Saturday, 12 March 2016
This referendum is not a vote on the EU
Most people think this is a vote on the EU. For the purposes of this conversation, that doesn't matter. The problem is that the Leave campaign also thinks this is a vote on the EU. They have forgotten what we are trying to do. What we have spoken of is an independent Britain with a renewed democracy. We have identified the EU as the primary obstacle to this and seek to untangle ourselves from it. But this is not the end in itself.
What we are pushing for is nothing short of a political revolution - to part ways with the post war settlement - to correct a historical mistake. Because we have lost sight of what we are doing and why, all we are doing is rushing around, pointlessly stuffing leaflets through letterboxes and moaning about the EU. We forgot we are revolutionaries.
The government, however, has not not forgotten. This is why the establishment is throwing everything at remaining in the EU. They understand what the Leave campaign does not. If we win, it is the end of the establishment as we know it - and they are toast. All of them. We are demanding an end to the established order.
In this, there is a lot of sympathy and there is an appetite for change - but not quite enough. The public are broadly sympathetic that the EU is dreadful - and even the remainers say the EU is dreadful. The whole Remain camp message is not that we should stay in this marvellous EU entity, only that Brexit is next to impossible and there is no real alternative. To turn sympathy into political momentum we have to offer an alternative, reassure and incentivise.
It is therefore incumbent upon the campaign to define what that alternative is and how me might accomplish it. And since it is such a serious undertaking, the answers we give need to be seriously good ones. Guesswork and rhetoric is not enough. We can make all the soothing noises we like that everything will be ok, but such a message will not stick if we do not have credibility and prestige. That is why waffle from Boris Johnson and having a collective whinge is insufficient to win. It won't win and it does not deserve to.
This is also why Vote Leave is entirely the wrong vehicle for a campaign in that it is not and insurgent entity. It is a career vessel for young Toryboys on the make, has-been politicians and no-name back-benchers. In this, the very fact it will be financed by way of public funding makes it something of a damp squib for a revolutionary movement.
In this, Grassroots Out should be the natural choice except it has also adopted politicians and also does not realise what it is and what it is fighting for. If it knew, it would understand the significance of a plan and the incentive. Thus far all they can offer us is a few extra quid per household and a vague promise of fewer regulations and controlled borders - without defining how this is possible. It's pathetic.
All the while, we have not prepared for this. The branch structure of Ukip should have been prepared. It should have been ready and willing to drop the Ukip identity on command and pick up the campaign banners. They would be the ones coordinating local activity, putting on public meetings, running local blogs, wowing the public with their coordination and energy. Instead we see Toryboy interns in red t-shirts handing our helium balloons and leaflets on a wet afternoon in Warrington.
For that you can blame Nigel Farage for hollowing out Ukip and making it his own personal cult, asset stripping the party to fund his quest for office, failing to build a well briefed network of branches capable of coordinating between themselves. The branches I have spoken to have been dismayed by the lack of central office support and information. Grassroots Out rallies have been announced without informing the local Ukip branches who could and should be the ones out promoting them in advance.
Rumour has it that one such rally was announced in a shopping centre without securing permission and attendees (the few who turned up) were moved on by the police. Not out of censorship - just because there was no event to attend.
The whole show has been utterly shambolic and the fact that a London Leave campaign entity has been able to come up from nowhere and snatch the initiative away from Ukip tells you everything you need to know.
If anything, this referendum has come too soon. Many say that it was Farage who gave us this referendum. I am not going to argue. But what he has given us is a poisoned chalice. We have no campaign organisation to speak of, the rump of what is left is in decline and what remains of it is perceived as racist, incompetent and risible.
Having cut corners, trading sustainable growth for rapid expansion, hoovering up the BNP vote and souring the milk he has delivered a referendum without the means to fight it. Ukip central office should be the one with the answers having had highly paid staff at the heart of the machine for over a decade. They should have the answers, but they don't. What little answers we have are on the back of a few unpaid bloggers - all of whom are the subjected to personal abuse from kippers because kippers do not like uncomfortable truths.
What should be an energetic and electrifying campaign is a soggy facecloth. It has utterly failed to capture the public imagination, most people are bored by it, most people don't even care and most just want it over and done with. Including me.
And so while we can point the finger at grubby operators like Matthew Elliott, Daniel Hannan and the likes who have made a career and a few quid out of euroscepticism, it is ultimately the vanity and foolishness of Farage that has brought us to this point.
I might even go as far as saying that the Leave campaign adopting a plan would have been insufficient without having a ground force and spokesmen capable of delivering carefully crafted messages. In that regard it was lost before it even started. If we do win this time around, it will be entirely by accident.
It is my view that we have probably wasted the opportunity of a lifetime in that a loss will mean we are back to square one. Worse off in fact. There will still be a rump of eurosceptics who will keep on fighting but we will have annoyed the public by wasting their time with this referendum, we will have tarnished our credibility and blown our resources. Unless circumstances force another referendum, we will need decades to rebuild.
From the outset this campaign has suffered from political lethargy, egotism and disarray, but those are not the causes. Ultimately we went to war with the establishment without a plan of battle, without an endgame and the establishment saw us coming. We marched for our referendum, we're demanding our revolution, and now we have the chance, the public ask us "Why?". As yet, we have not satisfactorily answered that question.
All we have right now is a generic whinge that the EU is bad - and while voters also know it is, we're not giving them good enough reason to rock the boat. The best we can muster is a rant from Boris Johnson - a man we are not even sure is a eurosceptic. What we can say is that he is not a revolutionary, nor is he a leader of men. He's an opportunistic career politician who has nothing at stake and is someone who does very well from the status quo. One of us he is not.
In the end, we do not have a coherent movement. I'm not even sure that we are a movement. The Leave campaign doesn't realise it is revolutionary and most of the activists don't know that either. The media doesn't understand it, nor does it care. David Cameron is laughing at us.
Were I in his shoes, I would be too. Tory MPs are giving him a free pass on one of the biggest political lies of the century and the Leave campaign hasn't even realised that David Cameron is the target - not the EU. The fact we have anointed one of Cameron's school chums as our leader gives you some clue as to how utterly incompetent we are. Depressed? You should be.