"Nigel Farage is "too often" right about the failings of the European Union (EU), according to one of the most powerful men in Brussels" squeals the Express. Frans Timmermans admitted: "If he criticises the EU for not having a migration policy that is effective he is right.
This of course gets us nowhere. Farage is only right in the same way a child is right in pointing at the sky and correctly identifying it as blue. But this adds nothing to the debate. The failings of the EU are many and multifarious and to continue to point them out is not winning any arguments. It's no secret to most Brits that the EU is a despotic shambles yet the no camp is still trailing badly. This is explained by the status quo effect where the omnishambles we have is still preferable to the unknown.
Timmerman remarks that "He (Farage) is absolutely, completely wrong with his solutions." And that's why we're not winning. Farage trades only in soundbytes. How many times have we heard the utterance of "Australian style points system" - which in a political void like Westminster has even been adopted by Labour leadership contenders in the absence of any research capability or capacity for detailed thought. Our political class is a waffle shop that produces nothing of its own and is all but immune to new ideas. We're still waiting to hear what that "Australian style points system" would look like and some sort of evidence that it would work.
We already have a points system for non-EEA migrants which is a shambles. In what way would a replacement make it any better when the same people are running it? Without an effective business census process there is no way government is able to adequately outline the needs of business. It's curious that a party professing to deplore government bureaucracy and red tape would wish for a massively bureaucratic and expensive system to determine who has the right to work here.
Moreover, the system we do have would be a good deal more effective were it not for the complete shambles of enforcement. If it's bad now, what does it matter if the perfect paper system were devised? The border agency is no better shape than our police or social services. So it then becomes a question of how do we make such services effective and examining the barriers to doing that.
But even that gets nowhere near solving what we deem to be problem immigration - in that what we is a massive abuse of the asylum system and undocumented people unlawfully gaining entry. We could continue with deportations but none of that solves the problem of people coming here in the first place or the reasons they want to come.
Stemming the flow of immigrants is going to require a massive intergovernmental effort to develop African economies, we need an overhaul of our human rights rules and we need a big picture approach. The problem is that the EU cannot reach any kind of mutually acceptable solution so the problems remain in limbo while they vacillate. Brexit would allow us to show leadership in taking unilateral action abroad and make the necessary reforms to our own laws and public administration. But that's not the message we're selling.
The vibe coming off Ukip, and consequently the eurosceptic movement is that we want to shut up shop and post guards at every port. The French dock worker strike gives you some indication of just how effective border delays are. Not only are we failing to communicate any solutions, we're failing to offer any incentive. We simply don't look intellectually credible enough to take such a massive leap as leaving the EU.
As it happens the professional classes very much fear the end of free movement and associate that with the EU. Even I would be reluctant to see it go. If offered a job in Amsterdam or Berlin right now, I wouldn't hesitate to take it. Moderate professional people who would never dream of voting Ukip need to be convinced to vote No, but they're not going to if the whole massage is geared to the 13% who voted Ukip who are going to vote no anyway. We do need comprehensive answers, intelligent policy ad we need to be able to communicate such effectively. Just bleating the same thoroughly debunked mantras about an "Australian style points system" just isn't going to cut it.
Floating voters know that the EU is a mess, but they also know that it does add some value. Many are asking "why bother" and we haven't got good answers. We can scream about the EU's democratic deficit until we are blue in the face, but with a domestic government in with a mere 24% mandate (of those who voted) we're not really in a position to say our own "democracy" is superior.
What we need is real democracy. And by that I mean people having power over their own institutions. Why should Yorkshire not manage its own fishing waters? Why should Huddersfield not manage its own health budget? Why should we wait for London politicians to make a decision on a third runway at Heathrow when the nation is peppered with airfields? Why are we waiting on London to revamp our Northern rail system? That would be real democracy and real sovereignty - but in that London is as much an obstacle as Brussels.
What we need is a whole new vision for British governance. We need to give people a real reason to leave the EU, not just gripes about how crap the EU is. The truth is, even though it should be the burning issue, it isn't - and nothing we say is going to change that. So we need a change of tack, and the waffle from Farage is neither worthwhile or helpful.