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The U.K.’s Matthew Elliott, Who Ran Successful “Vote Leave” Campaign During #Brexit, On PM May’s Loss

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Matthew Elliott, senior fellow at The Legatum Institute, and the big brain behind @vote_leave successful #Brexit campaign, joined me this morning:




HH: In the aftermath of a devastating loss, the Conservative party regroups this morning. They had expected to win maybe 150 seats as recently as six weeks ago. They in fact lost 12. They are down to 318 seats, obliged to approach Buckingham Palace today with a partner in the Democratic Unionist Party in an effort to maintain a coalition or a minority government. Theresa May as prime minister? I don’t know. I’m joined by Matthew Elliott. He is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute. He’s editor-at-large of Brexit Central. He’s the former CEO of Vote Leave. And he is the mastermind behind the Brexit successful campaign here to tell us why Theresa May had a pratfall. Matthew Elliott, good morning to you.

ME: Good morning, Hugh.

HH: Have you had any sleep at all?

ME: I’ve been up all night watching the results, so I’m slightly tired now, but really pleased to be on the show.

HH: Well, thank you for joining me. I hope this is a regular date now. Can you explain to us in America what happened?

ME: Well, I’m astounded. Yeah, when we spoke about six weeks ago about the campaign, it looked like Theresa May would be getting a supermajority. She was high and mighty in the polls, had 20% leads. Yeah, it looked like a dead cert for a slam dunk for the Conservative Party. But what we saw during the campaign was actually Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, actually doing much better than expected. So he’s a hard left, basically a socialist in many of his policies, but a bit like Bernie Sanders. He has the common touch. He is, has a way of communicating with people and connecting with people. And in contrast, Theresa May just looked very detached and very wooden, and perhaps even a little bit like the Hillary Clinton campaign we saw in the presidential election.

HH: And so the result of this, what happens next? I can’t imagine –not only is he a socialist, he’s hard left on foreign policy. Jeremy Corbyn is simply not part of the typical United Kingdom defense posture. It would be a disaster for the West and for the “Five Eyes Agreement,” e-y-e-s,  for my Pittsburgh Steelers fans, five eyes being New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, if he were to be in charge of defense and put his people there. So I’m hoping the Conservatives can make this coalition with the Ulster Conservatives. Is that going to happen, in your view?

ME: It will happen, and traditionally, the Conservative Party used to be called the Conservative and Unionist Party. So it always used to include the people form the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland. So this is a traditional thing. And with their support, it should mean that she has a working majority in the House of Commons. And this is a key point. The only party apart from UKIP to come out in favor of Leave during the referendum was the DUP. So they are fully signed up to Brexit. That means that when it comes to those crucial votes in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to get all the Brexit legislation through, she will have their backing.

HH: Now one of the senior advisors to one of the current cabinet members texted me last night, Game of Thrones time, see you in Normandy. I might see him over in Normandy in a week or so. I’m going on vacation. Is it Game of Thrones time? Does Theresa May survive as prime minister?

ME: Well, there’ll be lots of phone calls going on this morning, and lots of MP’s meeting each other. A few crucial things – yeah, the fact that Theresa May has said that she’s carrying on means, I think, that she will get her received declarations of loyalty from Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, who’s quite popular within the Conservative Party. So I think she’s got loyalty from her senior ministers, and also crucially, just recently, Steve Baker, who heads up something called the European Research Group of MP’s, which is basically the Brexit MP’s on the back benches, he has said that there shouldn’t be a leadership election. So I think the mood of the party at the moment is move on from the election, stick with Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister, and not to rock the boat just yet.

HH: Now I expect, though, that the “hard Brexit” people, the “happy warriors for a hard Brexit,” will rise in the cabinet. Am I right about that? Will the “soft exits” and the “remains” be swept aside in cabinet jobs, that she does have to shake up the cabinet, doesn’t she?

ME: Well, she will have to shake up the government, because quite a few government ministers lost their seats. Only one member of the cabinet lost their seat, and he wasn’t a full minister. So there’ll be some form of shake up. I think the people who will come out well from that are people who are outside her inner circle. So I think she needs to have a more inclusive leadership and bring people on board, perhaps people like Michael Gove, who was a very good justice minister before the referendum, people like Nicky Morgan, who’s more on the left of the Conservative Party, who was the education minister for a long time. So I think it’ll be a wider spread of people from across the party. But I think one key thing is that hard Brexit is the only Brexit on the table. The idea that the EU’s going to turn round and give us some form of soft Brexit or single party membership isn’t going to happen, because it’s more complicated. And it will be against the manifesto, because it was clear that we would be leaving the European Union fully and not going for some sort of halfway house. So I think Brexit, touch wood, is on track.

HH: Matthew Elliott, have you had any conversations about joining Prime Minister May’s team? A lot of people were disappointed that you weren’t on this campaign strategy team and would like to see you, because it was obviously a disastrous manifesto, the dementia tax and all that. Are you going to go in and help?

ME: I haven’t received any phone calls, yet, but I’m a loyal Conservative supporter, and you know, actually, Brexit is the most important issue for me, delivering the success we had in the referendum. And I will do anything I can to do to make sure that gets through.

HH: There were four hard Brexit leaders – Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, David Davis and Michael Gove. Should all four be in senior positions in the cabinet?

ME: I think there’s a good argument for all of them occupying senior positions, yes, because what’s interesting is actually the way which Vote Leave ran the campaign in the referendum. Of course, we won against all the odds, and I think we were actually perhaps more in touch with where the British public were than arguably the Conservative Party is now. So actually, I think there’s a big argument for yes, those four leaders, but also some of the people behind Vote Leave to perhaps be there to advise, offer advice on how Brexit proceeds, but also strategy for the Conservative Party. How do you reach out to people who yes, have had a tough time over the past ten years since the financial crisis? We found that way of reaching out, a way in which the current Conservative party headquarters failed to do.

HH: Matthew Elliott, I want to dig deeper now for a hot take on the shift. I mean, it’s extraordinary, people expected a hundred, maybe 150 [new seats] win to a loss of 18 seats. You hang onto power, but that suggests, you know, the collapse of UKIP, of course. They all got absorbed somewhere. The Scottish Nationalists fell apart. We’re back to kind of a two party system. What –and the young people voted for Jeremy Corbyn, and that is a false promise. That is the politics of Venezuela. That is a nightmare. How could they be so gullible? And I don’t want you make you say that the young people of Britain are gullible, but that’s what I have to think.

ME: Well, what this has said to me is we have a huge education exercise in front of us. I thought it would be patently obvious to anybody that if you elected Jeremy Corbyn, it would be like setting back Britain to the 1970s, or like adopting the policies of Venezuela, that sort of approach. And I thought it was patently obvious that that wasn’t the right thing to do for the economy. But actually, I think a lot of younger voters who didn’t live through the ’70s and ’80s have forgotten how terrible it is when the economy has high taxes, high spending, when you nationalize industries, they’ve forgotten all of those lessons. So I think there is a job for people on the center-right like me to reeducate people about how terrible those policies are.

HH: What about attitude towards voters? I tweeted out earlier the only way to make sense of Brexit, Donald Trump’s win, the Brexit win, the Trump win, and a May loss, is that the authenticity factor matters a great deal, and media elites matter not at all.

ME: Well, what’s been interesting in this election yet again in the UK, the importance of social media and online websites. So for example, there’s a website called The Canary. Now The Canary is a hard left, Corbyn-supporting website in the UK. That now gets a lot more traffic than many of the mainstream newspaper websites do, just like in the U.S., I know that Breitbart, for example, gets a lot of traffic as well compared to newspapers websites. So what the lesson from this is if candidates can cut through and cut past the mainstream media often, and get their message out there. So I think for campaigners, we need to make sure that yes, get our message out into the mainstream through the mainstream media, but also find out ways in which to engage with social media and online content, too.

HH: There are, there are people like on Twitter, Guido Fox, I follow Guido Fox…

ME: Yes.

HH: …whoever it might be, and they’re very effective. They’re very funny, and that is what resonates with people. You’ve got to be fast and funny. Prime Minister May is very resolute, but fast and funny don’t go in that description.

ME: Well, some people are saying this morning that you know, her campaign and her style of campaigning was like the Hillary Clinton campaign, or like the Remain campaign in last year’s referendum in the UK. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It was very boring, very staid, very sort of negative in many ways, and didn’t really offer people a hopeful vision and a positive reason to vote for the Conservative Party. I think we need to find that. Now it is there within the Conservative Party. There are some very articulate people who can make that case, like you mentioned David Davis and Liam Fox and Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. They make that case time and time again in a very positive way. And we need to find that voice, because actually, when you make the case for things like Brexit and how that will make Britain a more international country and allow us to have more trade deals with countries including United States, I think that sort of vision could actually inspire younger voters, too. But what they get turned off by is a constant negativity.

HH: I think they also get turned off by, and I hope this isn’t projection, Mr. Juncker telling Donald Trump he has to listen to “good German short sentences.” I think they get turned off by the European Union and bureaucrats and elites who don’t really care about them but seek to control their lives. I didn’t see that messaging, and maybe the terrorism obscured it. But was that in there at all? Was there any kind of replay of the Brexit winning messages we are a sovereign nation and we will be sovereign again?

ME: Well, they tried to bring it back to Brexit again and again, but often, it was in quite a sort of negative form. So it was talking about if, it’s always implied that we would be stepping back into the past and pulling up the drawbridge and you know, having more intervention in the economy. It wasn’t really the vision that we had at Vote Leave. We tried to project that actually, this was a positive step for the UK stepping out of Europe into the world, having a global vision for the future, having that free trading deal that we could have, making sure we could have closer alliances with countries across the world, make sure that we could work with the countries on Five Eyes like you were saying on defense. That sort of vision is a vision which I think the whole country could rally behind, on a great post-Brexit future for the UK. But when Brexit’s talked about in negative terms, people do get turned off.

HH: Matthew Elliott, I hope your phone rings soon, and I hope that, with 30 seconds, how soon until we have a new government formed and in place with new ministers and new portfolios?

ME: I think we’ll see a reshuffle starting later today.

HH: Matthew Elliott, please come back. I’m going over to your side of the Atlantic, going to Paris and Normandy, and then over to England myself, so maybe I’ll see you over there. If not, I’ll to you in two weeks when I’m back, and perhaps you’ll be in side Number 10, and then you can talk to me from there. Matthew Elliott, thank you so much.

End of interview.


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