24 Jul 2015

How is the EU ‘out’ campaign planning to win?

There’s a riff you hear around the top of government that the referendum on Europe is won. You hear “60/40” thrown around as a plausible if not easy margin of victory for the yes campaign for staying in the EU. You heard it in the run-up to the Scottish referendum too.

On the “no” side there is serious work being undertaken to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

A European Flag and the Union Jack hang

Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, old hands from the campaign against the euro over a decade ago, are coordinating efforts to recruit, strategise and fundraise.

There will be nothing like the imbalance in money there was when the no camp was mullered by the yes camp in the 1975 referendum. Coming out of Europe has its enthusiasts in the business community, but as one of them, Richard Tice, told us, there’s a striking difference in profile between “out” business people and “in” business people: a lot of self-made entrepreneurs on one side and a lot of big corporate names on the other.

Richard Tice is part of the theknow.eu campaign trying to educate non-political types about the choice on offer in the referendum as they see it.

In Westminster, though, you find MPs from across the spectrum meeting in a cross-party “exploratory committee” most Wednesdays in what hopes to be the beginnings of the formal umbrella “no” campaign that eventually gets anointed the official campaign group by the Electoral Commission.

All working in happy harmony to make President Obama’s least favoured referendum outcome a reality? Richard Tice insists he doesn’t mind if the Westminster crowd get the official status. He doesn’t want the perks of such status anyway, like a free mail-drop which he thinks the state shouldn’t be paying for.

But I also caught up with Nigel Farage just before he headed off on his holidays. The Ukip leader (by the way, that is what he remains, and he said there would be no revisiting of the leadership issue despite the post-election “resignation”) talks of small-minded Westminster types who don’t understand his reach in the electorate.

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He says Ukip could provide 60 per cent of the votes the out camp require to win. He bases this on winning 4 million voters in 2015 and nearly winning another 2 million who he reckons ran off to the Tories and elsewhere at the last minute, and (presumably) on a low referendum turnout of not much more than 50 per cent.

Ukip’s MP, Douglas Carswell, who attends the Wednesday meetings in Owen Paterson’s Commons office with Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Bernard Jenkin and others, believes turnout could be a lot higher. He says the big need is to reach out to centre-left voters, and the need for 50 per cent plus 1 in a referendum means you have to be mindful of not repelling voters.

One no campaigner said he’d like to see Nigel Farage targeted at his stronghold areas, “rather like Tony Blair deployed John Prescott,” which might sound to Mr Farage like bus trips up and down the east coast, well away from the centre of the political action.

The no and yes campaigns are hoping to launch in the first half of September ahead of the party conference season, and we’ll get a chance to see who is making better headway.

A senior figure in the yes camp told me he thought no was currently ahead of yes in organising, and they had some catching up to do over the summer.

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