Creative campaigning as the mood on Brexit evolves

This image was among those rejected by the Government committee that oversaw the “stronger in” campaign. Saatchi and Saatchi complained that all their best work was vetoed by someone or other.

Well that is history, and we can learn from it. I count myself lucky to be a member of a small group of pro-European campaigners who are free to develop their own creative ideas, untrammelled by the need to answer to any committee.

Last week we were out on the streets in Stratford-upon-Avon, talking to people about Brexit. Any changes in Stratford could be significant, for the town voted exactly 52:48 in the referendum, a microcosm of the country as a whole.

Our results confirm that while most people stick with their original decision, those that do change their mind are more than three times more likely to convert to Remain than to Leave. In the case of our small sample of 214, that produced a decisive majority in favour of staying in the EU.

Many are still angry

Inevitably it was the personalities and the emotions, rather than the statistics, which stick in my memory. Many people are still angry, both leavers and remainers.

One man told me in no uncertain terms that immigration is still the one big issue; “and they should brick up the channel tunnel” he shouted as a parting thought. Another was angry about everything and everybody, especially politicians. As I listened politely, a surreal aspect was lent to the scene by the backdrop of newspaper stands, with their mendacious headlines that every Briton should be angry about.

My colleagues meanwhile were handing out leaflets with pictures of squeezed lemons and unhappy children, emphasising the damage from Brexit. Whilst these were useful and well intentioned, so far as the angry brigade was concerned it was clear that the damage from Brexit was taken as read, and almost regarded with relish.

The spirit of self sacrifice

The problem with warnings of economic disaster is that they play into the hands of what Vince Cable has called the “Brexit martyrs”, a section of the older generation very willing to make sacrifices on behalf of the young. One can just imagine how the Brexit propaganda machine is even now gearing up to make a virtue of suffering, appealing to our battle of Britain spirit:

“We are engaged in a mortal struggle to defend our island home against the evils of the EU. Tighten your belts, plant your allotments, make do and mend. Three cheers for England!”

Although we did not meet many of these old soldier types among the shoppers we interviewed, I’m sure they exist and I’m sure they vote. What we need to do is win them over with our own Churchillian spirit. For to paraphrase the great Europhile himself:

“We will have a new kind of sovereignty, but no less attractive. Let us link hands with our friends in Europe… we will never surrender”.

The need for positive messages

Positive messages about the EU are needed to counteract decades of slander and denigration. The EU as a great and noble enterprise, a peacekeeping force to be celebrated. That is the only way to give hope to a distressed and self harming Britain.

Our slogans need to capture the public imagination, posted boldly in car windows, proudly emblazoned on flags. We’re no deserters, we’re no quislings, we will unite for Europe!

To put it another way, if on the eve of the First World War in 1914, a stark warning had been given of the unprecedented devastation ahead, would that have stopped it? I doubt it. But if someone had inspired the warring parties with a vision of the future where they united to form a world leading empire, would that have made a difference? I would like to think so.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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This entry was posted in Europe Referendum and Op-eds.


  • John,

    The principles on which the Gladstonian Liberal party were based were peace, non-intervention in foreign affairs, financial economy, free trade, social reform, home rule for Ireland and the preservation of the liberty of the individual.

    Liberals had vigorously opposed the conduct of the Anglo-Boer War But, in 1914, the Liberal government accepted the necessity of declaring war on Germany.

    The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) of 1914, conferred on the State unprecedented authority to control the lives of ordinary persons. The Press was subject to censorship and the government dictated what war news could be made public. Men were conscripted into the armed services. British travellers overseas had to apply for passports and identity cards had to be carried by ordinary citizens. Income tax rose from sixpence (2.5p) to six shillings (30p) in the pound. Food was rationed, alcohol and tobacco were heavily taxed, and strict licensing laws were imposed on public houses. Trade was directed, and controls were imposed on the use of currency. Employers in key industries were told what to produce, what wages to pay, and whom to take on the payroll. Employees were forbidden to strike or demand higher wages and could be made to move home and change jobs.

    Lloyd George, Prime Minister from December 1916, justified the Liberal shift by claiming that a democratic government in time of war had ‘the right to commandeer every resource, every power, life, limb, wealth, and everything else for the interest of the State’.

    Asquith finally succumbed to conscription and gave his support to the Military Service Act. Some 50 Liberal MPs rebelled against the Bill, asserting that the State did not possess the moral right to force the individual citizen to participate in war. Though the majority of Liberals sympathised with the rebels they, none the less, voted for the Bill, believing that the circumstances of war made it necessary.

    By 1918, all the principal causes that had characterised pre-war Liberalism had been jettisoned or gravely compromised.

    “…an alternative vision of the future where the warring parties united to form a world leading empire. Do you really think it would have made a difference?

  • We could use Brexit to forge a more united view of our place in the world. As long as we retain some links with the EU, we can continue our path of being an independent though team player in this global world. If we start playing a more pivotal role in for instance the United Nations with our undoubtedly respected diplomatic corps we could earn respect particularly with challenges such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela pressing.

  • Sue Sutherland 11th Aug '17 - 12:12pm

    John I think you’re right about using Churchill as a pro EU figurehead because as well as anger there’s a lot of nostalgia out there and Britain standing alone seems to be part of that nostalgia. However, Brexiteers would need to be inundated with that message for it to take any hold.

  • John.
    Well done to you for putting yourself on the street and talking to people instead of being an armchair expert.
    I wonder about your methodology. Did you present as a pro remain campaigner? If so I am not surprised you got an overwhelming remain response from your 214 sample. Beware confirmation bias.
    I think we are always gong to struggle to campaign positively for any political structure. To a certain extent they are seen as necessary evils. This probably explains the leave vote more than anything and the flawed and myopic reasoning behind the referendum in the first place.

  • PJ-
    This study has many weaknesses and no great claims are made for it. It is entirely possible that those who cooperated with the interviews were more inclined to support the EU than those who walked past. (Europhiles being more cooperative sorts, as everyone knows!) Nevertheless there was a large (14 point) excess of those reporting an intention to support Remain, if they had another chance.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Aug '17 - 7:34am

    Suggesting that Churchill would have been pro Remain is misleading. It is true that he advocated a “United States of Europe”. But he made it clear that he did not envisage Britain being part of this “United States”. He said “We are with Europe, but not of it”.

  • “Battle of Britain”, “Churchill”, “Quislings”. I’m part of the postwar baby boom, but actually only 17.7% of the population is aged 65 and over. I think those who still actually remember the Second World War (and I’m not sure what proportion of the population that is) can be forgiven any prejudices they might have, but I would seriously question the extent to which something that in essence mythology rather than a lived experience is significantly informing the current political choices of people of my generation.

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