of the information. Polling has now become the main story, and instead of a forensic analysis of the relative merits of the manifestos, we instead get bombarded on a minute by minute basis with speculation about coalition building and potential alliances. Now, I am not saying that this is not important, but the matter has become so prominent that the content of the manifestos seems to have been largely forgotten by commentators and interviewers. It also means that the smaller parties, who may eventually hold the balance of power are receiving a disproportionate amount of coverage to the detriment of the main issues.

The second disadvantage is a philosophical one really, and that is that the daily polls seem to be encouraging people to vote tactically in marginal seats. As a result, votes will be cast on the basis of which policies people wish to avoid rather than on the basis of which policies people prefer. Now this seems to be a very negative aspect to me that devalues our democratic right. It may provide some instant satisfaction when a party is kept from power but the cost is that the government that does eventually form may not actually represent what people want and this will increase voter dissatisfaction in the longer term. It seems to me we should cast our vote in a positive way for what we want rather than for what we don’t.

It is interesting that some countries such as France, Italy and Spain ban polls in the run up to elections, and I wonder if we should consider doing the same. The media wouldn’t like it because it gives them daily fodder to talk about, but it might improve the outcome of the result. There would need to be a discussion on when the ban should start but I would have thought 3-4 weeks prior to the election should do it.