I know, I know. Of course Lord Rose, the former boss of Marks & Spencer, and now leader of the campaign to keep the UK in the EU, isn’t secretly working for one of the two rival campaigns on the other side of the argument. He wasn’t sent several years ago on a mission by major Eurosceptic donors to go deep undercover, taking over the Remain campaign and then making such a mess of it that Leave wins in the June in-out referendum on UK membership of the EU.
Still, the outlandish thought that he might be a sleeper did cross my mind when I heard his latest comment, which followed his confusion last month in a television interview about the proper name of the pro-EU organisation he runs.
Rose has topped that with his line at a Westminster lunch this week, in which he predicted that Remain would triumph. Asked about the result by Kate Devlin of the Herald, he responded: “A win’s a win. If we get 50.001 it’s a win. I want to win, but we’ll win by a substantial margin.”
This is an elementary campaigning error. Successful politicians don’t predict in public they’ll win by a substantial margin. They are always mindful – whether they believe it or not – that the electorate decides and they appreciate that appearing to take the result and the voters as a given is a very bad look in a democracy. If pressed, they might say “we can win this”, or “I can win this for you with your help”, but not “I will win by a substantial margin.”
This misstep by Rose is yet more proof that politics and business are very different. The business person’s assumption that he or she can “do” politics because they have been a hit in business is almost always wrong. The skills required are in a number of respects different from those needed in politics, and those business people who charge in thinking that government is like a company can end up looking daft. Although Rose is a confident fellow, election and referendum campaigns are a tricky business.