Wednesday 15 October 2014

Plenty of options, but none of them good

There's no doubt Ukip is enjoying a degree of popularity at the moment. But the real question is whether it is popular enough to win a referendum should we get one. Ukip's anti-immigration stance is popular, but it is popular enough? In any referendum campaign the rhetoric will intensify and as with the 1975 referendum, the establishment will be choosing the very weakest players to represent the anti-EU cause.

We have discussed at length the tactics of fear, uncertainty and doubt which won out for the Scottish referendum, compounded by the unpopularity of Alex Salmond. Transpose that dynamic to the Euro debate and things do not look good. Nigel Farage is popular among Ukip but he is also a huge turn off to moderate people who don't appreciate his bloke-in-pub persona. Similarly, Paul Nuttall has a certain working class appeal but his ability to win arguments is limited because he only has stock answers and prepared responses. Up against more capable debaters (ie everyone in the world ever), he is easily wrong-footed.

In any referendum the propensity is toward the status quo and if there is any doubt because of a failure to provide comprehensive answers, then we will most certainly lose a referendum. As with the Scottish referendum, technical questions will require reassuring and comprehensive arguments, arguments which  pass muster when fact checked. We can't afford the kind of own goals Ukip keeps making and just one of their "shooting-from-the-hip" blunders can quite easily blow it.

Moreover, the aggressiveness of "cybernats" could be said to have been an influential factor in the Scottish referendum. As the rhetoric against Ukip intensifies, the more aggressive Ukippers get. I take the view that the same dynamic will play out.

Because of the media noise surrounding Ukip, Ukip has de-facto become the voice of euroscepticism, just as the SNP fronted the yes campaign. Similarly, I can see Ukip becoming more belligerent and more complacent as they make more gains. You might think that electoral successes for Ukip would equate with a greater chance of leaving the EU, but the more Ukip takes ownership of the issue, the more I can see floating voters being repelled.

For writing this post I will no doubt be subjected to the usual meme arguments suchas "holding a grudge against Ukip", but even voices within Ukip are saying exactly the same. A referendum at this stage ought to be an easy win but if there's one organisation that can (and will) blow it for everybody, it is Ukip.

I see but one glimmer of an opportunity to win, and that is if both Farage and Nuttall disappear completely from the Ukip stage. Ukip are the ones who have been telling us to put country before party, well perhaps it's time they took their own advice? I think the only way we can risk having a referendum is if Carswell is leader - and even that has risks and complications - and that still requires a Tory majority.

On the flip side, there is the question of whether we can afford to turn a referendum down. If we don't get one now, then when? Who knows how long a Labour government would last or when the next opportunity would be, or what the dynamics look like then for winning that referendum? If Labour wins the general election they will be able to say by way of winning that there isn't enough support for a referendum - on account of this election being a referendum on whether to have a referendum. It's a crass argument, but it's one they will use.

I have been asked for some consistency as to what I think. The simple answer is I don't know. But there are some clear choices: If you don't think we can win a referendum then a Tory government is undesirable. If you think, as does, that this is the only offer on the table, then we don't have a choice but to vote for the Tories. The only consistent thread I see is that is is mainly Ukip who can prevent us from having a referendum, and if we get one, on present trajectory, it is Ukip who is guaranteed to lose it for us. A strong Ukip is good for Ukip, but it sure as hell isn't good for those of us who want to leave the EU.

Ukip voters have some thinking to do. Wearily and reluctantly, while a referendum might not be a good idea right now, I think we have to take the only offer on the table. Whether we win it or not is up to Ukippers, and whether they are prepared to tackle the arrogance and amateurishness in their leaders. Knowing how the establishment will fight (and they will fight dirty), I believe Ukip will be outclassed. They don't have a strategy, they haven't prepared for the possibility, and they do not have a consistent position that can swing a referendum. It's getting late in the game and the kind of winging it we have seen from Ukip is not enough to win.

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