Last week saw the first substantive leafleting in the EU referendum campaign, a leaflet delivered to 10 million UK households. Given the pretty mediocre at best content inside, and the slightly odd timing, the only thing that I can get out of this is that Britain Stronger in Europe is incompetent and is also probably out of the Downing Street loop. Far from running a smooth propaganda programme to build up public support for a dubious position, the official remain group is bombarding the general public with factoids so poor that only an overworked intern looking to get through the day would be satisfied with his work if he were to produce them. Only someone who has already accepted the Europhile position lock, stock and barrel would accept anything written on the leaflet.
During the Second World War, different methods of propaganda were used. Goebbels was famous for his mastery of rhetoric, using polemic, word meanings and big ideas, many of which were already held by the German public, to suggestively imply his desired ends, which worked well– at least until Germany started losing. The BBC achieved huge prestige (much of the totally misplaced prestige that it has today is inherited from this period) as one of the few truthful wartime wireless broadcasters – when a little white lie was told, it was much harder to spot, and hence more effective. By the end of the war, the whole of Europe was infatuated with an ingrained respect for BBC impartiality.
However, the most interesting approach for us was that of the Soviets – while other nations thought of propaganda, the Soviets referred to education. A term by which the Soviets meant that would shoot anyone who propagated anything other than the party line – everyone knew that what was spouted about the Eastern Front was bollocks but that didn’t matter to Stalin because Gulags.
In terms of the BSE campaign, it seems as if they are following the Soviet approach – throw facts at people which only the already ideologically blinded believe. Except they differ in one key respect – they don’t have any Gulags, Commissars or political secret police to make sure that their assertions stand as fact in the public arena. They have the servile BBC, company CEOs (who read the same newspapers as we do and use blasé assertions about job losses to disguise the fact that it is well beyond their competence to know the finer points of international law) and a bunch of MPs, all divested with an obscene amount of public prestige and the ability to send their opponents to social Siberia.
Anyway, back to the leaflet. I may as well just go through it.
It is structured as a pamphlet, called ‘Europe and You’ and marked January/February, an ominous warning that our letterboxes are going be assaulted with this drivel every two months between now and any referendum.
‘The vote will be final: if the UK decides to leave, we will leave. There will be no going back.’
How reassuring – can someone let Vote.Leave know about this?
‘And there is so much at stake: jobs, the prices in our shops, rights in the workplace, our national security, and opportunities for future generations.’
Meaningless assertion – the leave campaigns could write exactly the same thing on one of their pamphlets and it would not look out of place.
‘The Prime Minister is renegotiating to get a better deal for Britain.’
No, he isn’t. The Prime Minister is renegotiating because a shock election victory presented him with the bizarre situation whereby he actually had to carry out his manifesto commitments – he gave us this referendum with all of the grace of a student vomiting in someone else’s dustbin in the small hours after realising that his seething stomach will not go away after just retching a couple of times.
‘Being a part of Europe means businesses in the East Midlands [where this leaflet is – I really don’t understand why they bothered regionalising when it is so clearly a stock message for the whole country] get free access to over 500 million customers in the EU – and can trade with no tariffs and barriers.’
For once, they are right – being a part of Europe, more specifically the EEA (not the EU) does get us free access to over 500 million customers in the EU and quite a few million outside it as well. Notice the use of vague, rather than specific terminology to conflate the EU and the Single Market, and hence conflate leaving the EU with leaving the Single Market.
‘Independent sources estimate that one in every ten UK jobs is linked to our trade with the EU.’
Again, we are not leaving the EEA, and so there would be no difference to jobs (other than for MEPs) – Cameron will not suddenly adopt the UKIP manifesto the day after a leave vote and decide to mine the channel/fill it with sharks/create a lava lake around the whole UK so nothing gets in or out.
‘And it’s estimated that remaining in the EU will mean another 790,000 jobs being created across the UK over the next 15 years – creating more opportunities for young people in the East Midlands.’
…quoting a report titled ‘The Impact of the UK being in the Single Market.’
Again, the clue is in the name – we are not planning on leaving the Single Market any time soon – just the EU. The report says:
‘It is perfectly possible of course that the UK outside the EU may be able to retain a number of its current arrangements and still be able to export a significant amount to the EU. But trade relations are not static. Outside the EU, the UK will not be able to influence, and may not be able to benefit from, further deepening of the single market and trade agreements between the EU and third countries. Likewise, the UK would not be able to trade tariff free without accepting continued compliance with Single Market rules or without making a contribution to the EU budget as Switzerland and Norway both do.’
As such, it is clear that the report is grossly politicised. By ‘may be able to retain a number of its current arrangements’ read ‘retains all’ – the entire thing is based on the premise that by leaving the EU, we leave the Single Market as well (just looking at the contents, all of the sub-headings use the words single market, not EU), something that simply is not true. Within the EEA, as EFTA states, ‘throughout the EEA, economic operators and citizens from the EEA EFTA States enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations in the areas covered by the Agreement as their counterparts from the EU.’ Regarding 3rd party trade agreements, the EU’s own briefing on EFTA states that, ‘Although the Agreement does not cover common commercial policy, the EEA-EFTA states have often concluded trade agreements, parallel to those of the EU, with third countries.’ EFTA states retain their own ability to negotiate trade deals.
And of course, the bit at the end – the Norwegian budget contribution is significantly smaller to the EU (and funds many non-EU things) and Single Market rules are only 21% of the EU acquis currently in force (see here), so this really is not the caveat that the report makes it out to be – and the pamphlets own derivation from the report is pure rubbish. Regardless of the research behind the figures, anything forecasting that far ahead is purely speculative – this report gets the figures from assuming the UK trade share with the EU is constant – which in turn is predicated almost entirely on GDP growth projections and uncertain assumption the UK trade share of the EU will not go up or down, both of which are almost certainly not reliable. Just look at the GDP growth predictions over the last ten years to see that. Notwithstanding that this report ignores a myriad of different factors that come into play (e.g. financial markets) – it is impossible to isolate a certain number of jobs as being brought about by EU membership.
And then, there are the Six Key Facts:
I am not bother quoting them for fear of becoming tedious, but numbers 1,2,3,5,6 are totally irrelevant because our niche of the Leave Campaign is not rooting for the UK to leave the Single Market.
Number 4 states that: ‘We are safer thanks to the European Arrest Warrant.’ That is a relatively minor point – not a referendum clincher by any means when faced with the argument for democracy.
Either way, there is nothing stopping us reaching an interim agreement immediately after we leave followed by a permanent deal – with something like this, it is in the clear interests of both sides to be able to arrest criminals.
‘How will shop prices in the East Midlands be affected?’
They won’t – we’ll still be in the EEA.
For the same reason, the WHOLE of page 2 is irrelevant, including everything that Karen Brady has to say about the issue – her statement looks like it was written by the same intern who wrote the rest.
And, again, there is some more on the European Arrest Warrant.
God, this is repetitive – the quality of this publication is shocking.
Page opens with a flagrant, falsifiable lie: ‘If we leave the EU, we would lose all of these benefits – because we only get them if we remain a member.’
No mention of the EEA to be seen anywhere here.
For about the third time, businesses, jobs and the European Arrest Warrant are mentioned – but what is this? A newcomer – ‘UK holiday makers get free healthcare in EU countries – and we’re free to move and live anywhere we want in the EU.’
None of that would change with the EEA – except maybe the healthcare, which I don’t know much about. Firstly, it is a tiny argument when compared to the ‘let’s not get subsumed by an unaccountable supranational body which seeks to strip us of our democratic rights and powers for what could well be the next couple of centuries.’ Secondly, many people take out insurance to go to much of the EU anyway, because the public hospitals in places like Cyprus are essentially death traps – you’ll go in with a minor fever and come out missing a leg but with a five year jail sentence. Even in France/Austria, many people take out insurance to go skiing, for instance. Health insurance is all of £30 anyway - this should be the smallest of inconveniences. Thirdly, there is definitely room for a bilateral agreement anyway.
‘Being in Europe, working together and sharing intelligence with other EU countries, is essential to Britain’s national security.’
The ‘being in Europe’ bit looks like the same intern got at the sentence because it didn’t ostensibly connect any of the benefits with membership of the EU – indeed, we everything mentioned and more without being a member of the EU. After all, Five Eyes (UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) is the most extensive signals intelligence sharing system in the world, and none of us are members of each other’s states (cue nostalgia for the colonies).
As for Russia, I do not trust Brussels not to do something reckless and stupid which dramatically escalates tensions – aka the Ukraine coup a few years ago, which was catalysed, if not actively supported, by the EU.
Again, the EU is conflated with cooperation with EU countries.
Then there is the financial risk column – again, with about the same level of cognitive insight as a sixteen year old (by now, I’m fairly sure that this leaflet was either written by a 16 year old or for 16 year olds – the only difference being whether the BSE is barking up the wrong tree because 16 year olds cannot vote, or is nauseously patronising, because it doesn’t expect us to understand the issues at stake).
‘Nobody knows what life would be like for UK families if we left Europe.’ – err, yes we do – see The Market Solution.
‘It would take many years to negotiate our future trading relationship with Europe – and then we’d have to negotiate our agreements with other countries on trade, travel, investment, security and more.’
No it wouldn’t – the EU itself only gives us 2 years under Article 50, and joining EFTA would not take very long. As for other countries, all we would have to do is agree to continue our existing treaty obligations aswith the EU.
‘Britain’s credit rating could be cut by two notches if it left the EU.’
Irrelevant – after a few years, they’d quietly put it up once they realised that because we remained in the Single Market, there was actually no threat. The BSE chain of causation from this is also suspect – as in, we don’t know if we’d have to pay more interest on our debts; such things depend on volatile markets, not politicians or Will Straw – putting that much emphasis on a mere assertion is tantamount to lying. The last rate downgrade did not see any significant change in borrowing costs. All of this is notwithstanding that the Telegraph has no way of knowing whether rates would be cut – or if their cutting would be significantly down to Brexit.
As for page 4:
Truth 2 – ‘We are an independent nation within the EU.’
Haha. Good one.
As for opt outs, they are a ratchet – they are not something we are likely to get more of or more power over, but it only takes one tit like Tony Blair to get in and they’re lost for good – hardly an amazingly powerful argument as it only serves to highlight the huge power that the EU already has (after all, they are opt outs, not opt ins). A bit like being proud of the fact that you don’t yet have leprosy on your nose when you do have it on your feet – how kind and magnanimous leprosy is being, and what a good deal it is for you.
Truths 1, 3 and 4 conflate the EU with the Single Market.
Truth 5 – not all of us Eurosceptics get that hot and bothered about immigration. And being out is definitely favourable to being in regarding freedom of movement reform anyway, which is literally impossible within.
Truth 6 – irrelevant. No reason why our government could not put in place schemes to cover the transition, and a pretty pathetic argument when compared to huge concepts like democracy and self-determination.
Having a whole page directly against UKIP is a not-so-subtle attempt to conflate UKIP with the leave side.
In terms of its truthful value, this leaflet is laughably easy to dismantle. I would not have a very high opinion of the intellectual capacity of anyone who was swayed onto the remain side by this rubbish. I doubt most of the recipients will read any of it – the referendum is too far off.
As for its value as propaganda, it is a ‘2 out of 10, must try harder.’ It has ignored the successful Nazi method of appealing to high-minded rhetoric and pre-existing public sentiment. It has ignored the even more successful fact-based method, whereby facts are reported as impartially as often as possible to gain trust (incontrovertible facts - not phoney statistics), used by the British.
Instead, Britain Stronger in Europe have opted for the Soviet method – a shoddy attempt full of lies, half-truths and omissions, put together poorly and unconvincingly, yet the authors do not really care because they are safe in the complacent knowledge that anyone who dares challenge it will be shot (metaphorically, of course, in the case of the Europe debate).
By the way, before anyone asks, I am not equating the BSE with the USSR – only the USSR’s method of propagandising during the Second World War. I would urge the leave campaign not to sink to their level (either the USSR’s or the Remain Campaign’s) – the truth is on our side so we do not need to resort to base propaganda at all.