Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brexit: the winning strategy

At the very least there is roughly 30% of the electorate who, come hell or high water, will vote to leave the EU regardless of what anybody says. Thus the challenge for the No campaign is how do we reach the other 21%? For starters you have to identify them.

What we can say is that that any message pitched at those who voted Ukip will not reach any new ears. More than likely it will galvanise the 21% against us. Ukip discovered to their cost that taking shortcuts, and sending out dogwhistles to their core brought them onto a battlefield they could never hope to dominate. Their policies stood on a foundation of intellectual sand, and Farage's personal approval ratings plummeted. He is a divisive figure and is more a liability than asset to the No campaign.

It's no coincidence that the media is now soft-pedalling Farage because they recognise what an asset he is to the Yes campaign. The establishment tactic in the 1975 referendum was to make all the weakest players the spokesmen for No. This they will do again. No doubt Farage's galactic ego will play right into the trap.

One thing Ukip complained about was biased media, often misrepresenting what Ukip said. It's a little condescending to believe the public are so bovine that they cannot see through media games and the pubic were far more generous to Ukip in hearing them out. The problem was that that once you cut through the noise, bypassing the media, to take a cold look at Ukip, it was quite obvious we were looking at a band of incompetents winging it at every turn.

Having failed to produce a manifesto until the very last minute, they were left making assumptions and suppositions based on previous policy attempts, leaving them intellectually naked. Theirs was a problem of competence and credibility. In many respects this did not matter to Ukip voters. Plenty of people who voted for Ukip as a protest and the lack of credibility was not a concern. Howesoever, referendums are not elections. Voters will take this decision a good deal more seriously.

Consequently, both voters and the media will be looking at the No campaign looking for intellectual consistency and credibility. That means the message must be crafted according to the political realities of Brexit. It cannot make wild promises about controlling immigration or putting hundreds of pounds back in people's pockets, nor can we make unfounded claims about a bonfire of regulation. Superficially it seems attractive and such a message will get the eurosceptic cyber-flashmob excited and we'll see retweets aplenty, but it won't shift the polls in our favour. It will generate some healthy looking web analytics, but it's still just white noise.

The problem with politics is that you can execute everything exactly as you're supposed to but when it comes to the final vote, it falls to the wisdom of the crowd. The herd instinct. The arguments might be right, and people might well agree, but their gut instinct compels them to vote a different way. Our biggest hurdle is the status quo effect. They are going to look closely at the No campaign. They are going to look closely at the message and the people promoting the message. The kippers on Twitter banging on about immigration, Muslims and British jam are a massive turn-off. Similarly tub-thumping speeches about helicopter safety regulations will make us look insane.

More than that, Brexit is a big risk. There are questions to be answered as to what post-Brexit Britain looks like and whether jobs and trade will be affected. We can trade Top Trumps cards about trade percentages, but as usual this will degenerate into bickering and white noise that our target vote will tune out. Our target vote are not EU obsessives. What we need is guarantees, not speculation. We must have proof that we have the intellectual goods. Our foundation must be solid.

Presently we have the likes of Matthew Elliot on the one hands saying we will continue to participate in EU academic programmes, and have a similar arrangement to Switzerland yet at the same time making will promises about massive budget savings, implying they will be retuned in the form of tax cuts. There are inherent schisms in the message that opinion formers will pick up on. Similarly, it is unclear how Brexit adds any immediate relief to the global migration crisis.

We should not make promises we cannot uphold, and we cannot base our message on speculation. Having done an extensive analysis on Brexit, at best we can say, as far as most people are concerned, it won't actually make much difference. That must be central to our message. It sounds counter intuitive, but it's more credible, and more believable than making wild promises.

The opposition will be engage in irrational scaremongering. We can take the high-ground by firstly not playing the same game. If we avoid fantastical claims, and lampoon their scaremongering then it is the Yes camp who looks irrational. We have to play it measured and cool. The campaign should make strong use of satire in tackling the scaremongering, but must also show a little self-awareness in distancing itself from the kipper constituency.

We can concede that it won't make much in the way of savings, probably won't mean fewer regulations and consequently won't have much of an impact either way on jobs and trade. Consequently we give off a reassuring vibe rooted in pragmatism and practicality.

In essence, we have to abandon the classic eurosceptic riffs, because they're tired and they don't work. We're like the pub DJ who plays the classic anthems and ballads and has the same playlist every single week to an empty dance floor. We need to lay down a few of the B sides and lesser known album tracks.

What that achieves is to set a neutral tone of competence and reassurance. In so doing, we sacrifice a great many of what we believe to be the selling points of Brexit, ie controlled immigration and reduced membership fees etc. It's a gamble but it has more chance of reaching our target vote. What then have to do is answer the question that follows. If leaving the EU doesn't make much immediate difference, then why bother?

That is where the vision comes in. Between now and the last three months of the campaign, the  arguments online will largely be comprise of bickering between those who have already made up their minds and are fighting their respective corners. It goes largely ignored by everybody else. Investing in these pointless skirmishes is wasted energy and will generate more heat than light. The final battle is not going to be over fishing grounds, regulation or the price of cheese. It will be be our vision versus David Cameron's "reformed" EU.

It is a mistake to believe he will not get some worthwhile concessions and the proposals will look just attractive enough to nudge the don't knows into voting Yes. We will look bad if we set expectations low and Cameron returns with something worth having. Caution is advised.

Thus it is Cameron's credibility we must attack, not the EU. In that respect the Yes campaign is a decoy and not the real enemy. If we're invested in rebutting their output then really we're wasting time and resources. The contest will be whether we have an alternative to what Cameron offers and whether can withstand public and media scrutiny.

By this time we will have made the case that Brexit won't be a leap into the dark and that it won't have grave consequences either way, but what we then have to do is sell the opportunities and have a plan also how we can exploit them. We must highlight what those opportunities will mean for business and ordinary Brits. For that we will need a real product to sell. A plan that we can deliver to every voter that is so credible that even if we lose, the campaign material retains momentum and remains in public discourse. That gives us a second crack of the whip. We will have created the demand and people will then understand why the EU is the obstacle to achieving it.

That then puts the Yes campaign in the position of speaking to itself, arguing points we have already conceded. We are then in the position of being able to ignore what they do and focus instead on promoting something new. The Yes campaign is then put in the position of attacking the unfamiliar that they don't have crib sheets for.

In doing this, we will need to have built a campaign from the outset that sees things in a different way. As we have discussed, as much as the arguments matter, the people matter too. Our ambassadors can't be the usual suspects. We don't want Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan or Owen Jones. We want normal people people who are less concerned with whining about the EU as people who are genuinely excited by the opportunities we are selling. Our watchwords are rational, credible measured and positive. We have to ditch our baggage and learn from previous mistakes.

What this will require is for the No campaign to do what it instinctively doesn't want to do. We have to stop grumbling about the EU for starters. We need to disown the ranters and and the bores, and since Ukip are going to run their own operation preaching to their home crowd, there is no value whatsoever in replicating what they do.

There must be clear blue water between the No campaign and the traditional eurosceptic crowd. They are more liability than asset and a campaign that identifies with them will not reach the 21%. If we are entering the marketplace of ideas then our product must be fresh, innovative and aimed at a market we have thus far never ventured into. We can't sell pipe and slippers euroscepticism to young professionals and entrepreneurs.

This will require message discipline and will need key players to show some self-discipline in not falling back on the old (and failed) eurosceptic ideas. We should show no hesitation in relegating them to the bench if they stop performing, and even if our base does not agree they are going to have to suck it up. Euroscepticism needs its clause four moment. We cannot pander to them, they can't win us the referendum, and if they make up the base then we will give off a tainted vibe. Voters will reject it. It's going to be a big ask, and it's going to ruffle a few feathers, but if we're not going to break out of our comfort zone, we can expect to lose - and we will deserve to.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Defining the Brexit vision

We have spoken this week of the need for a new vision and a better alternative to what David Cameron can offer us. It must be grounded in political reality and it must be convincing.

We've heard critics saying that we must simplify our message, but that does not mean we should dumb it down. To peddle a simplistic mantra is to undermine our own credibility. That means we will have to outline in detail what we want, and where we want to be. Only then can we sell it. The task is to creatively sell the product we have, not the product we wish we were selling.

Before we can sell the product we must define it. Our vision is for the United Kingdom as a self-governing, self-confident, free trading nation state, releasing the potential of its citizens through direct democratic control of both national and local government and providing maximum freedom and responsibility for its people.

The history of Britain for a thousand years has been as a merchant and maritime power playing its full role in European and world affairs while living under its own laws. It is our view that the UK can flourish again as an independent state trading both with our friends in the EU and the rest of Europe, while developing other relationships throughout the world as trading patterns evolve.

For an age the United Kingdom has freely engaged as an independent country in alliances and treaties with other countries. It has a long history of entering into commercial agreements and conventions at an inter-governmental level. We wish to uphold that tradition.

The ability of the people of the United Kingdom to determine their own independent future and use their wealth of executive, legislative and judicial experience to help, inspire and shape political developments through international bodies, and to improve world trade and the wellbeing of all peoples will only be possible when they are free of the undemocratic and moribund European Union.

The prosperity of the people depends on being able to exercise the fundamental right and necessity of self-determination, thus taking control of their opportunities and destiny in an inter-governmental global future with the ability to swiftly correct and improve when errors occur.

Within the United Kingdom, our vision is for a government respectful of its people who will take on greater participation and control of their affairs at local and national level. Our vision fosters the responsibility of a sovereign people as the core of true democracy.

With that in mind, we suggest that leaving the EU alone does not accomplish this, but it is the first step on a long road. For us to embark on this journey we must set out in detail what it looks like and why it's worth the risk.

A simplistic slogan works well on Twitter, but it is for us to provide substance to it in order to convince opinion formers. Primarily we must convince both the public and business that Brexit does not interrupt trade or threaten jobs. In this, guesswork and blind optimism is insufficient. Detail, realism and pragmatism are our watch words. Unless we define what Brexit looks like, the inherent credibility deficit will be our undoing. Winging it did not work for Ukip and it won't work for us.

We are asking for a a big change involving a massive diplomatic effort with a period of some uncertainty, so as much as we must reassure, we must also answer the question of "why bother?".
Where is the value in such an undertaking and what is the incentive?

We can present incentives but they have to be genuine motivators. Saying that families will be £933 better off if they vote out is a wet lettuce of an incentive. We've seen the same stunt pulled in elections and it no more works in a referendum than it does in an election. Also, simply saying we can "trade with the rest of the world" sounds like empty rhetoric because it is empty rhetoric.

Leaving the EU in reality means only marginal immediate benefits and while there are beneficial freedoms it will take time to fully realise them and put them to work. The Yes campaign will succeed in making that case. What have we got that makes it worth the hassle?

While we are in the EU, we are not (as eurosceptics have it) run by the EU. We're just told what to and on what terms. There is no flexibility and there is no redress. Change takes a long time time, and reform proves impossible. This diminishes us and our standing in the world. There is an alternative and it's better than anything Mr Cameron can offer.

Outside the EU, the UK would also be able to craft its own external trade policy. In this, it could act independently, it could act with other blocs such as EFTA, or we could take collective action through ad hoc alliances. This gives us the agility we presently lack.

There are sometimes gains to be made from negotiating as part of a formal bloc, not least for the protection afforded in times of financial crisis, and on matters of common interest. It is a means of spreading the administrative burden. Sometimes the added strength and resource of the UK, to help further spread the load is advantageous. At other times we need to be doing what's best for our unique emerging industries. While the EU negotiates on our behalf we cannot do this. We cannot get what's best for Britain and we cannot prioritise to our advantage. Nothing David Cameron will propose can speak to that.

There are many disadvantages to formal collective action as we have seen in attempts to reform the CAP. We need the flexibility to make arrangements which give us the benefits of EU membership while minimising the disadvantages. We also need to avoid the disadvantages we might suffer as an independent actor, while making the most of opportunities presented by changes in global trading patterns.

We must offer a solution that allows us to be full participants in the single market but also the freedom to be the architect of a global single market. Mr Cameron can only offer us more of the same. We must offer the best of both worlds. We've been sold the notion that we can't have our cake and eat it. We need to show that we can not only eat our cake, we can have seconds too.

What we cannot afford is a message into which the subtext suggests we're going to take our bat home and shut ourselves off from the EU. We're not looking to make the EU an enemy, we're just looking to redefine our relationship, not only for our own sake but for theirs as well.

That said, this alone is insufficient. As someone who writes on matters of trade and foreign policy it is immensely frustrating getting people engaged. The fact is that most people couldn't give a tinkers damn about trade or foreign affairs. We have delegated such to our politicians and in turn they have delegated it to the EU. Consequently, while important to win the trade argument in order to influence the influential, there needs to be an incentive for ordinary people too.

The EU promotes every day concerns such as roaming charges, visa-free travel and every day practicalities - along with rights and protections that we would otherwise perhaps not enjoy. They are marginal benefits but that is the level on which many will make their choice. People will be worried about their employment protections and basic rights. They worry that Brexit gives the Tories leeway to be as ruthless as legend has it. Again we need not only to reassure but to incentivise.

Consequently we have to build a movement that carries momentum beyond the referendum so that we can make demands once we are out. If we are taking some of the power back for the people, then why not all of it?

That is where we can make the case for a British bill of rights, direct democracy, real localism and constitutional rights. If we're just going to quit the EU and leave it there then we've left the job half done, putting the power back in the hands of the people who did all this to us in the first place. I don't know about you but the prospect of that excites me more than Matthew Elliot telling me I'll have an extra £933 a year.

As much as anything it sidesteps the necessity to take a divisive position on climate change, tax, health, education or the environment. The selling point is that it puts us in control and we get to decide what's best for us - and we own our decisions.

In that regard, we cannot make this referendum EU centric. This is a question about the future, who we are and where we want to be. The final battle in the last three months of the campaign will not be about whether the EU started the conflict in Ukraine, or whether we should take back our fishing grounds or even bent bananas. It won't be us vs. the EU. It will be us vs. David Cameron. The respective merits of the EU will take a back seat. It will be a poll on whether the public believe Cameron has scored a good deal and whether our vision holds water.

We must run a positive and a negative campaign. In so doing we must ignore the Yes campaign. That's a decoy and a fight we don't need to have. We should instead attack Cameron's credibility and trustworthiness, but on the positive side, we show the public that rather than griping about the EU, we have something bigger, bolder, lasting and achievable on offer. We must make Brexit the high watermark for the existing establishment orthodoxy and show that we will go the rest of the way.

If the campaign is instead an all singing, all dancing whinge about the EU, then I need to know now so I can engage in something more profitable and productive. It's boring and it's a losing argument made by losers. Life is too short.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It's NOT the EU, stupid

I found an interesting quote from Lord Hailsham in 1971 in respect to the EEC.
"It is true that the Communities have gone beyond the consortial pattern. There are these common institutions; the Commission, the Assembly, the Ministers, the court. There are fields of common law, very restricted because they are limited to the fields necessary to give effect to the nature of the economic community, but effective because they are enforced either by the legislative power of the individual member States or by the courts of the member States giving direct effect to rules of community law as interpreted by the Community courts. At first sight, this looks like a derogation from sovereignty. But I submit that, on close inspection, one can see that it is nothing of the kind. There is no physical power behind these institutions except the will of the members to keep their bargain, and no legislative or coercive power except the organs of the members to give effect to that will."
And this is the actual truth of the matter. The EU does not dictate in any real sense. Nothing the UK does in respect of EU compliance is not entirely voluntary. We comply because parliament wishes it to be so. In practice that means never saying no - because unlike the French, we hold true to our word.

The great dishonesty in this is that when the state does comply with the EU, for instance recent benefit cuts, it's dressed up as a domestic issue (ie evil Tory cuts). As it happens, I happen to agree with the measures put in place, but there is no democracy at work here. This is a classic instance of conforming to the EU non-discrimination ideal rather than putting our own interests first. Labour have the luxury of whining about it in opposition but they cannot pretend for a moment that they would do a single thing differently.

Thus the dictatorship is not from Brussels. It is from Westminster. Not only will they not confront the EU under any circumstances, they go to extended lengths to downplay or conceal its influence in some bizarre display of collective denial. The EU does nothing to us. We do it to ourselves - and we do it in "partnership" with the French who have absolutely zero intention of following the rules.

As undemocratic as the EU is, it is Westminster who continues to ignore the will of the public and they do in the certain knowledge that the media will not call them out on it because they lack the intellectual equipment to do so.

This should give some pause for thought to those who believe Jeremy Corbyn is a straight talking, principled individual. He speaks with forked tongue on the EU, believing it capable of reform - but given the constraints upon our democracy he has but two options - no domestic policy changes and the status quo, or further EU compliance. In practice that means either firehosing welfare at any hapless biped with an EU passport, or removing benefits altogether. As a populist he will duck the difficult and unpopular road and do precisely nothing. Or we can have David Cameron who will go right ahead and do everything the EU requires of him.

The short of it is, the options available to us are not ones we would ourselves choose, the way we would have it is closed off to us by way of keeping our word, our politicians have little say in it and continue to pretend they are in charge. This is a sham democracy and will remain so as long as we are members of the EU. But like I say, if we want democracy, Brexit is only the very beginning.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Brexit is the key to reforming Europe

The more you look at Brexit, the more inherent complications you find. The EU has been steaming ahead with various trade deals in recent years that we would have to work hard to replicate, tus any Brexit talks would require we negotiate the use of these deals by proxy until such a time as we can negotiate our own. That will necessarily require membership of the single market and consequently, we cannot make any promises about ending freedom of movement, assuming that were even desirable.

The fact is that the EU does have clout. It's no use arguing the toss over whether it is in decline or not. It is still a large market we cannot afford to lose, nor can be cut ourselves off from the extended benefits of single market membership.

Thus, as we look to the referendum, it becomes more a question of defining what kind of relationship we want with it. Even with our independence we would have to work pretty hard and pretty fast to open up new trading avenues just to compensate for the mid term losses should we completely reject European co-operation. In fact, we will have to work hard and fast in any eventuality.

With that in mind, when a new treaty offering us something close to associate membership is announced, it will look superficially attractive. It saves us the hassle and expense of having to replace trade deals and to an extent excludes us from ever closer union. What it probably won't offer is an independent vote at the top tables or trade exclusivity, which in most respects merely formalises the stagnation we're presently stuck in while the eurozone group does what it needs to do.

Since we are not in the Euro and never will be we are never going to be in the mainstream EU, which is a good thing, but we will be relegated to a formalised slow lane where we find ourselves following the rules but having no say at the top international tables where trade rules, including those of the single market, are made. As we continue to point out, the EU merely rubber stamps regulation. It is a redundant middleman.

With that in mind, independence will always be the best option for Britain, and by defining the terms of our relationship with the EU, using an interim stage such as the Norway Option, we can set about creating a benchmark for interfacing with the single market so that anyone may join it, thus reducing the EU to an actor within it rather than the master of it.

Anyone who knows anything about the intricacies of the EU knows that it has overreached in so many ways and while there is notionally a single standard throughout it does not manifest in reality. The hypocrisies are there for to see for anyone who looks for them. By leaving and regaining trade autonomy can we set a baseline for what a genuine single market looks like, recognising that it is the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe that has the greater influence in regulatory convergence. In that regard, UNECE is the single market, not the EU. Regulatory convergence is more pertinent to modern trade diplomacy than border tariffs.

The problem with the EU is that it seeks deep and comprehensive trade agreements that require unrealisable social changes, which the EU is not equipped to ram through, and so in many respects we have a European Union in name only. In terms of trade we have multiple tiers of treaties making up various zones within, with members in various stages of economic and social development. In that regard the EU is overextended having made demands of members that it can never bring to fruition - not least it's overambitious cultural reforms to the East and in the Balkans. As we have discussed previously, these have the capacity to do more harm than good.

The EU is as much about cultural hegemony as it is trade, and in its hubris creates as many problems as it notionally solves. The reality is that Western European social values cannot be imposed on a society and such changes have to come from below through popular struggle. It is only through becoming wealthier do societies become more liberal and progressive - so we are better off aiming for a single market of mutual trading standards that create wealth. Prioritising that means the social reforms will take care of themselves. They will then be lasting and genuine rather than at the barrel of a gun.

That is how we reform both the EU and Europe while at the same time breaking out of the euro-centric mentality toward a global single market, where all voices matter. Put simply, the EU as an entity cannot be reformed in this way. Supposing we could change treaties, we cannot change the essence of what it is built upon.

The reason for opposing the EU is that it is inward-looking, anti-trade (or at least open trade), protectionist, unaccountable and at times ineffectual. The 'sovereignty' question is misplaced for the reasons most often stated - global markets mean global rules. The message is that we can do better, but to do this we have to break the EU and remould it as something different from the post-war/cold war 'hug your enemy close' viewpoint. Britain leaving allows all this to happen. Without that existential threat to the EU nothing changes and we carry on limping along - with nobody ever satisfied and the EU continuing to stamp out brushfires with diminishing resources and a shrinking mandate.

It should be clear to all that we need a new settlement for Europe and the superstate idea of the last century is a failed idea that will never reach completion. Brexit is the first step to designing that new Europe. For Europe to regain its vitality it must clear away the old and make way for the new. In this Britain can show leadership and once again be asserting its global values. What's not to like?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are you with us?

Ukip like to cast themselves as "the people's army". If that analogy holds then they are cannon fodder. What we need in this coming referendum is special forces carrying out special operations. We have seen that numbers without co-ordination and strategy does not get results. For all Ukip's resources and exposure it still failed to get more than one MP - attributable to their own lacklustre campaign.

For a long time we have warned that the EU referendum campaign will follow a similar path with well funded operations springing up from nowhere, attracting much publicity, with plenty of casual support, but in the end lack the expertise to put it to work. 

Looking at The Know's Facebook page we see it has already attracted a large number of "likes", but if we look at the content we see them making all the classic mistakes, making promises that Brexit is unlikely to achieve - and complaining about bent bananas. If I was going to design a false flag operation, it would look a lot like The Know.

They're essentially sucking up the kipper support and relabelling it - and that's not going to win any new territory. Here follows a glorious example of the sort of people they're attracting:

And then there's this little gemstone...

You don't have to dig deep to find it. This is what contemporary euroscepticism looks like now. Obviously such people are no use to us in building a progressive and outward looking case for Brexit, and the best thing The Know could do is serve as a cesspit to keep that lot distracted. We can't tell you just how depressed that makes us feel - but we're not going to take it lying down.

It is our view that we can do more with less. The Know and Business for Britain will waste a lot of money and energy rushing around well before the referendum campaign kicks off, boring their audiences and making an irrelevance of themselves. It is our view that the referendum will be much later than anybody thus far anticipates, so the focus must now be on building a reserve unit who can pick up where they tail off and reach new audiences with new arguments.

We're sceptical about how useful big ticket websites can be - and these eurosceptic start-ups tend to just feed from the existing pond, each cannibalising each-others support. There is no value in this. Instead what we need is a core of bloggers each with a respectable Twitter following. Individuals, not organisations will turn the tide. By our reckoning we're going to need thirty such people, who we are happy to train and lend support to. Thinkers who influence other thinkers are worth ten thousand kippers.

We are old hands at social media and blogging and can advise anyone who wants to join such a team. This team will need to crosslink and retweet each-other - putting egos and minor differences aside. They don't necessarily need to work together, but co-operation helps growth. We need to start early on this because on the web, content is king, and for search engine optimisation, older blogs with more content leave a larger web footprint. The mission being to put clear blue water between us and the kipper grunters, to show that there is a liberal and progressive wing of euroscepticism that has larger concerns and a broader visions.

What we definitely don't want are immigration obsessives, climate change bores or people who will rant about bent bananas. We are looking for euro-sceptics. And by that we mean actual sceptics who express genuine scepticism over everything they see and hear - especially those who, like us, are sceptical of the nonsense the europhobes are presently belching out on an industrial scale.

If you have a forensic eye for detail and a shrewd eye we need to hear from you. This is going to require a lot of commitment, and running a blog is no small undertaking - but that's the challenge. We need an elite squad of mature, dedicated people who can take a brief, work to a strategy and think for themselves. If you think you are up to the job and this post resonates with you then get in touch. You know what's at stake and the time to act is now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trees that don't bend with the wind, won't last the storm

One thing we have seen in preliminary skirmishes on social media is that a lot of energy can be wasted on futile and often unwinnable arguments. At best you can win a debate hands down to zero effect or you can argue to a stalemate where it becomes just a battle of egos competing to have the last word - by which time nobody is paying attention. That's largely how social media works.

Here we reach something of a paradox in that we have long said the details are important, but in arguing for Brexit we should not get bogged down in details. All clear? No. Not really. The point is that we need to be aware of the details so as to be able to see the traps as they are set for us and not walk right into them. Instead we have multiple fallback positions whereby we are not forced to throw our entire resources defending any single case. The only battle we need win is the reassurance that trade will continue unaffected in the event of Brexit and that single market access is assured.

There are many means at our disposal, including the Norway option (EEA/Efta), the Swiss option or the more risky WTO option. All of them have respective merits but none represent a wholly satisfactory solution.

The Yes campaign will spend some considerable effort poking holes in such options. There is nothing to be gained by expending energy arguing the toss. Anyone who wants to have the argument with you has probably made up their own minds and are not likely to be persuaded. There is no value in wasting your own time in this way. It's easier to acknowledge that each of the options does have inherent flaws. We only advocate one or other solution as an interim off the shelf solution in order to retain single market access. Again we underscore the point that Brexit is a process, not an event and there is a long road to travel before we arrive at the destination of full Independence. There are stops along the way and any one option is largely the path of least resistance.

Our own view is that the Norway Option is the mode most likely to succeed in preliminary negotiations but it is unlikely the No campaign will ever reach full agreement in this regard. But then it doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. From such a position we can then begin to design our path to future full independence. We fully admit that EU budget contributions will not be significantly reduced, nor do we see any immediate change in immigration policy - but it does solve the immediate problem of leaving the EU. As a first step, that is significant in and of itself.

That said, as much as a energy draining debate around the respective merits of each option, it's important not to be too invested in any single option because we do not know, and won't know until the very last phase of the referendum campaign what Cameron's "renegotiation" will look like.

By reading the runes, it is more likely that a new treaty will be put forward in place of treaty revisions which will be sold as a new settlement for Britain. Effectively it will formalise the "two speed Europe". We expect that it will include some concessions to both Norway and Switzerland bringing them and us into a form of associate membership and may well abolish the EEA, rendering the Efta solution redundant. Should the No campaign be over invested in any single solution, the entire case we make folds as the rug is pulled from under us.

In this eventuality we could adopt the processes and strategies used by the Australian government in securing its trade relations with the EU. Taken from 1997, it signed a joint declaration on EU-Australian relations which was followed two years later by a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA). Thus, an informal, unilateral declaration was anchored by the MRA, as a formal treaty.

The scope exists for the UK to do likewise, making a commitment to match EU trade harmonisation laws by way of a unilateral declaration, based on the current EEA acquis. This would not require the approval of EU member states. The UK would then be in a very strong position then to insist in access to Single Market, invoking WTO non-discrimination rules, as it would be maintaining regulatory convergence.

Completing the process, the UK would then negotiate an MRA. To this could then be appended an agreement on tariffs plus a bilateral agreement on programme participation, and there is an almost exact equivalence with EEA Agreement. Carried out under the aegis of Article 50, the negotiations would be given a formal framework. As long as the UK did not seek access to the Market on better terms than were available to a full member, there would seem to be no serious obstacles to concluding a full agreement.

It must still be reiterated than even this in itself is not the final destination. All this means is that trade need not be affected while giving us the freedom to pursue other trade avenues. If we hold fast that any one single solution is the destination then we are pitching half measures against the full formalised EU settlement which is not an argument we can win. The emphasis must be made that from such a position we are better able to influence not only single market rules but global trade rules by way of having independent powers of veto and be more agile by taking a more modern, pragmatic approach to trade agreements.

In this respect we can formulate proposals well outside the stagnant debates surrounding the options put forward in the Brexit debate - which the Yes campaign will not be intellectually equipped to argue against. The strategy must be to bypass the arguments they are prepared for. Whichever option we choose, by admitting the flaws - and that there are further stages to Brexit, we can skirt around the pointless and boring arguments that don't get us anywhere.

The bottom line is that each option ensures continuity of trade and, irrespective of the nitty gritty, the Yes campaign cannot deny that. The pitfalls are compensated for by the increased global influence and the new markets we open up. More work needs to be done to identify what those are and how we do that, but that is our starting point, rather than learning the talking points off by heart.

If we can do this and avoid the obvious traps, the Yes campaign arguments will crumble. They have stock answers to predictable engagements - so let's not give them what they are expecting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Brexit: The task ahead

Returning to the subject of the EU referendum, there is a certain dishonesty in the Yes campaign's efforts thus far in attempting to frame the referendum as a liberals vs Ukip battle. That's actually quite astute politics because it's a battle Ukip would lose every single time. But it need not be this way. If at any point the No campaign gets it's act together, it should be easy to demonstrate that the EU, by way of it's very broken asylum policy, is not some liberal paradise but is in fact an extension of the Ukip protectionist fortress mentality - writ large for the whole continent. But we'll have to go one further than that if we want to win. 

The Yes campaign seeks to sow confusion in terms of what Brexit actually looks like. Their aim is to present Brexit as a leap into the dark where nobody knows what will happen, thus summoning the status quo effect in the final vote. Because no mainstream sceptic organisation has yet endorsed a Brexit plan, it is easy for them to deny the existence of one. That is our Achilles heel.

Of course readers of this blog will know we have put some considerable effort into producing such a plan but have yet to cut through the noise of the self-serving egos presently jockeying for position at the head of the table. We expect this to be resolved in due course one way or another. We believe the message is getting through. There are games at play already.

First and foremost the Yes campaign intends to spread doubt and confusion about the possible alternatives. We have seen this in action already. We were in early after the general election in promoting the Norway option as one option among many - but even we acknowledged it is no silver bullet. Central to our message is that the options on offer are only the foundation of a process. 

The critical part of our message being that whichever option we suggest, be it Norway, Switzerland or the WTO option, is far from ideal - but none are proposed as the final destination. We insist that Brexit is a process, of which leaving the EU, the political entity, is only really the start. 

We face something of an uphill battle in that the Yes campaign need only assert the usual FUD, however we have to communicate some fairly complex ideas in a campaign environment where attention spans are short. Just lodging the Norway option, and the notion that the EU is not the single market in the eurosceptic consciousness is something of a coup on our part. It's progress at least. It means that the more rational among us know that we're not going to be slamming any borders shut any time soon.

In establishing that Brexit is a process - and the alternatives are interim solutions, we can leave the Yes campaign to bicker about these options and we can admit to their shortcomings without hesitation. Defending one option against the EU as an idea is a debate we don't need to have and probably cannot win. 

We believe - largely as a result of promises made during the referendum campaign - there will be an absolute requirement to continue participation in the EU's Single Market for the short to medium term. The risks of leaving the EU largely pertain to single market access and without it the case for Brexit is a non-starter for British business.

Our side is also making arguments that participation in academic and research programmes will also continue along with continued involvement in other EU cooperative activities. That means we must avoid any spurious assumptions about our budget contributions. Vast savings are by no means guaranteed and there will be no shopping spree with any Brexit dividend. The Yes campaign can quite easily demonstrate that our budget contribution is not as large as it is perceived.

We also need to show that we will not undergo a huge political and diplomatic undertaking to be marginally worse off than before. Initially, as a means of ending our full membership of the EU, we see value in rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and trading with the remaining EU member states through the European Economic Area (EEA). In what is a multi-layer fallback strategy, alternatives are available if this option does not prove viable. The situation is fluid and much depends on what Cameron presents at the last minute. It will shape many of the arguments we make - thus we must prepare for any eventuality.

As the adage goes, no plan of battle ever survives first contact with the enemy - and we should prepare for the possibility that we will lose some arguments and be ready to follow a different path where that be so. As Sun Tzu has it "As Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards... Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain."

That is the mentality we must adopt - with credible, rational and pragmatic answers. If we make grand promises built on intellectual sand, without the capacity to adapt,  we will be shot down in flames. Ukip's lacklustre election campaign showed us just how dangerous it is not to have policies and answers in advance of the battle. Ultimately we're not going to win this by playing Top Trumps with facts and figures, and political realities dampen many eurosceptic assumptions about what Brexit can achieve. The actual leaving of the EU is only stage one in a long programme of democratic reforms. That is what we must sell.

To my mind we need to show that the EU is a stunted, obsolete vision and that we can achieve better by being more nimble and more responsive on the global stage without being held back by procrastination and delay. Co-operation is good but compromise too often means everybody loses. 

We'll more likely win this with a metropolitan liberal vision than the grumpy old man act that we get from Ukip. We will need to inspire and offer an incentive, but also a roadmap. That is not going to be easy to communicate, but that is the task in front of us.

We must be prepared to surprise and wrongfoot the opposition at every turn and let them waste their resources rebutting arguments we're not actually making. Let them be the ones to look irrelevant. This is of course going to require some considerable soul searching from certain actors in the No camp. It will require a sea change in eurosceptic attitudes to more or less everything. We can take the high ground from them and make the opposition look like the dinosaurs but only if we take the initiative now.  

Central to this strategy, we must now lobby hard for those who have influence to up their game, change the old eurosceptic record, and push for certain outfits to stop banging on about immigration. It's a pity that we must fight our own side first, but we must if we expect to win this. It's the mushy middle we need to win over - and we need to persuade people who would never vote Ukip in a billion years. This is not going to be easy.

Friday, August 07, 2015

If we don't have a plan we will walk into every trap

Since the 2015 general election we have seen a flurry of referendum related activity. It has since tailed off as the news agenda settles back into the usual routine, but we have seen a microcosm of how the referendum debate will play out. We have seen how the opposition intends to run their campaign and the arguments they intend to run with. This exemplifies the need for creative arguments they are not prepared or equipped to counter.

The Yes campaign is familiar with the old Eurosceptic tropes as we are. They are well briefed to deal with them, they have establishment resources with to disseminate their meme driven case and they show little hesitation in bending the truth.

If you are reading this we assume you the reader are familiar with the case for leaving the EU. Much effort will go into reinforcing that case in the coming months, thus we are content to leave that to others. What concerns us is that leading the leading EU advocacy groups make the case we  eurosceptics have yet to offer a credible vision of what a post-Brexit Britain looks like.  

As it happens, this is something of a lie and such groups, namely Business for New Europe will seek to ignore any such submission. The respective emerging No campaign groups have badly dropped the ball in this respect. It is a matter of urgency that a Brexit plan be at the forefront of our efforts.

The Yes campaign will seek to present Brexit as a leap not the dark involving years of diplomatic and political effort to end up in a marginally worse position than where we are today. On a superficial level, they are absolutely right. There isn’t much of an incentive to leave the EU unless we can demonstrate the tough questions have been answered – and that we will be in a better position for leaving.

Thus, a careful analysis of how we leave the EU and the diplomatic avenues available to us is absolutely critical. Our alternative must be credible and workable. Without doing this groundwork we end up promoting flawed solutions that ultimately lose the argument. The Yes campaign will be well briefed to pick holes in the commonly suggested options, some of which may not even be available to us by the time we go to the polls. By then a new EU treaty may be on the table.

In this respect how we leave dictates much of the substance of the No campaign. For instance, should we promote ending free movement of people we then close of a number of workable avenues, forcing us into a cul-de-sac of limited options, all of which can be argued will leave Britain is a worse position.

We also believe that referendums are not won on a negative premise. Continued griping about immigration cannot be a central theme lest the No campaign be tainted by accusations of xenophobia and jingoism. The Yes campaign will seek to position itself as internationalist, liberal and modern proposition, and will paint No as a withdrawalist, isolationist position. If they succeed, the vote is lost. 

Consequently we are in a space race for the middle ground to win the progressive crown. How we leave then becomes central to the message and the tone of the whole campaign. For this reason we present Flexcit.

In Flexcit we examine in detail the alternatives to the EU, the pitfalls and the opportunities, but also present a new model of governance as an incentive to voters, encompassing direct democracy, real localism and a written constitution. We call it The Harrogate Agenda. Without a deal sweetener it will be difficult to ask the majority to take the gamble. There is also a strategic purpose to this. 

The No campaign cannot get carried away making false promises and raising expectations when all of the Brexit solutions require a degree of compromise and will not necessarily produce the results that many Eurosceptics expect. As we outline, Brexit does not give us complete control over our borders nor does it especially mean a sizeable reduction in regulation. Thus the campaign must be able to offer something tangible that could not be achieved as EU members.

In this exit plan we offer our analysis of the respective Brexit solutions, the most realisable option, the political realities of achieving it and the timing. As we outline, Brexit is a process rather than an event and leaving the EU is just the beginning of a long road to economic and democratic reform. The importance of the No campaign grasping this is paramount. It has massive ramifications for how the No campaign is conducted and unless we take an original approach we can expect to be bogged down in the same old tired and boring arguments and lose them. Flexcit is our secret weapon that gives us the edge. The Yes campaign is not equipped to handle it.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The space race for the centre ground

History repeats

Written by Peter North

The rule of thumb in British politics is that he who controls the centre, controls the game. And that's why we're on a collision course to losing an EU referendum. The Brexit side is made up of curtain twitching conservatives, xenophobes, trade unionists. far leftists and hardcore libertarians. All intensely and uniquely despised. To look at our motley crew, any sane person would run a mile. We've got Owen Jones, Nigel Farage and sundry "right wingers". And then we have the "kippers". Why would anyone put their tick in the same box as these numpties?

We can see from these groupings where the fundamental schism is. There is a spectrum of opinion between the London cosmopolitan elites and the knuckle-scrapers of Ukip. What's clear is we're not reaching those in the middle. Jeremy Cliffe, columnist at The Economist, outlines the new political battlefield in a piece entitled "The case for cosmopolitan populism" where he outlines his vision as to what can be done to close the gaps. There's a few select sentences in this that will (and should) raise alarm bells, but you can see the narrative he weaves:
"Britain in the 1950s, even the 1970s, was in many respects a miserable, austere, petty, curtain-twitching, finger-wagging, stultifying place. That it is no longer so, and on many fronts is becoming even less so, should be celebrated.
He continues:

"...politicians and their supporters should do more to "weaponise" the choice between a drab, isolationist future for Britain and a cosmopolitan, prosperous one."

In essence, that will be the battleground for the EU referendum. Ultimately those most progressive vision is the one that will win out. When you look at our side we have all the stalwarts of that curtain-twitching, finger-wagging, stultifying Britain. The Ukippists and thier "pull up the drawbridge mentality" and the far left with their dogmatic resistance to progress. We're not even in the game when it comes to fighting for the middle ground.

Cliffe recalls that "One of the defining features of the recent general election campaign was its parochialism. At a time of great threats and bigger opportunities for the country beyond its shores, the wider world was barely mentioned. The assumption in Westminster is that doing so causes voters either to switch off or to switch party."

We can speak at length about this dynamic, in that our politics has become small and parochial. The politics of the world out there just doesn't resonate the the marginal constituencies that swing elections. But Cliffe notes that "there is a clear, patriotic argument to be made in favour of a Britain engaged on the world stage, that harnesses its diverse population and international links, that asserts itself in forums like the EU and the Commonwealth to advance the national interest".

If anything, general elections are a month long festival of domestic politics so that patriotic case doesn't get a look in, however, this referendum will be a year long battle over our standing in the world. That is where we will see that schism between the "cosmopolitan populism" and the claustrophobic world of Ukip. Thus the battle should be a space race to occupy the centre ground and present the most progressive and patriotic vision for Britain.

There is no way that banging on abut asylum seekers will win a referendum. There is no way the withdrawalist mindset can win. Nobody wants to go back to that "miserable, austere, petty, curtain-twitching, finger-wagging, stultifying place". The decider will be who makes the most convincing case that the other side are dinosaurs.

We have already made the case that with world has moved on from the quaint old EU ideas - and that the global model of trade has changed beyond recognition in ways that the EU has yet to realise. We need to sell the idea that the EU is essentially isolationist, withdrawalist euro-parochialism. The fences being erected in Bulgaria and Romania show that the EU mentality is that same curtain-twitching stultification writ large. It is the EU's own reluctance to engage in the realities of global displacement that we see people dying in the Mediterranean.

We need to go big on the idea of going global, being more open and more agile than the EU. We need to set out a vision of being a more welcoming and diverse place. That shouldn't be difficult to sell. There's a good reason why asylum seekers don't want to stay in France. It's an economically stagnant, racist and miserable country. Britain is way better than France and the world knows it.

Of all the nations adapting best to globalisation and this internet connected super-economy, Britain is leading the field. We're engaged in it, we're remodelling our whole economy and public services around it. Nobody is better equipped to deal with modernity than Britain. There is no going back to that quaint biscuit tin Britain, there's no holding back the tide of progress - so we need to embrace it.

While we are developing websites and internet services that are changing the world, the EU's contribution to it is an annoying dialogue box on every website telling us about cookies. If anything personified the EU's attitude to progress, it is that. We have a manifest destiny in the world, and while Cliffe thinks engaging with the EU is engaging with the world it isn't. The EU is a redundant middleman holding us back. We should be resisting TTIP and the likes not because of what they are, but the fact we can get a better agreements and faster by going global.

In all respects we can be more agile and assertive outside the EU and being in the EU is like trying to run a marathon with a ball and chain. It is they who are the dinosaurs, they who are the parochialists and they are the ones afraid of the future. The Ukip I remember under Alan Sked knew this, but today we see a small and petty Ukip, whining about helicopter safety regulations, foreigners with Aids and calling for the army to be deployed in Calais. It doesn't sound very progressive to me and, sadly, Tory Eurosceptics are little better. From where I'm standing it looks like we're going to lose hands down, and it's not difficult to see why. We should be in a space race to take the centre -  but we're retreating to the fringes.