James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Since the press conference at the Vote Leave office the morning after the referendum, eurosceptics have been on the defensive. The downbeat tone of the press conference set the tone for the following few months.
The media has been dominated by negative stories about the economic impact of Brexit and its frightening prospects. Furthermore, the self-defined “48” have taken on the mantle of true democrats, and Labour and Lib Dem MPs have been falling over themselves to call for what is essentially a reversal of the vote.
As Paul Goodman wrote, much of this is going unchallenged and there is a chance that eurosceptics could win the referendum battle but lose the real war. After all, if the Government only hears negative stories about the economic impact of leaving – and threats from the 48 to campaign hard against Brexit – it’s going to make a difference.
May knows she’s finished if she gives too much ground – but she may give ground on apparently technical issues that turn out to be important.
What needs to be done? Four things immediately come to mind.
Firstly, we need to hear from the 52 per cent. Those that Vote Leave brilliantly engaged on social media and on the streets need to be reactivated.
These people need to make clear that politicians called a referendum – and now have a moral duty to accept the result. Eurosceptics need to own the moral highground – which is theirs by right after the referendum.
Secondly, eurosceptics need to develop workable policies immediately on immigration and trade and tariffs. While a broader vision is required, these are the two most important issues that the Government is wrestling with and that command the most media attention.
Without something serious to say on these, eurosceptics aren’t in the game for the next few months.
Thirdly, eurosceptics need a proper vision for the future. This is easier said than done, and perhaps it’s impossible to unite around one vision (personally I favour the Hulsman-inspired GFTA). In which case, they should promote two three visions and see how they play out.
But without a clear idea on where Britain should end up, it’ll be entirely in the hands of Theresa May’s team. Nobody can complain after if they don’t like what comes out.
Fourthly, as Paul Goodman argumed, eurosceptics need an effective rebuttal and campaign operation.
The reason I put this fourth is because you can’t rebut and campaign positively if you don’t have a vision. Eurosceptics can only respond to the negative stories on the BBC or in the FT if they have an idea of what’s right and wrong in policy terms.
Change Britain are the best vehicle for this operation – having come out of the Vote Leave operation that provided the media and logistical sophistication to secure victory.
They plan to create a campaign which mobilises activists. This weekend they are holding an action day to launch a new campaign that pledges support for EU citizens currently living here to remain here. This is welcome and they are gearing up for more high-profile campaigns in the coming weeks.
Eurosceptics have run highly effective short-term campaigns over the last twenty years, preparing for the moment they now find themselves in. If they’re not careful, they’ll blow it.