Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Well, no, they still don't know what they are doing

(Health warning: this is another divisive posting.)

I have spent part of yesterday evening listening to Alex Hickman, Chief Executive of the Vote-No campaign (before he had to rush off in order to be present at the talk given by Marta Andreasen on how to reform the EU by making its accountancy system more transparent). Sadly, I have to report that neither he nor, apparently, the Vote-No campaign have a real understanding of the magnitude of the task or what the issues are.

Mr Hickman, who ran Business for Sterling while Gordon Brown was winning the fight for them, explained that the campaign has, in a way, gone back to its roots and is concentrating on business people and business organization. It is a little odd to think that business opinion will be of any value in the constitution referendum. We are not talking about the currency here or interest rates but about a whole raft of issues. As one of those will be the environment, having businesses line up on the no side might actually be quite useful for the yes camapaign.

It is the contention of the Vote-No campaign that it would be counterproductive to discuss the wider issues and all efforts should be concentrated on the constitution and on getting the no vote out. A perfectly reasonable argument, except for one thing – the constitution is about wider issues and these will come up in the discussion.

It seems that, although the famous or infamous “Europe Yes – Constitution No” cinema advert has gone out, no decision has been taken on what other slogans or messages might be put out. It will not be Europe Yes, he assured us, but EU reform yes. Not a catchy slogan and one that is calculated to introduce yet more confusion in the minds of the undecided at whom the entire campaign is aimed. After all, the yes side will be saying that their shining new constitution is absolutely essential in order to reform the EU. Have we not already heard mutterings about people rejecting the reform constitution?

What worries the Vote – No campaign is that the government will use scare tactics. Actually, as my colleague has pointed out, they are lining up positive arguments as well and the eurosceptic side ignores those at its peril. The government, said Mr Hickman, will tell people that voting no means being out of the EU. We must counteract that by never mentioning anything outside the constitution at all.

While some people may agree with that idea, many of us have seen the knots that the “I am for the EU/single market/previous treaties but against the euro/constitution” brigade ties itself into. Much easier to say well, yes, perhaps this will mean a completely different relationship with other countries in Europe and the world. Anything wrong with that? Like so many politicos, Mr Hickman and his colleagues underestimate people’s ability to understand straightforward ideas and see through humbug. For that is what they are producing: humbug.

Sadly, there is far too much emphasis on who will be taking part: businessmen, celebrities, politicians and far too little on what this is all about, that is Britain’s future. (Incidentally, I was rather surprised to hear that Mr Hickman considered Bob Geldorf’s involvement a huge success. Who on earth pays attention to that clapped out rock dancer and ridiculous aid groupie? Not the young, who think he is a wrinklie; not the middle aged, who think he is preposterous; not the old who have probably not heard of him.)

So what will be the Vote – No campaign talking about when it does go out beyond the London cinemas? Ahem, it seems that they have not decided yet. There will be focus groups and there will be opinion polls. They will talk about power going to Brussels and how much more the EU will cost after the constitution. What will they say when people talk of all the power that has already gone to Brussels and the cost without the constitution? Not disclosed. And, of course, they will talk about the EU taking over matters of criminal justice and asylum. Unfortunately, most of this is going through, constitution or no constitution with Tampere II being adopted.

I can, however, report one positive development. It seems some of those “bright” young lads must have read the blog. Mr Hickman assured us that they were not going to neglect the core voters, since they were the people who would be knocking on doors and doing the actual campaigning. What he could not explain, as, it seems, no decision had been taken, is what will be in the literature that these people will be asked to hand out. So far, nothing Mr Hickman has said makes me think that the large proportion of eurosceptics will want to have anything to do with him or his campaign.

Curiously enough, it has not occurred to those boys that virtually announcing yourself to be the No campaign does not make it so. They are merely doing their best to split the eurosceptic movement. They may not succeed.

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