The next session addressed the topic of campaign structures and operations. Proceedings were led by Dr Richard North and Robert Oulds, director of the highly-respected eurosceptic organisation The Bruges Group.
First, Dr North made it clear that all campaign efforts must be devoted to the furtherance of a single definitive aim: “win a referendum”. This is obvious, but it is nevertheless well worth reiterating. Any action that detracts from or is incidental to the aim of winning a referendum should not be done. Also, note the subtle inflection—“win a referendum”, not necessarily “win the referendum”. Dr North and his associates’ extensive research leads them to believe that we are very likely to be facing a “two referendum scenario”, taking us well into the next parliament. Cameron will first ask for the assent of the British people to “negotiate” our new “associate member” status within the “reformed” EU, before finally asking for the assent of the British people to the new treaty, when the final text is agreed some time in 2022 or 2023.
The Five Presidents’ Report indicates that the schedule will look something like the following:
- Spring 2017 – European Commission White Paper
- 1st July 2017 – UK European Council presidency begins
- late August 2017 – Informal Council (called by the UK)
- early October 2017 – Conservative Party Conference
- mid October 2017 – Autumn Council
- late October 2017 – referendum
The colleagues’ decision to fire the starting gun on the next treaty revision procedure has robbed Mr Cameron of many of his most powerful propaganda tools. The absence of his “Heston moment” will require that a suitably theatrical replacement be confected—most likely Mr Cameron will present his “demands” to the colleagues at the Informal Council (accompanied by much chest-thumping and gnashing of teeth), followed by more of the same at the Tory Party Conference (to keep the bandwagon rolling and to up the ante) and climaxing with the triumphant result of the Autumn Council, when the colleagues respond to Mr Cameron’s demands with proposals for a new treaty that reforms the eurozone and offers a “new relationship” to Britain and (most likely) the EEA states and Switzerland.
Cameron will be spinning as hard as he can to affirm the idea that this is precisely the “fundamental treaty change”—securing an “enhanced relationship” for Britain, which emphasises trade and co-operation and not political union—that was promised in his Bloomberg speech, delivered in January 2013. Of course, this will not be the case. The offer will be to confine Britain to “second-class country” status within the “two-speed Europe” that British europhiles have so-long claimed to oppose, on the basis that it would denude us of our seat at the EU “top table”.
The campaign strategy, therefore, will be based upon a set of assumptions, which, although it is always important to challenge one’s own thesis, Dr North is confident about asserting. First, this will be a long campaign. The public face of the campaign, however, should last only a matter of months—if it turns into a long bore-o-thon, the general public will not be suitably enthused and the “status quo effect” will kick in. Second, there will be multiple players in the field. This will probably not be to our advantage, but it is a reality. Third, there will be no strategic co-ordination between the different “leave” campaign groups. Fourth, efforts will be fragmented. Fifth, there will be an absence of focus—where one might hope for a coherent message, Dr North anticipates largely “noise”. Sixth, and very importantly in my opinion, “the legacy media is the enemy”—the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) expects that every national daily newspaper, including The Daily Express, will come out in support of Cameron when he presents the result of “renegotiation”. To that end, it is important to note that the legacy media is rapidly diminishing in reach and authority, and is in fact deserving of only “the most profound contempt”.
The next important assumption that the RPG make is that UKIP will not be a formal player in the referendum campaign—although it will undoubtedly be a player, UKIP will not be applying to the Electoral Commission for official recognition as the leading “leave” campaign organisation. The primary candidates, for the time being, are “TheKnow.eu” and a grouping lead by Matthew Elliot that is currently known as “No to EU”, although, it is worth noting that Elliot also heads several “… For Britain” groups that are directly affiliated with the Conservative Party, so the question of where his loyalties lie is ambiguous. Both of these groups will probably have to change their name following the government’s acceptance of the revised question format recommended by the Electoral Commission. Both campaigns have also already launched, but seeing as neither is intelligence-led, their problems are “inbuilt”. The vast expenditure of TheKnow, in particular, on advertising in national daily newspapers and on social media, especially at this very early stage, will all be for naught without a coherent intellectual base and clear message discipline.
As such, the RPG, under an appropriate new name—to be announced at a time of its choosing—will be submitting an application to the Electoral Commission to lead the “leave” campaign. That effort will be comprised of two distinct parts: the “conventional structure” and the “reserve structure”. At this point, Dr North ceded the floor to Robert Oulds to describe the “conventional structure” that the RPG will present to the Electoral Commission—and, seeing as this post is running a little long, the substance of Robert Oulds talk will be described in the next update.