Monday, 15 February 2016

Hugo Dixon: man of spin

If you ever wanted a masterclass in how to make propaganda, you need only to turn to Hugo Dixon.
"The mission of (IF), a journalistic enterprise I have just helped found, is to try to straighten out the facts. My colleagues include former editors of the Guardian, Le Monde, the Observer, Reuters and the Sun. We don’t, of course, think that everybody would have the same view about what was best for Britain if they agreed on the facts. But that would be a start.
InFacts doesn’t pretend to be neutral in this campaign. We are making the fact-based case to stay in. Our main tool is rebuttal. When we come across errors, we pop the perpetrators in our sin bin. Though we concentrate our fire on the Leave camp, we also criticise the Remain side when it strays."
It should be noted that IF is extremely well funded. It speaks to our own side's utter incompetence in that we have not achieved something similar. Our network of blogs is as close as it gets and we struggle to gain exposure as the Leave side is evidently determined to commit suicide.

InFacts on the other hand has privileged access to the media and can reach audiences we cannot. It is speaking to a constituency that relies on the media for information - which makes them powerful influencers.

The whole operation is a confidence trick. The idea is to mostly tell the truth, but where possible to omit certain key facts - which is to lie by omission. The trick is to lay down a trail of breadcrumbs and in so doing win the trust of reader and then plant a little white lie.

It's a cynical tactic and I think most genuine individuals can see through it. They work on the principle that you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time, and their chief tactic is never to enter a dialogue with challengers and instead see what sticks. The trick for them is to keep telling the same lies for as long as they can get away with it. Let's take a look:
In the few weeks since we soft-launched our website, there has been lots to get our teeth into. Migration has been the top story. The New Year’s Eve sex attacks in Cologne were a gift for Eurosceptics. Nigel Farage, the Ukip boss, promptly declared that the attackers could get a German passport in three to four years and then come to Britain. We discovered that newly arrived asylum-seekers actually have to wait roughly a decade to get German passports. They also need clean criminal records.
Liam Fox, the Tory Eurosceptic, went one step further, suggesting that terrorist sleeper agents could get naturalised in continental Europe and then come to Britain to carry out an attack. Theoretically, yes. But would a jihadist really wait a decade to wreak havoc in the UK when he or she could do so immediately somewhere on the Continent? If Islamic State is so keen to hit Britain, surely the better option is to recruit home-grown terrorists?
On the other hand, Downing Street’s claim last week that quitting the EU could lead to the Jungle camp shifting from Calais to South-East England seemed exaggerated. Not only is it far from certain that the French would rip up the treaty that allows us to enforce British border controls in Calais; what is actually keeping the migrants out of the UK are the high fences and razor wire, to which we contributed £7 million last summer. Would Paris really tear all that down?
The economy has also been a rich seam for InFacts. We took Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP, to task for saying that Britain sends £350 million a week to Brussels. The actual figure last year was £250 million.
What’s more, our farmers, scientists, regional development projects and the like get millions back. When you net all that off — as well as our share of what Brussels spends on international aid and which we count towards our own target of helping poorer countries — the EU costs us £120 million a week. That’s less than £2 per person.
Incidentally, that is almost exactly what Norwegians pay for their access to the EU’s single market while not being a member of the bloc. The difference is that we get to vote on the club’s rules, while Norway doesn’t.
First off, Dixon goes for the low hanging fruit. Liam Fox, Danny Hannan and Nigel Farage. Fish. Barrel. In this, Dixon has probably been a good deal kinder than I would have been in shooting this nonsense down in flames, but then, for the most part, it's unnecessary. This is dogwhistle stuff and self-evidently weak on our part.

But then the business about Calais is something Dixon has turned to tactical advantage. Since the story didn't come from the Remain camp and instead came from the PM's office, he doesn't have to take the hit if the story is shot down, and he can afford to concede a losing argument.

Since blogger "White Wednesday" was way ahead of the game, it didn't take long for the story to be shot to piece on Twitter. And so now the concession stands as a reusable artifact in the construction of Dixon's prestige. The pretense of intellectual honesty.

Having won the trust of the reader, he thinks, Dixon slots in his little white Norwegian lies. It's baloney. According to the Norwegian government's own figures, its total EU mandated payments (gross) are approximately £435m (€600m) per annum. With a population of five million, that is approximately £86 (€120) per head (gross). Net payments, however, are about £340m (€470m) per annum, or about £68 (€94) per head. 

On the other hand, in 2014, the UK gross contributions to the EU were £19.2bn, less £4.9bn rebate. That gives an equivalent gross payment of £14.3bn. After receipts, our net contribution was £9.8 bn. With a population of 64 million, that puts our gross contribution (without rebate) at £300 per head, our equivalent gross payment at £223 per head, and our net per capita payment £153 per annum – more than twice the Norwegian payments.

But in any instance, the debate over budget contributions is wholly fruitless. This is and always has been a much larger question. One of influence and democracy. Dixon dishonestly slots in a further white lie by saying "The difference is that we get to vote on the club’s rules, while Norway doesn’t."

Much has already been written on how Norway influences the substance of the rules further up the chain at the top tables. This does not stop Dixon from further embedding the grander untruths though. 
Claims about how Britain gets bossed around in the EU have also been grist to our mill. Michael Caine landed in the sin bin for saying that faceless bureaucrats make the EU’s rules. In fact, laws have to be approved by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which is made up of ministers sent by national governments including Britain.
VoteLeave, one of the main Leave groups, at least realises that we have votes at the Council of Ministers. But it says we can only rely on eight per cent of the total. That used to be so until 2014, but then our vote went up to 13 per cent. Funny how the Leave camp didn’t trumpet this as an example of our increased influence.
Michael Caine is quite right in that the rules are most definitely made by faceless bureaucrats, but not in Brussels. Most likely Geneva where the technical rules are written by various global agencies. Dixon won't go anywhere near that subject because he knows how dangerous that argument is. He prefers to keep the EU in the frame as the be all and end all of regulation.

We have only a fraction of a say when it comes to the approval process, by which time most of the substance is already decided. Europhiles largely overestimate the value of having a formal vote further down the chain. What matters is our approach to the consultation, cooperating in good faith and participating in all the bodies that draft regulation.

To view it purely in terms of the overpaid button pushers in the European Parliament is to discount 90% of the process. It's a two dimensional and rather childish interpretation. It's not even as if any real scrutiny is applied by MEPs. Most MEPs know very little and have no real expertise. Most of them don't even know what they're voting for. They work to lists provided by their groups. They won't know whether it's ordinary legislative procedure, or whether it's first reading in response to comitology.

To them, it's just a vote that they turn up to, in order to press a button. Trying to have sensible discussions with them about what they voted for is usually a total waste of time. They don't have the knowledge and most times they don't have any real understanding of what they are doing.

As to amendments, most are for show only and get discarded. The ones that stick are the official amendments which will bring the text into synchronisation with the original text but, whatever happens, on technical standards, if they come from international sources, the details can't be changed. Very often, though, you get MEPs showboating and virtue signalling, putting in amendments for the sake of it. These are stripped out during the voting, and have no effect whatsoever.

So when it comes down to it, when europhiles say we would have "no seat at the table", they just mean one particular table, way down the chain and one not actually all that important to the legislative process. You can only change a fraction of the MEPs, and as to the Council of Ministers, at best you can only have a partial electorally mandated reshuffle.

Not by any measure could you consider the EU a democracy and then when you consider that half a billion people are "represented" by fewer than a thousand MEPs, where at every level the EU can overrule the governments of entire nations, you're just not in the democracy ballpark.

Hugo Dixon will continue to maintain this angle of attack though because he knows that nobody is going to take advantage of the wide open goal. The Leave side has retreated to the comfort zone of telling comforting lies to itself. It lacks a plan, knowledge and message discipline, hoping that dog whistles will see them through. In this, Hugo Dixon has the easiest job in the world.

Expanding the debate in this regard is essentially a bulletproof defence of the Norway Option - but the Leave side won't do that because that means Freedom of Movement would apply - and letting foreigners in would never do would it?

The irony is, that by retreating to the comfort zone the Leave campaigns have already bought us a defeat and now there is no chance of leaving the EU. It looks like none of their complaints are going to be solved any time soon because of it. 

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