On the referendum #12: new ICM poll shows 46-36 for staying in the EU; education, BBC, propaganda, Willie Munzenberg

ICM are going to be asking the referendum question regularly from now on.

HERE is their latest poll of 2,000 over 31 July – 3 August.

The headline figure is 46-36 for YES.

One of the interesting categories is Scotland which has 47-35 for YES. This is contrary to other polls that have shown much wider YES margins in Scotland. I wonder what the truth is about Scottish opinion.

Also note how ABs, better educated than other social groups, are 58:30 for YES.

Another interesting recent poll was done by Survation coinciding with the Farage speech / Arron Banks ‘in the know’ advertising push. The analysis is HERE. The numbers confirm the conclusions I sketched on public opinion last summer based on focus groups.

All the polls show that support for leaving the EU has fallen towards a core vote of about a third of the public. There is no doubt that the NO campaign is in a very difficult position. Some of those who want to leave have made some big errors and the establishment is largely united behind IN. Worse, OUT has become associated with an unattractive moral feeling. Better educated people tend to get their political views from feelings, mood, Zeitgeist and fashion, hence the success of the most brilliant propagandists – the Communists of the early part of the 20th century who dazzled large sections of the intelligentsia: see the career of Karl Radek’s frighteningly effective agent Willie Munzenberg (connected to all sorts of people from Hemingway to Philby et al) and characters such as Otto Katz, the NKVD agent who said ‘Columbus discovered America, I discovered Hollywood.’

It is a mistake to think that the better educated are ‘more rational’ in their political analysis; often they are less rational and more affected by fashion than the un-educated. They also run influential cultural institutions. Much of the techniques of Soviet propaganda (which became the basis for most of modern PR such as the celebrity letterhead) rely on one principle – how to overwhelm reason and humans’ capacity for objective analysis by creating a moral picture such that people send little moral signals to each other by their actions (like those well-educated people who signal each other by attacking the Mail on Twitter).

These phenomena are relevant to the referendum. As one famous BBC correspondent said to us during the euro battle, ‘The thing is we [the BBC] like cappuccinos and hate racists.’ Such feelings tend to overwhelm reason and leave people blind to things that ought to be obvious – e.g. that Delors et al created the euro in order to spark a great leap forward for ‘political union’ and its institutional structure was sub-optimal and risky when they created it (an argument that was perceived as near-loony by many at the BBC for years).

It has been conventional wisdom among the better-educated who control powerful cultural institutions that support for the EU is synonymous with being ‘modern’, ‘not racist’ and so on. This is despite the EU system looking in many ways extremely dated, palpably failing, transferring money from the poor to the rich and multinationals etc. My point is not at all that I am right about the faults of the EU; perhaps my arguments are poor. My point is that there is a morally and intellectually respectable argument that the EU is an outdated bureaucratic mess, built on very dodgy intellectual foundations by Jean Monnet, and supported now by trite soundbites about ‘3 million jobs’ that do not hold up to serious scrutiny – but that the history, ideas, arguments etc count for very little against feelings, and they often count least among the well-educated.

Changing this moral picture such that people think about the issues, rather than adopt positions based on moral signals and emotion, will be extremely hard for the NO campaign in the time available though I do think that the silent artillery of time will change it within a decade.

Ps. I should add that there are two strong emotions on the NO side, regarding immigration and contempt for political elites, which also can lead to faulty reasoning.

Pps. (Added later). Patrick Wintour, the Guardian’s political editor, comments on Twitter that the above ‘may underplay possible Labour volte face.’ He is right. My impression is that the sight of the Bundesbank telling the Greeks to transfer assets to an offshore trust to be privatised by Germany has opened the eyes of some on the democratic Left to the deep institutional problems of the euro and the consequences of the push for economic and political union. However, this is a very recent development. Many on the Left have not thought seriously about the EU since Delors’ extremely clever speech to the TUC in 1988 which explained to the Left how the EU could be used to achieve permanent victory over their political opponents at a time when Thatcherism seemed dominant. Most political speeches are a waste of time. This is one of the few that really changed politics. Many on the Left decided to prioritise unravelling Thatcherism over democratic accountability as a consequence of this speech.

I hope that Labour does, as PW suggests, re-examine its uncritical support for the EU project particularly given it is now heading for yet another Treaty (between our referendum and 2025) based explicitly on the Delors model that will centralise much more power in Brussels in an attempt to prop the euro up and continue the Monnet/Delors vision (see HERE). There are some great Labour MPs, such as Gisela Stuart, who have challenged the conventional wisdom in Labour for years. Other figures in Labour, such as Blair’s speechwriter Phil Collins, really seem to believe the Foreign Office spin that ‘the EU is changing, the Monnet/Delors model is dead’ etc. The Foreign Office knows this is rubbish – the Five Presidents Report makes it untenable – but it is amazing how many intelligent British people choose to believe this time after time. I remember Mandelson saying exactly the same about the ‘Madrid Agenda 2000’ around the same time he was predicting the euro would be great for Ireland and Greece. Actually, this connects directly to the main point above about the delusions of the educated.

On the Referendum #5: reports of an anti-EU advertising campaign; Greece, the euro, and predictions

The Sunday Telegraph reports that a group of businessmen, including Arron Banks (the UKIP donor), plan a £20 million advertising campaign in September as part of an effort to win the referendum on the EU.

Brief thoughts…

Contrary to some phone calls I’ve had, this is not an example of ‘Eurosceptic infighting’.

Now, there are no spending limits as the Bill has not gone through Parliament. If a group of rich businessmen want to use this period to spend money persuading people of the problems of the EU and how Britain can do better, good luck to them. The important question is: does their campaign have the right messages so it is persuasive?

The Exploratory Committee that was announced last week is not the NO campaign. As I explained on Friday (here), it is a vehicle to coordinate discussions, raise money etc so that a professional NO campaign can exist. I am talking to people about how this can best be done, raising money, and trying to persuade appropriate people to leave their jobs to do this campaign.

As I have said hundreds of times over the past few weeks and will say thousands of times in the next few months, in order to win the referendum many people with very different views will have to find ways to cooperate. Libertarians, socialists and others have to find common ground. Also, all sorts of people and groups will, quite reasonably, want to do their own thing.

It is understandable that in the absence of an official NO campaign, motivated businesspeople are looking to do useful things. My concern is building the foundations of an official NO campaign in the right way such that it can grow into what will be an unprecedented organisational network over the next year. Scale and complexity require organisational innovations.

Greece, the euro, prediction, accountability

On a different subject, Greece and the euro is much in the news… When I was working on the campaign against Britain joining the euro, we did many debates/events/TV shows etc with people like Adair Turner, Ken Clarke, Heseltine, Peter Mandelson, Chris Patten et al.

Our businessmen, such as Stanley Kalms and Simon Wolfson, argued that the euro had been badly constructed and would cause problems for the existing members particularly Greece and Ireland. Turner, Clarke et al breezily wafted away such fears and said we would be proved wrong.

Almost the only extended conversation I have had with Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s ‘chief of staff’, was in a restaurant around 2002 when, I think, he was working for Ashdown. He of course said that the euro was a great idea, would work out brilliantly, and we would inevitably join. He is leading the No.10 renegotiation team.

As people who follow this blog know, one of the themes I have explored a lot is the issue of predictions in politics. Physics is so successful because it has an architecture for correcting errors of prediction. Politics has lacked this. Tetlock’s Good Judgement Project (with IARPA) is the most interesting project I know of to inject rigour into the issue of political prediction in order to improve performance radically.

Now that a referendum is coming, Clarke, Heseltine and others are all over the BBC making predictions about the ‘chaos’ and ‘loss of jobs’ that would come from leaving the EU. Because politics does not operate on the basis of being held accountable for predictions, they are almost never asked anything like – ‘but given your false predictions on the euro, why should we have confidence in your predictions on the EU, perhaps you simply have an emotional attachment to the EU that is not susceptible to evidence?’ In politics, ‘Bayesian updating’ is not fashionable particularly when moral signalling is so strong. Many in the BBC see the EU debate, as they saw the euro debate, simply as ‘internationalists v racists’ which makes them even less inclined to challenge people like Ken Clarke who is routinely allowed to make factually wrong assertions without challenge on the Today programme. I blogged about this in an earlier blog in this series HERE.

In comments below, please leave the best examples of quotes from the likes of Clarke, Turner, Mandelson etc along the lines of ‘don’t worry about Greece and Ireland, the euro will be great for them’.