David Herdson say pursuing reform in the EU isn’t a pipe-dream

April 23rd, 2016


The question is whether Brexit is needed to kick-start it

Remember the government’s EU renegotiation? It was a big deal back in February when it was agreed after a marathon European Council summit and has been little heard of since. True, the five points do briefly appear in the government’s referendum leaflet but hardly any of the campaigning for or against membership has bothered to reference them. They are now essentially an irrelevance.

To the extent that they are brought up, it’s more often as evidence of the difficulty of achieving change than as evidence of successful reform. It’s certainly the case that a lot of effort went into not much outcome but then the window Cameron gave himself to gain a deal was always limiting – he could have had another year.

Sceptics would no doubt argue that another year would have made little difference; that the EU has had decades to reform and has done nothing more than accrue powers – why should this time be different? Three reasons.

Firstly, the time is ripe for more fundamental change anyway. The EU still hasn’t really come to institutional grips with the Eurozone crisis, never mind the challenges of the recent mass migration. Greater co-ordination and new central powers are needed if the single currency and single border
are to survive without endless ad hoc emergency summits cobbling solutions together at the last minute. That necessity offers an opportunity to those wanting a quid pro quo written into the treaties.

Secondly, the EU is losing support across Europe. Britain flirting with withdrawal is the most obvious example but the Dutch referendum result against the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is another, as is the rise of populist anti-EU sentiment in general (as distinct from anti-EU noises from the extremes). Unless the EU’s leadership can put together a meaningful response in both policy and reform, that trend will continue with the risk that the entire Union is put at risk. It is of course possible that faced with that threat, the Euro-elite will circle the wagons and remain loyal to The Project but there comes a point when the domestic electoral consequences outweigh the diplomatic gains from appearing a Good European. That point is already here for some and near for others.

And the third reason, in simple power terms, is money. Those countries that most need reform in the EU are by and large those which pay in most. That is a powerful lever to extract concessions from the rest. That Britain might leave, opening up a £10bn pa hole in the EU’s budget is pause for thought; how much worse were that to begin a chain reaction? Governments such as that of the Netherlands could quite happily assure their colleagues of their own European commitment while simultaneously pointing to the domestic pressures they’re under.

Those three factors combined do provide potent pressures to do something. Will they be enough? Possibly, but the true believers among the Eurocrats have always operated on the principle of action first, public later – bag the integration and let the benefits commend themselves. It’s not always been wholly successful.

Which is why ironically, while reform might very well come if Remain wins, it’s even more likely if Leave does. The shock of losing a major member, if one that’s been semidetached for some time, would be profound; business simply couldn’t go on as normal even if the more bull-headed might suggest so. Either way, Cameron’s February negotiation is likely to have been only the starter; the main course is still to come.

David Herdson


The PM’s attack on Khan, EURef polling & betting, and the latest on WH2016 – the latest PB/Polling Matters TV Show

April 21st, 2016

This week we welcomed back the Oxford Academic and Labour peer, Lord Stewart Wood, to look at what’s been going on in the big political stories on both sided of the Atlantic.

Among the issues discussed are what Labour should do about Cameron’s attacks on its London mayoral candidate, the latest moves in the referendum polling and betting as well as where the White House race stands after New York.

Keiran Pedley will be back in the presenter’s chair next week.

The audio podcast version is here.

Mike Smithson


The BREXIT referendum: Roger’s latest update on what’s happening in the PR/Ad industry

April 21st, 2016


“Political advertising ought to be stopped. It’s the only dishonest advertising left.” (David Ogilvy, 1965)

The last few weeks have proved him right. It’s been a free-for-all. Every claim more outlandish than the last. Every rebuttal more hyperbolic. Then last Thursday Vote Leave were appointed lead campaign, the two slogans BRITAIN STRONGER IN EUROPE and TAKE CONTROL were revealed and everyone settled down…

REMAIN are now working with Adam and Eve/DDB. LEAVE have appointed several regional PR companies primarily to arrange Boris’s whistle-stop tours. Ominously all but two have asked that their names not be published. The lack of central control is showing and REMAIN seem much the better organised.

The first week has seen the two forces assembling and there’s no doubt the bigger guns have been piling in behind REMAIN.

The first significant engagement happened on Monday. Osborne announced that leaving would cost £4,300 per household. Unlike most of his flights of fancy this has been a difficult one for LEAVE to bat away. Osborne is still Chancellor and the figures were the work of Treasury civil servants. For Tory LEAVERS to dismiss them as confected is to belittle their own government’s credibility. Despite many crying foul I sense he’s landed a blow. Maybe the first.

Today we can expect the second. A celebrity endorsement of such enormity it would make Adidas blush. REMAIN have bagged the most famous man in the world.

Celebrity endorsement can turn the fortunes of a product in the flutter of an eyelash. Think Nicole Kidman, Gary Lineker, George Clooney, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Peter Kay….. The chances are you’ll think of the product they’ve endorsed before you remember their daytime job. Kate Middleton turned around the fortunes of Reiss by just getting dressed in the morning. The public love celebrity and women are twice as likely to buy after a celebrity endorsement than men…..

…but this is a politician talking politics and people don’t love politicians. What’s more a foreign politician involving himself in another country’s affairs is rarely appreciated and has been known to galvanise an opposition.

Nonetheless he’s popular and attention grabbing and unlike a domestic politician some will see him as an honest broker. There will also be a reluctance on the part of LEAVE to be too outspoken about our closest and most powerful ally so despite some huffing and puffing LEAVE’s response will probably be muted.

LEAVE too have been rolling out the celebs. As we saw in Scotland the side offering change is seen as the active option so little surprise Sol Campbell and Ian Botham have chosen to bat for LEAVE. What they intend to bring to the party isn’t yet known but there was some consternation in Scotland when Botham referred to England as ‘an island.’

And then there’s Boris. He has become LEAVE’s figurehead. As the most charismatic figure on the LEAVE side he seems like an obvious choice. I’m not so sure. A campaign figurehead needs credibility as much as charisma and with even his own family doubting his motives that’s not his strong suit. But then… as five times more people read the headline than read the copy, perhaps they’ve got it right.

We’ll probably get some clues after we’ve seen the ‘Obama Effect’.

Roger, who has had a long and successful career in advertising has been posting on PB since 2004


ComRes becomes the 6th successive pollster to report moves to REMAIN compared with their last surveys

April 20th, 2016

ComRes’s “turnout model” makes the REMAIN lead 16%

In terms of polling it’s been a devastating day for those wanting the UK out of the EU and the worst survey of all for them has just been published in the Mail. On standard methodology REMAIN is 11% ahead but when its new “turnout model” is applied this move to 16%.

The latter was introduced by the firm in response to the GE2015 polling fail. Essentially it applies an adjustment to the responses from those in demographic segments which it says have a history of overstating their certainty to vote.

Basically the group most affected are the least affluent voters who on the referendum are more inclined to support LEAVE.

That is just one poll. The overall picture is that the improvement in REMAIN’s position is seen across the board in the last six polling firms to report. One of those was TNS which had a 4% REMAIN lead – the biggest that’s been reported in any online survey since the referendum question was fixed.

It is perhaps worth recalling that ComRes was the ONLY pollster in the formal GE2015 campaign period to report Tory leads in every single survey.

Mike Smithson


Why playing the man and not the issue might not be a good strategy for LEAVE

April 20th, 2016

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Alastair Meeks has doubts about the BREXIT campaign approach

Brexiteers have shown themselves to be very angry about many things.  These things include, but are not confined to, the conduct of the referendum campaign itself.  Their complaints are many and various but three in particular stand out: first, the In campaign is almost exclusively trying to scare floating voters into the status quo (“Project Fear” as it is often called); secondly, the Prime Minister has loaded the deck against them by chicanery; and thirdly, the In crowd are arguing by appeals to authority, projecting itself as the sensible choice espoused by sensible people without ever explaining why.

These complaints have varying degrees of merit.  Leave have responded to them in a quite unconventional manner.  In particular, when presented with an argument from the Remain camp, its default is to play the man.

When George Osborne unveiled the Treasury assessment of the risks of leaving the EU, John Redwood’s response was: “The prime minister was one of the senior advisers working in the Treasury while John Major’s government tried to keep this country in the EU’s disastrous exchange rate mechanism. The ERM destroyed jobs and caused misery for families across the country. The remainers were wrong then, and they are wrong now – people should not trust their judgment on the EU.”

When Barack Obama’s intervention in the debate was mooted, Nigel Farage described him as the most anti-British president that there had ever been, evidently forgetting that several had actually fought wars against the British.  Countless economic arguments from varied sources supportive of the Remain camp have been dismissed by Leavers on the ground that the proponent had supported Britain’s entry into the Euro, whether or not this was in fact true.  Interventions from Lord Mandelson are dismissed with the riposte that he has to be supportive of the EU or his pension is in peril (a proposition that is daft on at least two levels, but chiefly because it implies that Lord Mandelson doesn’t believe what he is saying).

Ad hominem attacks are nothing new of course.  But the speed with which Leavers have been reaching for them is noteworthy.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a conscious strategy.  This begs the question: why?

It is often said that ad hominem attacks are a sign that someone has lost the argument.  That may be part of it in some of these cases.  But there seems to be more to it than that.  Leave seems to have recognised that they can never win the campaign if it is fought on the gravitas of the proponents.  So instead they are seeking to use their opponents’ establishment status against them, like a judoka using his opponent’s weight against him.  Making a virtue of necessity, they are advertising their anti-establishment status and seeking to lead a peasants’ revolt.

Will it work?  It will certainly damage the credibility of those who they attack when the attack lines have substance.  However, the public may well notice the rather shrill tone that such attacks are inevitably conveyed in and draw their own conclusions about their authors.  Leave might successfully neutralise the imbalance in authority only to cement a perceived imbalance in judgement.

It will also damage the relationships with those who have been attacked.  Leave want to pursue new trade relationships with non-EU countries.  This task would not be made easier where their leading spokespeople have made direct personal attacks on their leaders.  Conservative Leavers will at some point want to patch things up with Conservative Remainers and this will be far harder when they have hurled vitriol at each other.  These, however, would be post-referendum problems.

For this approach ultimately to work, the Leave campaign will need to persuade the public that Britain has been led badly and that as a result for the average person in the street things have got or will get worse unless a new direction is taken.  The public are always Eeyorish about life in general in opinion polls, but will they accept that their leaders have been so incompetent as to require a completely fresh start?  I guess we shall see.

Alastair Meeks


Trump set for big victory in New York – Hillary projected to win Dems race

April 20th, 2016


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And so the 2016 White House Race moves to delegate-rich New York

April 19th, 2016


Trump and Clinton look set to win but it’s all about delegates

In recent days there’s been a big improvement in Trump’s betting position following his disappointment in Wisconsin two weeks when he dropped to below a 50%.

Here in New York it’s all about delegates in the GOP race where Trump needs to win as many of the 27 congressional as possible. Overall in the state there are 95 delegates at stake.A total of 1237, as we keep on saying, are requred to be sure of the nomination.

He’s been over the 50% mark in most polls and ideally Trump needs all of the 95 – the big question will be how far short he is.

In the Democratic Race Hillary Clinton needs a solid win in the state where she used to be a Senator. Things have gone a bit sour of late and clear victory would stead the nerves.

Mike Smithson


Vote Leave sets out its objective – TSE gives his robust interpretation

April 19th, 2016