June 27, 2016

So we won

We hadn't expected to win. That feeling intensified when we attended our local count and found the Remain campaign  had arranged four times as many scrutineers as us. That night they were the professionals, we were the underdogs.

We watched the count take place. After several hours, someone passed the word that Farage seemed to have conceded. And then unconceded. We were not the professionals.

Then a mobile phone brought news of the Newcastle on Tyne result - a tiny lead in a university city. It was when we heard the Sunderland result that we dared to start hoping. Gradually the Remain scrutineers left off their industrious scrutinising and clustered in a corner round someone's laptop.

After a professional and good natured count our own university city's result was announced - a remain lead, but a lot less than expected. Surely we weren't going to win? We went home to watch David and Laura on the BBC, who were having an excellent night, and changed channels only when Jeremy Vine appeared with his tedious graphics complicating simple situations.

Unbelievable. We had won.

****

When Cameron made his referendum commitment to woo UKIP voters, he expected to achieve at best a coalition with the Lib Dems - who would be bound to veto a vote. That he squeaked a majority was thanks to Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, but it meant he had to honour another commitment made in haste.

There had been many miscalculations and close calls along the way. Cameron must have told Angela Merkel that the feeble "renegotiation" would be enough to win him the referendum. And so it would have been against UKIP and various Tory oddballs. But Boris and Gove took the lead in a separate Leave campaign, supported by middle ranking Tory ministers and sane and clear Labour dissenters. To add to Cameron's problems, the Electoral Commission designated them (by a narrow margin, it was said), as the official Leave campaign. And they decided to have nothing to do with Nigel Farage.

Now Dave had a fight on his hands, and he fought as dirty a fight as he could get away with. The government purdah period was to be short; before then the resources of the Treasury were at the disposal of the Remain side, and Cameron spent £9m of state money to send leaflets to everyone promoting his Remain campaign.

When the firepower of "experts" didn't work, Cameron and Osborne resorted to "Project Fear". They staged it ridiculously, because as each economic threat failed to hit its target a new, more dire threat was issued. "Oh, here's another, bigger threat that we somehow didn't mention before."

When an MP was murdered just as the Leave campaign was gaining momentum, Cameron paused the Remain campaign for as long as he could. Leave meekly followed, and when campaigning restarted sombrely, that mood and momentum had gone. Osborne sank his political future with his ludicrous "punishment budget".

But Leave persisted with its clealy false claim that £350m a week would be available to spend on the NHS, which daily looked as if it might prove fatal to leave's credibility, as every interviewer quite reasonably attacked it.

****

If polling after the referendum is to be believed, the scale if immigration played a large part in people's decisions to Vote Leave, but the biggest issue was sovereignty - on which the Remain side had no answer. Vote Leave Take Control indeed.

****

Campaigns can show politicians' true nature, as they begin to tire and their guard drops. Apart from the nastiness of Cameron and Osborne, what else did we learn about some of our politicians?

Amber Rudd is nasty and patronising, Angela Eagle is old Labour, Boris is wily and sharp and willing to learn (Peter Oborne, not easily impressed, has described him as a political genius). Gisela Stuart is clear and direct, Dianne Abbott is hectoring and dim, Anna Soubry is hectoring. IDS and Liam Fox have energy, know what they think, and can say so clearly, Ruth Davidson should stay in Scotland, Priti Patel didn't shine as expected, John Mann and Andrea Leadsom are leadership material.

Cameron has compounded his disgraceful conduct of the referendum by abdicating leadership this weekend, but he has a chance to stop sulking when he reports to the Commons (though it seems the government had done no Brexit planning at all). The Tories are in turmoil, Labour are in turmoil, the EU is in turmoil.

****

Against all the odds the underdogs won thanks to a series of unlikely events. But we won.

The Labour priesthood

Labour has given up being a mass political party and become a religious cult. It has abandoned any pretence of fashioning policies which might be popular. Mrs Thatcher said she would sell council houses cheaply to aspirational voters, and they turned out to vote for her. That is how political parties who want power behave.

That is not how Labour are behaving. They lost Scotland through absent-mindedness, but in England it seems almost wilful. The thought of Diane Abbott - now shadow Secretary for the NHS, the country's biggest employer - soon responding to the government's obesity strategy is just rib-tickling (if you can find any ribs). Cat Smith has been appointed shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, after Guido Fawkes claimed she had doctored her election expenses.

Clive Lewis, the new shadow Defence Secretary, did serve in the armed forces. But he, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the new shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry all favour unilateral nuclear disarmament. How will that play in marginal constituencies, or in the north of England?

During the referendum campaign, it seemed that every time a Labour Remain politician was asked about immigration they began by paying tribute to the contribution of immigrants, and usually went on deplore the tone of the debate. There was no attempt to understand or reflect the concerns of traditional Labour voters about immigrant numbers - though those voters were just the ones they had to bring to the ballot box to vote Remain.

No wonder a Labour politician expressed shock at the postal votes in the North. (Commenting on postal votes before the count is illegal, so we heard no more of this, but it was some hope to cling to.)

Then Remain (quite narrowly) lost and Labour blamed the medium, not the message, in this case their leader. They claimed JC's low key campaigning had lost them the vote, because Labour voters were unsure what Labour's position was. As if Labour's core vote were awaiting instructions. 

This is how religions work. Labour has its holy book of commandments. The doctrine is fixed. It is not to be adapted to currents of opinion. The writ is the writ. The priesthood proclaims it and looks to its adherents to follow.

But there are rival religions, false gods in Labour's terms, telling the masses what they might actually want to hear. In Scotland, the SNP, In the North, Vote Leave. 

Will they troop back to the Labour tent, tempted by unlimited immigration, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and a PLP in a shambles?

As JC leads the priests in their frenzied ceremonies of self-immolation, who is looking out of the windows of the temple to see if anyone is going to join them?

Is anybody there?

June 20, 2016

In a small BBC EU audience

We were in the audience for this morning's Vicky Ford Show BBC Radio Norfolk discussion programme about the the EU referendum. First thing we learned: the listeners at home don't know the audience is only some 30 strong, and an audience that size is quite enough for the programme staff to manage.

Second lesson: the format of panel plus audience isn't useful in the EU debate any more. For the most part, the panel made familiar points. It's not enough for the chairman to manage the broadcast; if the programme is to add value he has to challenge the panel quite brutally on some of their assertions. This didn't happen.

Permitted audience interventions are simply that if they are not put specifically to the panel. They weren't.

Third lesson: a politician will keep talking until they are stopped. The longer they talk, the less they say.

Fourth lesson: don't place the chairman out of sight of the most loquacious panel member, so that he can't control her when she thinks it's her turn. Which is pretty much always.

Fifth lesson: if you are a professor at the University of East Anglia, and a Pro Vice Chancellor, don't talk in public about politics and expose your ignorance. It will lose you respect and it's not a sign of a fine mind.

For instance, scientists seem to think the EU is essential to their scientific co-operation (why?) and their funding. Just where do these unworldly boffins think the EU gets its money from?

His warning that a vote to Leave could lead to the "break-up of the union" (i.e. Scottish independence) brought loud applause from the compact Remain bloc in the audience.

What's the logic of this warning? That if England is inclined to Brexit, it must draw back so as not to upset the Scots. Let the tail wag the dog, say the Remainers.

So that's how they want us to behave in our union. And in the European Union too? 27 countries are an awful lot to placate. Hang on, though, if memory serves, they want Britain to take the lead in the EU. But they don't want England to lead in the UK. All clear?

In any case, the UK won't fragment. With oil around $50 a barrel, Nicola knows Scotland can't afford to be independent. She knows an independent Scotland couldn't join the EU: the euro is now compulsory for new entrants. And Spain would veto Scotland joining, because it doesn't want a precedent for a breakaway Catalonia joining the EU.

Oh, and Nicola has said she would only want a second Scottish referendum if it was clear that the Scots overwhelmingly wanted independence. The polls say they don't, to her relief.

Do you know this, Professor Pro Vice Chancellor and remainers? If you do, you are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. If you don't, keep your ignorance to yourselves.

Overall an interesting experience. But not illuminating.

June 18, 2016

Protecting MPs

Thomas Mair in court has given his name as 'Death to traitors, freedom for Britain'.

As he has now been charged, we should not comment. We will draw our own conclusions.

As a general point, sentences for threatening, harrassing or assaulting an MP should be twice the standard tariff.

Since this would be a measure benefiting MPs (as well as the rest of us), it would be good if the Lords could start this off by passing a motion to this effect.

June 16, 2016

Over-reaction to the killing of Jo Cox

The killing of Jo Cox is a huge personal tragedy.

We don't know yet if it was a political murder or not. The suspect evidently has a history of mental problems. His neighbours say he wasn't political, but he had a gun, and what did he look at on the library computers? Had he been radicalised?

It seems they didn't know him well.

Or - whisper it - was there no political element at all?

He went armed, evidently to do damage. We do not know why he and another man were fighting. Jo Cox came out. As far as we know, he didn't try to burst into her surgery. If she was his target, on the face of it he went about his foul deed very oddly.

Did he shout "Britain First" before walking away? Witnesses differ.

On this (so far flimsy) basis, some left wingers have been voicing hatred for the Brexit campaign.

The BBC has cancelled this evening's broadcasts of Question Time and This Week. It would have no business to react that way even in normal political times, and certainly has no case to do so as we approach an important referendum. Licence payers are entitled to see political discussion programmes if they still want to; it is not for the BBC to deny them this right.

If you think this really was a political assassination, then all the more reason for defiance by continuing with democratic political discussions.

The Remain campaign has suspended campaigning for today and tomorrow.

Would the BBC and the Remain campaign have reacted like this if (say) Ken Clarke, Theresa May or Peter Bone had been killed? I suspect not. Jo Cox was a leftwinger in the prime of life with a young family, and by all accounts a very nice person. But the Establishment is over-reacting.

To be blunt, it suits the Remain side to have campaigning suspended for as long as possible, to take the wind out of Leave's sails. This was doubtless a decision taken coolly by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

The Leave campaigns need to return to normal political discourse first thing on Friday morning. It is for us to choose when we rejoin them.

May 31, 2016

Those postal voting forms

So Bristol is not the only council to have sent out postal voting forms with the pencil hovering over the Remain box.

The Electoral Commission may like to ask these questions of all councils:

  • Do any forms at all show the pencil hovering over the Leave box?
  • In a general election, have any councils produced any postal voting forms showing pencils hovering over particular boxes?

Bristol Council pleads that any bias wasn't deliberate. As well as quizzing councils, the Electoral Commission may care to ask Derren Brown about the power of subliminal suggestion.

May 29, 2016

Vote Leave is in a hole

The politicians nominally in charge of the Vote Leave campaign find themselves in a hole. Opponents and commentators assail them about their £350m a week figure. Do we send £350m a week to the EU?

Unquestionably not:
The UK 'abatement', 'rebate' or 'correction' is the ad hoc mechanism that is applied to lower the UK's contribution to the EU budget, by reimbursing 66% of the country's budgetary imbalance (the difference between payments and receipts). In 2014, the rebate amounted to almost €6.1 billion, reducing the UK's national contribution by 35% – to €11.34 billion – leaving it the fourth largest national contribution.
The designers of the Leave campaign know that, and doubtless the politicians nominally in charge of the Leave campaign know that too. They have landed us in a hole.

Do they not remember Denis Healey's advice?
Healey's first law of politics: when you're in a hole, stop digging.
The politicians nominally in charge of the Leave campaign should Take Control.

The amount post rebate is £248m, the net figure itself is £163m per week. But the Leave campaign should switch to using an unassailable figure for the annual amount post rebate. Take Andrew Tyrie's advice and repaint the bus, and don't pretend all that money would be available for the NHS or whatever your personal hobbyhorse is. Remember, much of it comes back and gets spent on popular items such as payments to farmers, or regional subsidies.

The EU referendum campaign still has 24 days to run. It's worth taking the pain now, and then being able to attack the crooked projections of crooked Osborne.

And can we see numbers for gross immigration, please? If crooked Osborne thinks he can project economics figure until 2030, how much easier to project numbers for gross immigration!

Let's also have a little discipline and unite behind the first step of flexit, the Norway option. Says Booker
The unique advantage of the “Norway option” is that it could provide an off-the-shelf means to neutralise all of “Project Fear’s” catalogue of horrors. No more “leap in the dark”: shut out of the market, millions of jobs lost, house prices collapsing. Problem solved. This would leave Mr Cameron with nothing to say, since he has not otherwise given us a single positive reason why remaining in the EU is so wonderful.
And the Norway option gives Britain a lot of Wins straight away.

There is much to do.

Paint a realistic picture of the EU's future, ask where that appears in the crooked projections.

Paint a picture of Britain after Brexit, like this and this and this. Show the immediate gains from the Norway option.

For the last 24 days, can we have a professional campaign, please. Campaigners deserve it, but most importantly the voters deserve it, the country deserves it.

Vote Leave politicians: Take Control!

May 27, 2016

A few obvious points from last night's TV

For those of us committed to campaigning for Brexit, it's easy to think the country must be gripped by what we know is a hugely important issue. The one point where we agree with the Cameron and Osborne liars is that this decision can be hugely important for the future of Britain.

But it isn't gripping the country according to two This Week panellists. Michael Portillo suggested a turnout of around 60%, while Jess Phillips finds people she talks to are already bored by it.

We will all have our opinions about last night's Question Time panel: broadly that the people who agreed with me were pretty good and I'd like to see more of them, The Non-Politician who agreed with me was refreshing, as a rule of thumb Caroline Lucas gets the wrong end of every stick, and Ed Miliband justified Denis Healey's verdict on him delivered years ago that "He's not very good, is he".

Most of the audience seemed committed to one side or the other. We can only hope that clearly expressed Brexit points cut through to uncommitted viewers, though we have no way of knowing.

But it's not good enough for Diane James to say she doesn't know whether visas might be required for travel to Europe. You can take two approaches to campaigning: you can bang away on the issues you think are obviously key (hello, UKIP?), or you can address the concerns of the opposed and the worried and the puzzled, however bizarre they seem to you.

The key point for Brexit campaigners from last night was that Michael Gove is going to have a lot of television exposure.

Can lots of people please urge on him why he should agree with Allister Heath and support a Flexit approach? We don't need him to call it that: as Ronald Reagan said, there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit. (Okay, it's easy for me to say that, I've got nothing to take the credit for.) The first Flexit step doesn't give Leavers everything we want. But it is the essential first step.

There, I said it would be obvious.

May 25, 2016

What should Leave's main campaign issues be?

"Lostleonardo" picks this issue up when he asks, in response to my previous post
What do you think are the crucial areas to focus on to exploit Remainer weakness?
My opinion on this is worthless. Leave should be focusing on opinion surveys, and for other evidence what better place to start than Jeremy Vine's run of Radio 2 programmes on the referendum?
  • Jeremy Vine gets a hugely bigger audience than Newsnight, yet which programme is more discussed among writers and analysts on the referendum?
If the Leave campaign had the guts to get itself organised, one question for it should be:
Who should Leave's lead speaker be on each campaign issue?
Some examples (I'm assuming that sectors such as farming and fishing are well catered for). On the economy, the easy answer is Andrea Leadsom, who crisply skewers each new fantastical projection from Remain, and gives good interviews too. She is also the person to take on vainglorious big business when it presumes to instruct us how to vote. (Big business is no expert on democracy.)

On immigration I would like to see more of Priti Patel, who can appeal beyond the core anti-immigration vote. The Left ignore the issue of numbers (which is the main point) because the numbers cause them a problem, and focus on a stark Yes or No to any immigration at all. They claim immigration is good for the economy because (legal) immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits - which of course ignores the 'overheads' such as schools, hospitals and housing. Someone writing consistently well on this is Alison Pearson, making the case in moderate yet clear tones to a female audience.

The case for democracy (as it happens, my key issue) is the realm of Michael Gove, while for general media discussions Jacob Rees Mogg is master of the brisk (and sometimes amusing) soundbite. Suzanne Evans is also a crisp media performer, and my goodness doesn't she get plenty of practice.

And Boris? Boris is the man for the sweeping optimistic post-Brexit overview, painting the picture where sunshine wins the day, a technicolour contrast to the monochrome gloom of Cameron and Osbrown. Boris is not your detail man, but he is the man to enthuse voters about the future.

Of course there are other issues. In an ideal world the Leave campaign would have a grid, and major on each issue in turn while providing general discussion and rebuttals. But the prima donnas wouldn't like that.

Did you see what I did there? I said follow the evidence on the issues, and get the Leave campaign organised.

That's the right answer. But as a footsoldier in the Leave campaign, of course I have my own prejudices.

First, many voters run small businesses or work for them. Most of these businesses don't export to the rest of the EU, so the possibility of deregulation could have a strong appeal for them. This is hardly ever mentioned, but it should be. Where are the campaigning materials addressing the concerns of small businesses? (Business for Britain did produce some leaflets, but I am told they are so old that they list Sajid Javid as a supporter.)

The keepers of the Flexcit flame point out that there would be no bonfire of controls on day one, and that immigration would continue. But these are still legitimate campaign issues. If we Leave, we will be able at some point in the future to get greater control of our borders, and at some point we can if we wish slash regulation for most small businesses. If we Remain, we permanently close off those avenues, we permanently barricade those roads. We surrender control.

Of course I would like to talk about the corrupt, corporate lobbyist impenetrable oligarchical state and the huge waste of money. I feel indignation about the Strasbourg parliament. But these are my prejudices

Highlighting my personal issues would be the wrong answer.

The future's bright ... hopefully

Recent polls have shown Remain moving ahead, so it's a nice surprise that we now have two showing Remain and Leave tied. Only 4% say they won't vote. 13% are Don't Knows.

Both campaigns have been presenting cases which are surprisingly ill founded. Remain are just bombarding voters with economic threats from as many establishment personages as possible. There's no whisper of other advantages of remaining in the EU. Is that silence significant? You have to wonder.

Some of these economic threats are bizarre. Lower house prices? Er, isn't that a government policy objective? A fall in the value of sterling? Er, isn't that essential if there's to be any hope of addressing the UK's huge balance of payments deficit? Indeed, it's probably another government policy objective, just not one they care to shout about. And those higher interest rates? They're going to happen anyway at some point - so just a bit sooner? But, hm, that would tend to increase the value of sterling ... and so reduce the sterling costs of holidays in the rest of the EU. These economic interactions, they can be so pesky. But if we do have some sort of recession (and why would we, if nothing much will change for two years?), won't that make the Bank of England more likely to hold or even cut interest rates?

The Remain strategy is to keep pounding at voters with all the big guns they can find. It's simple and understandable but is it effective? And if not, what have they got left except even more big guns firing the same ammunition?

Simple and understandable are not descriptions anyone could apply to the Leave campaign - if there is such a thing as "a Leave Campaign". Have Leave's big beasts even sat round a table to agree broad brush themes? If Remain is a line of Big Guns, Leave feels like a series of unco-ordinated raiding parties. It's plucky, but is it war?

It would be tedious and pointless to set out the Remain campaigners' different approaches. As the first step, the Flexcit approach is promising (the Norway route) but politics will dictate progress after that. The UK's broad objectives are clear and the pessimists might have to get used to pleasant surprises: the EU will be stunned. Making up its financial shortfall and trying to keep down rebellious minorities in its other territories will just be the start. Economic confidence inside the eurozone will probably manage to drop even further, while international finance will be inclined to sell the euro, causing the incoherent single currency even more problems.

At present, EU politicians make threats about what will happen to us after Brexit. (Though since they also say they will take even less notice of our wishes if we Remain, it's hard to see why post-Brexit threats should sway us.)

The EU political big beasts may indeed wish to give us a hard time. But will that be realistic? Sizeable groups of their voters will be sympathetic to us; our biggest enemy, Hollande, will by then have the clout of a damp rag; their businesses that export to us won't want to see our economy harmed; the EU will be facing the threats listed above; and if Erdogan keeps defying Merkel, the migrant invasions may well resume.

Facing all those urgent problems, would the EU big beasts have the time and attention to devote to the optional extra of giving the offshore island a hard time?

So where do the campaigns go from here? It's hard to see what new fronts Remain can open up. So probably more big guns, with their fingers crossed that Leave won't work out how to exploit the huge weaknesses in the case for Remaining.

And Leave? In theory there is much more scope for the Leave campaign to become more effective. But in practice? Remain has a central high command, but the Leave campaign seems to have no structure at all. Herding particularly headstrong cats? Can Leave start exploiting its advantages effectively? I hope to be convinced.