Monday, 12 October 2015

A grown up referendum debate is too much to ask of our media

I suppose I really ought to blog on the day the Remain campaign launches their effort. It's not worthy of too much analysis in that it is what we expected - all the usual faces along with a few more randoms we've never heard, mouthing the same old empty platitudes, no further along in their thinking than the eurosceptic herd.

As EUReferendum observes, the campaign itself is not the real target and is in fact a noise maker to keep the Twitterers busy. It also gives our media something to do, with Newnight filling airtime with Steve Baker and Caroline Lucas - two of the least knowledgeable people in the world on the subject.

What that really shows is that the media has failed to climb out of its default mode. It cannot comprehend that the opinions of MPs are totally irrelevant to this whole process. It is not their vote. It is ours. In that regard, whichever way our MPs swing is neither here nor there. The people are not leaders and we do not follow them. I cannot think of a time when we as a people have been less inclined to show deference to the judgement of MPs - and rightly so.

This is all against a backdrop of white noise media, taking wild and uninformed guesses as to when the referendum will be and who should "lead" the yet to be nominated official Leave campaign. Our hacks are not even aware that the electoral commission selection process even exists and that there is zero practical possibility of a 2016 referendum.

Meanwhile, the only way we've been able to inject any sanity into the mainstream is with this short slot on LBC radio featuring yours truly (for what that's worth). But even when confronted with what is actually happening the presented carried on the debate inside the predefined parameters of what the media thinks is happening. A narrative that is off the script is not permitted.

The mistake is to believe this is media bias. It isn't. It is structural ignorance. Television and radio programmes play out to a particular formula, from which they never deviate. The only way to manage this format is to keep it as shallow as possible, not least to retain viewers. Good forbid voters should be treated as adults and presented with new concepts. In this dynamic, there are few avenues to throw curveballs into the debate thus the debate is centred around hackneyed memes and their equally hackneyed counter responses.

With that in mind the best way to win is not to court the media, but to bypass it altogether. I was actually relieved to see that neither Leave campaign had anything of substance to say for themselves today, because actually, the more they speak with their stupid memes about saving money on budget contributions, the less of a hard time I have in advancing grown up  arguments with the swing voters who will decide this.

The main reason we will probably end up staying in the EU is because our side will fail to communicate what the actual battle is and the significance of the Cameron deception at play. We have a short time to communicate to voters what they are actually voting for and to teach them the issues on which they should vote. With two Leave campaigns barely even aware such arguments exist and lacking the sophistication to present them, the likelihood of this being an informed debate is somewhere around zero.

It is only after the new EU treaty becomes a reality will voters really see what they have voted for. As far as it goes, the very idea that there is a new treaty on the cards is hardly in circulation beyond a small group of bloggers who are squeezed out by the main players. It is made all the more difficult in that voters barely know what our relationship with the EU is now, let alone after a reform treaty.

The most sense I have seen today comes from a Tweet by Helen Szamuely saying "When they say EU leaders meet to discuss Ukraine, they mean Merkel and Hollande meet Putin and Poroshenko". She is not wrong. In a similar fashion, when the fate of the Euro hangs in the balance, Britain is only called when it's time to open our chequebook. Britain has no say now. We are already in the second tier of Europe, the public isn't even interested in the economic, social or political life of the continent and politics nerds can name more US senators than MEPS.

The fact is we already have a remote relationship with the EU, and when it is formalised by way of a new treaty, we are excluded by law from participating in the key economic conduct of the EU while being on a leash to it. Europhiles have been busy running the uncertainty meme, but actually, the certainty is worse - that we will be formally without influence in the EU and formally without influence at the global level where key regulation is made. That is the miserablist certainty they are asking us to vote for.

Personally, I am not convinced this represents a risk free future, nor does that certainty mean the certain outcome - of being marginalised globally and having our growth throttled by the EU are actually good things. If not actually real risks then massively missed opportunities.

Cards on the table, we can either be subjugated, or we can find our own way. That is the choice. The deception in between is Cameron selling the status quo as reform. That should be a very simple premise for an effective campaign to communicate - yet that is precisely what we don't have. We have noisemaking organisations trading pointless facts and figures, completely divorced from the actual question, speaking only to each other and our infantile media, while the rest of us look on with exasperation, dread and resignation. Never in the field of political debate will so much be said by so many, who know so little.

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