Saturday, December 04, 2004

Giving them a "kicking"

Behind the scenes, I have been conducting a spirited e-mail correspondence with a number of readers who, alarmed at the apparent divisions in the Eurosceptic camp, have urged us to cease attacking what we have described as the "self-appointed Vote No campaign".

That has coincided with a criticism of this Blog, circulated on a widely distributed Eurosceptic list, so we thought we ought to make it clear to our readers – the numbers of whom are growing by the week – that we have no intention whatsoever of scaling down those attacks.

We note with dismay, for instance, that the self-same, self-appointed "Vote No" campaign in holding a public meeting on Monday in London, starring Marta Andreason, who will be talking about "reform of the EU".

Setting aside the question of what an Argentinean-born accountant can tell us of the wider issues of the EU – and therefore the "reforms" it needs to undertake – it really is no business of an anti-EU constitution campaign to be promoting the idea of reforming the EU.

As my colleague wrote earlier, this dangerously blurs the issue. How is the broader public supposed to distinguish between the idea of voting "no" to reform the EU and voting "yes" to the constitution in order to reform the EU?

On that basis, the "Vote No" campaign, far from being part of the solution, has entrenched itself firmly in the territory marked "part of the problem". While we have set ourselves the task of winning the "no" vote in the forthcoming referendum, this campaign seems intent on losing it.

Perhaps the greatest error of the "Vote No" campaign, though, is in following the perceived wisdom of the political classes that campaigns are won and lost in the fight for the centre ground. This is why Conservative strategists have purchased their "voter's vault" software, which helps identify swing voters in the marginal constituencies, at whom most of the electioneering will be directed.

The thinking is that the core Tory constituencies can be ignored, as their votes are in the bag anyway, and the hard-core Labourites can be likewise ignored, as they will never be turned.

Thus, as the game plays out, what are laughingly called strategists devote their time to finding out what the key group of "swing voters" want, then devising messages which they believe will attract their favour. This is the "centre ground" and nothing must be done which will scare off the inhabitants, even at the risk of alienating the core vote.

This is not, incidentally, a strategy of which the much revered Margaret Thatcher would have approved. Despite being detested by the Left, she managed to turn constituencies on the Labour heartland, who were attracted to her brand of conviction politics.

But now we are in the grip of the "strategists", the result being the insipid, value-free politics that are, in fact, turning people off politics. It leaves the Conservative Party with a platform that looks, to all the world, as if they are saying, find out what Labour is saying and offer something just a little bit different – but not so different as to frighten the horses.

This is what it looks like from the outside, but the reality is that Labour is also playing the same game – appealing to the middle ground – so both the main parties are fighting over the same territory, trying to appeal to the same narrow group of voters. No wonder they all sound the same.

Even if the "Vote No" people follow down this path, as they seem to be doing, their efforts still may not be sufficient to lose us the "no" vote, but the campaign will be hardly inspirational, and the turnout may be low.

But, to take a cue from the recent North East Referendum campaign, which won a substantial victory in spite of and not because of the official "Yes-No" effort, there is more to play for than simply a narrow win. Has the North East victory been a close run thing, Prescott may have taken heart, and kept his plans for regionalisation alive, and sought to reintroduce them in the near future. As is stands, though, his plans for elected regional assemblies are dead in the water.

Similarly, a narrow victory in the EU referendum will be no victory at all. The elites will take heart from that, fudge a few changes, as they did with the Danes and the Irish, and come back again – perhaps even declining a second referendum on the grounds that they have addressed the voters' reservations, and there is no need for another, expensive test of opinion.

If there is to be a victory, therefore, it has to be a resounding victory – nothing less than 80 percent or more against the constitution, on the back of a high turnout.

And here, the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign have completely misjudged the strategic need, and the mood of the people. In fact, the bulk of people do not give a damn about the EU – other than regarding it as a passing nuisance – and are certainly not going to weigh the arguments for and against the constitution in the balance.

But what they do care passionately about is those lying, thieving, cheating politicians – of all parties - who have been taking them for a ride, who took them into the EU without their permission, and kept them there on the back of lies and more lies. The referendum, in this context, will be nothing more or less sophisticated than an opportunity for the people to give the politicians a "good kicking". Voting time will be pay-back time.

This is the mood which the "no" campaign in the North East so successfully caught. It is the mood that Kilroy-Silk, whatever his faults, so cleverly captures, and it explains the attraction of UKIP. While its members take time off to do what they do best – to fight amongst themselves – its message endures and will continue to attract support.

That really is what the referendum must be about, if it is to succeed – an opportunity to give the politicians a "kicking". The "yes-nos" of the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign are not even close to understanding this and, until they do - and act upon it - we will continue to give them a "kicking".

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