Monday 13 October 2014

Ukip: Winning battles - but losing the war

Apparently there was a Ukip documentary on the BBC. I didn't see it. It's not a debate I can any longer find the energy to engage in. Ukip is what it is and if people can't see that, then that's really their problem.

It's looking more and more likely that by 2017 there will be an EU referendum. The BBC will drop any pretense of impartiality to make sure we stay in the EU - and that is why the exit campaign will be dominated by Ukip figures such as Farage and Nuttall. They are the perfect useful idiots. Those two men have very a shallow understanding of the EU and their arguments are hackneyed, uncosted and without detail. Because the pair of them are intellectual lightweights who make up their replies on the spot, without doing their homework, they will be taken to pieces very publicly.

I had the misfortune of hearing Paul Nuttall on Any Questions on Saturday and while Ukipists thought he did a wonderful job I was cringing because the whole debate was a rehearsal of what a referendum campaign debate would sound like. Turning the whole thing into an immigration debate is a tactical blunder. There are means to keep the single market and free movement of people and goods without being in the EU and still control immigration.

Those arguments could have completely disarmed the europhile pre-programmed responses because they simply wouldn't have had an answer to it. We still keep the jobs that depend on the single market and there is no way the xenophobia label sticks. Instead, the europhile panel won hands down - Why? Because they had good answers to long standing narrow complaints about the EU. Had Ukip bothered to research an EU exit plan Nuttall would have had detailed answers that could have easily upstaged the opposition - and resoundingly defeated them.

Nuttall walked away from that sounding like a scalded child - and some of his responses were like those of a petulant Kevin the Teenager. He came over as a lout which may have a certain working class appeal but it's a huge turn off to those who have yet to make up their minds. And those are the people we need to win a referendum.

Not once did I hear a distinction of what the EU was. Nobody is making that central case that the EU is a political organisation with supranational ambitions - and that it is the only direction of travel for the EU. People still think of it in terms of a trading block which, like it or not, does have distinct advantages for us.

Even as a lifelong opponent of the EU I am hugely in favour of international co-operation and open markets. This debate was an opportunity to remind people that the EEA is central to that, not the EU and that we could have a more central role in shaping it were we free of the EU. There was an opportunity to show that the exit campaign was more progressive, more liberal and bolder in vision than the narrow EU cul-de-sac.

Instead, thanks to Ukip, the side for leaving the EU will be painted as a mildly xenophobic, insular, reactionary, populist movement who stand on an entirely negative platform, who do not have comprehensive arguments for very serious economic questions. That's not a referendum winner.

There is little hope of leaving the EU now the exit campaign is represented by intellectual lightweights like Nuttall and co - and perceived as a Daily Mail reading band of malcontents and losers. Such might be popular, but not popular enough - and the more it goes down that road, the less likely our chances. 

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