Last week, ConservativeHome ran a series making the case for Brexit. But how might the No campaign go about winning the referendum?
Dominic Cummings – who is helping to set-up the campaign – provides some intriguing clues on his blog. The post covers a lot of ground, but the core message to his co-belligerents is ‘keep it simple’:
“There is huge duplication. The same things are reinvented in dizzying proliferation. Not even the MPs and hacks who are supposed to be following the details can follow what people are doing. This means that the chances of the public following are ZERO.”
He’s not singling-out his fellow Eurosceptics for criticism here. Indeed, he contends that the entire British political establishment is clueless when it comes to communication. In his view, politicians have failed to get their messages across because they focus on “arguments of interest to pundits – not the public”.
He credits Lynton Crosby’s radical simplification of the Conservative message for the result of the election, but as for everything else the party has said over the last ten years, he sees no evidence of cut-through:
“The point is not about Cameron, it is about our campaign: if the most prominent politician of the last decade can give speech after speech leading the news and have a trivial effect on mass psychology, this ought to strike the fear of God into eurosceptics because people know almost nothing about EU arguments and status quo campaigns usually win. Only a radically different approach will give even a chance of victory.”
In sketching out this “radically different approach” Cummings draws inspiration from the way in which Steve Jobs rescued Apple from near bankruptcy. A story is told about a meeting in which Jobs drew a big cross on a whiteboard to make a four-squared chart. He labelled the two columns ‘Consumer’ and ‘Pro’ and the two rows ‘Desktop’ and ‘Portable’. Having defined what the company was all about, he then told his team to come up with a really good product for each of the quadrants and drop everything else.
A similar chart for the No campaign might go as follows: the two columns would be labelled ‘left’ and ‘right’, and the two rows ‘broadsheet’ and ‘tabloid’. By left and right, I’m thinking more about cultural politics than economic interests; and by broadsheet and tabloid, I’m thinking about all media not just the newspapers.
The No campaign needs a strong message for each quadrant. On the right side of the chart, the messages are fairly conventional:
- Right / broadsheet – Britain is Strong: A business-focused message contrasting Britain’s global economic performance to the ongoing economic disaster of the Eurozone. Note this is not the same as saying ‘Britain is strong enough to go it alone’ – the No campaign needs to communicate a sense of security not adventure.
- Right / tabloid – Controlling our Borders: Again the job here is to provide reassurance. An immigrant-bashing message might appeal to some, but it will toxify a campaign that, by definition, must win an absolute majority to win at all.
While restraint is required on the right side of the chart, boldness is required on the other side. Over the last two or three decades, Europhilia has been a defining feature of the cultural left. But in the light of recent developments, a major re-think is underway. This is a big opportunity for the No campaign and it must have messages to match:
- Left / broadsheet – Fight the Power: The high-minded left doesn’t like nationalism, but it likes austerity and bankers even less. After the immiseration of Greece to protect the financial establishment, voting No now looks like an act of revolution not reaction.
- Left / tabloid – Stand Up for Your Rights: The details of secretive TTIP trade agreement might not seem like the stuff of a populist campaign, but if it looks like we’re being forced to import chlorine-washed chicken and unlabelled GM cereal then a consumer backlash could shift votes.
If the No campaign stays disciplined then I dare say it can do better than my little effort. An undisciplined campaigned with a profusion of messages would also do better – but also a lot worse.