Have you ever described a family row to a friend? You take him through the personalities, the history, and who’s said what to whom. At the end of which, he says: “Why can’t they just make up and be friends?
This is how most supporters of Brexit must feel about the circular-firing-squad story of Vote Leave and Leave EU. The details are complex, but the essence is simple. It is a tale of two people: Dominic Cummings and Arron Banks.
Cummings is a Conservative and Vote Leave’s strategist. I know him, and he is intelligent, arrogant, gifted, confrontational, original, controversial, has a dire history with some very senior Tories, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and tends to divide people into two categories: those who are with him, and those who are against him. As Michael Gove’s main special adviser during the last Parliament, he was a main driver behind perhaps its greatest achievement: its education reforms. I once compared him to Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now. He has helped run a successful referendum campaign – the one against an Assembly in the North-East.
I don’t know Banks, but the most important point about him, in relation to the row, is that he is the principal force behind Leave EU and one of the biggest funders of UKIP. He has never run a referendum campaign.
Banks spent much of last week pushing for a merger of the groups, but at a price: Cummings’s dismissal. For what it is worth, here is my best assessment of what would follow were this to happen.
If Cummings went, so would Vote Leave’s Communications Director, Paul Stephenson; Stephen Parkinson, who heads up the ground campaign as National Organiser, and Matthew Elliott, its Chief Executive. Some of Vote Leave’s donors would also walk.
All that would remain of Vote Leave would thus be an empty shell. Any deal that followed between Leave EU (or any Leave EU-led enterprise) and Vote Leave would therefore be more of a takeover than a merger. The new organisation would doubtless project a UKIP-type message – Banks has a history of wanting to focus the campaign on immigration control – and have a UKIP-type flavour.
Supporters of Brexit bewildered by this family bust-up should thus take a view, rather than simply shrug their shoulders. It is whether or not they believe a Leave referendum is more likely to be won –
- By a UKIP-flavoured campaign run by people with no experience of winning, or
- By a broader campaign run by people who do have experience of winning. Elliott ran the No to AV campaign. Parkinson was its point man in CCHQ. And Cummings, as I say, helped to run the campaign against the North-East Assembly.
So although the story is confusing, the choice is simple. The sooner all concerned grasp this, the better.