Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Project Fear II

I am still desperately clinging to the hope that those campaigning on both sides for the EU referendum will manage to articulate a positive vision of the Britain of tomorrow and explain how their proposed relationship with the EU supports that vision.

And refrain from "Project Fear II" scare stories - on both sides.

The signs are mixed.

According to the FT here the "IN" campaign launch did stress the positive and patriotic case for membership, which is a pleasant change from "We won't invest here if you leave the EU" from companies who previously said they would not do so if we didn't join the Euro.

A lot of the early campaigning has been negative and dominated - again on both sides - by scare stories.

Part of the problem is that until we know what the "Out" campaign is actually proposing, and what comes out of David Cameron's renegotiation, it is actually very difficult to have much of a debate.

There are some people who think that the EU is about Brussels telling everyone what to do and making decisions which should be made in Britain. To those people the whole concept is fundamentally wrong and many of them would want to leave whatever the cost. That is a point of view, and you can argue for and against it on the evidence already available, but there is not a lot of point either side trying to sway those voters - they're already voting OUT under any circumstances.

There are others - it used to be the establishment view, but it appears to represent about 20% of the electorate now, though still well represented in the media, (particularly the BBC and newspapers like the Guardian) major businesses, and the parliamentary Labour party - for whom it is an article of faith that ever closer Union with other European countries is the wave of the future, the best hope for security and greater trade. Those people have been making that case whenever they think anyone will listen for as long as I can remember and they're certainly not going to stop now that we have a referendum which might realise their worst fear.

There's no point trying to sway those people either - they're voting IN.

But there is a group in the middle, which is almost certainly larger than either the hardline "Out" or hardline "In" groups, and probably close to a majority of the electorate, who are more interested in what benefits and costs EU membership will actually deliver for Britain, who think it does make a difference what terms are available and exactly what is proposed.

Those people will determine the outcome of the referendum and the rational people on both sides are trying to woo them - or rather us, as I come in this group myself.

The problem is that until we know exactly what both sides are offering, it is extremely difficult to put a positive case to the middle group - but less difficult to raise threats which may or may not be justified.

Let's take, for example a quote from Karren Brady's "Britain stronger in Europe" message in The Sun this week.

She wrote

"Europe is our largest trading partner. 45% of our exports go there, worth £226 billion last year. 200,000 businesses trade with Europe. European trade supports millions of British jobs. £70 million of investment come to Britain from Europe every day. And a bigger market has driven down prices for consumers, for example cheaper flights."
 
"Why put all this at risk?"
 
The first paragraph is all true of course. If the question which followed had been replaced by something like "The Out campaign must explain what their alternative to EU membership is and how they can ensure that this is not put at risk" that would have been 100% fair.
 
The problem is that until we know what the "Out" campaign is actually proposing instead we don't know whether and to what extent they would put our trade with Europe at risk. There are solutions which certainly would: there are others which would not, although they have other drawbacks.
 
But it's not just the "In" team who can be accused of scaremongering. Today I saw a message from Farage's friends in the "Leave.eu" campaign.
 
It reads
 
"TTIP means the EU can sell off the NHS to the USA without ANY UK involvement."
 
This grotesque and ridiculous piece of scaremongering, designed to suggest the preposterous scenario that Brussels could sell the USA our hospitals without consulting anyone in Britain, is a dramatic exaggeration of an argument against the transatlantic trade deal usually put by hard-left anti-globalisation protestors.
 
They have argued that the NHS should be exempt from the international trade deal TTIP because  fear that if a future British government ever wants to reverse any contracting of health services done by a previous British administration, and the contractors losing business are or buy from American suppliers, they suggest that any American companies that lose business as a result could sue, using those controversial provisions for foreign investors.
 
I don't want to get into the argument here about whether the NHS should be excluded from TTIP (which might yet happen,) although I note that the EU's chief negotiator, Ignacio García Bercero, has dismissed those concerns, saying he was confident the health service would be "fully safeguarded".
 
He added: "If a future UK government, or a public body to which power has been devolved, were to reverse decisions taken under a previous government, for example by discontinuing services provided by a foreign operator, it would be entirely at liberty to do so. However, it would have to respect applicable UK law."

So the point about "no UK involvement" is a direct lie - we are only talking about services outsourced by a previous UK government.

The point is that even if the anti-globalisation lobby and trade unions are right, strange bedfellows for though they are for a campaign which mostly criticises the EU for not promoting free trade strongly enough rather than the reverse, the words of the Leave.eu advert are still ridiculous scaremongering which would certainly be struck down by the ASA as misleading if normal trade advertising rules applied to political campaigns.

A word to both campaigns from someone who is currently in the very unusual position for me of being a floating voter - this kind of lie and scaremongering will not make you more likely to win my support. It will make it much less likely. And I'd like to think the majority of the British electorate has shown itself intelligent enough that lies and scaremongering won't impress them either.

5 comments:

Jim said...

Point 1. The OUT campaign is not planning anything, this is because there is not going to be one, there will, however, be a LEAVE campaign.

here is a website for the Campaign for an independent britain who will be in the running for the official LEAVE campaign status, laying out all of that which you ask.

There are some people who think that the EU is about Brussels telling everyone what to do and making decisions which should be made in Britain. To those people the whole concept is fundamentally wrong and many of them would want to leave whatever the cost. That is a point of view, and you can argue for and against it on the evidence already available, but there is not a lot of point either side trying to sway those voters - they're already voting OUT under any circumstances.
you are indeed right, and you are 100% correct there is no point in preaching to the choir as you say, but the point is that the floating voters do need to be aware of what the EU is, how it works, and for what they are voting.

its a simple question of who should govern Britain, thats it.

I agree with you that to lay out the points of why I and others believe that intergovernmental co-operation is a better way than the supranational system of the EU, is a vital debate. Its also a debate I look forward to having.

Also I too am sick of the daft claims on things, certainly economic costs, and immigration i want to get down to the true debate. Which as I say, is one I welcome.

Jim said...

But at point one, as I have shown you, just google supranational for yourself and you will see.

so at point one, if calling the EU what the EU actually is, is an extremist view, then I really don't know what to say......

its kind of like going into strangeways to give a speach without saying "Prison" or like going to the buildings in Westminster without saying "Parliament" or like going to the Copeland building whilst not being allowed to mention parliament. or like going to the astronomy club without being able to mention stars.

Jim said...

* note the word after the Copeland centre should have been council. my bad.

Jim said...

Kind of like campaigning to keep a cricket ground without being allowed to mention Wickets, Bats, Balls or fields, as that is an extreemist view. you are only allowed to talk about the benefits of being in the rope or out of it.

Chris Whiteside said...

I certainly didn't mean to give the impression of regarding everyone who disagrees in principle with British membership of the EU as an extremist and I apologise if it came over that way.

The word "extremist" has all sorts of perjorative connotations, Jim, and although there are people in UKIP who the description fits - the sort of person who thinks you are pro-EU because you don't agree with every word they say - there are plenty of perfectly sane and reasonable people who think Britain could build a better future outside the EU - mostly they take the "Invoke Article 50" view.

If whoever becomes the official "Leave" campaign sets out a clear and positive strategy to do that they have a good chance of winning, particularly if the "Remain" campaign becomes "Project Fear II".

Which is not what I think Lord Rose wants, but both "Leave" and "Remain" are very broad coalitions, and the chances of one or both of them getting out of control is very real.