‘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?
The daisy ad
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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…