For pro-European campaigners, there has been much to consider in recent weeks. Where will it all lead, asks Sandra Khadhouri.
The last few weeks have seen: the ongoing UK-EU Brexit negotiations; the Lib Dem electoral review; the campaign for extension and against no deal; Europe day seminars. And immigration issues are still bubbling along in the background, with Nigel Farage trying to whip up anger against the ‘invasion’ of migrants off our shores, not to mention new NHS charges for migrants.
But the Cummings saga has been hard to miss. It has eclipsed the more crucial issue of Government mistakes in handling Corona and what we should do now. It has also distracted from pressure on Government to ask for a Brexit extension, and avoid a double whammy to business and the economy at the end of this year.
But it has also shown us something about the mood of British society and the Government’s weak points. Could this mark a crack in the edifice of Conservative bullishness about the UK’s future, outside the EU? Is the shine wearing off populism as a leadership style, when it actually comes to governance?
By the way, for the public and myself, the R rate is still too high. Here are six (or even eight) R's to consider:
Rule-breakers: Cummings and Johnson don’t like obeying the rules and believe in their exceptionalism. Well, it turns out UK public doesn’t like having one rule for us and another for our leaders. We have seen a collapse in support for the Govt in the last week and a massive 81% support for firing Cummings. Perhaps we Remainers can finally hand over the crown of being the out-of-touch elite.
Recklessness: Populism works in election campaigns. It’s fun and controversial, and appeals to a devil-may-care approach that overturns assumptions and expert analysis.
- Why do we need to be part of EU? We can do better on our own!
- Why do we need to give away anything in a trade deal? We can have it all!
- Why should we care about Remainers or damage? That whinging lot can get over it!
But populism doesn’t work in governance – especially in a crisis - and maybe this is hitting home. Worried citizens need expertise, competence, forward planning, responsibility, coordination. They want serious minds, not slogans.
Round 4 and Responsibility: The libertarian Brexiteers imprinted their individual psyches on the national politic through Brexit and crude nationalism - the arrogance, exceptionalism, resistance to rules - but as the weary Barnier states repeatedly, if you want to make deals in today’s world, you have to stick to commitments. That you can’t have your cake and eat it is as true now, as it ever was.
Robespierre & Revolution: Rouse the mob at your own peril, Cummings et al, because eventually they will turn on you. As Marina Hyde notes in an insightful Guardian article, there was a disturbing element to the Cummings debacle, as it reflected a Britain he did much to foment; “grimly polarised, reflexively aggressive and running with an undercurrent of menace.”
Recovery: There are two ways this could go in terms of public opinion, and much will depend on the next “disinformation efforts”. Batten down the hatches, and cultivate ‘strategic autonomy’ – a euphemism for nationalism - or use globalisation and pan European approaches to aid recovery and future crises. The jury is still out on this one. And this is where we will need to make our case.
Relationships: Win or lose on extension, we next need to focus on building support for as much cooperation with Europe and the EU as possible, to impact the negotiation process. At a “Tory Big Ideas” digital event last month, behavioural scientist Rory Sutherland was advising Scots to pitch their cause differently. “Don’t say ‘we want independence’, he advised, “because the English interpret this as ‘you hate us.’ Talk about the kind of independence and relationship you want and this will change the nature of the debate.” Perhaps pro-EU campaigners need to do the same. We can no longer talk about membership anyway, so let’s focus minds on all the different ways that working with the EU and Europe can help us all.
Anyway, lots to think about! Roll on round 4 and see you on the other side….
Pro-European campaigner and strategic communications adviser
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