On the referendum #10: Do you want to be a hammer or an anvil? Building a team for the NO campaign

‘Better to be a hammer than an anvil… If revolution there is to be, better to undertake it than undergo it.’ Bismarck

Some Tory MPs have said ‘we must wait for the prime minister to return from his renegotiation before we talk about a NO campaign, we cannot prejudge it, party unity demands…’ No, no, no.

Those who care about this issue need to consider a basic organisational issue.

Creating a ~£10-20+ million organisation that can fight the biggest political campaign in decades is not something that can be done in the 8-16 weeks that may elapse between a) Cameron returning from his climactic EU Council declaring ‘victory’ over the dastardly foreigners and  b) the vote.

Such an organisation needs strong, secure foundations. It needs to go from zero pounds and people to millions of pounds and thousands of people across the country. It needs to bring together all sorts of expertise from conventional Treasurers to very unconventional Facebook experts. It needs to build an old school grassroots network plugged into new technology.

Building this organisation should have started years ago. The resources of the old anti-euro campaign should have gone into working out a roadmap for a new UK-EU treaty and building a national movement to support it. It did not happen. Resources were diverted into cul-de-sacs. It cannot be delayed further.

Such a thing cannot be done in a few weeks. It will be a huge challenge to do it effectively in perhaps just 10-18 months. Saying that a NO campaign should not be set up until Cameron declares victory is organisationally equivalent to saying ‘let’s give up now’. I thought it a mistake to try to force David Cameron to hold a referendum but for those who ignored the dangers and pushed for it now to argue that ‘we must wait before we do anything’ is no good.

Further, there is an important point about how the referendum must be treated. Many Conservatives realise this but some don’t. We must focus on the interests of Britain, Europe, and the wider world – not party interests, including ‘party unity’.

All sorts of things are ‘good for party unity’ in the short-term and awful for everyone in the long-term. Those arguing that the interests of the NO campaign be subordinated to the interests of Conservative Party ‘unity’ are just as wrong as those in UKIP arguing that the interests of the NO campaign be subordinated to UKIP’s electoral interests in 2020.

A serious NO campaign that can set out the issues properly must be organised without regard to any party interests, though with sensitivity to different party loyalties.

The vote may be in April – just 8 months after people return from summer holidays. There is no more time to waste.


Building a team

‘We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly – or not at all – because of a stifling bureaucracy.’ Warren Buffet

As I wrote HERE, I’ve been asked to help recruit people for the referendum. A lot of things have happened over the past few weeks. We are starting to recruit people.

Paul Stephenson is one of the best people in the country at dealing with the media. He has agreed to join the campaign. Others have agreed to help with communications but are not public yet.

We need a lot of different skills. Some of this process must be secret but not all…

– Researchers. We need researchers of different levels of seniority. Some people who have worked on this area for a long time and know it inside out. Others who are young, clever, willing to work crazy hours, and aren’t worried about upsetting a whole load of powerful people, from Whitehall to Goldman Sachs to Brussels.

– Programmers / web designers / digital media etc. British politics is decades behind other countries on advertising, TV etc (partly because of the ban on TV political advertising); if you read the Selling of the President, you will see that No10 and Labour have not caught up to 1968-level sophistication in dealing with visuals. It is also way behind on the internet. This campaign requires innovation and will suck in the resources to allow it. If you are a web designer, an expert in social media, or a computer scientist motivated to help, then please get in touch.

– Advertising, marketing, direct mail, creative design. Have you read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition or Spook Country? If you work on brands like Tommy Hillfigger – do NOT get in touch with us, go call David Cameron! If you fancy yourself as Cayce Pollard or Hubertus Bigend, if you think your agency is a real life Blue Ant, then we want to speak to you. If you have used Palantir for political campaigns, then we want to speak to you. The NO campaign will have to create an eclectic network of cognitive scientists, marketing people and so on.

Do you want to create something as iconic as this for the NO campaign?

Eisenstein’s ‘October’

Or this?

The daisy ad

Or this?


If yes, get in touch…

(NB. Apple now is routinely touted as the best company in the world at advertising stemming from Jobs’ highly unusual personal taste. When the ‘1984’ advert, one of the most iconic adverts ever made, was first shown to the Apple board, the reaction was – let’s fire this ad agency and get a new one. Cf. Isaacson, p.163.)

– Spokespeople. We need fresh faces. We’ll probably build our own studio in the office that can beam out broadcast quality stuff. If you’re on our side, smart as hell, and fancy yourself a cross between Bill Clinton and Milla Jovovich, get in touch. If you know someone like this on our side, tell them to get in touch.

– Grassroots. We are not yet in a position to deal with grassroots volunteers but we should be by September, hopefully. If you want to help here, start building your own network, figure out how to use Facebook to mobilise people you know to persuade people they know. When we have an infrastructure, you’ll be able to plug into it. This campaign needs to build distributed networks fast in all sorts of ways that have not been done in UK politics. It cannot be a traditional centralised campaign in which supposed wisdom flows from the centre to the edges of the network. Instead, it must apply lessons learned by others: e.g. how the intelligence world has changed over the past decade.

– We will need all sorts of expertise not listed here. We are trying to create a core infrastructure that can use your help, watch this space for further details…



‘The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.’ Steve Jobs

‘Peace, bread, land.’ Famous Soviet slogan

Here is an example of simplification that works:

When Steve Jobs returned to a nearly bankrupt Apple in 1997, the once-famous brand was failing. It had no focus, was trying to do far too much, it had lost leadership, and suffered dysfunctional decision-making. Jobs simplified and focused. ‘The product lineup was too complicated and the company was bleeding cash. A friend of the family asked me which Apple computer she should buy. She couldn’t figure it out and I couldn’t give her clear guidance either’ (Jobs). ‘After a few weeks Jobs finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted at one big product strategy session. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. “Here’s what we need,” he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; he labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant’ (Isaacson). He cut all printers and other peripherals. He cut development engineers and software development. He cut distributors and five of the six national retailers. He moved almost all manufacturing offshore to Taiwan. He cut inventory by 80% and began selling directly over the internet (Rumelt).

Whitehall needs this treatment but won’t get it.

The ‘eurosceptic movement’ needs this treatment.

There is huge duplication. The same things are reinvented in dizzying proliferation. Not even the MPs and hacks who are supposed to be following the details can follow what people are doing. This means that the chances of the public following are ZERO.

NB. The net effect on public psychology of a decade of Cameron speeches on all sorts of issues from the NHS to schools to Europe is…? Approximately zero, as market research shows. This is because Cameron did not work on the basis of paying very careful attention to how people think and what arguments work, and shied away from (without properly considering) arguments that could get through to the public. Cameron focused on arguments of interest to pundits – not the public. How did he stagger to a tiny victory over the useless Miliband? Because he put his fate in the hands of someone who dropped everything else the Party was doing and persuaded a crucial section of the public that they were about to have their money stolen by the Scots. It worked, just, against Miliband but is hardly a model of political communication that Roosevelt or Reagan would be happy with.

The point is not about Cameron, it is about our campaign: if the most prominent politician of the last decade can give speech after speech leading the news and have a trivial effect on mass psychology, this ought to strike the fear of God into eurosceptics because people know almost nothing about EU arguments and status quo campaigns usually win. Only a radically different approach will give even a chance of victory.

The NO campaign will need to make arguments that we know are comprehensible and effective. This requires huge discipline, simplification, and focus. We don’t need 18 different people writing their own notes on trade, using slightly different figures and very different arguments, that are read by the same 18 people but ignored even by people who are paid to pay attention. We need to break out of the ghetto.

Everything will need to be pared down to a few fundamental objectives such as: neutralising fear of NO, explaining the gains from regaining control, explaining the costs and dangers of continuing to give away control, and developing a feeling in the country that NO would not just be good for us but good for the world. It will also require avoiding language that confuses. For example, the word ‘sovereignty’ is for many people ‘something to do with the queen’. Stop using it.

And it will require some game changers, of which a second referendum is, perhaps, one.


The NO campaign is, obviously, a massive underdog. Almost everyone in SW1 thinks it is doomed. However, SW1 conventional wisdom is often wrong. Many pundits thought joining the euro ‘inevitable’. Nobody thought we could stop Blair in the referendum on the North East Regional Assembly. We won 80-20. I cannot remember a single pundit who thought Gove’s team would change half what we changed.

Referendums are volatile. There is a huge undercurrent of opinion in this country that is deeply hostile to the established parties and desperate for a chance to hit a REBOOT BUTTON on Whitehall and Westminster. The structural wiring of the British state makes it very hard for political entrepreneurs to get a foothold. This campaign gives people who want things to change a chance to do things very differently. If we vote NO, we could do an awful lot to improve not just prosperity but also democratic government and the cause of international cooperation. We could, perhaps, help make a transition from the 1950s era that spawned the bureaucratic centralism of the EEC to a new desperately needed era of decentralised problem-solving networks that we need to help solve humanity’s challenges and exploit the tremendous properties of science and markets (cf. the work of physicist Dirk Helbing at Zurich University).

This campaign will require a lot of risks and some luck. If we fail, we will not fail conventionally – we won’t have bought IBM to avoid looking stupid…

If you are interested, please email dmc2.cummings@gmail.com

Finally, you don’t have to worry about working for me because I am NOT ‘running the NO campaign’ whatever you read. I don’t have the brains, skills, or personality. I am helping establish some foundations and a core team and helping people focus on essentials. One of the essentials is getting the right people. For such a huge event all sorts of extremely talented people will come out of the woodwork. Some of them will be unknown 20 year-olds who will run rings around people like me and supposed ‘grandees’ who’ve been on TV for decades and are so out of touch with how the world works they still think the EU is ‘modern’ (e.g. Ken Clarke). Once things are moving, I will be returning to my studies, helping in minor ways only.

Finally finally – pay. I don’t think anybody working in the campaign should be paid a six figure salary. For many years I’ve watched overpaid people in politics and Whitehall do a rubbish job and walk home with fat salaries while 25 year olds could do their job much better for less than half the cost. SW1 swarms with clueless people on £120k+. I’ve argued for over a decade, to zero effect because the parties are so out of touch, that the rules on executive pay for public companies are a joke. In the DfE I tried and largely failed to tackle grotesque overpaying and to promote young people into jobs held by people on six figures who squandered taxpayers’ money. People (including shareholders) don’t mind entrepreneurs getting rich. They rightly object to hired managers paid like successful entrepreneurs. This campaign should focus money on winning, not making staff rich. We should set an example. People say – ‘you won’t attract the talent’. Wrong. The only people we’ll lose are people we don’t want. If you want to get overpaid for lying to people, call the EU Commission or Roland Rudd – he tells the media he wants to pay his campaign manager 500k: you can hire 20 junior people for that and I’ll bet they’ll drive the guy on 500k round the bend before they’re done…

24 thoughts on “On the referendum #10: Do you want to be a hammer or an anvil? Building a team for the NO campaign

  1. “Everything will need to be pared down to a few fundamental objectives such as: neutralising fear of NO, explaining the gains from regaining control, explaining the costs and dangers of continuing to give away control, and developing a feeling in the country that NO would not just be good for us but good for the world.”

    Yes. We need an exit plan. Flexcit.


    • No we don’t. Simplification means we need real people to understand WHY they should want to leave first. Details must come later, otherwise the Yes campaign (including the ‘impartial’ civil service and EU law experts) can just generate friction disagreeing about the unknowable details.


      • Understanding WHY is one thing but ‘real people’ WILL need to be convinced of the HOW and especially that the HOW is safe if they are ever to vote to leave.

        In your efforts to try and keep it simple you will lose the referendum to the status quo and their FUD.


      • But the lack of details later will be mean a less effective campaign as some arguments and counter FUD strategy will come unstuck.

        The trick, it to have a a good foundation first. We’re lucky that some people have been thinking on this for years and a lot of the finer points thrashed out in this highly technical and complex argument. That foundation can be used to steady the stepladder and match the height or level of arguments. From low-brow ‘it’s the single market not the EU stupid’ to the finer details and implications on Non-Tarrif barriers (this fits how the UK can have a more positive effect on the world post Brexit).

        I am expecting to get involved in the lower to mid level dog work, the attractiveness of NO and the possibilities of a Brexit using Flexcit as a stabiliser are phenomenal for the UK. There are plenty of arguments, people, talking heads that are just asking to be hit. In addition helping adjust the ‘normal’ voters perception of the battlefield should be our first and main target.

        The percentages are way outside Ukip’s reach and debating, engaging in more public forum and taking on MPs, commentators and people with reach and narrative that will spread far outside the bubble is a must. There is some good discussions and groundwork being explained on this at Eureferendum blog in the comments. As Dominic said ‘ it is about our campaign’ and without getting all People’s Front of Judea, it will only be ‘won’ by the people.


      • We need three elements: reasons why we should leave the EU, an alternative vision to the EU, and then a narrative on how we get from one to the other. No single element is sufficient, and all three must mesh with each other.


        • Yes to needing good reasons to leave, yes to alternative positive narrative. However, NO to the EU No campaign needing to have a full A to B plan.

          The only way to manage the uncertainty around the “A to B plan” without leading to endless unintelligible arguments is to erect a “Someone Else’s Problem” field around it (pace Douglas Adams). Something like (ahem) “We have the best Civil Service and Public EU lawyers in the world and if you, the people, give them the mandate to leave, they will sweat the details and get the best deal for you.”

          What EU No will need are specific, simple and *short* sound bites (endlessly repeated) to neutralise the “fear” lines that will come from the establishment e.g. the millions of jobs depending on the EU bollocks. Sadly the various worthy “1000 page” reports knocking about right now just don’t help with this.


      • Agree completely MJones. The general public don’t give a fig about the finite details of how we extricate ourselves from this construct. We need to pull together and focus on the reasons why we should leave and the reasons why we can not only survive an exit but flourish – with great emphasis on ‘what’s in it for all of us’.

        I fully understand why the ‘Flexit’ group believes that we can only leave the EU in phases but the risk is far too great in my view. A side step to an EFTA or similar type arrangement – again on EU terms – leaves us vulnerable to any other party getting into power in the UK and pulling us right back into full membership. Also the Europhiles have been selling this option for years as: ‘All the costs with none of the influence’ which is hardly going to convince the voters. With only one shot at this in over 40 years, I think it’s time we grew up and demanded what we really want and not some half-baked scraps from the begging bowl.


  2. I agree with what you say but backing it all up, we on the NO side, must have a realistic, workable and honourable exit plan that will address all the FUD that the YES side will throw at us. Without a workable plan we will not win and for me that plan is Flexcit. That it is a six stage plan makes it comprehensive but that doesn’t mean that it will be difficult to explain if the correct training, of those involved, is put in place.

    Finally the Conservatives reform agenda is a joke and that must be exposed for what it is but I fear there are few Conservatives, apart from Rupert Allison, who have ever in the end put their country above their party.


  3. Dominic,

    If I am going to be brutally honest you have got the entire approach wrong as you don’t need researchers or programmers or whatever. What you need are psychologists as people believe the facts that they want to believe and in many respects the truth is entirely irrelevant in politics as I sure you aware from your time dealing with the NUT.

    So personally I would recommend playing to people’s perceptions instead of attacking the facts. Indeed most people agree with your stance that we can do better as a country instead of being ‘defeatist’ and you need to play on that nationalistic pride using the antithesis to say that Europe is doomed (Europe’s and the EU’s association with the euro currency is your blessing).

    However the press who set the agenda (and tell everyone the ‘truth’) are currently attacking immigrants by merging the issues together with the EU (i.e. the issues of welfare benefits, the EU, Islam and immigration etc. are now seen as the same thing).

    This is toxic and won’t win round the status quo, moderates or liberal Englanders which is my subtle hint that you need to tell the press to change their EU reporting stances in order to win.



    • Have a look at Cumming’s piece on swing voter psychology and the EU done for Business for Britain. Then you’ll see you don’t need to worry: he gets this.


      • I have read it (I think that I mentioned it once or twice in a blog article) but he needs a vision. I remember Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk (it is worth a watch on YouTube) and he is absolutely right when he says that ‘politicians with a fourteen point plan don’t inspire anyone’.

        The problem with Cummings is that he keeps repeating a bunch of facts (look at his Twitter account which is full of ‘4/’ and ‘7/’) which is completely pointless as what I am trying to tell him is that facts don’t win elections…it is the perception of facts that do.


  4. DC’s blog is truly a must read for all politicos, whatever their political views.

    3 thoughts:-

    1st, we are in an age of identity politics, and it may be good to have a separate operation in Scotland. Even though polls show the Scots are essentially the same as the Southerners, the SNP has so successfully got hold of the narrative of Scottish society and blown the old parties out of the water that it’s going to take a different conversation to contest them.

    Post Suez part of the Pro Euro Tories plan was a centralisation of power, so back in the 60s they amalgamated the Scottish Unionist Party into the Tory party, and therefore took away Scotland’s expression of its own identity within the UK. We could try and correct this wrong – maybe a Scottish Globalist Movement? We want to avoid the nightmare scenario of different parts of the UK voting differently, as the Euro fanatics would rather the UK broke up than give us a unified country to govern outside the EU.

    2nd, on social media, we MUST have something that people can paste on their Facebook Profile / twitter feed. No moderates would ever post a UKIP logo, but they would share something more progressive and positive. Maybe a Globe of some kind? Look at how many people have shared the rainbow for Pride.

    3rd, us Globalists have always underestimated how fanatical and beyond reason the Europhiles are, and just what lengths they will go to keep us on the path to a superstate. In their own mind the Pro Europeans are noble heroes fighting the evil of petty Nationalism, and since a US of Europe is such a moral endeavour they are justified in using the most despicable means necessary to achieve their end.

    The Tory’s organic political relationships run so deep and they’re political machinery is so battle hardened that it’s going to take a miracle to defeat them.

    It’s not David v Goliath, its David v a Mentally Deranged T-Rex. God help us.


  5. The way to win this is a simple two pronged approach.

    1. Neutralise fear of No. We have seen Greece told flat out that a vote for No to their bail-out deal was an immediate vote for Grexit. What happened? Greece voted no and now the EU are begging for a deal to keep Greece in the Euro. The EU will be even more desperate to keeb the UK in the EU, and in an EU on course for full integration.

    If people want to (A) stay in the EU but want a better deal, they must vote NO to get one. Voting No will not be the end of the process. Once we vote No, the EU will beg us to accept reforms.

    2. Voting yes will NOT get any reforms implemented. It is clear that any significant reforms will require a treaty change, which will require later ratification by all 28 EU states. The argument which posits that Cameron will not secure any significant reforms is a very dangerous argument. The simple reason it is so dangerous is that if the “no” camp keep stating with certainty that Cameron cannot get any agreement for significant reforms, then when he comes back with significant agreement for significant reform, the “no” camp will be instantly defeated. How can Cameron win significant reforms? Well, he doesn’t need to. All he needs to do is come back with a “promise” of agreement for significant reforms. The EU will enter into a pantomime faux negotiation which will result in agreement for significant reforms, because the EU knows that such reforms need to be ratified after our referendum and thus can and will be vetoed. All Cameron wants is a “yes” vote. To get a “yes” vote he needs significant reforms. The EU will “reluctantly” agree to such reforms in the knowlege that such reforms WILL be vetoed after the referendum, by other EU member states. It is a classic “bait and switch”

    We MUST MUST MUST expose that bait and switch con, to destroy the reform argument.

    If we vote for promised reforms, we wil not get them. Instead we WILL end up trapped in an unreformed EU still on course for FULL EU integration.


  6. Excellent blog post.

    I have read Flexcit. Brilliant work by the team who produced this document but I just don’t know. It didn’t scream a huge Yes to me (except for stage 1). I prefer the fundamental objectives listed in this post. Especially the last point with an emphasis on “feeling” and “the world”.

    But I always refer to No as EU No. I never refer to it as just No. So the EU No campaign not just No campaign. I might me barking up the wrong tree but linking No to the EU feels right to me rather than having No floating in mid air (I actually prefer UK Yes campaign but still).

    And keep it simple. There should be huge signs produced to remind everyone. It’s one key to winning this battle.


    • Why do you expect to find Flexcit to scream a huge “yes” to you, when it isn’t designed to do that job? And if you had actually read it, as opposed to skimming it – if that much – you would actually have read the passage that tells you that the document does not make the case for leaving the EU, as in page 11 …

      “At this point, we would stress that this book does not rehearse the reasons why Britain should leave the EU …”

      Presumably, your “reading” did not get that far.


      • I have read Flexcit. And quite carefully. But I still do not see how stages 2-6 have anything at all to directly do with leaving the EU (that’s covered in stage 1). It’s after exit so that would be up to a democratically future once again (sovereign) independent government.
        It’s essential information to have though. And details steps that a future government may or may not take. Maybe split stages 2-6 between essential future steps and recommended nice to have steps to improve domestic governance and prosperity?? once out.

        But I’m not an expert on this topic (far from it). But most are less expert than me and most will take a lot less interest than me. So if I’m confused… Or maybe I have different aims to Flexcit. I just want to get the hell out. That would be enough for me. But great to have a recommended action plan to follow once out.


        • To get 51% to vote to leave against the FUD and status quo they have to believe it is safe to do so.

          Stage one explains how and 2-6 incorporates the other vital ingredient which is the VISION of why life outside the political EU would be better.

          All six stages are necessary to have to enter the campaign and win.

          Think how badly a golfer would plays golf with only one club!


  7. ‘If you want to get overpaid for lying to people, call the EU Commission’

    Aside from the silly political comment (if you want to get overpaid for lying to people, work for the Conservative party in government as a SPAD?), a fact check – if you consider overpaid to be the ‘120k+’ salaries you are bemoaning in Westminister I can assure you that all but a small minority in the European Commission work for way less than that. if you don’t believe it, do the research… (salary levels are public) Of course, if you mean the commissioners themselves are overpaid, that’s a different question. But to my knowledge the UK government has never made an issue out of the pay levels of Commissioners, only the staff.


  8. Blimey, finally something has been written on this subject that’s interesting and sets out the beginnings of a sensible action plan.Wow.
    I hope this comes together.


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