Thursday, 17 December 2015

Why we fight the Leave campaigns

Big change is risky. People will not vote for big risky change. So instead we need to sell them a gradual change that carries no risk. This is what we are not doing.

The Leave campaign is saying that we will have a bonfire of regulations, that we will save a lot of money (£933 per household) that we can miraculously also spend on schools and hospitals, we get to control immigration and end foreign aid.

There is only one Brexit option we can take that will grant these wishes. Total and complete withdrawal from the EU and the single market in a single stroke.

That is a massive undertaking. It comes with major consequences - not all of them known. Moreover, that comes with as many negative economic consequences as positive ones. In fact, I would say the economic benefits are few, the savings are few and ending freedom of movement will do little to tackle problem immigration.

Going all the way out of the EU, all at once is complex, difficult and risky. For that reason alone, business will not wear it and nor will more level headed and informed voters. So then how we leave becomes as important as why we leave. So we must have a Brexit plan that de-risks Brexit.

That means adopting Brexit paths that have great deal more certainty. That will have to be a single market based solution. Adopting a single market based Brexit plan means that we have to pay into the EU budget and accept most of the regulation and freedom of movement. By doing so, we can transition away from the EU gradually. That is easier to sell and it neutralises most of the scaremongering arguments of the opposition.

But by doing it that way it means that the Leave campign cannot be pumping out a message that we will have a bonfire of regulations, that we will save a lot of money and control immigration. But that is exactly what both major Leave campaigns are doing. In doing so, it makes it impossible to argue for a careful and well executed Brexit.

That is why this particular blog is at war with the Vote Leave campaign. There is a gaping intellectual inconsistency in our message and everyone can see it. They would argue that I am over intellectualising it and the public are not engaged to that extent. That misses the point.

In deciding how to vote, in the end people will make up their minds on the basis of what they see on the television, but also from people in the pub, a visiting relative or an old friend - those people around them who read the newspapers, read the blogs and engage on Twitter and Facebook. Their opinions are ones forged in the fires of public debate - which largely follows the media debate.

Consequently, winning the intellectual argument at that level is absolutely essential. Convincing opinion formers that we have a credible case is paramount. Ukip's lack of policies and half baked ideas were widely ridiculed in the general election. It cost them seats.

Many voters liked some of Ukip's ideas - but the vibe coming off then was that they were a bunch of amateurs with no real idea how to govern. People who may have been tempted to vote for them were put off by those around them whose opinions - or at least instincts - are trusted. Vibe is everything - and the debate at the top of the tree is what creates that vibe.

How one votes depends as much on how one identifies with the message and those other peers who believe in it. We have seen that a tawdry tabloidesque campaign yields 14% of the electorate. In a referendum, that increases somewhat. But the more it dumbs down, the more repellent it is to the swing voters who do not identify with it.

Consequently, the campaign cannot be different messages playing to different audiences. We need to set out the intellectual case and argue that case, and derive all the memes and slogans from that case.

For sure, the case is a lot harder to make when you have to focus on less lurid arguments than controlling immigration and saving a few quid - but that's why marketing agencies with a track record of success charge a lot of money. The job is not to find out what the customer likes and give them what they want. The job is to take what we have and find a way to make them want it. That's the hard bit.

If we go around saying that Brexit is the answer to all your gripes and it comes without compromise, then it opens up too much of a credibility deficit, injects too much risk and the referendum is then lost. Any campaign director who does not understand these fundamentals basically has no hope of winning.

This is something neither Vote Leave or Leave.EU understand. They would rather fight from their comfort zone rather, arguing the case the want to make rather than the case that can win. That is why we attack them. It's lazy, it's dangerous and it's a referendum loser. Until such a time as they get their act together, we have no choice but to continue attacking them. We will do that for as long as it takes. We will not give up and we will not go away.

If you think we are being hard on them - wait til the real campaign heats up. Lord Rose has identified the weak spots and he will exploit them. I really don't blame him. It reinforces all that we have said. We cannot win without a Brexit plan and we cannot win without having good answers to tough questions. Why is that so difficult to grasp? It seems the last man on earth who will wise up to it though is one Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave Ltd. That is why he must resign.

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