The Leave Campaign Is Missing a Trick

k8082

The problem for the Leave campaign at the moment is that we are trading blows over tactical issues rather than focusing on the big strategic questions that should rightly be addressed over such an important matter as our EU membership. As well as putting voters off our message, it suits the Remain campaign because it allows them to dribble out daily stories over the dire consequences of leaving which support their overall strategy of Project Fear. They can’t run a positive campaign because they know that it would open up to scrutiny all manner of things about the EU that are a complete anathema to voters. The response to this from the leave camp has been disappointing and it has lacked coherence and impact.

To my mind, the two big questions that need answering in this poll are: Where is the EU heading and what should be the UK’s future relationship with it? These are weighty questions with a lot of component parts which themselves are important to voters. However, by plunging into the minutiae of democracy, immigration and economics, the Leave campaign has not sufficiently highlighted that the EU’s overall direction of travel is towards a superstate. Number 10 is desperate to avoid any attention on the future EU because they know that if the subject was properly examined then voters would stampede towards the Brexit. It also explains why Remain has gone very quiet about David Cameron’s EU deal because they know that it affords no protection against future EU state-building, and any decent forensic examination would reveal that under the deal’s terms we are likely to be left half-in and half-out, marginalised, paying the bills and with less political influence than if we were properly out and back at the global table.

By constraining the debate in this way, the Prime Minister is being intellectually dishonest because our EU membership is indeed important and merits a proper strategic debate about our future place in the world. But he knows that if he can use the minutiae to distract attention away from the EU super-elephant in the room then he will be able to avoid the really big questions about our future.

I hope that the Leave campaign picks up on this because I really do think that the core leave vote will be insufficient. By all means, talk about immigration, democracy, sovereignty,cost etc but do it within a very clear framework of the future shape of the EU rather than as piecemeal vignettes. The Five President’s Report may seem dry to most but if presented effectively, items like the report and today’s leak in the Times about a planned EU Army could allow us to highlight the overall direction of EU travel and to develop some overall coherence to our arguments.

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 Single Leave Campaign – An Outline Blueprint

blueprint

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:

campaign1

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.

The Political Games of the EU Referendum

400x366

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.

Campaign Issues for All Leavers

6a00d83451b31c69e2017d407cfa11970c

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.

Polls: Bad for Debate?

images-2

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.

When Two Tribes Lose the War

tribal-politics

With only 17 days left until the general election, the polls suggest that the two main parties seem to be roughly tied on 35% with the remainder of voters’ intentions spread across a number of different smaller parties. Historically, Labour and the Conservatives would command a much greater proportion of the vote than this, and both sides must now look back at the past with a degree of nostalgia and wishful thinking. But how is that two party politics has fallen away to such an extent? It is my belief that they only have themselves to blame.

In the past, electoral campaigns were couched in terms of competing political philosophies. Specific policies could be traced back to the main intellectual bedrock, and when voters made their mark they were making a choice as much about the philosophical arguments as they were about specific spending plans or tax cuts. It was classic left versus right, with key questions argued over endlessly about such matters as the role of the state, property ownership, wealth creation and wealth redistribution.

Today this intellectual foundation is missing from the most of the campaigns. Instead we have piecemeal and standalone policies aimed at specific sections of the electorate, and supported by no obvious underlying philosophy. So for example, we have Labour targeting commuters by promising to renationalise the trains, and the Conservatives trying to lure tenants by promising to allow them to buy housing association homes. Neither side couches these policies in terms of the role of the state or the benefits of property ownership. They are purely for the benefit, of a particular section of the electorate, and without the ideological discussion of why these policies benefit the wider country, they are of little interest to the rest of the electorate.

This situation has arisen because Party strategists, started by New Labour in 1997, decided that there was electoral advantage to be gained by directed polices and by avoiding the ideological contest. It confused and smeared the political spectrum, uniting different and opposing wings of the party and was an effort to broaden the appeal to a wider cross section of the public. It is not just Labour, however, and the same principles have been embraced by the Conservative Party. There are a number of unintended effects, however.

First, campaigning has become characterised by media management, spin and, in the eyes of the electorate, intellectual dishonesty. This has resulted in voter apathy and a complete lack of respect for our democratic processes and Parliament. That is worrying enough, but in adopting ideologically barren campaigns, the two main parties have sown the seeds of their own demise. Voters have become confused. Previously, they may have felt energised by the old ideological battles and were willing to to take a stand on principles rather than specifics. Now, they have been encouraged to vote on the individual and narrow policies that personally affect them. However, the problem for the main parties is that these policies may now be on offer from the smaller parties too. In fact, voters may find attractive policies within the manifestos of a number of different parties and find an obvious choice hard to find. Combined with the electoral cynicism I mentioned earlier, this has encouraged the electorate to vote on the basis of how they are personally affected rather than on the basis of what they feel would be best for the country. The smaller parties have profited massively from this situation, and as the old allegiances have fallen away they have been able to campaign on quite narrow issues such as immigration in the case of UKIP, for example.

This creates a huge amount of uncertainty for the main parties as they flail around trying to find the policy equivalent of a golden goose. Without a change in voting system, it is hard to see the situation changing unless there is a resurgence of political awareness and a return to an ideological based system of campaigning. Instead we are doomed to suffer the uncertainty and watered down politics of coalition government. More warm and fuzzy and less confrontational maybe, but in my view less effective. But perhaps that’s what they want in the sheep shed.

Sterile Debate

debating_animals

Well, HM The Queen has been informed, and they’re off although it’s hard not to think from watching recent performances at PM’s Questions that Westminster has been electioneering for at least a couple of months. It’s only Day 3 of the official campaign and the main parties have yet to publish their manifestos, but already it seems that all sides will play it safe and that the electorate are going to have a particularly tedious 5 weeks.

In a previous post called avoiding the debate, I mentioned some of the factors that have broken the British political debate resulting in electoral apathy and a dangerous cynicism of the modern democratic process in the UK. These included the lack of proper argumentation and the one-sided and repetitive promotion of policies without even a nod to the counter-arguments or an acceptance that a policy is rarely ‘right’ but merely ‘the best’ course of action. This type of campaigning is the result of an unholy alliance between an army of politicians’ media advisors and the media itself who rarely have time for much more than a quick soundbite.

What is rapidly becoming apparent is immeasurably more cynical and disturbing, and that is a ploy by the parties deliberately to avoid clearly stated positions aside from vacuous statements such as ‘I want a country of opportunity’ or ‘we want prosperity for all’. The saddest part of this problem is that it is a deliberate ploy. By taking a firm position on a matter and producing a firm and directed policy to support that belief, it is likely that a floating voter, somewhere, will disagree and switch to the other side. With conventional 2 party political in free-fall, every floating voter has to be courted and issues that might encourage him to vote for the other side avoided. The debate is therefore reduced to dishonest and meaningless platitudes with discussions on personality and looks rather than political substance. It also encourages the promotion of polices targeted at single-issue or niche voters. This provides a poor foundation for proper government as such policies are inefficiently piecemeal and lack an intellectual basis or strategic framework. In effect they are bribes.

In an ideal world, a Party would start with a political philosophy, then develop a strategy for applying that philosophy and then develop policies that fit within that overall intellectual framework. It’s what we used to have before politics became fragmented and it made it interesting which is why voters engaged and, by in large, viewed parliament with respect. The problem is that the more that party politics fragments, then the more the parties will behave in the current manner putting us in a downwards spiral of electoral discontent. The sad thing is that the media advisors are wrong. The public is crying out for a debate based on solid political conviction and belief. Ed Miliband came close to it the other evening during the TV debate which is probably why he polled quite well afterwards.

Things won’t change soon, however, and the sterile debate will get a lot worse before we eventually have to overhaul the system, probably by a change in the voting system. I would also like to see a British Federation to bring politics closer to the people and improve accountability but more of that soon.

More hay, Sir?

Twitter Wars: The Tribal Politics of Unmentionable Racial Issues

iwEa9

Yesterday I reviewed a Sunday Times article by the journalist Trevor Phillips (also here in the Mail but scroll past the DM political hype to get to his piece), and I praised his candour for highlighting the woeful lack of debate about some of the practical problems posed by multiculturalism. After I published my blog I issued a tweet advertising it and then had an interesting exchange with one individual that I believe illustrates the real problems presented by tribal politics in our quest for meaningful debate.

I have left out the name of my sparring partner but an examination of my twitter account will reveal his identity if you’re curious. I have also offered him a full right to reply by blog on this site if he so wishes. Here is the exchange that took place:

Me: Brave, brave Trevor Phillips tackling unmentionable issues like race. His article reviewed here…link to the ruminating sheep blog.

F: dog/whistle rubbish for the Tory Press. Sadly Trevor’s realised there is a lot of cash to be made as a right- wing black guy.

Me: What’s right or left got to do with it? We’re talking about multiculturalism and ability to debate issues free of censure.

F: claiming all Jews are rich, and all blacks are criminals, is little to do with multiculturalism.

Me: Read the article. His point was the inability to discuss the subject and the dangers therein. You’re twisting it (poorly)

F: I’ve read the article. It’s very racist.

and

F: We’re not allowed to say ‘most black people are criminals’ for a reason – it’s judging a human being purely on their race.

Me: He’s not saying most black people are criminals. I will blog about our exchange tomorrow and give you full right to reply.

Now there is a delicious irony to this exchange which I will come to in a moment, but before then I feel it is right to address the implication that Trevor Phillips has written a racist article. First of all, a quick read of Phillips’ bio reveals that this is a man who has consistently promoted equality, diversity and social opportunity over a long career as a broadcaster and more latterly as a public servant. Second, there is nothing within his article that I could construe as racist. The context ( and I urge you to read the whole thing) – is about the barriers to a meaningful discussion on racial and multicultural matters. The focus of F’s objections seems to be this:

“If African Caribbeans are statistically more likely to commit some kinds of crime than other people, as indeed they are — we are especially proficient at murdering other African Caribbeans, for example — it might make some sense to understand why, so we can stop it happening. Not all Jewish people are wealthy; in fact, some are extremely deprived. But if — as is true — Jewish households in Britain are on average twice as wealthy as the rest, might it not pay to work out what makes these families more likely to do well? Is there something that the rest can learn from their traditions and behaviour? We all know why these things cannot be said. The long shadow of slavery and the Holocaust rightly makes us anxious about the kind of slack thinking that led to the dehumanising of entire populations.
Yet should history prevent us from understanding the differences between us — especially if those insights might improve life for everyone?”

I just don’t see that as racist especially in the context of the main thrust of his article. He is merely stating facts and explaining why they are relevant to his thesis. Note also that Philipps is of Afro-Caribbean descent himself.

Now to the irony. In previous posts, Avoiding the Debate and Toxic policies I explained some of the factors preventing proper analytical political debate and how this was causing electoral apathy and cynicism.  Some of these factors include media hyperbole, tribal politics, political dogma and the party whip system. Importantly, it also includes certain nefarious activities like evasive politicians attempting to be all things to all people and pressure groups and organisations suppressing debate by calling into question the integrity and motives of anyone attempting to discuss certain matters.

The whole point of Trevor’s article was about the suppression of the multiculturalism debate. By accusing him of having financial motives and of making racist remarks, his detractors would seem to be using ad-hominem accusations to avoid discussing the substantive issue. This precisely and extremely elegantly proves the exact point made by Philipps in his article. Quad erat demonstrandum.

I have no idea of the motivations of ‘F’ in his twitter remarks but tribal politics and his instinctive defence of multiculturalism as a political rather than social phenomena seems to have played a major part during our exchange on twitter. That is tribal politics at work and neatly illustrates how it raises barriers to proper debate. I have offered ‘F’ the right of friendly reply with a post of his own here in the sheep shed, and I would be interested to hear his perspective. Let’s hope he will eat hay with us and ruminate in the spirit of constructive debate.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Postnote: ‘F’ has posted his reply in comments which you can find below or by following the link here. I still feel that he is viewing the issue through a political lens which in my view is unhelpful but probably realistic in today’s climate. I would nonetheless like to thank him for his constructive contribution to the board. Perhaps others have a view?

Unmentionable Racial Issues

NIP000157139636-75_1135793k

In a previous post, I talked about how some subjects are never discussed because they are, or have been made, politically toxic. As a result, important issues lie unmentioned and simmering with politicians preferring to ignore them rather than raise their heads above the parapet. With this in mind, it was extremely refreshing to read an article in The Sunday Times by journalist and former chairman of the Racial Equality Commission, Trevor Phillips, on the deep racial problems lying within our multi-cultural society and our inability to discuss them.

In his brave article (unfortunately behind a paywall), called Ten Things About Race that are True but we Can’t Say, Trevor highlights how New Labour’s attempts to tackle discrimination failed to addressed the problems of multi-culturalism in practice. He says that local authority funds promoting multi-ethnic diversity have been misused by community leaders who benefit from preserving isolation. He highlights that many young people are “trapped behind walls of tradition and deference to elders”, and identifies that the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France were partly of a consequence of segregation within Muslim ghettos. He believes that similar issues lie behind our own 7th July bombings.

The article would be incendiary if it wasn’t written by a well-known and respected black journalist, and perhaps this is the point. Trevor is absolutely correct that in our desperation to avoid causing offence we are ignoring critical issues and he cites as an example the institutional reluctance to tackle the grooming of young girls by some young Pakistani men in our cities. He also points out that the recent fury over Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of the term ‘coloured’ meant that his important point about the need for more black actors to be employed got completely lost. His key point is that it is “more and more difficult to address problems in our society because we are too afraid to describe them”

Bingo! This is exactly the point I tried to make in my previous post on toxic policies, and Trevor is also correct to highlight that unless we are brave enough to overcome this reluctance, then the far right, already ascendant in some European countries, will continue to make electoral progress for merely ‘speaking the truth’

Trevor Phillips will develop his theme in a Channel 4 documentary on Thursday at 9pm, and I for one will be interested to see it. Well done Trevor.