I watched the results come in from the UK election less than a week ago, and I was delighted to see David Cameron returned to Downing street. Of course, as a UKIP supporter I was sad to see the British election system completely destroy us – getting 13 % of the popular vote but only 1 seat out of 650 is a democratic atrocity. In total, 25 % of UK’s voters (Green Party, UKIP, Liberal Democrats) will be represented by only 10 members of the parliament (again, that’s out of 650!).
That being said, I was still happy with the election results as they mean that we will get a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. This referendum will be held before the end of 2017, and most likely next year. In other words, it’s time to start planning.
Fellow Eurosceptics, we have a problem: If the referendum was held today, we’d lose. We don’t know by how much, because as the recent election proves British polling companies are staffed by toddlers on dope, but we know that we would lose. Polls this past month can’t agree on the margin – we’re down by something between 1-22 % – but every poll since February has shown that a plurality of Brits oppose leaving the European Union.
Why is that? It’s because of the way we’ve made our argument so far. UKIP’s election campaign was extremely incompetent – don’t get me wrong, it was successful in the sense that it secured the party about four times as many votes as the last time around – but the campaign itself may very well have ensured that the main goal of the party, a Britain outside of the European Union, will not be achieved. Campaigning nearly exclusively on immigration as UKIP did definitely attracted quite a few votes, but it also gave people the impression that the only reason to oppose the EU is because of immigrants “stealing our jobs”.
Overall, UKIP did a great job in getting every old, bitter cynic in the UK to vote for them. Old bitter men from all across the country (except in Scotland where they voted SNP), from Labour heartlands in the north to the conservative south east, all came out in force and supported UKIP.
Sadly, those voters won’t be enough in a referendum. Hence without further ado, here’s what we have to do to win the referendum:
1) We need to set a positive vision for the future
Daniel Hannan has repeated this ad nauseum, and he’s right: The problem with UKIP is that the party is too negative. UKIP campaigns largely on fear, and this drives voters away. While the Europhiles come off as sophisticated and modern, Eurosceptics too often come off as a bunch of angry old men who can’t accept that times have changed since we were kids (which in my case was the 1990’s – the good old days).
The key to winning will be to truly offer something better: A Britain that is reunited with the world. A Britain that leaves the sinking ship of Europe and seeks partnerships with the anglosphere. A Britain that ceases to discriminate against immigrants from outside of Europe and welcomes immigrants based on how well they can fulfill the needs of the British nation rather than their country of origin. It is absurd that it is easier for a Romanian janitor to immigrate to the UK than it is for an American doctor or an Australian engineer.
We cannot, and should not even try, to convince the British people that all problems stem from immigration. But we can and should talk about the discrimination that is taking place where immigrants from some countries are given preferential treatment regardless of the interests of the British state and the British economy.
2) We need new leaders
Following on from my past point, we really need some new leaders who can credibly articulate that vision. This is why I was disappointed to see Nigel Farage rescind his resignation as leader of UKIP.
Initially when I heard Farage was resigning I was worried, since he has after all been a very successful leader and done a great job weeding out the racists from the party. The more I thought about it though, his resignation made sense: First of all because he is clearly exhausted, and he actually seemed genuinely relieved when he held his concession speech and said that he was looking forward to taking a break over the summer.
But the second, bigger reason is that Farage is too tightly associated with UKIP. And most people don’t like UKIP. I support UKIP, but most people who don’t support UKIP hate UKIP. The “Leave” campaign cannot be (too) associated with UKIP, or it will only get the votes of those who vote UKIP or are sympathetic to UKIP. And if that happens, this referendum will be a worse curb-stomp battle than the voting reform referendum in 2011.
That is why UKIP needs to take a step back. Everyone who likes UKIP is already on the “Leave” side anyway. I don’t know what who will lead the official “Better off out” (or whatever it will be called) campaign, but I really hope that there will be representatives from the left and the right. Personally, I would like Dan Hannan to lead the campaign, co-chairing perhaps with one of the MPs that supported Labour for a referendum.
I don’t doubt that Farage could make a positive case for leaving the European Union, I’ve heard him make that case several times – but it hardly ever gets as much attention as it does when he rants against health tourism, and that’s why he’s become associated with the negative case for Brexit. He should be a part of the campaign, as should UKIP, but neither he nor the party should be at the forefront of it.
3) We need to explain that Status quo is not an option
The greatest threat in my opinion to the “Leave” campaign is the status quo bias. People feel like “Things aren’t too bad, why take a risk and change something?”. In fact, I would argue the main reason why support for the EU has increased in the past three years is that the UK economy has improved. When things are going well, people just tend to be more satisfied with the status quo.
And that is why we must emphasize that there is no status quo being offered this referendum. If the UK stays in the EU, it commits itself to the federalist dreams of the foreign bureaucrats running the show in Brussels: The UK would be signing up to everything from an EU army (already being discussed) to a Europe-wide asylum system. You think it’s bad having unrestricted immigration with Romania and Bulgaria? The EU would like to accept Turkey as a member, a country that has a median wage not far above that of Romania & Bulgaria, and a population 2.5 times their combined size. Serbia and Ukraine are also on the “wish list” of countries the EU would like to have as members. As much as I sympathize with Ukraine’s plight, adding them as a member would mean free movement with a country that has a median wage 1/3 of Bulgaria’s. The current immigration issues would pale in comparison.
A vote to stay in the EU is not a vote for leaving things as they currently are, it is a vote to continue down the path the EU is walking on, towards more federalization and an abolishment of the nation state.
4) We need to debunk the myths
This has to be the early focus of the campaign. Our greatest enemy is the misinformation that is out there. Let me give you a few examples:
– “Leaving the EU will cost 4 million jobs”. This statement is true only if you assume that by leaving the EU the UK will cease trading with Europe. The truth is that the UK can and will remain a member of the free-trade area, so nothing will change.
– “You will need a visa to vacation in Spain or elsewhere in Europe”. That ignores that a UK passport enables its holders to travel visa-free 173 countries, that is to say every EU country and most other countries as well. Visa-free travel is not exclusive to the European Union, and no-one has anything to gain from asking British tourists to get a visa (do you think Spain or Greece would like to lose those tourists? Neither do I).
– “Immigration is profitable according to X study”. The truth is a bit more complicated: Some immigrants are profitable, some are not. Restricting immigration of unprofitable immigrants does not prevent one from welcoming thsoe who are profitable. Unrestricted immigration is always a bad deal as it gives you no choice as to whom you let in. If you’re lucky, a high enough proportion of immigrants will be the “good” type that immigration as a whole will be profitable, but that still doesn’t justify letting the bad ones in. Also, the studies that claim immigration is profitable tend to have a very narrow focus (focusing solely on GDP) and miss a few variables, but that topic deserves its own post.
– “The EU is necessary to preserve peace in Europe”. First of all, the statement is patently false – the EU is a consequence of peace, not the cause of it. Second of all, does anyone seriously believe war would break out if the UK left the EU? Should we be worried about French soldiers crossing the Channel tunnel? Of course not, no-one is worried about French soldiers. Or would the UK’s new-found independence cause it to become too prideful, and a military quest to rebuild the Empire would begin as a consequence of Brexit? If you think so, please put down the joint. You’ve had enough for today.
If we let the Stay campaign define the issues, we will lose. If they get their way, this referendum won’t be on “Would you like the UK to be an independent nation?” (which is what it really is about) but “Would you like to be treated like the refugees in Elysium every time you try to vacation in Spain?”, “Would you like you and everyone you love to lose their job?”, “Would you like to stop the import of all non-British items so that you’ll have to live on British food?” (the horror!) and “Would you like to be invaded by France?”. The answer to all these questions is, of course, No, except the last one which kind of sounds like a great set-up for a comedy.
Personally, I think the UK will vote to leave the EU. This is not only because I’m optimistic and I expect the Leave campaign to follow (at least most) of my advice, but also because I believe Eurosceptic voters will turn out in much greater numbers than Europhiles. In fact, during the entire year I spent in Britain, I did not meet a single enthusiastic EU supporter. Nobody likes the EU in Britain today. Some people view the EU as a “necessary evil”, but the enthusiasm is lacking and has been lacking really since the Maastricht treaty, which was when the EU took the first major step towards becoming a superstate
For comparison, look at the Scottish independence referendum: The campaign for independence was a lot more enthusiastic than the “Better together” campaign, because even a fair share of Scots who wanted to stay in the UK weren’t that excited about it. And had it not been for some last-minute intervention with promises of devolution, I think Scotland would have voted Yes. The EU, of course, can’t pull that trick since 1) any returned powers to Britain would have to be returned to everyone else, which from Brussells POV would not be worth it and 2) the EU can’t act as fast as the UK leaders could. As soon as a poll came out showing the Yes side in the lead, the UK government acted swiftly and designed a (vague, but still) devolution program (“the vow”). Any (significant) changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU would have to be approved by every membership country, a process that by its nature is quite slow. The Parliament in Malta is not going to hold an extra session just because an opinion poll shows that the UK is about to leave the Union.
But in order to win, we can’t campaign UKIP-style. We need a positive campaign led by positive, competent representatives from all different parties, and we need to make sure that everyone understands what the referendum is about: We need to debunk the myths early in the campaign, and we need to make sure that all voters understand that the Status quo is not an option – that a vote to Stay is in fact a vote for a United States of Europe.
That is how we will win this referendum