Chair's message to members - 29 July 2019
Dear Member or Supporter
I'm glad that the Liberal Democrats have a new leader - Jo Swinson MP - and can move with renewed energy into campaigning for Remain and support for the liberal order. I'm going to ignore the new Conservative Party Leader because he supports Brexit. Instead, since I'm still on a high from the March for Change, I'm going to ask how as a movement we can build on that.
We do need a Remain campaign now aimed at Leave voters as well as a People's Vote campaign aimed at MPs. What will make MPs choose referendum rather than Deal as the way forward is the belief that the country wishes to change direction. Opinion polls on the overall merits of Brexit are still at half and half, though ours is pretty consistently the larger half. But that is not a decisive shift away from the 2016 result, still the key expression of the will of the people that governs MPs' approach. So we need to campaign to change the shape of the graph by persuading Leave voters to back Remain.
Therefore March for Change and all the national pro-EU organisations should get together to build on what has already been achieved in order to ensure that we now have a national pro-EU campaign supported by all, alongside the People's Vote campaign.
Substance of the message
The timing of the first March for Change led to an undue focus on the new Conservative Party leader. I hope the Remain campaign will stand back and think through carefully what the message should be.
I am clear that we should lead with the positive case for the EU. It is the great European cause for peace, democracy and individual freedom over the whole of our Continent. We should be proud of freedom of movement, treating all of us as equal citizens of the EU.
I understand of course that these arguments do not land well in this country. So framing the message will be a challenge. But at least we have the advantage of novelty.
We should also run with the advantages of EU membership to the UK and to us as individuals.
We should not pretend that the EU is perfect - nothing in life is. But nor should we campaign that it is somehow just an unfortunate necessity or that freedom of movement is regrettable but a price worth paying for the trade benefits of the single market.
As we are talking to Leavers we must make our case on what they think is their ground: sovereignty, identity, freedom, an idea of England, immigration, community. Great! Those are our reasons for wishing the European Project to succeed and for the UK and us as individuals to be a part of it.
So we should turn down the emphasis on trade and the economy: that matters more to Remainers than to Leavers. We can safely ignore the harms of Brexit/ Deal/ No-Deal - so many others are covering that ground that there is hardly a gap in the market. Anyway it is dismissed by Leavers as Project Fear Mark II.
It certainly means avoiding any criticism of the 2016 referendum. To justify a new referendum, let's stick to the fundamental case: in 2016 there was no plan. No-one takes a final decision without a review of the project plan. It is democratic for the people as a whole to review the Brexit plan and decide on the way ahead.
We should also not push a domestic or EU reform agenda. We will not form the next government so we should not promise what we cannot deliver. The idea that the Leave vote was actually an anti-austerity protest by the left-behind is not supported by the evidence: 65% of the Leave vote came from 2015 Conservative and UKIP voters; they really were not protesting about the Conservative government's domestic policy. What Leave voters say drove their vote is sovereignty and immigration. Sure, a proportion of voters were unhappy with domestic policies and that created fertile ground for the Leave campaign. But it was through a vote to Leave the EU that they expressed their unhappiness. That Leave vote is what we have to address. So our argument must be about Europe and the UK in Europe.
We must not let the Remain campaign become - or appear to be - aligned with the domestic agenda of a political party. If we do we will lose the votes of supporters of other parties. A third of the 2016 Remain vote came from Conservatives. We need those votes. We should be neutral about the non-Brexit policies of all parties and remember that parties contest not only on solutions but also on the definition of problems. We can properly say how much easier it will be to address domestic policy issues if we Remain (more Government time and money). We can point out that all the parties have listened and have ideas for how to solve what they see as the real problems the country faces: take your pick at the next general election.
Turning the march into a campaign
The march was great. But marches are a fun day out for believers. For this campaign to work it needs to be a campaign with a strategy and a communications plan:
- There need to be long-lasting key themes, and a theme of the week backed up by effective campaign materials for social media and the grassroots - all the paraphernalia of a modern campaign. We have produced the first in a series of two-page campaigners' briefs - but the centre needs to do more;
- we have to learn the lessons from Stronger IN and PV about the need to open up the central campaign to ideas;
- importantly, there has to be a good two-way relationship with the grassroots movement. Voters trust "people like me". So it is the local campaigners who will be the best messengers. That in turn means that the Remain campaign - unlike the correctly Westminster-focussed People's Vote campaign - needs to be run as an inverted pyramid, with the centre supporting the grass roots.
I wish to close with the final remarks of Ursula Von der Leyen in her 16 July 2019 response to the debate in the European Parliament following her speech successfully seeking a mandate as President of the European Commission. She said, quoting Thucydides, "The secret to happiness is freedom. The secret to freedom is courage. Let's have courage together. Let's be courageous on the European Union."
Let's campaign to Remain in the great European peace and freedom project.
(Opening speech, partly in English, video allows translation, from 09.09; closing speech from 12.57; quote at 13.00. An LSE blog analyses the speech noting its commitments to developing social Europe.)
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