When walking towards The Whitehouse Consultancy offices this morning, I was confronted by a gaggle of people matching in the opposite direction. Nothing terribly unusual about that around London Bridge – except this particular group were adorned in t-shirts proclaiming ‘We’re in!’
While in one sense admiring their steadfast commitment to the UK’s membership of the European Union, it seemed an interesting time at which to make such a statement, before the Prime Minister reveals what he’s negotiated with other Member State leaders. This particular group were clearly of the view that, come what may, they want the UK to remain ‘in’.
By the end of the day, we could well know not only what David Cameron has secured by way of a membership renegotiation, but also when a referendum will take place. So what will the eventual campaign coordinators need to consider when framing their arguments on one of the most important UK political issues of modern times?
Spend 20 minutes on a 24-hour news channel at the moment, and you could be forgiven for thinking the EU debate is only thing going on in the world. The level of media interest will likely be sustained in the coming months – but even if a referendum is called for June (the earliest the Prime Minister could hope for), it’ll still be nearly four months away.
The coordinators of the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns will have to work hard to win public support. But they’ll also have to show restraint. Otherwise the saturation of the media by the referendum could lead to voter apathy.
The power of positivity
The ‘Better Together’ campaign in the Scottish referendum came close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by hammering the electorate on issues of a lack of currency union and tales of economic doom. In contrast, the independence campaign struck a chord with the electorate by outlining how a vote to leave the UK would be better for Scotland.
The EU referendum campaign coordinators need to learn this lesson. Their efforts need to be focused on why their position is good for the public, rather than why their opponents’ position is wrong.
Embrace political consensus
Leaders of both sides of the debate have been queuing up to get Boris Johnson as their champion.
BoJo’s allegiance will be important, but this will be a referendum in which politicians of every persuasion come together for both sides. While a character like Boris has enormous popular appeal, campaign leaders need to utilise figureheads from across the political spectrum so as not to exclude any potential voters.
Use the popular view
While the Westminster bubble waits with bated to see how Cabinet ministers line up for the EU referendum/possible Conservative civil war, the rest of the UK remains largely non-plussed. Granted, political heavyweights will have a huge role in determining the outcome of the vote. But campaign coordinators also need to utilise members of the public as spokespeople – bringing in voices from outside the bubble to articulate what EU membership (or not) means to them.
The danger of death by statistics
Campaigning for the referendum isn’t even officially underway yet, but we’ve already been deluged with facts and figures about the effect leaving or staying in the EU will have on the UK.
Statistics are great as part of campaign messaging, particularly for shock tactics. But they also risk keeping arguments in the abstract. The two campaigns will have to use their data carefully, ensuring it relates to members of the public, rather than relying on swathes of figures that are difficult to grasp.