Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Authority Gap

"Remain are exploiting a simple mechanism in order to cause havoc within the Leave campaign. It's easy enough to resolve, but Vote Leave et al need to get a grip, pronto."

Because you're once, twice, three times an interfering President

Obama Drama

We all knew about this visit from Obama, that he'd be guided by number 10 to gently draw the stiletto knife across the throat of the Leave campaign. This he did, seemingly with much relish.

An op-ed appeared in the Telegraph announcing his right to have an opinion on the matter. Then, on the evening before having dinner with our royalty, he announced to the UK that, should we vote to leave the EU, we'd be 'back of the queue' when it comes to trade deals.

Standing to one side and smirking with delight, just as he did when President Hollande made his own well scripted threats to the UK, our own Prime Minister and leader of the Remain campaign, David Cameron. Obama made all the neat points required of the Remain campaign, yet between the lines, we know his real motivation.

It's not that the UK will be stronger or better off welded to the titanic that is the EU. We need to look at this from another angle. The US does have a right to have a say - it has fought along side us during two world wars - it has invested heavily in 'the European Project'. But why should that condemn us to a future where our sovereignty is diminished and untethered democracy floats off in to the distance?

The real reasoning is, or course, that the UK would represent the first lifeboat abandoning that ship and the subsequent unravelling of the EU presents the US with problems and a reversal of regional stability.

In my opinion, it's the real reasoning behind the rhetoric and the mild threats that Cameron seems to enjoy just a little bit too much. Hence Obama believes that the UK must sacrifice herself to the EU in order to maintain the stability that suits his strategic aims.

It's a sorry price for the UK to pay considering that we didn't instigate either of the two tragic European conflicts in the last century (although we did participate in subsequent US lead military tragedies in our usual poodle like obeyance). In fact, the USA had yet to join WW2 when the UK alone fought the Battle of Britain, halting Operation Sea Lion dead in its tracks and leaving Europe with a glimmer of hope. For our efforts, we are now threatened with 'the back of the queue', sentiments gleefully witnessed (and possibly orchestrated) by our own spineless Prime Minister.

The Authority Gap

This plays in to the hands of the Remain campaign rather neatly and on social media, it's been hard not to witness the 'smug' dial being turned right up. Time and time again they churn out the stock phrase 'you can't say what Leave will look like'. The same is true of course for Remain, but with a public still largely unaware of the planned changes to the Eurozone and expectant of the status quo, that threat doesn't have the same weight. Here's Charlotte Vere, Executive Director of 'Conservatives In' doing exactly this with yours truly:

Charlotte Vere - cranking the 'you don't know what eave looks like' handle

I get tired of this line of questioning for a number of reasons; chief amongst them is what I describe as 'the authority gap'. It's a ploy which the Remain campaign have exploited to maximum effect all the way through this campaign. To explain: How we leave the EU is not the same as wanting to leave the EU. Leave campaigns are organised around the latter and not the former; The make-up of the Leave campaigns does not give them the authority to execute any Brexit plan. They can suggest what could happen but cannot guarantee that the government will implement any of it; The only people with authority to execute a leave plan happen to be lead by the man heading the Remain campaign.

It's simple, the man with the authority to actually implement a plan, benefits from there not being one. It would be like BBC licence fee payers in the 70's waiting for the BBC to implement child safety measures on their premises when people like Savile were running the show.

Plan? What plan!

Yet, in spite of all that, having an 'authority gap' doesn't mean that you shouldn't attempt to mitigate. It's the strategic thing to do. In all honesty, in spite of my lack of criticism of late, the Leave campaigns are all guilty of not taking solid advice on this whole issue, advice that was issued some time ago.

As Clinton once said "it's the economy, stupid" - and right now, the focus and major arguments are all based around economic stability and the impact to prosperity. The polls show, it's hitting home. As soon as it became clear that Remain were employing project fear, it should have been obvious to all that they would go for the wallet - and a lack of detailed exit planning hands Cameron and Osborne fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of doubt. The Leave campaign are then left busy hacking down the burgeoning weeds that sprout like triffids rather than going on the offensive and making their own case.

Herein lies the frustration which has largely rendered me mute out of anger for the last month or so. When I came in to this campaign last year, I very quickly picked up on the messaging of Dr Richard North and Pete North (North²) of and the Leave Alliance. Although combative and bitterly acerbic at times, their simple narrative demonstrated foresight that is lacking elsewhere and time and time again, they've been proven to be right.

They'd plotted the course. They'd read the manual. It was clear to them that Brexit needed calm waters in order to bring the ships in to port. Dr Richard North had even constructed a plan, known as Flexcit which charted the UK through the choppy seas, allowing for a carefully staged exit which completely de-risked and defused all of the FUD that has been thrown our way to date.

Flexcit is a plan that advocates a 'temporary' move from the EU to EEA / EFTA membership. From that safe haven, we could pull a real emergency break on immigration and then plan our wider engagement with the world. Best of all, it describes ways in which we can protect ourselves from ever getting in to this position again. It's foolhardy to suggest that we can move away from forty years of integration in a single step; a staged exit is the only realistic way out - it always has been. You need to eat your cake in slices - or risk choking to death on the whole lot.

An abridged version of Flexcit, The Market Solution - can be found here:

Trumpet this loud next time someone asks you what Leave looks like. Because if we do exit, it's likely to be the only path that those in authority will be willing to take.

Official Campaigns

To date, I've only managed to attend one of the official campaign events and that was the Vote Leave event in Oxford last week where Chris Grayling and Douglas Carswell spoke. I attended to see if there were any significant changes in tact that could represent green shoots of hope in terms of strategy.

I almost didn't make it to the event. After leaving early, I relied on SatNav to guide me to the event but, to my surprise, it announced that I had arrived at my destination after abandoning me in the middle of what can only be described as the Oxford equivalent of Beirut, some twenty minutes away from where I needed to be. And it's here that I should really apologise to the two people who witnessed me in an apoplectic rage bellowing nuclear words of fury at my SmartPhone at the roadside - waving the wretched thing in the air in an attempt to regain a GPS fix.

Somehow, I managed to make it across Oxford in time without missing anything. Although it felt good to be surrounded by a mix of Leavers of all ages and backgrounds, only one message really stood out for me as being significant. That was the persistence in underlining that the EU has more plans to change. The Five Presidents Report was mentioned by Grayling as it had previously been by Gisela Stuart at a separate event. Both of them making it clear that after stalling for our own referendum, the EU would do what was necessary to secure the Euro, including tighter financial integration in the Eurozone.

That in itself isn't a compelling issue for the people of the UK, until you consider the emerging position that the UK and Denmark would be left in, sitting in the shadow world somewhere between Eurozone and independence. It's the worst of both worlds where the UK becomes increasingly marginalised as the country called the EU takes shape, ready to cannibalise our best assets in order to keep themselves financially buoyant.

Thankfully, Vote Leave were able to make this point, and if Lord Ashcroft's observations are correct, this approach may be their best hope of disrupting the current smugness of the Remain camp. In his focus group '62 Days to go', he makes this observation:

"At first glance, most in our groups saw leaving as a change and remaining as the status quo: “we know what ‘in’ is like”. When prompted with the thought, the idea that the EU itself might change – and would not necessarily stay as the devil we knew – was quite powerful. The most easily imagined change, and a worrying one for many, was expansion, particularly if it included Turkey: “when we joined it was six countries, a completely different animal”. The argument that remaining in the EU also involved change did not reverse the balance of risk, but evened things up somewhat."

The full report can be read here:

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Shy Goodbye

"There are two things you need to keep in mind here. Firstly, just how wrong the pollsters got it in GE2015 and secondly, this is not a general election."

After the 2015 general election debacle, pollsters strive to find more accurate ways to divine our voting intentions.

Herein lies an exercise in confirmation bias ... probably

I've found the recent polling on the EU referendum perplexing to say the least. Like many people who are invested in this whole process, in spite of last year's dismal failings, I've been captivated by the lure of the pollsters. Microanalysis of each and every poll released, looking for signs and portents that could indicate positive trends or changing opinions; correlating shifts with topical events, campaign strategies, the weather and the phase of the moon etc etc.

Let's be honest here, it would be foolish to accept them as accurate and they should be, at best, taken at a high level - as roughly hewn chunks of indication rather than well chiselled out masterpieces of national voting intent. But amongst the polls, there's a schism emerging. On the one hand, we have the online polls which show an intertwining closeness between Leave and Remain, and on the other we have the phone polls which seem to give Remain significant margin.   

Shakespeare Vs Singh

Explaining this apparent anomaly we have polling analyst and Number Cruncher ( Matt Singh who has become somewhat of a guru in the field after, amongst other things, rightly predicting the surprise outcome of the 2015 general election. On the other side of the ring, Stephen Shakespeare, the big gun at Yougov who, along side most other pollsters, is fighting to regain credibility in the wake of 2015. Shakespeare takes aim at Singh in this Yougov blog post ( ) suggesting that the golden child's recent explanatory report on EU referendum phone polling is off whack.

Singh believes that there are inaccuracies in both online and phone polls, but that the online polls are out by a wider margin. His thinking? Apparently online pollsters are inclined to be socially conservative (caused by sampling bias) meaning they lean towards Leave by circa 3%. Phone polls lean 5% in the other direction (Remain - weighted towards more socially liberal types), yet another factor over-rides all this because phone polls are more likely to push for an answer than accept an undecided response. When this happens, Singh and his co-author James Kanagasooriam believe that people, presumably in a fit of honesty, opt for the status quo. Because this confrontation doesn't take place online polls, it means that the 'fit of honesty' effect doesn't happen, leaving them a further 5% out in terms of accuracy.

When I heard this, it threw me somewhat. I don't have the wealth of data that Singh drew his report from but I felt that there were other social factors at play that meant the exact opposite was likely. More later.

Shakespeare has a counter argument. Although he respectfully suggests that Singh should be listened to with care, he's adamant that he's wrong in his perception. Shakespeare believes that it's wrong to attribute trust (honest responses) to the phone polls based on the fact that they tend to show greater social liberalism. Instead, he believes that a process of social satisficing is happening, where people are delivering the message they think people want to hear rather than saying what they actually feel. So where there is direct contact, this causes a pronounced increase in 'safe' responses, where as the lack of confrontation in online polls allows people a moment of un-pressured heartfelt honesty.

Intriguingly, he continues by underlining the fact that British Election Study polls (apparently Singh's gold standard of polling) under-represented the UKIP vote by 2% and similarly other significant phone polls were out by as much as 4%. The Yougov blog isn't entirely clear here but I take it that this refers to GE 2015.

There are other elements of Singh's report that Shakespeare questions, yet for my purposes, it's these initial challenges that I think are most relevant.

No Sword of Damocles here

It's nearly impossible to find parallels between this referendum and other recent political events. It's not a cozy, well worn and intellectually brainless party flag waving exercise like a general election. And the dynamics are entirely different from the Scottish Referendum that Cameron no doubt has drawn his confidence and bravado from; whereas the SNP were effectively neutered by the sterling argument, we have no such 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over us. In fact, it could be argued the opposite.

So why do I feel that long standing polling stalwarts and GE2015 star flops Yougov are right and the new David Beckham of polling, Matt Singh is wrong? This is where accusations of confirmation bias could creep in but in my own defence, I'll offer a subtle observation.

I get to travel and meet a wide array of people attached to different industries. It's not part of the job spec, but I like to do a bit of am-dram whilst I'm there, where I present the question of the EU referendum, posing as someone genuinely flummoxed by the whole matter needing illumination. I'm never going to learn anything by leading with my own Eurosceptic credentials so I leave the door wide open, waiting to see what people have to offer.

The pattern I've seen has been interesting to say the least. People who admit to wanting to vote Remain don't wait to make the point. They may share some preliminary concerns in the first breath, but they're quick to come out behind Remain in the second. With Leavers, they're much more guarded and tend to deliver a long winded and apparently thoughtful appraisal of the pros and cons before eventually closing in on Leave. Any sign of sympathy with that position breaks the dam, with surge of concerns about the EU bursting forth when it's seen as safe to share them, confirming their earnest Leave credentials.

Acceptable thought and social media

There's a definite hesitancy when it comes to people fessing up to being a Leaver and I think it's rooted in the perceptions of social acceptability. Remain is spun as a matter of international inclusivity whilst Leave as an act of recoiling self interest. In this world, where everyone can become a casual activist on social media by holding up a board and virtue signalling (whilst pouting like a thoughtful trout), the boundaries of social satisficing are being set. The mistake that these couch campaigners are making is to think that by controlling what is perceived as a socially acceptable position to take, they're actually influencing the decisions that people will make. And I'm sure this is what lead to over confidence by the Labour party at during GE 2015.

What we feel and what we're comfortable talking about in public are two entirely separate things, for most people at least. In fact, the mind prison that both legacy media and social media activists roll out in order to contain and control debate is only likely to fuel resentment and determination by those who feel oppressed, making them more energised than the Facebook 'share and like' generation to get out there and exercise their rights on referendum night. Barking? Well, take a look at how long it took for politicians to finally accept that concerns about immigration are not rooted in racism. Better still, Justin Welby finally conceding to the same fact as late as March 2016 only to be leapt on by the Independent newspaper who, with some zeal, used quotes from the Twitter thought police in order to discredit a perfectly reasonable message. (

Apparently, newspapers reporting what people said on Twitter = journalism. Hence the Independent had to go.


It seems to take much longer to crack open the Leave egg than the Remain one. The perception of self interest is one which doesn't resonate well in the echo chamber era of social media virtue signalling, so it's masked and guarded. As a result, Leave may well be the shy Tories of this referendum. Whether it's a game changer is yet to be seen.