Lessons from Austerlitz

Napoleon Bonaparte, watching the Austro/Russian army deploying at Austerlitz, is recorded as saying:
“Let us wait twenty minutes; when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

The EU referendum campaign has begun and cool strategy is required.

Those who wish to see a ‘NO’ outcome are concerned about the barrage of pro-EU, or pro-Single Market to be precise, statements by political leaders and big banks and business, as well as EU Commissioners, and so on.

And these people are not bothering with Cameron. They are in favour of staying in the EU without any of Cameron’s reforms. Judging by the ICM poll, the ‘stay in’ side is 10-18 points ahead, even before Cameron returns with his ‘reforms’ or those polled have any idea what is likely to be renegotiated.

But did any reasonable person think that this would not happen?

I welcome this barrage on various grounds.

First, a lot of rhetorical ammunition has been expended for nothing.

Second, the EU side is exposed as obviously bereft of any new ideas since 1975. There are no new arguments.

Third, the idea that this is a stitch up, a fudged referendum, a pretence, a fraud, is gaining ground. As Iain Martin says, in CapX:
“The government’s renegotiation with the EU is bordering on the comical.”
and
“No-one likes to be taken as a fool.”

Fourth, there are already signs of infighting between those few who genuinely believe it is possible to have a ‘reformed’ Europe and those who are just using this as a cynical phrase.

Fifth, all those who the electorate most distrusts are climbing into the same lifeboat without bothering about any navigation:-

  • All the political parties and their leaders
  • The directors of big banks, even those presiding over the banking scandals
  • Big Business directors
  • EU Commissioners and Eurocrats generally.

But, of course we need to counter-attack properly with:

  • A proper aim
  • A proper plan
  • All fighting in one direction
  • No room for complacency

It is also worth considering the melting away of the great polled predicted pro-EU vote during the Dutch and French referendums on the European Constitution.

The recent YouGov poll shows the ‘OUT’ side ahead in the key voting groups: over 40s and over 60s.

Most commentators, such as Iain Martin and James Forsyth, tell us that the referendum is about ‘supporting the status quo’. Nothing could be further from the truth. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote for ‘more integration’, as laid out in Juncker’s presidential statement in 2014.

The real choice was put by Jacques Delors, former head of the EU Commission and the main driver of the EU in his day, and a man highly respected in Brussels, in December 2012, to the Handelsblatt newspaper:

“If the British cannot support the trend to more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free trade agreement.”

This correctly stated the alternatives for the UK, “Supporting the trend to more integration in Europe” or ‘friends’ on the basis of membership of the EEA/EFTA.

Photo by – = Duke One = –

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Everything to play for

With a few recent opinion polls suggesting support for withdrawal from the EU has fallen in the last few months, a report in the Independent summarising a recent poll by Survation offers some hope. Some 70% of the electorate have yet to make up their minds and the enthusiasm of Tony Blair to play a prominent role in the “yes” or “in” campaign is likely to be a great boost to his opponents as he is seen as so untrustworthy in matters relating to the EU (is he trustworthy about anything at all? Well, that is another question!)

This does mean that the barrage of horror stories about the dangers of withdrawal, with one chief executive after another being wheeled out in support of staying in, have not convinced over 2/3 of UK voters. The tactics of fear, uncertainly and doubt have so far not been as effective as the “in” camp have hoped. Our fellow-countrymen (and women) are obviously still open to a well-presented, bullet-proof argument in favour of withdrawal. In short, there is everything to play for, even though time is short. To quote Dr Richard North, we have to present the EU as a problem, offer the solution and paint a glowing picture of the outcome. If we can do this, our opponents will have few arguments with which to beat us down

Photo by The hills are alive*

Now we know the question

In spite of much speculation in the press, it is highly unlikely that the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU will be held before 2017. However, we can now be more confident about the wording of the referendum question. The European Referendum Bill was published last week and had its first reading in the House of Commons and consequently, we now know that the proposed question is “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

This means that supporters of withdrawal will become the “No” campaign. While some reports suggested this question was a replacement for “Should the United Kingdom be a member of the European Union?” on the grounds that some people didn’t even know that we were a member, it does make our task somewhat harder as there is an innate desire among the uninformed to want to please and to be positive – in other words, to say “Yes”. No doubt Mr Cameron is aware of this.

The “Out” campaign, as Robert Oulds said recently at CIB’s annual rally, must therefore be positive and talk not so much about leaving something but rather about joining something better – the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which we should never have left in the first place.

Incidentally, to answer any critics who fear that EFTA may not want us back, Mr Oulds has pointed out that in a reply by the Prime Minister of Iceland, S. D. Gunlaugssson, to a question about Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum in an interview with the “Liechtensteiner Vaterland” on 9th May 2015, he said “I would certainly welcome Great Britain into EFTA. An entry into EFTA could be a good solution for Great Britain and would be equally good for EFTA. We would at all events be open to taking the British back into EFTA.”

A report on the Battle for Britain – May 2015

With the publication of the Referendum Bill, and David Cameron’s visits to other EU countries taking place, some features of the referendum are already obvious.

As expected, David Cameron’s reform agenda is minimalist. Clearly his aim is to produce enough, or just enough, changes to proclaim his reforms a success but, at present, this seems unlikely. They will be too weak.

The opposition, in the shape of the SNP and Labour, have shown no capacity at all to discuss the issues on the referendum and are, effectively, sidelined. The SNP has not even wanted even the Cameron minimalist agenda and is concentrating on such minor issues as wanting EU citizens and 16-17 years old included in the voting. Labour seems to be trailing in the wake of the SNP and is absorbed in its own internal leadership election. They saw no reason to have a referendum and have been wrong-footed!

It seems to be conceded on both sides that party politicians will play a smaller role than in 1975. Salmond has said the pro-EU side should be non-party and many withdrawalists think the same should be the case. However, some politicians are too ambitious to forfeit the limelight.

Conservatives are, in any case, paralysed. They are waiting for the results of David Cameron’s reforms and are, in the meantime, avoiding any debate on fundamental issues.

In this void, there has been a spate of speeches by businessmen pressing for the UK to stay in the EU. On examination, these are actually speeches in favour of staying in the Single Market and never address the political issues.

Some attention should be directed to the polls which are alleged to show an increase of support for staying in the EU. However, what matters is the voting intentions of those who actually vote. Referendums generally have a lower turnout than general elections but this, of course, cannot be counted on. Clearly, the pollsters understated the weight of the over-60s’ votes in the general election. This block is far the most eurosceptic and has, of course, experienced the results of giving the politicians a blank cheque in 1975.

Finally, it is notable that two pro-EU themes seemed to have been thoroughly discredited and disappeared from the proEU argument. One is the ‘three million jobs’ argument and the other is that ‘Norway and Iceland have to obey fax democracy’. Bereft of these two themes, it is noticeable that no new facts and no new arguments have been put forward by the proEU forces.

Photo by Airwolfhound

A simple approach for considering EU membership

The campaign for remaining ‘IN’ the European Union in the coming referendum has powerful built-in advantages over the ‘OUT’ or let’s leave alternative. The IN campaign has access to far greater financial and government resources; the voracious support of much of the ruling and political Establishment, including the EU apparatus, the main stream media, and converted ‘Eurosceptics’ satisfied by the ‘renegotiated deal’ on offer; the potential to spread fear of the unknown in leaving, conduct personal attacks on leading Eurosceptics and to wage a dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, censorious and platitudinous campaign. Peter Hitchens provides an opinion about what to expect based on the 1975 EU membership referendum in his recent Blog. There are also other examples of what could happen based on EU referenda in places like Ireland and we have the example of the deceit, concealment, manipulation and vacuous debate of our recent General Election.

The ‘OUT’ campaign is somewhat hampered by a natural risk averse reluctance to change from the status quo (‘the devil you know’) and by the esoteric nature of much of the case for leaving focusing on the less visible damage caused by EU membership and refuting dubious pro-EU arguments. For example, few people know much about the Common Fisheries Policy or EU Public Services Procurement Rules, making it difficult to really say whether or not the UK should be subject to them (which it shouldn’t, in the former case, to save our once great fishing industry and, in the latter, to facilitate innovative free enterprise and save taxpayers’ money). The limited resources of the OUT campaign also make it more difficult to expose false and spurious claims from EU-enthusiasts, although with major parts of the media acting as an IN propaganda machine it is unlikely such critical examination would get fair treatment anyway, more likely to be shut down immediately.

Looking behind the widely recognised issues of severe damage caused by EU membership, such as uncontrolled immigration*, rampaging bureaucracy, increasing cost and wastefulness, lack of democratic accountability, and bizarre ideological behaviour, there are far more basic questions that could help inform decision making at all levels of wisdom about the EU. This would help a wide range of voters, and facilitate a more open and fair campaign against the arrayed vested interests for remaining IN. These basic, yet important questions are:

1 Would the country be better governed by Brussels (by being part of the EU) or by our own government and Parliament in London?
2 Who would make fewer mistakes and correct them more quickly, our government in London or EU bureaucrats in Brussels?
3 Who would protect our national interests better, our own government, accountable to the People, or unelected EU bureaucrats?
4 Would we be happier, more democratic and peaceful as a sovereign, independent country with our own identity or as an anonymous region of an EU superstate?
5 Would we, as individuals and a country, be more competitive, productive and ultimately prosperous being heavily regulated by a centralised, costly EU bureaucracy or as a fast moving, low tax, entrepreneurial free society?
6 Would it be acceptable to suffer short term pain, in leaving the EU when we choose, to achieve longer term gain?

These fundamental questions could be considered in the light of the existing direction of travel of the EU towards ever greater political and monetary integration, territorial expansion, current and past events, and where the EU will, based on current information, likely be in 10, 20, 30 or more years’ time. Where there is some uncertainty, the balance of probabilities could be included. With this approach, you don’t need to be an expert or a fortune-teller to be able to reach a reasonably logical and informed judgement quickly, which is likely to be similar to logical conclusions arising from comprehensive investigation and analysis.

The EU fits within longstanding continental European traditions of authoritarian centralised top down rule and does not sit easily with our traditions mainly of property rights, rule of law, democracy and individual freedom. As times change and new challenges arise, is the EU’s raison d’être and business model, as it applies to us and perhaps more generally in the modern world, already burdensomely obsolete, and if not now, when?

*Latest statistics show that net migration from the EU in the 12 months to December 2014 was 178,000. From non-EU countries (and therefore something we can control) was 197,000

Photo by EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office

Two and a half years to save our country

The surprise result of the 2015 General Election means that the UK will be holding a referendum on its membership of the European Union in less than two and a half years’ time. David Cameron’s victory will now be concentrating many withdrawalist minds on how to achieve an “Out” vote in that referendum and the scale of the challenge becomes apparent when one of the tactics which propelled the Conservatives to an unexpected victory will be used to encourage our countrymen to stay within a “reformed” EU – fear.

The last-minute nature of the swing to the Tories and the widely-reported indecision on the part of many voters don’t exactly point to an enthusiastic endorsement for David Cameron. Rather, the prospects of a Labour government propped up with SNP support made many waverers decide to back the devil they knew rather than the more frightening devils they did not. The bottom line, however, is that however grudgingly many voters put their crosses in the Tories’ box, the scare tactics paid off.

Yesterday, in a piece in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out that a referendum held in 2020 or after would be more easily won by supporters of withdrawal. Had Labour won the election, the shock of defeat “would have “flush(ed) out the last EU dreamers and leave a post-Cameron party with even less tolerance for the posturing of Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker….There is a high likelihood that such a party would let it rip on euroscepticism while in opposition and then come roaring back in five years’ time given that the most likely scenario would have been the replacement of David Cameron by a more eurosceptic Tory leader.” This is a fair point, although his proposal of Boris Johnson for this role is distinctly unconvincing. Another point which would have favoured 2020 for the referendum is that it gives us longer to address the disunity and disorganisation of the withdrawalist movement. We have right on our side and a far better case than supporters of our EU membership, but we are not winning the argument and time is short.

However, there is still everything to play for. We can win the battle for our country’s freedom and while this is not the time for naïve optimism, there are a number of factors which could swing opinion in favour of withdrawal.

Firstly, while the Tory party held together with an impressive stage-managed unity during the campaign, with Cameron’s many critics biting their tongues, this does not mean that they are any happier with his policies than they were a couple of years back when his leadership looked to be on the line. Especially given Cameron’s stated intention to pass over anyone advocating withdrawal from the EU when it comes to choosing his cabinet, leaving him effectively with only the dregs of his party to choose from, the rebellious backbenchers will come roaring back with a vengeance before too long. With the Tories’ majority so small, they will wield a considerable degree of power and if they can coalesce around a sensible exit strategy, such as “Flexcit”, this will add some considerable weight to the “Out” campaign.

Secondly, the anti-politics mood has not gone away. The electorate may have given a clear signal about who they want (and don’t want) to govern them, but this does not mean the profound disconnect so many people feel towards politics and politicians of all parties has gone away. The withdrawalist movement has so far failed to harness this sense of remoteness from the corridors of power. In particular, the individualism of the younger generation ought to make them natural opponents of something as remote and bureaucratic as the EU. Admittedly, the presence of pro-EU propaganda in schools has not helped, but winning the younger generation for the cause of independence is not impossible if the message is packaged appropriately.

Thirdly, the EU itself, for all the money it may pour into the “in” campaign, is not going to change its ways, especially under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission. There will be plenty of events in Brussels which, if handled correctly, can re-kindle the fires of euroscepticism within the UK population. The bottom line is that we don’t fit and never will. Only fear and ignorance stand in the way of withdrawal.

Finally, and unusally for this website, a quote from the Guardian. Commenting on why the Tories’ strategy of fear was so successful, Rafael Behr wrote, “that kind of tactic only works when it plays to underlying weakness in the opposition offer.” Divided and disorganised the withdrawalist movement may be, but if we can get our act together and sell both a watertight exit strategy and a vision for a newly independent UK, there is nothing weak about the withdrawal offer. It is only natural common sense. We are only seeking to encourage our compatriots to vote for something that will be very good for them. Can we spring an even greater upset than this morning’s results in late 2017? Yes we can.

Photo by Brabantia – Designed for Living