How to fight a referendum: Ignore the maniacs
This is the fourth of a five part series on how to win a referendum by William Norton, referendum agent for the successful NESNO campaign.
The best chance for the Yes Men to win a referendum on the Constitution-Treaty is to avoid any discussion of the actual hard details and instead try to fight on the waffle-level of whether or not the UK should be a member of the EU.
Unfortunately there will be many supporters on the No side who will be more than happy to have that argument. The Yes Men will move heaven and earth to find the most, er, um, eccentric Eurosceptics and put them in front of as many television cameras as they can muster.
There has got to be discipline in this campaign. Everyone will have to accept the line laid down by the official No Campaign, so as to fight the referendum on the best ground available.
I can foresee one problem. Given the multiplicity of Eurosceptic organisations, there is a very good chance that a rogue group will decide to strike out on its own to run a “proper” campaign, especially if the official No Campaign decides not to argue for EU withdrawal. Can you doubt that the BBC would give such people airtime to rubbish an official No Campaign?
That was my experience with the North East Referendum, where an unsuccessful rival applicant for designated status spent most of the eight week campaign attacking NESNO for (I’m not making this up) being part of a conspiracy with John Prescott to deliberately lose the referendum.
The only solution is to do what we did in the North East: ignore them. If you have worked out a robust and credible plan, and you have heavyweight support behind you, you should have the strength of character to carry it out. Once the official campaign has built up momentum, and is seen to be making the running, the media will ignore the splinter maniacs and they will soon either fade away or fall into line – after all, they’ll be wanting to claim the credit for your win.
There is a paradox here. The best way to further the Better Off Out argument is for the Constitution-Treaty to be defeated in a referendum. But the likeliest way to win that referendum – and win big – is for the Better Off Out argument to play no part at all. That calls for discipline and maturity on the part of all Eurosceptics. Can they manage that?