Despite the recent anaemic economic conditions in the EU, Eurozone crises, and the desire of the EU political elite to increase the EU’s power of member states, the Eurosceptic poll ratings have scaled back from the highs of 60 per cent earlier this year. Why? What are we doing wrong? What is going against Eurosceptic campaigns like Better Off Out and how do we need to adapt to ensure that we secure an “out” vote when the time comes? These are all questions that need to be identified and addressed so as to turn the tide against pro-EU propaganda.
The “Why” question is straightforward to answer: the political elite, multinational corporates and other “establishment bodies” – from foreign governments to the CBI – have marshalled their funds and launched a concerted attack on the British media. This has been the avenue that individuals like Richard Branson, corporates like Nissan and politicians like Clegg have used to try and change political landscape – and to an extent it has worked. They have used almost every media outlet and resource they can get their hands on to change the debate towards fear – encouraging a culture of misunderstanding regarding the EU debate and focusing, in many cases, on fictitious job losses that they say would come about if we left the European Union.
But why do I say fictitious? Are they lying? Well, according to Tim Congdon CBE, Nick Clegg is. Despite Congdon’s study, “Europe Doesn’t Work”, illustrating that basic truth that jobs depend on trade (and not EU membership), Nick Clegg continues to use such a claim. This is even when Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ own President, has stated that the claim is “not credible” – no doubt because the former Director of the Institute that came up with the initial claim, Martin Weale of The National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s Director, repudiated that claim and described it as ‘pure Goebbels’.
Nonetheless, it shows that the political elite are not above scaremongering and, indeed, misleading the public when it comes to the EU debate. This is what you might call unpatriotic, and is especially damaging because, as Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg receives air time.
But it gets worse.
Indeed, many other pro-EU opinions in the debate have come from a range of quarters, including foreign governments. It was the Japanese government that raised its voice in the last Balance of Competences Review, gaining front page coverage in the media. This was based again on faulty logic and should have been ignored. However, because of the institutional advantages the establishment have in making their voices heard, it went straight to the top of many Editorial lists.
It is the same for individuals such as Branson (who no longer lives in the UK) and the use of news outlets. Quoted by a wide-range of media, the Branson brand is doing more damage to the Better Off Out campaign than we could have expected. How could someone who moved his company to Switzerland and then moved himself to the British Virgin Islands still be an influence?
Well, the BBC’s Today Programme, which last year gave more coverage to the cause of Republicanism than to the withdrawalist cause, illustrates the problem of why we aren’t penetrating the marketplace. However, it also offers the solution. This media is an established force which the pro-EU lobby are seemingly using at will. Nonetheless, it has a public service broadcasting remit which it apparently takes very seriously. Therefore, we need to continue to challenge and be available for the BBC – and other media channels – so that we can spread the Eurosceptic message.
The Better Off Out campaign has also tried to be as media friendly as possible. We’ve produced reports for the Government’s Balance of Competences Review; I am co-authoring a submission to the IEA’s Brexit Prize; we have published material for school and university students which we go and talk to. However, no matter how much information we’ve put out into the public debate, the establishment won’t budge.
It means that we need to be even more media savvy: producing polls, going to debates and being as vocal as possible. We also need to point out that, in general, the people are on our side. Many Eurosceptic campaigns, whether they be in Switzerland, Norway, France or the Netherlands have been won because, despite the establishment being pro-EU, eurosceptics had the popular voice.
We also need to continue to use social media. Some readers may have heard about the EU’s funding of a “troll-patrol” on social media websites to “dismiss EU myths”. Well, we need to do the same. Eurosceptic campaigns and supporters have taken to Twitter and Facebook to spread the message: but we need to do more. Pro-EU Groups such as British Influence and Business for New Europe seem to be better funded than many Eurosceptic organisations. We need to ensure that they do not get the upper hand.
How do we stop the rise of British Influence?
By sharing. Better Off Out, like other organisations like Get Britain Out and the Democracy Movement, have Facebook and Twitter profiles and produce material that is easily shareable and valuable in spreading the message to established and new audiences. We need to use that and so what you can do to reinvigorate the campaign is simple: Share, share and share.
We need to be as outward going and appealing as possible. We need the public on our side. When asked about an In / Out vote, we are generally in the majority. Nonetheless, to keep a hold of the Great British public we do need to address something: we are being divided. Almost as a natural consequence of increased EU involvement into everyday life, more groups are either being set up or becoming Eurosceptic. It is dividing the potential for a strong and united Eurosceptic message. We need to start addressing this. With this I don’t just refer to joining UKIP, although plenty of people have. I feel there is a role that both political parties and pressure groups can have that is mutually beneficial – not mutually exclusive – and needs to be preserved. Nonetheless, there needs to be a united message in a clear and appealing way within the pressure group movement. Having multiple organisations do this to different audiences has been effective in the past, however, times are changing and with the onslaught and the media money that the pro-EU camp obviously has, we need to start to unify.
Becoming more united has (I’m happy to report) already started to happen at a Parliamentary level, with David Nuttall MP as Chairman of the MP and Peers group in Parliament. This group in Parliament allows Better Off Out politicians of all parties to coordinate the message at that level. Nonetheless, the general public need to be told what’s happening with the EU and we can’t rely on the establishment to do it for us. The point is really to present a single, strong and sensible message that can appeal to the wider audience.
It means that to secure an out vote we need to focus our attention on the media and the people as much as possible. For this we need the help of political parties, trade unions, businesses and others in civic society. We need to make Eurosceptism both relevant and real: whether it be to do with job opportunities or the cost of living, it needs to be focused on what matters.
If we can organise ourselves to show people how they will be better off out, we will win. If we can’t unite to bust the establishment’s EU myths and at the same time get the message across, then that’s a different story.