Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The No campaign could learn a lot from Tony Blair

When you walk past a Socialist Workers Party stand in town, you smirk and walk past. Enfeebled dinosaurs pushing their obsolete wares to the to barmy and the gullible. As a movement it clearly has some considerable inherent sympathy as we see the surge of Corbynism, but one thing almost all are agreed upon is that he couldn't win an election and we would be much diminished at a nation if ever he did.

In that regard, I look at eurosceptics in the same way. The isolationist little Englander vibe would not be good for the country, and pulling out of the EU by way of quickie divorce as they propose would leave us diplomatically isolated with few friends. They represent the fag end of of a dead vision. They are the SWP of the right. (with caveats).

For the Labour party to take power in 1997 it had to suppress its base instincts, it had to expel and marginalise the far left and had to sell a new vision. It did so with ruthlessness and cunning and showed no mercy in ejecting those who would taint the party image. They had a message and they had message discipline and a certain elitism about them.

That is what eurosceptics must also do. We have our fair share of ranters, bigots and bozos along with craven egotists and losers. I've been told that we must be a big tent and build coalitions, but our movement canot be a contrarian movement comprised of people who seethe against Muslims, bore about climate change conspiracies or the niche professional axe grinders.

More than anything Euroscepticism needs to jettison its old school aristocracy. The Bill Cash's, the Daniel Hannan's and the Farage's and all their weirdo followers. I mean what was Farage thinking giving house room to Neil Hamilton? Some argue that he was unfairly treated and that he was largely innocent of the charges brought against him, but really, in the public eye, he's damaged goods.

Our lot have been tweaking about bent bananas and British jam for thirty years and where has it got us? For sure it got us a referendum but our chances of winning it look pretty slim. We have to foster a new euroscepticism. The tawdry colours of Ukip and the brash populism cannot reach the centre ground or the swing vote. It cannot expand its appeal and it cannot win a referendum.

The only way we can win is to reinvent, to ditch our baggage and moderate out language. That's what Blair had to do and for all he was hated for it, he did win three elections. Moreover he was the right man to do it. He had an answer for every question and little got past him.

In fairness, there was a time (long ago) when Farage was that man. At one time he listened to advice, learned the arguments absorbed the details and more importantly knew when to defer to greater wisdom. But as the saying goes the higher the monkey climbs, the more you see of his ass. In some respects, you can't blame the fellow.

At that level when you have everybody offering their opinion their comes a time when you have to just trust in your own abilities. But he's overextended. there comes a time when the stresses of office take over and for whatever good you've done, you rapidly start to undo it. His rhetoric is tired, he looks tired and he's bought his own legend. He's spent.

In that regard, so too is Ukip. Having surrounded himself with an intellectual subspecies, it's little wonder Farage has a reputation for a ferocious temper. I don't think I could keep my cool around such epic stupidity. Though I have no sympathy at all, it is not altogether surprising he feels he must keep hold of the reins for Ukip to survive. He's about right. Should he hand it over to any one of his underlings and they'll destroy it in under a year. Only he can hold it together and help it limp along.

Having steered Ukip onto siding, eurosceptics are now without a main vehicle. In so many ways, Ukip has departed from being the eurosceptic party and is instead a popular protest group that is largely opposed to, well, everything. It is now part and parcel of the eurosceptic baggage, and must be ditched along with the rest of it. As far as their 4m votes, go, they're not instrumental to the coming fight. They will speak only to themselves and the will vote out anyway. As far as expanding the message goes, they are dead in the water. All they can now do is taint the message and sour the milk.

As an experiment is has failed. But it has shown us what message not to run with and how not to fight a campaign. The winning No campaign will be the one that avoids the mistakes and learns the lessons. If it does then Ukip will have been worthwhile just as a lesson in how not to do things.

In that regard, what we saw today with Ukip announcing their own No campaign was a jealous action by Farage to maintain his empire, and to prevent The Know from co-opting the Ukip caucus in order to claim legitimacy in bidding for the official No campaign nomination. In that respect Farage has done us a favour in that the official No campaign should do its very best to disown Ukip and distance itself from the rhetoric and the message of Ukip.

In the end the decision for nomination will go to the Electoral Commission. We will not get to choose as there is no means by which a public ballot could be held. But if there were we would see a kind of entryism similar to that of Tories for Corbyn. We would see "Inners for Ukip".

No successful campaign can be associated with Ukip because Ukip does not own euroscepticism and it doesn't speak for the movement. Apart from the vague proposition of leaving the EU, I share virtually nothing politically with what that party now stands as. I would struggle to find unity with people who want to bulldoze mosques. A clear indication from the No campaign that it parts company with the little Englander populism of Ukip would be the Clause 4 moment that our movement needs to win.

In some respects we should thank Farage for his jealous manoeuvre in that it ring-fences the Ukip constituency so that it cannot be co-opted by a No contender. An email from within The Know today indicates that The Know is now keen to put distance between itself and Ukip and position itself as entirely independent. This may also indicate that Ukip has lost the financial backing of Aaron Banks.

We do not know, but what we can say is that the Know stands without a constituency and largely has a paper army with little to connect it to any grassroots activity. It is a corporate shell that has thus far achieved little someone with a similar budget could not. It certainly lacks any intellectual capital. In that regard it would be sensible for The Know to join the Referendum Planning Group and submit a joint bid for the No nomination. In so doing there would be a No campaign independent of the Tories and Ukip.

It is my view that a Tory front organisation headed by Elliot cannot succeed and a rich man's toy has little reach either. If it's a Ukip grunt-a-thon or an SW1 old boys only club then we are staying in the EU. It's that simple. 

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