If any campaign was in dire need of communications support at the moment it is the one to keep Britain inside the European Union. In fact, there is no campaign. Just a series of political heavyweights from yesteryear pointing out that leaving the EU would be unthinkable, or so their friends tell them. Most compelling of these voices is Tony Blair who published this heartfelt piece yesterday.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, and believe me I am surrounded by Conservatives who believe that Brexit is not only inevitable, but a fitting final tribute to the Lady, there is a massive communications problem for pro-EU people. I’m sure there are some out there… Hello?
The problems are these: the campaign has no current spokespeople or figureheads from this generation. The campaign is being fought in traditional media. The MEPs who have the most to tell us are relatively distant figures, not (except on the anti side) public figures and are only really known inside their parties.
Their websites are preachy, odd, dull or crackers. Some find it hard to articulate the big picture about why Britain’s membership of the EU is in the national interest and why, above all we must stay and negotiate. The best is Claude Moraes, who does a huge amount to scare the crap out of Constituency Labour Parties in his London patch. But the follow up support he needs from activists just isn’t there.
So what is to be done? How do you create a positive campaign on the EU that tweaks at the British concern that, while being out and done with the whole sorry mess is good, there is just something on the edge of our perception that says: “hang on… is this really sensible?” A campaign that calms the Bulldog down, chucks it a (small) bone and tells it to get back in its bed.
From a comms perspective there are a couple of clear routes. The Grandee route is defunct. As much as I love him there is no way Peter Mandelson is going to win this one this time round, although he does have a role in causing the public to pause, hesitate, consider.
Mainstream media has a clear view. The case for “out” is exciting and compelling. The case for “in” is dull and sensible. No help there. But there is a clear feeling in the City and in corporate Britain that we absolutely must stay in and that it is vital to the UK’s future national interest.
So how about this. A not slick, not expensive social media campaign that starts now and builds support slowly, person by person. A campaign that shows bit by bit the tangible benefits we see. The campaign would bypass traditional media until it became big enough to demand coverage in its own right, rather than simply through assertion. And above all the campaign would need to show, on the ground, at a community level, why membership of this big, alien family is so important to us as individuals and as a society.
Social media and conversation is the best possible route to this debate, and the only way for rational engagement on the issue.