The Conventional Campaign

The news that the Referendum Planning Group—comprised of EUReferendum.com, The Bruges Group, Futurus, Campaign for an Independent Britain and The Harrogate Agenda—will be submitting a proposal to the Electoral Commission to act as the official “leave” campaign organisation was followed by Robert Oulds’ overview of the “conventional structure” that the group plans to establish to fight the enemy on that particular front.

The structure, he explained, will be comprised of a strategy board, which will advise a CEO, who will in turn co-ordinate operations with his or her various departmental heads. Oulds also foresees an important role for “establishment” figures, who will lend the group their “prestige” and help to promote the group in the establishment press and broadcast media. The Bruges Group’s longstanding connection to various senior “eurosceptic” figures may well prove invaluable in that regard.

Of most interest to me was Oulds’ overview of the “media strategy”, which he separated out into four distinct categories: niche media, the national press, regional news and the broadcasters. However, important as these activities may be, Oulds also emphasised the fact that this is “not where the main battle will be won”. “Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising”, he asserted. Trusted individuals making personal connections and communicating with the people around them is invariably the most effective means of overcoming the invidious “narratives” that the legacy media will present.

As a consequence, Oulds believes that the most important part of this conventional structure will be the local and regional campaign representatives, working in their local communities, participating in all of the traditional campaign activities associated with democratic plebiscites over preceding decades—knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, hosting coffee mornings, making telephone calls and organising, as well as participating in town hall debates. These are the people who will take the initiative in communicating the message that Cameron’s offer of a “two-tier Europe”—relegating Britain to “second-class country” status—is “the worst of both worlds”.

At the apotheosis of the conventional structure, Oulds explained, is the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) crowd. This is “the most important part of the campaign”; everything discussed so far is really geared towards getting people to the polling stations (most likely in late 2017) so that they can place a cross next to the “leave” proposition on the ballot paper. “Everything”, Oulds advised, “builds towards the GOTV operation”. Plans for what the RPG refer to as their “reserve structure” will be the subject of the next post.

Strategic Thinking

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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.

An Intelligence-led Approach

I have just returned from the first Referendum Planning Group (RPG) workshop. This was largely a very enjoyable event and undoubtedly a very informative one. Had the formal proceedings wrapped up 20 minutes earlier I am sure that I would have left the meeting feeling even more enthusiastic than I do now.

Following a brief but extremely apposite introduction by Niall Warry, in which he emphasised the importance of communicating a clear and coherent message to the “undecideds”—the middle-of-the-road voters whom the “leave”campaign will need to convince—without “banging on” about immigration, regulation or cost, Dr Richard North started the day by addressing the “unfashionable” subject of intellectual endeavour, emphasising the fact that the referendum campaign will be a battle to win hearts and minds.

Outlining the “Grand Strategy” for the campaign to his wannabe Lieutenants, with reference to Sun Tzu and The Art of War, General North first asserted the need to know your enemy. Then he repeated the point. This is essential if you hope to parry their main thrust and mount an effective counter-attack. “It is the enemies’ intention that counts because it is the enemy that we have to defeat,” he remarked.

To that end, the “enemy” is not the opposition campaign, which Dr North termed a “distraction”, but the British government—in the guise of Mr Cameron—the European Commission and the associated institutions of the European Union—in the guise of Mr Junker.

To defeat the identified enemy, the “leave” campaign will need to cleave to a core set of strategic principles. Foremost amongst these: engage the real enemy—Cameron and what he represents—without getting “bogged down in boring, facile, tedious” discussions that “waste energy” and “distract from the real issue”. There will, of course, be all sorts of campaigners making all sorts of “noise”; there is no need to add to the cacophony. Targeted skirmishes are worthwhile, but endless complaints about the precise curvature of bent bananas is not.

What Dr North termed our “moronic media” (definitely the title of a future blog post) has two principle concerns when commenting on issues that relate to the EU—firstly, planting a British flag on it, and secondly, turning the issue into a clash of personalities. Nuance, complexity and detail are invariably lost on these people and “eurosceptics who rely upon the British press will be universally misinformed”. Slightly later in the talk, Dr North commented on the fact that the main BBC news bulletin on the day of Jean-Claude Junker’s “State of the Union” address referred to the event as a “statement on immigration”.

Expanding upon the military metaphor, Dr North told us that “the first duty of any general is to find out what is happening on the other side of the hill”. We need to know and understand as much as possible about the intentions, plans and ambitions of the EU—a notoriously difficult task; Brussels-watching puts even Kremlinology in the shade—thereby necessitating the emphasis on “intelligence-led” campaigning.

This brought us onto the most interesting part of the talk: “the playbook”. Cameron’s “renegotiation” is no longer. The focus on Freedom of Movement and the aim of agreeing a “mini treaty” via the “simplified procedure” outlined in Article 48 of the Lisbon Treaty has been abandoned. Just as the “leave” campaign is not able to set the agenda, “Cameron [himself] is not in control of the timetable”.

The place where we need to look for clues (if not outright declarations of intent) is at the Five Presidents Report, published in June 2015, which is itself born of the Spinelli/Bertelsmann: A Fundamental Law of the European Union document, published in January 2013. As Dr North noted, the roots of both documents reach back still further into the ever-so-long EU past.

This puts us on course for the announcement of a new treaty some time in late 2017, just in time for Mr Cameron’s referendum. Under this scenario, Cameron will be denied his “Heston moment”—a reference to Neville Chamberlain stood at Heston Airport, declaring “peace in our time” in 1938—he will instead have to sell the promise of a “special relationship” for Britain in the next treaty. The Spinelli/Bertelsmann document refers to “core Europe” or Kerneuropa, built around the eurozone, and the outerzone.

This will be a major challenge for Cameron because this is precisely the “two-speed Europe” that British governments have decried in the past and which Cameron has personally argued against becoming part of on the basis of retaining a seat at what he calls the “top table”. This provides us with our opening: as Owen Paterson has previously explained, there is no “status quo”, “the EU is leaving us”. So, we either join the euro, or we accept our status as “second-class citizens” of a “second-class country”.

Those are our options, unless we choose to leave the EU, in which case a whole world of new possibilities is conceivable. Our role now is to promote alternatives that are “credible, workable and safe”. With that, Dr North opened the floor to questions, and so concluded the first morning session. Reports of the subsequent sessions and the intelligence to be gleaned from those shall follow over the next few days.