Thursday, 29 October 2015

Norway - nul points

If you weren't watching yesterday - there were interesting developments on the referendum campaign.

The main thrust was that the agenda was set first thing in the morning by the BBC declaring (as a leading  headline) that our PM was to denounce the 'Norway Option'. It seemed to me to be a very well coordinated straw man attack - because, as became apparent, there were not many people on the Leave side advocating Norway. All in all, people scurried away from debate on the matter rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in and challenging the facts. It's difficult not have grievances on the whole affair.

Firstly, if you're going to stand up and declare that you're ready to fight for Brexit, you need to know what it is that you're fighting for. This means arming yourself with the facts you need to effectively communicate your vision for a better future. That didn't happen yesterday - and the 'Remain' campaign got in several free blows without being properly challenged. Chief amongst those were some barefaced lies it would seem about the cost of Norway doing business with the EU and its exposure to EU laws (the 'Fax Law' concept).

To set the record straight on these matters, provides some hard facts on both matters:

It would seem that the UK pay more than twice as much as Norway per head to the EU:

We would have much better capacity for shaping rules outside the EU:

Had the Leave campaign 'representatives' been armed with any of this information, they would have advanced the conversation considerably.

Secondly, it's highly curious that Cameron is allowed to set the agenda like this when he's not even prepared to declare what it is that he's actually fighting for himself. Even today, we're hearing reports from other EU member heads of state that he's still yet to put any meat on the bone. Of course, the truth is that he's not even bothering. It seems even the media have decided that there's nothing to be gained by spending any more time on this issue and are much more interested in declaring it a straight fight between Leave and Remain and then setting up a series of Punch and Judy matches.

Take Evan Davies on Newsnight interviewing Owen Patterson. It wasn't Patterson's finest hour but it has to be said that Davies was wasn't interested in any intellectual conversation. Nuanced answers were cut short and at one point, rather unprofessionally, Davies cut across Patterson's answer declaring that he didn't want to hear about it.

Surely, when you're discussing a topic of great complexity, you'd expect an answer of some complexity? But apparently that won't do for BBC Newsnight. Perhaps Davies should have streamlined the process by giving Owen Patterson a multiple choice questionnaire to fill in rather than inviting him in to the studio. But the irony here is this -

David Cameron has been allowed to set the agenda, even feeding the media a series of questions to direct at the Leave camp - yet at the same time he's not expected to answer what it is that he's asking the EU for by way of reform. And the media just let this happen. They also allow him to carry on with his pretence that if he doesn't get what he wants, he'll campaign for Brexit. How can a man, who has so openly attacked the Leave campaign ever seriously been expected to renegotiate a better deal with the EU? He's shown his hand and the EU will be confident of his loyalty.

This whole episode reminds me of a quote from Sun Tzu's Art of War "Fight the enemy where they aren't"

That's what Cameron has done. In spite of the abject weakness of the 'Remain' camp's current position, he's moved the discussion in to areas that the public facing Leave camp were simply not ready to fight. For all the money behind and Vote_Leave, it would seem that they've faltered at the first strategic hurdle and it makes you wonder just what their funding is paying for. You don't win a fight like this by flashing half baked meme infographics around Twitter - you plan it like a military operation and get the opposition marching to the beat of your drum.

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