In Conservative Home today Mark Wallace writes an obsequious piece eulogising his former employer - and his worthiness to run the EU referendum campaign. There are some basic notions that need to be dispensed with. Firstly the notion hat Elliot's campaign is "cross party" is a risible.
He claims "Elliott and Cummings have managed to assemble a broader alliance across
the political parties – thus far they have Conservative, Labour, DUP and
UKIP MPs signed up (Carswell is working with them rather than with
Leave.EU, which presumably explains some of the attacks on him from the
Banks camp) and will be announcing others soon. That’s a compelling
argument that they have the wider cross-party base at this point by
quite a long way."
In other words, Elliot has a rump of Tory MP's a, former Tory MP (with one foot still in the bubble) and a hand full of stragglers few have ever heard of. It is almost uniformly a Tory operation. And there's the problem. The point is that this referendum is not about the EU, per se, but
our relationship with the EU. That puts Cameron in the frame, as the man
seeking to negotiate a new relationship. Therefore, the referendum must
be prepared to mount a strong attack on Cameron, even to the extent of
damaging him politically, and thereby damaging the Conservatives
electoral chances in 2020. Can we trust Tories to do that? No.
Moreover, the Tory camp consists of the "wait and see" brigade along with Elliot, who appears to have no particular drive to leave the EU and appears to be more concerned with making a quick buck out of it. As to Elliot's competence, as one commenter notes "The AV referendum would have been won if you had put a chimpanzee in charge (there was no contest)".
This debate is less a split between euosceptics as a split between the London establishment and everybody else. Arron Banks has made it quite clear on Twitter this week that he has no particular love of the SW1 claque, and in that he is right - they are entirely self-serving. They are not to be trusted. In that regard, in no way do I question Banks's or Ukip's sincerity in wanting to leave the EU. And in that, like it or not, Ukip and the Banks operation is the most genuine Leave constituency who are both grass roots and cross party in terms of their former voting habits.
For me, the choice comes down to who is most likely to succeed. That will ultimately depend on the strategy and the quality of the intellectual argument. Given that Better Off Out is risible and in terms of intellectual weight there is barely a fag paper's difference between Leave.EU and Business for Britain (and how risible it is), it wouldn't make much material difference if Ukip itself were running the campaign.
So in the end, it's a matter of whether I want an SW1 bubble outfit farming out campaign funds to their business interests, do I want this to be an establishment lead campaign, and do I trust the Tories to put up an honest fight? No, No, No. As with most most things in British politics, one laments the lack of a "none of the above" option.