Monday, 31 August 2015

Astro-turfing does not win a referendum


Twitter is a hugely overestimated political constituency. For starters one has to be of a particular disposition to even start a Twitter account and fairly opinionated to get the full benefit. Consequently, what Twitter thinks is not necessarily what the public thinks. I think this why the hack-o-sphere was largely caught out by the general election result. They fail to make the distinction between the mood of their own little self-referential circles and ordinary people. People who are not like them.

A focus on social media can be misleading and give false readings, budgets are misdirected and in the end there is no substitute for human intuition. It's one thing to claim you have five thousand followers but just a quick inspection shows at least half of your followers have blue backgrounds (ie not regularly frequented accounts) in turn having followers only in double digits. Thus retweets as a force multiplier are not necessarily as powerful as we might assume.

There are limits to what social media marketing can achieve. We have heard from several marketing gurus about the value of big data targeting, but as we often repeat, politics is not marketing, especially where the referendum is concerned. What has been tried and tested in US primaries does not carry through to UK referendums.

As per my last few articles, the people that social media marketing can reach are precisely the last people we want to talk to. Were we selling a product we would be seeking out those talking about hat we want to sell and those most likely to buy. Our swing voter target are those the least likely to buy and the least likely to be taking about what we are selling. With Facebook we can identify our core demographic of swing voters and we can push messages into their feeds, but inauthentic, spammy and kipperish nonsense cannot secure a victory.

In terms of what is effective, I will take the thousand followers I have cultivated over the last year over five thousand followers generated by targeted advertising, of which a great many are useless. An article found here explains why even one hundred thousand Twitter followers can be completely worthless. At least a quarter will be inactive accounts and another quarter only used sporadically. Incidentally, the Ukip account has roughly one hundred thousand followers. Make of that what you will.

Looking at The Know's following we see a mixture of smammy accounts, dormant accounts and the usual suspects whom I routinely find cause to block. "Kippermongs", as my previous blog would have called them. Similarly this experience replicates on Facebook, where the numbers are higher, but still largely reaching people we already have in the bag.

Thus in presenting any case to the Electoral Commission, followers and likes achieved by way of targeted advertising should be viewed with suspicion. It does not represent a grassroots movement and it is far from a genuine sample. Taking into account the multiplier effect and at best you're speaking only to a quarter of a million people if you're lucky - and never all at once. Probably not even half that. 

When it comes to building a political movement (and we are running very short on time to do that), it must be done the old fashioned way. By that I don't mean just bunging identikit leaflets through letterboxes to no measurable. In order to win we need to build a genuine following who will actually follow the message rather than simply like and retweet in that oh-so-bovine way.

Any leafleting must be done with an objective in mind, to promote a local meeting which will in turn promote bloggers, not big ticket websites. We need individuals with their own organically grown constituencies and genuine followers, and we need to recruit and train more of them. In that regard, The Referendum Party pulled off some commendable local campaigns prior to mass adoption of the internet. It was just bad timing for them that the public were so heartily sick of the Tories - but there are some aspects of that campaign we can learn from.

Our activities need to be focussed on seeking out and motivating people who can direct others to blogs and online communities where they will find the convincing material and one-to-one interaction. Crass jingoistic kipper memes are of little value.

No organisation can make claim to a genuine movement by way of internet bragging rights as Mr Banks does. In this regard, The Know is very much an astroturf production that has achieved little that anyone else with a large enough budget and a flash website cannot in a matter of a few clicks. Where spammy mailshot are concerned, you're lucky to get ten percent who will even open the email let alone read it.

In terms of the value of The Know's website, it is no more a campaign resource than Matthew Elliot's miserable effort. There is little reason for visitor to return nor is there a community. Who honestly gives a monkey's what Boris Johnson thinks either?

Of course, this post will likely be received as an attack on The Know, but given that I'd like to see us leave the EU I would prefer it be taken as constructive criticism. It is said that fifty percent of all marketing budgets are wasted. The reason you hire marketing gurus is to tell you which half. In this regard Mr Banks may as well be flushing all of his budget down the toilet without any coordinated grassroots effort. It may win him the No campaign nomination, but it won't win the votes.

Jingoistic, crass and foolish


The Know seems to think that capturing the kipper base is their best bet for winning the official No campaign nomination. As an opening gambit, it's not entirely without merit. It could well win the nomination. But that's all it will win.

In the past I've been less than complimentary about Professor Matthew Goodwin in that he went native during the election campaign. His wild predictions of Ukip's electoral success proved to be utterly wrong. As polling day came closer, he settled his prediction of around 14% based on his demographic rune reading. In that much, his work is not entirely without merit, and along with the YouGov demographic analysis it gave us a reasonable insight into the mind of the average kipper. That said, all it really did was put the academic rubber stamp on that which we already knew. Research from the University of No Shit Sherlock.

This was the result of Farage's gambit that he could capture old Labour grounds and absorb those votes that would previously have been BNP territory. Ukip had the added advantage of being cleaner to an extent so that those tempted to vote for something like the BNP had a socially acceptable vehicle with which to lodge their protest.

Some hailed this as Farage's genius. In this we do not agree. Prior to lodging itself as the protest vehicle for the masses, Ukip was growing steadily. In one stroke Ukip threw that away for a short lived explosion, giving them all the publicity they could ever dream of. Having failed to build an intellectual foundation, they entered the election campaign completely unprepared, without the ability to sway opinion formers. Rapidly they became a laughing stock.

The wages of this folly was the failure to convert the vote share into seats. Many argue that this is a result of the inequities of the First Past The Post system. This is an excuse. FPTP was one of the obstacles of the terrain, along with media bias. A good strategist takes such into account rather than hiding behind excuses.

Having had all the exposure they could possibly want, we got a real insight into Farage and his supporters. What we say was a band of Farage sycophants, oafs and buffoons, followed by largely ignorant, aggressive and toxic people. That is not to say all kippers are like this, but they attracted more than their fair share thanks to the message they crafted along with regular dogwhistles about multiculturalism and Islamisation etc. Combine that with the obsessive LibLabConnery of the kipper bores and you have little credibility to stand on.

Consequently, just a few months after the election Ukip is haemorrhaging support, losing councillors, facing a heavy drubbing in just about every council by election thus far. It may be that Farage has destroyed Ukip and thanks to his reckless gamble, the referendum Ukip clams credit for is a poisoned chalice.

In light of this, any campaign running a Ukip friendly message may very well convince the electoral commission they represent the core No constituency, but they will hit the same glass ceiling Ukip did, and in fact, may not even capture the same ground due to Ukip being a protest dustbin.

There is certainly no possibility then of running the American strategy of winning the nomination then switching the message. Once you are tarred with the kipper brush, you're up the creek permanently.  It will have neither credibility or intellectual consistency, especially if it latches onto the immigration issue without having a through command of the facts.

Critics say we are over-intellectualising, but we cannot emphasise enough the importance of winning the intellectual argument as well as the propaganda war. While the message may be reduced to Tweets and mere soundbytes they lay down a tapestry that makes up the entirety of the message (the vibe), from which it is possible to divine the core assumptions of what we expect Brexit will achieve. If our message is built on a foundation of intellectual sand then it can be taken to pieces by the opposition and the media.

When we look at the graphic above, we can see that The Know is laying down the foundations of a very poor case. It goes down well with the chattering eurosceptics, but it will be shredded in the wider public domain. The crass jingoistic subtext of it does us no favours.

The fact is, there are no shortcuts to building our referendum victory. We need to be building a credible core message and we need to be attracting new blood now. This hereabove is a huge turn off and little different to what we have already seen. One might even be so harsh as to say this is actually worse than anything we have seen from Ukip lately. We have two years with which to build a movement, and it must reach our swing vote lest we be talking to ourselves.

If Mr Banks is indeed going to run with this low grade tat, he will find it impossible to salvage it later down the line. The internet never forgets. Ukip suffers from the same affliction. They could clear out the rot (which would involve removing most of their MEP's and senior officials) and change their message entirely, but Ukip is now forever tainted as a slightly comical, amateurish cult. They will always be treated with suspicion as to what lies beneath even if they adopted a more progressive message. A man who stands shouting at the audience about health tourists with Aids cannot then credibly condemn the EU for it's barbarous asylum policy. Farage and Ukip have already failed the empathy test.

In this regard, the No side cannot afford for the No campaign to be the dominating organisation. It will need to be a fragmented campaign, with the official No campaign remaining as issue neutral as possible. If it goes down Kipper Avenue, it has no chance of talking to the people we need.

In this regard, there is little to be said for Matthew Elliot's efforts either in that he sees the campaign as a vessel for his own self-aggrandisement, and anticipates it being a series of debate concerning the attributes of the EU. In this he is also fighting on a foundation of sand, and fails to recognise that in the end, the bickering about the respective merits of the EU will take a back seat to whether the public buys Mr Cameron's charade.

It is actually painful to watch this all unfold as predicted, having failed to learn the lessons from Ukip's hubris. Not least knowing that our warnings will go unheeded and the strategy ignored. In that regard, we look upon the contest for the No nomination with bemusement having no particular dog in the fight. Regardless of who wins the nomination, we will be forced to fight our own side to get to the enemy.

Once again we've set collision course with the glass ceiling and as galactic egos fight it out, and the rest of us are left with the crumbs from the table with which to fight, scratching whatever we can from wherever we can get it. In the final analysis, Ukip will do what it does and the No campaign will walk into every trap. As for us, we'll be clearing out hate-mail from our inboxes for "undermining" these wonderful, clever people who assure us they know what they are doing. Maybe the referendum after this one they will listen to us. 

There are few immediate benefits to Brexit

We have already discussed on this blog how Brexit makes only marginal difference to the amount we pay into the EU budget. Even if we worked entirely independently, the money would still be spoken for by way on continuing agricultural subsidies and taking over those functions previously delegated to the EU. As we also note, we don't know for certain which EU programmes we will still opt into for the sake of continued cooperation with our EU friends and allies.

Similarly, this "trade with the rest of the world" shtick is also a touch optimistic. To achieve anything like parity in trade we would be looking at considerable international development just to bring our trading partners up to scratch. Since African producers still have to meet EU standards if they want to export, it makes little sense for them to have a different production line for goods going to the UK. So even if we could relax our regulations, the regulatory might of the EU makes such a proposition unlikely.

Much is said of our new found influence at the top tables, a case I have made many times. That gives us marginally more influence in how supposed EU laws are made, but since the UK is often the driver of international and EU law, there is no real evidence to suggest that the outcome of the global law factory would look any different or that any government we elect would use a veto even when they have one.

Similarly, without real reform of international treaties on refugees, Brexit has only slight implications for the global migration crisis. Brexit may be a precursor to achieving such, but in and of itself it's not that influential on the matter.

The EU is also steadfast in recognising that free movement of people is a cornerstone of the single market and if we are to maintain access to it, it is likely that we will still subscribe to freedom of movement with few, if any, concessions. Some corners of the Eurosceptic world are keen to point out that our trade non-EU is growing faster and that might well be true, but whatever the numbers are (and there's no use bickering over it) we need the EU market. It is not something we can casually abandon.

Since we would more than likely continue with Erasmus and Horizon 2020 and we will continue to support Frontex and international policing efforts, we would see little disruption in those respects. In fact, in the short to medium term, Brexit accomplishes very little.

Of course this will not sit well with my dwindling eurosceptic audience who are busy tweeting away, promising the world on a stick. That's more their problem than mine. Smarter eurosceptics will see the value in making this case. The Yes campaign will seek to create a wave of panic, making all kinds of drastic prognostications which are wholly risible. By conceding Brexit makes little or no difference, we have the initiative in looking like the rational ones.

Presently the bottom feeders in the kipper fraternity are not only promising the world on a stuck but also raising the spectre of being overtaken by Islam and swamped with foreigners. It's a crashing bore, it's wrong and it's not helpful. Everything depends on creating a vibe that exudes quiet competence and rationality. From there, we can say that most of the benefits business and individuals enjoy remain uninterrupted and business need not panic.

That then leaves us with that "why bother?" question again. The clue is as we noted earlier. There is no real evidence to suggest that the outcome of the global law factory would look any different or that any government we elect would use a veto even when they have one.What Brexit represents more than anything is a gesture. A statement of intent. One that says while we are partners with the EU we are not tied to it's destiny and may seek a different path.

It's true that mighty though our economy is, it doesn't compete with the collective might on the world stage and we may wish to combine our efforts with the EU to get the best for us, but were we to make sufficient domestic democratic reforms, there is the possibility that we could have a government that would use the international veto. This is why we advocate direct democracy. Why should agreements of TTIP magnitude not be put to a referendum? We can't do that now as members of the EU, so the EU is in fact an obstacle to democracy.

The essence of democracy is when people can use their collective might to say no to their government. It should be noted that the EU is in fact our government presently and being that we are structurally outnumbered and outvoted in every sense, we cannot collectively wield our power, thus by definition it is not a democracy.

In the longer term we might reap the benefits of international trade and remodelling our trading techniques to a system more befitting the modern world, but for now nether the corporate CEO nor the man in the street would be able to tell the difference should we actually leave the EU.

Thus, as we have already outlined, the task of the No campaign is to promote what we could have outside the EU and demonstrate why the EU stops us having it. As someone who would rather g and live and work in New York than Paris, I'd quite like to push for open borders with the USA. I don't see the US being in any particular rush to have those talks with the EU. I can't say of the UK would have any greater luck, but we can press for that if we choose to.

Of course we must be careful not to oversell the possibilities in that political reality often crushes the grandest of visions, and whatever we present must stand up to scrutiny, but the key is having a vision that appeals more than Mr Cameron's status quo.

More than anything Brexit must be a confident assertion that that EU subjugation is insufficient and that we have a future in our own right that is not tied to the needs of the eurozone. We must promote that single truth that we are with Europe but not absorbed by it. It is our proclamation to the world that just breaking down barriers with Europe is yesterday's idea and we want to smash down more. The EU will erect fences, while we will tear them down.

We've seen what the grand EU idea was. It didn't work and it never will and we reject their isolationism and protectionism just as much as we would Ukip's similar outlook. One is just the extension of the other. We're not saying "tomorrow the world belongs to us" nor are we talking about putting on the red coats and marching across the globe once more. We are talking about taking our rightful place at the top table as part of the global community, building a global single market where every voice is heard.

A crushing sense of inevitability


I suppose I should be grateful to Guido in establishing that I don't solely attack Ukip. Just recently I've given both barrels to all the Eurosceptics. I've been less than polite about Matthew Elliot, scathing about Better Off Out. As to the Tory efforts, that kinda goes without saying.

Following such accusations comes the assertion that we don't do anything constructive. Followers of this particularly blog will know full well that I have made no direct attacks on Ukip save to make a specific point, and have focussed on producing more detailed work over on the sister blog.

We have established the need to define the problem, the shape of the battlefield and the strategy, all of which would naturally be completely superfluous to the Kippers who think that belching out any old eurosceptic toss constitutes productivity, regardless of the source or the intellectual consistency.

Over on the main site this week, the great sin was to point out Farage's strategic blunder. You see we are not supposed not point such things out. We must either remain silent or applaud it and show unity. Being that the site is called eureferendum.com and being somewhat concerned with matters pertaining to the EU referendum and the outcome of it, we could hardly have run a piece on the subject of Wensleydale cheese (although if we looked into the regulations, we probably could), but it really it is worth pointing out that a man best known for ranting about foreigners with Aids is not really the man best placed as an ambassador for a progressive eurosceptic case. Is that really so outrageous?

It is also worth noting that the immigration issue is one that does not have early the traction that eurosceptics think, and being it silly season, the media is running it's usual space-filler scare stories. We have already seen considerable investment in Calais and with a further announcement that "the jungle" in Calais will be modernised as a reception centre. By the time we get to the referendum, the issue will be back down in the stack of priorities. We may even see it drop off the media radar long before then as the public grows tired of reading essentially the same story.

Arron Banks has hinted he is well aware of this and there are tentative signs that the tone of his campaign will shift. It's early days yet, but this blog shall not flinch from saying what needs to be said. The notion that we must show unity is absurd. Disagreement is central to the democratic process and I can't imagine anything worse than the whole movement being united behind an anti-immigration message.

"Ah, but we're not anti-immigration" they say. But that actually doesn't matter. Details seldom ever get through to the average voter. What matters is the vibe. The vibe is made up of what a party of campaign obsesses over and what the general public is likely to receive without ever hearing any of the caveats or nuances. To that end, immigration is possibly the last message you'd want to campaign on. There is a gulf between what we say and what the public hears, especially with the distorting prism of mainstream media sitting between.

We have persistently pointed this out yet the knee-jerk response of Ukip is to attack. I had to remove all of the comments from the previous post. They call it censorship but actually there is nothing that says I must play host to personal invective that doesn't address the issues or even the subject of the post. Disagreement is no sin, but kipper bile is neither productive nor useful. Those who say that all I do is attack Ukip are demonstrably liars.

These people are not at all rational, they don't know what they want, they have no tactical acumen and no understanding. They are motivated primarily by herd instinct, and hate the outsider. Anyone who thinks differently and is of an independent mind is an object of fear. They are afraid of us. Because we are off message, we are somehow a threat and because they are afraid, they hate us more than the enemy.

But to me, it no longer matters. I've heard all the bilge, I understand the mindset, I've seen every configuration of every possible attack they have and now it's just noise to me. Of the few hundred people this little blog reaches, I know it reaches the intended target, and if by some miracle some of it filters through to those who will inevitably run the No campaign, then it is not wasted effort.

That said, since the No campaign will be dominated by overbearing egotists who get paid either way, I am still of the view that there needs to be an operation working independently. The Banks's and the Elliots will soak up the money to further their own efforts, but in the end, unless they heed the advice of those who have been in this from the start, they will preach only to the converted while reinforcing perceptions of outers that already exist. Dismal curtain-twitching little-Englanders.

They will spend the money reaching the already decided, they will wheel out all the classic tropes and they will likely get them wrong. We've seen all this before with Goldsmith and his Referendum Party. Boys with toys who think their business acumen and extraordinary luck can translate into political success. It didn't work then and it won't work now.

We have learned the hard way that of you want a short lived high profile you have to pander to the basest of prejudices - but it cannot take 51% of the vote. It gave Farage a bump in the polls but ultimately, if local polls are anything to go by, he has destroyed Ukip. The very last thing we want to do is latch onto a core of a discredited movement. But there is now little more I can add now save to say, we told you so. That day will come, but we won't relish having to say it. Ho-hum.

Slandered by Guido

I can't not comment on this. Somehow Guido has leaked part of an email exchange with Aaron Banks. It didn't come from me, I was saving it for future reference. I am shocked and outraged though. Guido says...
Good to see the No to EU campaign is putting aside its differences and uniting behind the cause… or not. When eurosceptic blogger Pete North emailed the pugnacious founder of the controversial ‘The Know‘ group, Arron Banks, politely offering some advice about his campaign...
Slander. He asserts that I "politely" offered advice. This is absolutely untrue and I resent having my reputation dragged through the mud. I was superior, condescending and moderately rude as my readers have come to expect and demand. I was not in any way polite. I am appalled by this low grade shoddy reporting and I would ask that Guido issues a correction immediately. I have a reputation to uphold.

Nor did Mr Banks actually hope that I die in a freak yachting accident. He stated clearly that he was "tempted to add" such a remark, but actually refrained from doing so. Had he done so, I have the last laugh because I made it through the entire weekend without even so much as seeing a yacht, unlike that jammy bastard who probably owns one. I did stub my toe on the bathroom door though if that's any consolation.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

We need to reclaim No for the people who matter


It's all unfolding as expected. Hereabove we see a middle of the road housewife friendly television presenter soft-pedalling Nigel Farage. The Kippers love it. The comments on social media are as you might predict. "Nigel was right all long!".

But it's easy to see what they're really doing...


In 1975 the media picked all the very worst spokesmen for the No campaign and as far as today is concerned, you couldn't pick worse than Farage. He is a gift to the Yes campaign. In the defining moment of the general election, with sweating brow, he denounced the BBC audience and proceeded to spout about foreigners with Aids. Just incredible. The more we saw of Farage the more we saw the Brexit polls going in the opposite direction. For an establishment media determined to keep us in, he is god's gift unto them.

Meanwhile, the No campaign doesn't look very promising. With the Tory plastic eurosceptics sitting on their hands, the field has been left wide open, with some pretty dire people forming the rest of the Tory No campaign, cobbled together by the idiotic Matthew Elliot.

So self-assured are these people it is unlikely they will heed warnings or learn the lessons, and unless you're a member of the gilded inner circle, there is no talking to them. As to what Farage and Raheem Kassam will concoct between them, god only knows, but we can say it will not be pretty. They're armed with invincible stupidity and unconquerable arrogance.

Then on the Left with have Kate Hoey, who while a apparently a lovely lady, is really not very bright and too far behind the curve to ever catch up. Oh and then there's Owen Jones persistently bleating about austerity and neoliberalism when the Tories are soaring in the polls. Just to make life fun we also have the RMT union on our side. They who take great pleasure in bringing London to a standstill. Not much to go on is it?

Worse still are the turncoat Tories who will declare their eurosceptism early on but have Damascene conversion when Mr Cameron comes back from Europe holding his reforms aloft.

Thus far we are not so impressed by The Know either, in that they are very much fishing in the Ukip pond which has pitfalls we have already outlined. There is still time and our own little operation may yet make a contribution, but on the whole, the No campaign is looking like a rabble of prima donnas, fools, snobs and mouthfoamers. Swing voters will rightly be asking why they should put their tick in the same box as these muppets. We don't have good answers thus far.

We're now seeing a flurry of activity from the big players, with lots of money being thrown at fighting the wrong battles, and griping about the EU without actually building a movement, and without securing any kind of directed and focussed activity. It generates superficially impressive numbers but it achieves little. All we can do is look on in horror.

Some have observed that our eureferendum.com activities barely register and that we have little exposure on social media but I'm actually ok with that. We're still influencing people. We have tried fishing in the social media swamp but it doesn't work. Just recently, with just a small budget I experimented with Facebook promoted posts. It gave us 3500 page impressions, 124 likes, 22 shares, and a mere 220 click-throughs. As I understand it, the ratio doesn't improve with a large budget.

That's bad enough in itself, but of the two hundred or so comments it attracted there was scant evidence that anybody has read the article, much less understood it and all we got was the usual grunting about corrupt politicians, Bilderbergers and the fourth reich. I deleted three quarters of the comments and I'm being generous with the ones that remain. It's wasted money.

There are ways you can refine your marketing budget and better direct your message, but when it comes to the Brexit issue, it tends to attract some pretty low grade people. These are not people we want. Their posts reflect on the messenger and that's seriously bad news. An army of these grunters is not conducive to winning the referendum.

With a large enough budget you can scoop them all up and get them to click "like" and retweet any old eurosceptic bilge in their usual bovine fashion, but if those same people are then retweeting disgusting memes abut Muslims then you're tainted by association. Why The Know is spending hard cash on advertising in the Sunday Express escapes me. These are precisely the people we don't want. Largely they only speak to each other while repelling everyone else.

What we need is a core of task focussed people directing their efforts at winning the intellectual battle, who in turn can mobilise ordinary people who are not affiliated with any tribe or party. They are the key to winning. Rather than courting the media, we are best going around the media and speaking to people directly.

We need to identify opinion formers and smaller influential publications and tailor the message to them. In this I mean with real human judgement rather than computer algorithms. We need operatives with their own social media constituencies who can focus on other like-minded opinion formers. There are people on Twitter who are openly hostile to Ukip but are still open minded to Brexit. We need them.

Switched on people know propaganda when they see it and will not be inclined to retweet or share inauthentic material. Corporate scale material tends to be bland, largely transparent and not very persuasive. It is of limited value it can't turn the tide. We're using cannon fodder when we need special ops.

The core activities of the official campaigns are going to be white noise that speak only to their own established consistencies. This won't shift the polls. The battle is for the undecideds and the don't knows and they are not going to respond to the tried and tested methods. The people we need on side will have to be working to a strategy, staying on message and coordinating their efforts. We will need to train them. There may need to be a subsidiary or branch of the official No campaign working under a different identity to differentiate itself from the white noise.

Rather than acting as a rebuttals unit, it needs to be selling the alternative and be alerting people to the fact that Cameron's reforms differ very little from the status quo. If there is a point to be made about the EU and immigration, then it is that the EU closing off land routes is the killer of men. It's own fortress mentality sends people to their graves. The bullying interventions of the EU creates the push factor in the first place. In turn, we can show that the EU is protectionist and inward looking. We can show that the EU is Kipperism writ large for the whole continent as it erects more fences. We can make the case for more focussed aid and international development. We can show that Brexit is key to reforming Europe.

We can make a progressive, rational and outward looking case for Brexit, and it doesn't have to pander to the far left or the hard right. We can and should ignore them and focus on the people who matter. We can radiate excitement in that Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime. We don't need to grumble, we don't need to pointlessly ague the toss over boring things and we don't even have to hate the EU. The whingers are no use to us. The fanatics are pathetic and the eurosceptics are bores. Our job is to break from that and make the eurosaurs look like the luddites. We can do this. But only if we are ready to move out of our comfort zone. If we mistake volume of output for productivity then we'll hand the game to the enemy. That is no good.

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 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 it 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.

Friday, 28 August 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, visaless 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 signing, 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.

Defining the battlefield


I'm in dialogue with a number of figures in relation to the Brexit No campaign. All of whom appear to be making the same mistakes. We've seen them pumping out all the same tired old anti-EU arguments which in most cases are irrelevant to how things are today. More than that, they stand on intellectual sand. Most of the arguments we see are little different in essence to the failed arguments of 1975. They are of narrow appeal, they're boring and they don't reach any new ears. This is why the EU issue has been on the political back-burner for so long. It just doesn't reach the top ten list of concerns for most people.

Consequently the issue has remained the sole province of a corp of obsessives who largely have nothing original to say, relying on mantras of yore suited to the world of yesteryear. Any eurosceptic event you might attend looks little different to the ones I attended as a kid, where anyone sane would zone out completely. Put simply, it's game over if we cannot reclaim "No" for a broader audience. Ukip and the eurosceptic aristocracy represents a limited social constituency - predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly boring. These are the last people we need. Being white and male is no great sin, but to be boring in politics is to be extinct.

It's no use complaining that the media will be biased or that the BBC is up against us either. Patton didn't show up to the Battle of the Bulge and sit there whinging that he was taking Shermans up against Panthers. A good commander accepts the facts of the battlefield as they are and it's strategy that wins out. The winning strategy is nearly always the one that anticipates the movements of the enemy.

The No campaign is going to expend a lot of energy talking about the EU and that's fine as far as it goes, and we might well win every single argument - but that does not necessarily translate into a referendum victory. Talking down the EU is the wrong fight to have. It's like taking your forces and storming a hill only to discover it wasn't a strategic objective and it's miles from the main battle.

The enemy in this fight is not the Yes campaign. That is a distraction. A decoy. The enemy in this fight is David Cameron. He will not fight the battle on our terms. He will be selling us an alternative to the status quo without even touching the main arguments we are prepared with. He will attempt to sell us a new realtionship with the EU. It will look superficially attractive and it will be enough to convince the swing vote if we don't play it right. Thus the real fight is whether our alternative to what he offers is better. To that end we don't want to be talking down the EU but talking up our alternative.

Thus far all we've got is The Know and Business for Britain bashing out the same tired tropes that speak only to the already decided. This is suicidal.

It is an assumption that the No campaign can capture the base and then change tack, but this bait and switch idea doesn't work. We've seen this before with the Tea Party in the USA, where what started life as a libertarian movement was co-opted by right wing nutjobs, eventually dissipating as it attracted the worst kind of bigots from the Obama birthers to the Islamophobes. From that there was no basis for building a popular movement. For sure it got mainstream celeb endorsements but largely unwholesome and self-serving individuals such as Glenn Beck. Celebrity endorsements are of a limited shelf life and not always welcome by default. For the UK, think Katie Hopkins.

The same dynamics apply in the UK. The Ukip social constituency of the so-called "left behind" has particular repellent characteristics an inherent glass ceiling to its appeal. The politics of that cohort are absolute anathema to virtually everyone else. Thus if a No campaign is perceived to be founded on that base it will rightly be treated with suspicion and will not reach the swing vote even if it changes tack.

For sure, Ukip got 14% of the vote at the last election, which in fairness is a decent showing, but elections are not referendums. We don't know how well they would have done had things been different without the threat of an SNP/Labour coalition but we can hazard a guess that it wouldn't have exceeded 20% - and that would be the upper limit of their appeal. That might have converted the surge of Ukip support into a few MP's but to win this referendum we need 51%.

We can count on the 20% or so who are sympathetic to Ukip, and we can count on a further 10% comprised of eurosceptic conservatives, with the rest made up of the loony left. We can take 35% for granted. But that still leaves a massive gulf we have to bridge. That dictates the nature of our message and who we pitch it to. If we build a base on what we know to be broadly discredited, open to questions of racism and jingoism, with ideas based on blind optimism over political reality, then we lose the initiative.

We need to reach new ears, and we also need to win over opinion formers early. Presently the eurosceptic message is on very very thin intellectual grounds and the media will drive a horse and cart through it. And so will I. Ukip wasn't mindful of that and it cost them. The problem being that populism just isn't that popular and the public's understanding of the issues is far more sophisticated than most political types assume. The usual hackneyed baloney about the EU from the hard right and the far left suffers from a credibility deficit, with a message that is far too divisive. By declaring biases in narrow concerns we instantly exclude most normal people.

That is why a positive alternative message is more valuable to us. It has less of a change of alienating the people we need to win. We need something wholly different to reach the parts we as a movement have not reached for the last thirty years. If we attack, we must attack the real enemy; David Cameron, not the EU. He is the peddler of false goods. He is the one shining up shit and calling it gold. He is the one selling the status quo as reform. We need to call him out on that, but we need to offer a bigger better vision. Bitching about the EU and what it costs is neither here nor there.

Time to ditch the eurosceptic baggage


Earlier this week I said that eurosceptics are going to have to bin all the arguments they have rehearsed for decades. The world has changed, the battlefield has changed, and more to the point, these same arguments didn't work the last time we have a referendum. The opposition knows what to expect of us, it knows our arguments as well as we do, and it's not the burning issue that eurosceptics believe it is. If we don't have something new to sell, it really is game over.

This cannot be stated enough.

All of the pro-EU outfits are well briefed to handle the classic arguments- particularly the matter of the budget contribution. It's useless to say families will be £933 better off. For starters, the chances of any sum being returned to us by way of a tax cut is, shall we say, optimistic. Secondly, while Brexit presents opportunities, there are going to be costs. Opening up new markets may require we enter new agreements that require contributions, and as yet we do not know which EU programmes we will want continued participation in.

If we march down the road of making big promises, the opposition will see us coming. We are often keen to point out that EU money spent in the UK is our money thus the net contribution is going to be a small fraction of GDP. A well crafted infographic can hit that point home. Moreover, the last thing we want to do is get sucked into bickering with claim and counter claim. We can instead take the high ground and say with pragmatism that it doesn't matter what we pay, we will continue to participate in the economic and social life of the EU regardless. We can argue that Brexit does not exclude us from participating and we have every intention of keeping up good relations with the EU.

To suggest we're going to keep all the money essentially says we are taking our bat home and withdrawing from all co-operation with the EU. Precisely the wrong message. Brexit isn't about bean-counting. Such arguments didn't work in 1975 and they don't work now. They are boring and people won't know who to believe. If Ukip et al is wedded to those arguments, by association the argument loses credibility.

This is an old argument that fails to inspire on an issue that will not turn the the vote in our favour and it's a weak position from which to be making our case. Our best bet lies in creating an exciting vision that incentivises a No vote. It wouldn't matter if eurosceptics were 100% correct and that we would save every penny and housewives could spend more on wine and cheese in Sainsbury's - it's just not going to be the basis on which anybody casts their vote except for those who already want to leave.

We have to move on and change the record if we want to win. It may be difficult to let go of because it's been a well rehearsed argument for all of time, but we can't afford any sacred cow arguments. The opposition knows how to play to them, they're a crashing bore and Brexit has never been about the money. In no battle would you deploy your forces where the enemy expects them to be and you wouldn't send your forces running into their most fortified position. We need arguments they are not prepared for and ideas that will energise and excite.

More to the point, that ground is covered by the usual eurosceptic suspects. The Know, Better Off Out and Business for Britain will be running at the machine gun nests like the lemmings we are, so why should we reinforce their failure? We need some original thinking and some new angles because we have to reach new ears. Once again I repeat: we have to reach people who would never in a billion years vote Ukip. Adapt or die.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Why libertarians seriously piss me off...


First off, I have to come clean, I have been a fundamentalist libertarian. I was an even bigger dick than I am now. What changed all that was some serious investigation into EU regulation. Or what I assumed to be EU regulation. As I keep restating, most of it originates at the global level - and most of it exists not as some authoritarian wet dream, but to facilitate faster and better trade. In fact we wouldn't have our vast free market of consumer goods without it.

More than that it means you can buy things off Amazon with reasonable confidence that they are going to be safe and fit for purpose. I mean who really wants to be feeding their kids food off Disney plates that haven't used the right sealant meaning they give of formaldehyde if microwaved?

That is not to say it's not a valuable experience being a libertarian. It's a useful thought exercise in that it is a truism that the state which governs best governs least. To find where that level is it's a useful thought exercise to imagine what than minimum looks like and consider how it would function.

But any utopian idealism of any stripe is often undone by the complexity of the world. for instance, arguing for a free energy market seemed like an intelligent proposition until you consider the complexities and risks. For starters, consumers don't want consumer choice in utilities. They want to plug in their devices and for them to work.

Their second requirement is that it works all the time. Just on that latter consideration alone you need capacity planning and strategic reserves which mandates a minimum generation capacity. And when electricity underpins most of our economic activity - it is a system far too big too fail. It is a strategic national asset.

That is not to say you cannot have market competition in that market, but it needs to be limited to the peak loads. Then there is energy security to look at. Big centralised power generation is always a huge risk and so it is worth regulating for decentralisation Meanwhile since, for all the energy switching companies there are, the evidence shows that people tend not to bother. So if the plebs are moaning about the price of energy then you can legislate for smart meters that will choose the cheapest supplier. Than in itself is a market intervention that stimulates real competition where none previously existed.

And that's just in one sector. When you imagine all the other sectors, each with their own inherent complexities, often at odds with other priorities, you find a large mess that does require intervention and very often has to be done carefully and forensically. And with governments being comprised of humans, governments do not always get it right.

There is a certain nihilism in libertarians that says government hardly ever gets it right. Whereas in reality, our civil service has some of the finest minds anywhere and they get quite a lot right. It's just that they must unfortunately answer to the whims of the people we so carelessly and foolishly elect.

But in that there are in built natural defences in that eventually even the wildest fantasies of politicians bump into reality every now and then which is why we now see politicians backtracking on wind turbines. Through healthy public debate, we have finally put this silliness to bed.

The fact is that regulation is an essential part of running a developed economy and it's why we don't have blocks of flats falling on their face as they do in China. It's also why we're not polluting the bejesus out of our rivers as also happens in China. Life here would suck without regulation and libertarians who claim to the contrary are dickheads.

But then we get to regulation of the civic sphere where I have a little bit of sympathy, but not very much. It's all very well reaching for those philosophers of two hundred years ago, but they never had to manage economies as technical and diverse as ours. We also know a great deal more about human psychology and we have enough evidence to know when we are seeing orchestrated manipulations with malicious intent.

Quote all the lofty free speech crap at me you like, but I will never be convinced that predatory preachers exploiting newly arrived wives of immigrant Pakistanis, telling them that rushing off and joining the jihad is a cornerstone of a liberal society. The state does have a right and a responsibility to monitor, detain and prevent.

Similarly, interventions on the high street are no bad thing. Some fly by night setting up a shop selling basic household goods on an established highstreet where there is already an established business rapidly ensures that both soon go out of business and then everybody is inconvenienced and the highstreet is diminished for it.

During the last decade we gave way to the liberal mantras of letting supermarkets battle it out, building massive stores in small towns, often with a Sainsbury's and Tesco practically next door to eachother. In the end consumer habits changed ensuring that fight for market share means smaller returns and often losses for the supermarket while gutting the town centre. France heavily regulates in this regard and that's why small French towns still function and are nice places to be,

The caveats is that this scale of intervention in all stratas of life is that intervening bodies must be accountable. It all falls down when they are not. Thus is it not a case of ending intervention but designing and demanding a system of democracy that actually works.

Starting from scratch as a thought exercise, libertarianism is quite seductive, and it has established certain groupthinks and thought crimes of its own. It's also a fashion accessory for a certain SW1 sect, who are mainly Tories and Kipperists who basically resent paying any taxes at all. Now I largely resent paying taxes because I see no obligation to pay tax without proper representation and without genuine democracy, but no civil society can function without it and it necessarily will mean that rather a lot is wasted because humans are fallible. As an overall percentage though, it's not worth losing sleep over.

But when one loses sight of the intricacies of a modern society, libertarianism resembles more a childish tantrum that individuals must sometimes moderate their own excesses in the common good. That's that social contract thing. Libertarians argue that it's unnecessary because businesses and individuals will usually act in their own self interest.

If you've actually met a human being you can rapidly establish that quite a sizeable proportion of the public don't know what's best for them, and seldom act in their own best interests. That's fine if the consequences of their bovine stupidity were visited on them alone, but that just isn't the case. Stupidity has a way of rippling out and affecting families and communities. So we intervene.

I certainly won't judge young libertarians in that it is a worthwhile thought process and certainly there is never any reason to frown on individualism but there comes a time when a person should have learned enough about the world for their fantasies to collide with reality. If by my age you are still a libertarian then you are probably suffering from a form of arrested development, largely as a result of conforming to a social orthodoxy, political party or groupthink. Which is ironic given that libertarianism is supposed to be the essence of individualism. It's no coincidence it tends to thrive in SW1 circles among a certain demographic of childless able bodied people with few responsibilities.

You have to give them some credit in that they are smart enough to know that socialism is a dumb idea and that leftists are full of shit, but still they shouldn't be taken very seriously. I mean look at the crap they read. I could buy any number of libertarian books off Amazon and they would all contain roughly the same dogmatic mantras and articles of faith. If you've read one, you've read them all.

This is actually why I have been quite quite aggressively clearing libertarian types off my Facebook. The dullwitted nihilism becomes rather tiresome after a while and much like their literature, it's all much of a muchness and having one is much the same as having a dozen.

Libertarianism is also a lazy ideology in that if your fundamental position is no state intervention it actual absolves you from having to think about solving problems. For sure it's a good starting point to imagine through analysis how to affect something without using government and without appropriating other people's money, and there is a strong case to be made that in terms of social welfare government should be the solution of last resort, but the fact is things work better with governance than without and good government is never going to be cheap government.

With that in mind, it then because a civic obligation to observe government, engage in the national and local discussions and where if possible use ones vote. There is nothing quite so wasteful as a government that does not have to account for its spending as Greece has shown us. In fact, in a roundabout way, Greece is a prime example of a what a libertarian state looks like in practice. For sure there are laws, but very little tax collection, very little enforcement and everything has to be paid for at point of use, usually with cash. It's an undeveloped grey economy where much happens outside of the state and consequently everything decays including the rule of law.

For sure it is an inept kleptocratic socialist government that has brought it all about, which is ironic, but in character, Greece is what a libertarian Britain would look like. The truth is that libertarians aren't grown up people. Adults have libertarian tendencies having gone through the thought experiment, but they largely accept reality, accept regulation and reluctantly pay tax. I can deal with those people.

The people filling up my timeline with Ayn Rand memes are really just risible and of no interest to me. The world is a complex place with increasing levels of contradiction and confusion, and that's how it's going to be. The way we keep it all in order is through participation and applied intellect. In that regard libertarians have nothing to offer.

Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime


In deciding whether we want to be part of the EU we have to first look at the EU and understand what it is, and where it wants to go. For all the talk of building a federalist superstate with its own army and foreign policy, well that's very much out of the window. The Euro has expanded as far is it probably ever will, and it's an absolute certainty that Britain will never join. Similarly, it is unlikely to want to bring the Balkans all the way in - and it's venture in Ukraine may never reach its full conclusion.

Consequently the next step for the EU is to consolidate what it is, to give it the powers it needs to manage its own currency effectively. To all intents and purposes, the Eurozone will be that half finished superstate. What we will likely see in the next treaty is a tidy up of the concentric circles that make up the rest of the single market, bringing some kind of uniformity in how it relates to Efta and associate states.

This formalises and cleans up the supposed two tier Europe that exists now. In actuality, it's not a two tier Europe. There are several different configurations in how nations relate to the EU depending on when they joined and what the EU's own ambitions for them are. To say the EU is a genuine single market isn't strictly true.

Looking at the shortcomings in the proposed EU alternatives and how Norway and Switzerland relate to the EU, we can see that a bit of housekeeping actually wouldn't go amiss. It is likely that any new treaty would seek to tempt Efta nations in closer, putting them on parity with the UK as a developed non-euro members. On paper, there's a lot to be said for it.

That said, in practice, that essentially makes us a fringe concern. In the EU, and told what to do by the EU in a dynamic where it puts the concerns of Euro members first, and the leading concern is the survivability and vitality of the Euro. In other words, we become a second rate nation which can and will be overruled not for the common good, but for the good of the Eurozone. That's when I ask, what is in it for us?

Put that question to the EU enthusiasts and they will speak of trade and co-operation. By definition, being told what to do is not co-operation. It's subjugation. Where trade is concerned, the important factor is less the border tariffs as ensuring everybody is working to the same rules and standards. That is what facilitates trade and makes trade faster, more efficient and less complex. Consequently, regulation is no bad thing in practice.

But this is not the twentieth century. As China has grown and modernised, it is starting to make assertions of its own in the world as to what standards and regulations look like - and in so doing it is adopting much of what is already EU law because, with the exception of the handful of rules that make the headlines, many are wholly sensible and necessary fro running a modern developed economy. This obviously means that the role of global regulatory agencies is set only to increase and in terms of improving trade, the real conversation is not between the established economies of Europe, but between Europe and Africa and the Far East.

With that in mind, we need our voice to be heard directly at the top table rather than as a stifled voice in the EU bloc. We don't want to be lumped in as a second tier concern of the greater EU. We want our voice to matter. The global convergence is the creation of a genuine global single market much bigger and more powerful than the EU alone and we want to be active participants rather than the Eurozone EU doing the talking for us. 

We are not talking about disengaging from Europe, nor are we talking about ending co-operation with the EU. Since we share many commonalities, they are still our partners, and the global refugee crisis shows us that their problems are our problems too and we have a vested interest in working together. That will necessarily mean contributing to EU budgets to achieve that which cannot be affected directly or unilaterally - and it's never going to be in our interests to put up barriers to the EU - but that does not mean we want to be subjugated by it, nor does it mean we want to be considered on par with Norway or Switzerland. We are in a different league.

This nonsense about being two small to "go it alone" is as absurd as it is offensive. We are in the top ten of global economies, we are a large dynamic market exporting cutting edge technology and services and when it comes to knowing how to regulate things - nobody does bureaucracy better than us Brits. Exporting good governance is something we have done for all of time. We are a largely more diverse economy than Australia, and they need not be subsumed into a second tier of EU government. By way of free trade and mutual recognition agreements they are at liberty to trade with the EU but also forge their own agreements in the pacific circle.

You don't hear anybody saying that New Zealand needs to pay second fiddle to Australia because of it's geographic proximity to Australia, and nobody says their economies are too small to go it alone. If the reality is that we are never going to join the Euro, and we continue good relations and free trade with the EU, why do we want to be a protectorate province of it? Our economy and population is larger than that of Canada. Canada is dwarfed by the USA too. Is that grounds for them losing their votes at all the top tables? Certainly not. So why is this a serious proposition for Britain?

This coming referendum is not about severing connections with Europe or the EU. It's about whether our destination is the same as the EU. It isn't. We're of Europe, but we're different and we have different ideas and different approaches that the world could benefit from - not just this little corner of Europe. It's not about whether we stay in the EU as it is now. The EU is going to change and consolidate into something else. We can wish it well and we can be the best of friends, and as ever maintain our commitment to mutual defence through NATO - but we don't have suppress ourselves.

Ultimately this is a question about the future. The EU was created with a mind to building a federal Europe with all that comes with such a proposition. It failed. It failed not least because it was a bad idea forged of a fear that without it we would again be at war. A house built on intellectual sand. Moreover, it done without consent. It has only ever progressed through deception by masquerading as a customs union. Nothing like that can ever survive without the consent of its peoples. Now it must admit defeat and focus on discovering what it is now and where it's own destiny lies.

Whatever the EU decides it now is and what it wants to be, we really don't want to wait for it to finish navel gazing. There is a real and genuine global single market developing and we're not even invited to the party. However that develops will be a settlement that lasts for the next century at least. We should be in there at the top helping to design it because that is what we will ultimately have to live with. It's too important to delegate to the EU and we have some things of our own to say. Brexit is our invitation to the global party and it's an opportunity of a lifetime. We'd be mugs to turn it down.

We don't have problem immigration. We have problem government.

Immigration is once again at the top of the agenda. This means my supposed allies in the fight to leave the EU are doing nothing but bang on about immigration. I don't know how many times it has to be said but leaving the EU on balance has very little impact on immigration. Freedom of movement is not going to come to halt in any eventuality and even if it did, it would have no impact on the global migration crisis.

What we often hear is that we want to reduce "problem immigration". In those terms we have to ask what those problems are. In most respects what we're looking at is not problem immigration but maladministration and local government incompetence.

We've seen blitzes on housing overcrowding and dodgy employers, but this is largely window dressing. This flurry of activity may yield some convincing headlines, but the bottom line is such activities ought to be part of local authority routine - and with local government services operating effectively, including spot checks by environmental health officers, police and social services, they ought to be well aware of the situation on the ground long before it becomes a problem that necessitates a blitz operation.

So we have to ask why this is not happening. Nobody was really surprised by the Rotherham revelations and few are ever surprised by total police ineptitude. It's easy to see what's happening too. We see experienced practitioners moving off their patch and promoted to management so we only ever see junior practitioners actually doing the jobs at the street level, often far too dependent on checklist methodology, spread around entire district rather than focussing on a single patch.

This is what happens when you centralise services and amalgamate local services. It is often said that centralisation is done for the purposes of efficiency. From a pure operation accountancy perspective, I suppose it is efficient - but the externalities of not dealing with the problems is something we all pay for - and local authorities reacting is often more expensive than prevention.

Consequently local authority activity becomes less about maintaining and more about reacting to each crisis as it emerges, concentrating resources on putting out brush fires. This often means budgets from one parish are diverted from basic infrastructure, to social problems in the next. Over time we see a background level of degradation in the things that truly matter.

Parks become shabby, street furniture decays, potholes go unrepaired, and basic maintenance goes out the window. Sooner or later people start treating a place badly, drop litter that goes uncollected, and fly tipping mounts up.

Quite soon you see communities that were once tolerable turn into festering hovels which are incidentally full of foreigners. Who then gets the blame? Foreigners obviously.

But don't let anyone tell you it;s the cuts or austerity. This decay set in long before the financial crisis. The basics were abandoned long ago as more resources were funnelled into welfare than local authorities doing what they are genuinely supposed to do. Meanwhile council headcounts increased while field practitioners reduced. Local offices were closed while giant new headquarters were built. You local police station is now either flats or boarded up awaiting development.

And is it the fault of immigrants that some people can't get a GP's appointment? No. Is that evil Tory cuts again? I don't think so. They can afford £7k a shift for a temp nurse and they can afford £400k pay-offs for health executives. Meanwhile British doctors are massively overpaid and would never get a deal like they have if we had any kind of functioning health market.

And how did it get like this? Would you have consented to this had you been consulted? No. Were you consulted? No. Do we have anything even approaching local democracy? No. My local council offices aren't even in the same town. And that's a two hour walk away.

The truth is we don't have "problem immigration". We just have problems and authorities unfit for purpose. Meanwhile we abdicated trade policy to the EU and our politicians talk about the content of children's lunchboxes and segregated railways carriages. They're not in charge and neither are we. We're run by accountants and government services are run for their convenience, not ours.

Much of this would be easier to swallow had we seen any kind of proportionate cut to council tax for our reduced services, but we're paying more for less all the time. It's our councils letting us down. How about we blame them instead of foreigners? Just yesterday a Kipper said we should gas the migrants. Frankly, if we are setting ourselves on a course to genocide, can we start with the council executives first? I'll be the first in line.

We want a global single market


Annoyingly I have to write more on the subject of the single market. Seems the message is not getting through. There is the legal entity of what constitutes the European single market or the EEA, and then there is what a single market means in reality.

As we have previously outlined, border tariffs are far less significant than they were in 1975. The real barriers to trade are technical in nature - and these can be removed by producing and shipping to a common standard. In that respect the main effort in removing technical barriers to trade happens not between nations or blocs but between regulatory agencies.

If a nation then agrees to those regulations and standards it then has latitude to draw up a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with another bloc or nations. They are much more valuable to producers and exporters than a free trade agreement removing marginal tariffs. That then in essence, and in practice, makes them part of a single market. Australia has an MRA with the EU thus in the literal sense it is as much a part of the single market as we are when it comes to goods and services. But they are signing up to global rules, not EU rules.

It is very much the practice of yesteryear to seek comprehensive trade deals. They take a long time and replicate a great deal of effort. Far more trade is facilitated by European automotive regulators talking to far eastern regulators and agreeing to industry and sector specific conventions, and all governments then have to do is recognise it in law. That is largely what the EU does in negotiating something like TTIP.

This is how we are building a global single market in goods as diverse as dry freight, automobiles, food and electronic goods.

Where EU membership falls down is that it has the EU bloc ringfenced. By its insistence on broadly comprehensive trade deals, it is more exclusive than inclusive. It has made some successes in creating agreements between it and other nations, and we would want to maintain EU single market access to use those agreements by proxy, but membership of the EU means we are not at liberty to open up our own trade avenues or initiate talks between regulatory agencies. Thus any new or emerging markets we have must wait in line to be addressed by the EU machine.

Instead of individual industries being able to come together at the global level, we must wait for the EU to open up talks for deep and comprehensive trade deals that often include cultural and social reforms - which take a decade to agree if they can be brought to fruition at all. Good luck trying to get Algeria to agree to a programme of social reforms recognising full equality for gays etcs.

The EU places its own cultural imperialism above facilitating global trade, not just in the EU but also through its neighbourhood policy. That is why the rest of the world is overtaking us in terms of opening up new markets. There is always a catch with the EU and it is still wedded to the idea of all encompassing agreements including reforms of non exporting sectors. In this it has lost global agility - and thus is less of a priority for global exporters. It's cheaper and faster to open up new markets. It's really no accident you hear the words sclerotic and stagnating in reference to the EU.

The question for us is whether we wish to remain part of this insular little club or whether we recognise the world has moved on and that markets are far quicker to reach regulatory agreement than governments.

The challenge in this respect is that the global regulatory agencies are made up of governments, NGOs, trade guilds and unions and corporates. While government is involved the missing component is democracy.

It is said that the EU puts democracy into this process but in practice we seldom ever manage to block anything we don't like. What pooling sovereignty means is delay and compromise - and because it is done by proxy, such matters have dropped out of our national conversation. It has lengthened the chain of accountability so much happens without our influence.

It is my view that independence will always be the best option for Britain in that we can can set about creating a benchmark for interfacing with the EU single market so that anyone may join it, thus reducing the EU to an actor within a global single market rather than the master of it.

As much as that's good for trade, it allows the EU to consolidate what it has attempted while loosening ties with non-Euro states so they can get what's bets for themselves. It also ends the EU as a regional cultural hegemon which I think is best for global security.

There is a common misconception that because there is a legal entity establishing an EU/EEA single market that it is THE single market, assuming that the EU necessarily makes the rules and that we need to be in the EU in order to influence the rules. We don't. From Basel2, Codex, UNECE and UNEF, more or less all the rules of market governance are made at the very top table and the EU is but one government that codifies such agreements into law. We don't don't need the EU to do this on our behalf, nor do we get the best for ourselves when it negotiates on our behalf.

Of course we would continue to make compromises both at the global level and the EU level in order to reap benefits viewed to be in the common good, but ultimately, we would be the ones deciding what that common good was.

The bottom line is that the world has moved on from the EU, and it's ambitions of spreading it's social democrat ideas through sheer political might cannot succeed. Ultimately humans are most peaceful when there is abundance. Nobody ever went to war over a surplus. Consequently if we want to export "our" values, we'll get there faster with trade by increasing the wealth of other nations. Since those values are then organic and authentic rather than imposed, they will be lasting and unbreakable. "Reform or else" is the modus operandi of the EU. It's great on paper but in practice it's a disaster and will never manifest in reality.

The future is intergovernmentalism, not surpranationalism and if we want a one world market, the EU is an inhibitor to it, not a driver. It's time to break the deadlock and leave.