The UK is set to have a referendum of its membership of the European Union by the end of 2017. Currently opinion polls show the ‘out’ campaign has a mountain to climb if they are to persuade the British public to leave the EU.
Nigel Farage has claimed he and his party “are going to take the lead” on the campaign to leave the EU, which has been interpreted as an ambition to lead the ‘out’ campaign. This would be a disaster for the moderate eurosceptic cause, and the ‘out’ campaign.
While there’s no doubting the impressive nature of UKIP’s rise, Nigel Farage and his party remain a toxic brand for most Britons. In fact a poll by Isobel puts UKIP as Britain's most disliked brand, while YouGov found nearly a quarter (24%) of people would disown a friend if they supported UKIP. Worst of all for UKIP, nearly half of voters (44%) see them as a racist party.
If UKIP take control of the ‘out’ campaign, it risks turning off voters who are Eurosceptic but would not ever consider voting UKIP. They are tainted (perhaps unfairly) in the eyes of much of the British public as a racist and prejudiced party.
Nigel Farage hopes his leadership of the ‘out’ campaign will mean he can help encourage Labour and Conservative Eurosceptics to support the campaign, and has said UKIP “will open our arms and be all embracing and welcome everybody”. The problem for Nigel Farage is these moderate Eurosceptics won’t be so welcoming towards him.
Even Alan Sked, UKIP’s founder and former leader, has said that if UKIP lead the ‘out’ campaign they would “contaminate the whole campaign”.
As we saw in the Scottish independence referendum, ultimately these referendums are fought over jobs and the economy - not territory that UKIP is particularly strong or trusted on.
The ‘out’ campaign should choose a business leader with no, or few, connections to party politics. This person could make the economic case for leaving the EU, and leave the politics of immigration and race to UKIP and their supporters.
One such leader could be Sir James Dyson, the famous entrepreneur and inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner. If they fail to choose a business leader the ‘out’ campaign will lose the business argument before it’s even begun, with the pro-EU CBI dominating the debate.
If the ‘out’ campaign really do have a mountain to climb, then being led by Nigel Farage and UKIP would be like trying to climb the mountain in lead boots.