I have been blogging and researching EU issues for a long time in one form or another. For a long time I was working to the flawed methodology of looking at a news story and asking "is there an EU dimension to this?"
If there came an answer of yes then I would run the story, regardless of the EU's direct relevance or involvement. It's not a good idea. If you're blaming everything from a papercut to solar radiation on the EU then you're not rational thus not credible. I thought I would outline my thought processes as to how it really should be done.
The goal of the Leave campaign is to establish public trust through prestige - and prestige is earned through credibility. Anything less than accuracy is counter to that aim. We are going to be putting a case to the electorate and we are going to ask them to believe what we say. We can't do that if the more rational opinion formers think we're full of shit.
My golden rule - avoid histrionics.
Exaggerated arguments add no value. The bigger the numbers involved, the more drastic the consequences outlined, the less believable it is. That rule is so important that you don't make the case even if it's all true. There's what you know - and there's what you can sell. If it sounds like bullshit, it probably is - and if you don't buy it, don't expect anybody else to either.
Rule 2: Check the background.
When you are dealing with something like a closure of a steel plant, the first thing to do is check the wider news. Where else is this happening? With so much driven by global economic changes and global governance, if you find a port strike in Greece (for instance), there's probably one happening in India. Nothing happens in isolation. Connect the dots. Don't treat a local symptom of something bigger as an EU problem. You will be called out on it.
With something like the Port Talbot steel plant closure, the issues are multifarious. British steel has been struggling for viability for the last two decades. We compete on quality, not price, but even then with major global economic disruption, to pin it entirely on the EU, when France and Germany have protected their industries loses the argument. You can argue that France and Germany have breached the rules and the EU is ignored it but that is a secondary debate. If you lose the primary debate, it doesn't matter if you win the secondary. Do not argue that which you cannot conclusively prove.
Instead take it as a cue to run a different branch of the campaign highlighting those instances where the British tendency toward the rule of law puts us at a competitive disadvantage. A clear case for a national veto.
Rule 3: What is the opposition saying?
Don't look at what the main Remain campaigns are saying. They are misdirection. Look at the blogs. What are their thinkers thinking? I look at Hugo Dixon. He has a full time paid staff of researchers debunking Leave campaign claims. He is eroding our authority and our prestige mainly because he sticks to the facts. Don't give them fresh material - or at least make it hard for them.
This post, this post and this post carves through Kipperish histrionics in exactly the same way I would. From a neutral position I would certainly take Dixon's word over that of Carswell or Farage. It really comes down to treating your audience with respect. Do not insult their intelligence. Do not take them for fools. They will bite you.
You have to count on the fact that your own supporters, particularly of the Kipper ilk will believe most of what you say. When they go into online debates they will be slaughtered as the facts filter through into the public domain. Don't feed the beast.
Rule 4: What is Ukip saying?
It's not unfair to say that if there is a wrong end of the stick, Ukip will grasp it with both hands. This is down to their leadership winging it and not investing in research. You can fool most of the kippers most of the time with that kind of nonsense but this is not about bolstering Ukip. This is about winning something much bigger. Be creative, find a different angle.
What are you left with?
If after you've discounted with obvious and you're left with little to go on its better to concede the ground than to did a hole You don't have to dance to their tune, you can set your own agenda. If you do want to meet the point then take the high ground and argue from a line of principle.
Too argue that leaving the EU means we can prop up our steel industry and protect it from competition it to take a very specific policy decisions. We want to avoid policy decisions as much as possible. This isn't an election. The principle in most cases is that we have taken a hit from global economic disruption. We cannot always prevent but we can mitigate. To do that we need all the tools at our disposal and that means the ability to forge our own terms of trade.
Protectionism and pure self-interest goes counter to the vision of Britain enaging fully in a global marketplace. We cannot be condemning France and Germany for breaching the rules in protecting their industries then stand on a platform of doing likewise.
In effect, the opposition does half of our job for us by debunking the immediately wrong. Use that as part of the process of elimination. Take whichever argument is still standing and run with it. Use the debate process as filtering system. Conceding that which is immediately false does not make us look weak, it adds to our credibility.
By playing up falsehoods and exaggerating, we are then coming down to their level: Scaremongering and lying. We can't win that way because the opposition is better resourced and is better at lying than we are.
I suppose the point is, we have no need of exaggeration and hyperventilation. Just the facts as they are is sufficient to win. The best way to convince people to leave is by explaining what the EU is, how it works and offer a better alternative.
When producing content, you must first set our what your values and objectives are - globalism, adherence to international law, global influence, and progressive reform of the top tables. Then measure your content against your values. If it contradicts, you don't use it. It's this thing called message discipline.
By producing generic material from which much can be inferred you create message weaknesses. Running a campaign with a expectation that your opponent will not notice them - when the main arguments will be fought online is a very very foolish gamble.