Two things about the EU campaign that strike fear into my heart

There are two things that scare the living daylights out of me about the two EU referendum campaign in general and the pro-EU campaign in particular.

The first is that I just wonder where on earth the women are. Jenny Jones and Kate Hoey are active on the Leave side but we hear more from the men and the campaign seems to be being run by men.

The pro-EU side will be led by Stuart Rose, Conservative peer and former head of Marks and Spencer. Will Straw and Ryan Coetzee are involved on a staff level. Laura Sandys from the European Movement will obviously be involved as well but the voices in favour are almost relentlessly male.

The problem is that that can lead to hideous mistakes being made. Like this horror from the Better Together campaign last year. I never thought I’d see the “Have you got the guts to vote SDP?” campaign beaten but this is truly one of the worst campaign adverts I have ever seen. It was Rosie Barnes and her rabbits without the political intelligence. Watch and cringe.

You know that your material is dreadful when your opponents share more it more than you do. #Eatyourcereal was a common refrain in the last few weeks of the referendum.

While we’re on the subject of Better Together, I almost choked on my cereal when I saw this sentence in the BBC report about Rose’s appointment:

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said the language used by Lord Rose was reminiscent of the successful Better Together campaign during last year’s referendum on Scottish independence.

Successful? The case for independence was so flawed that it was beaten despite the Better Together campaign, not because of it. The only thing that worked well about it was that the activists from the various parties on the ground worked really well together, bonded by the general uselessness of the Better Together infrastructure to do anything it should have done. It really was the worst of Yes to AV combined with the best of the Thick of It. A successful campaign would have kept the Yes vote well under 40%.

If the pro-EU campaign is taking lessons from Better Together, then we maybe all need to think about going to live in Canada at some point in the next few year. If we take lessons from what happened in Scotland, just look at how the losing side, who ran a frothy and uplifting campaign with a deep vein of negativity. They have behaved like the winners ever since and look what happened in the General Election. The last thing we want in the EU referendum is a close result and a resurgent UKIP.

The Liberal Democrat EU campaign already seem to be a very positive affair – and we should be unashamedly so. We need to talk about how the EU needs to be reformed in the same way as we talk about what passes for a democracy in this country needs to be reformed, but we need to do it with brightness and positivity and clarity of message. That approach will reap benefits not only for the referendum but for the party, too. Those who are enthusiastic about the EU may well find themselves attracted by the idea of joining that #libdemfightback. If you want to get involved in the party’s EU campaign, you can do so here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • “Rosie Barnes and her rabbits “

    I’m old enough to remember that. Aaaargh!!! But many younger/newer members won’t. Perhaps a synopsis would help. Does it exist on Youtube?

  • Denis Loretto 10th Oct '15 - 11:53am

    The pro campaign is being launched on Monday – let’s not start finding ways to rubbish it before it even gets underway. As I have posted already on another thread we Lib Dems must not get carried away with the idea that we are currently anywhere near strong enough or popular enough to depend upon our own party political campaign. We must throw all we can into a united “Remain in” campaign and avoid the kind of divisions so far evident on the “Leave” side.

    And that means avoiding “holier-than-thou” attitudes.

  • @Caron: do the lib dems believe there should be a referendum or not? I thought lib dem policy was there needs to be an in/out referendum? Or was this position an insincere one when they believed that they could safely take that popular position without it ever happening because the other parties would be against it? Or was that only the policy when they thought people would vote the right way?

    Anyway, it really won’t matter if the people running any of that campaigns are male or female. The result will be exactly the same, so why worry about that? Who runs the campaign is irrelevant. When the arguments are all heard I don’t think there is anyway the British people will vote to remain part of the European Union. The more people learn about Europe the more against it they seem to be.

  • PS. I really don’t get this male/female gender balance obsession. Surely, if you really wanted your side in the campaign to win, the only thing you would be concerned about would be that you had the best people running your sides campaign regardless of their sex?

    Anyway it won’t matter really, people will hear the arguments and do what they will do and I’m pretty sure that they will voted to leave once they hear both sides of the argument.

  • paul barker 10th Oct '15 - 3:02pm

    @John Marriott. I think you are missing Carons point, a campaign that leaves out half the population at the start is more likely to lose. We need a campaign that can reach everyone & that means involving all the different sorts of people.

  • Hey, let’s take Caron’s critique seriously. The AV referendum was a fiasco, the Scottish referendum … a near run thing … so much so that as an expatriate Scot (with,unfortunately, an avowedly English accent) went up to campaign in the latter stages – with great trepidation, yet it was a near run thing.

    Mood music is important, we need women, non-politicians, non-wealthy, and ethnic minorities very much in evidence in the “remain” (i.e. YES) campaign. I agree, to put this matter to rest, we need to begin by a big margin … and win in all 4 nations. I fear on this! It is going to be tough indeed. We are staring catastrophe in the face!

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 10th Oct '15 - 4:46pm


    Lucy Thomas has a very significant role in the campaign. At all the events we had a conference (including those were Lucy Thomas and Laura Sandy spoke) I did not think the faces were relentlessly male.

  • Caron asks, where are the women ? Don’t forget Nicola, Caron.

  • I’m not aware of many women making their EU views known, though there are some exceptions. Surely that is a matter for women to address, if they so wish?

    I agree that Rose will run a negative campaign based on generating fear of leaving but let’s face it, there is nothing positive to look forward to by staying in the EU and much to gain (and save) by leaving.

  • Denis Loretto 10th Oct '15 - 6:29pm

    Stuart Rose is there as a well known and respected businessman – his membership of the House of Lords is irrelevant. Karren Brady (also a member of the Lords) has been announced as a Board member – again because of her eminence in business. We will hear more on Monday but believe me if we do not get behind this new initiative it is the “leave” camp such as DavidW and Peter above who will be happy.

  • What strikes fear into my heart is severe economic jitters as the third largest nation in the world largest trading block threatens to leave throwing the whole thing into doubt.

  • Tsar Nicholas 10th Oct '15 - 6:54pm

    If the focus of the Remain campaign is gender equality, then I think the country will be voting to leave.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Oct '15 - 7:05pm

    Being (as he is) a very successful businessperson, does not qualify David Rose to have any role whatsoever in a political campaign. But at least he has no ‘negative baggage in this respect. I am rather more worried, though, about the apparent involvement in key staff positions of people whose track record in political campaigns is well-known and disastrous.

    What criteria does one have to have to set up a campaign in a referendum campaign? Could it be that the ‘Yes campaign has actually been set up by ‘No’ people designed to fail through the ineptitude of its participants?

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Oct '15 - 7:24pm

    “What strikes fear into my heart is severe economic jitters as the third largest nation in the world largest trading block threatens to leave throwing the whole thing into doubt.”

    but it isn’t just a trade block – if only that were so – which is precisely the problem.

    it is also a nascent political union of which this country wants nothing. damaging economic confidence is a price worth paying to ensure fundamental sovereignty.

  • @Jayne Mansfield
    I think you may be referring to this where they also quote an earlier interview on Sky :

    “It is up to people to decide whether they want to do the work for the pay that’s being offered and if they don’t, somebody else is there to do it. What’s wrong with that?”

    It should also be remembered that he was an early supporter of Business for Britain, which basically felt that if meaningful reform of the EU/UK relationship can’t be achieved then we should leave ( . Plus he was a supporter of Open Europe who feel that the EU desire for ever closer union is discredited and calls for major reforms (

    I think the “Leave” campaign may have some interesting things to say if Cameron doesn’t come back with a decent result.

  • Jedi;
    I don’t dispute what you’re saying. But it doesn’t mean that the economic fallout from the EU referendum will not be incredibly serious and possibly catastrophic. By the way I suspect we’re are heading out because we have a weak government with a wafer thin majority, a joke of a prime minister and it will turn into a referendum on immigration as well has being just in time for mid term blues to hit hard.

  • Is there any official reason for Lib Dems supporting remaining in the EU? Is it because Nick Clegg (given his background) is an Europhile? Is it a long tradition? Is there any logical reason?

    Given the EU election results and the current state of the EU generally and the Eurozone in particular, is it still a good idea or a vote loser? Will it be a free referendum for the people or will the Eight be expected to vote to remain?

    Given that the EU is now hell bent on forming a federation can we all assume that Lib Dem policy is for the UK to join the EZ as soon as possible and become a region of the federal state?

    So many questions, but they do deserve straight answers.

  • At the risk of facing a lifetime ban from commenting on Liberal Democrat Voice could I add a third concern. In addition to the concerns Caron raises, which I agree with, I am also concerned that the recruitment policies adopted by the “Remain” campaign do not transparently demonstrate that the skills necessary to win a popular mandate were regarded as an essential criterion for employment.

  • SIMON BANKS 11th Oct '15 - 5:14pm

    So someone criticises the tone of a campaign advert. Replies here include someone puzzled as to whether we’re in favour of a referendum or not and a couple of people who think no pro-EU people should be criticising campaign material they think is ill-judged. Does not compute.

  • Denis Loretto 11th Oct '15 - 6:11pm

    Every LDV thread on Europe from now on will be used as an opportunity for supporters of the “Leave” campaign to unsettle the vast majority of Lib Dems who are supporters of the “Remain” campaign. What’s new? If their standard of argument is exemplified by questions like “Is there any official reason for Lib Dems supporting remaining in the EU? Is it because Nick Clegg (given his background) is an Europhile?” we need not worry too much.

    However my concern lies with the development and impact of the Remain campaign. The point is simply this. The organisation being launched tomorrow is almost certain to be recognised as the official campaign for the Remain side in fighting a referendum which will have enormous and lasting consequences for our country, for Europe and indeed for the world. We who know that the only sensible future for the UK lies within the EU must get behind that campaign 100% and certainly not get bogged down in carping about ways in which we might have organised it somewhat differently. The famous words of Bill Shankly come to mind – ” Some people believe [it’s] a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

  • @Jayne Mansfield:

    “The important thing though, is that he has let the cat out of the bag. Remaining in the EU is not a win win situation, some sections of the British population are, and will remain, losers and they should stop moaning about it.”

    With all due respect, if I understand you correctly, that sounds pretty appalling to me. Are you honestly saying that the cat should not have been let out of the bag?

    Are you seriously suggesting that the Remain campaign should not be admitting that the free movement of labour across the EU will inevitably drive down wages, particularly among the unskilled?

    If this is a fact then the Remain side need to be honest and acknowledge it as so and make the argument that this also brings certain benefits, not deny it or hide it.

    Surely the point of a referendum is to give the public a proper debate so they can hear the facts and make an informed decision, not to mislead them into voting the way that the powers that be want them to vote.

    The more I read comments like this, the more I believe that we should be leaving this undemocratic institution.

  • Paul Kennedy 11th Oct '15 - 9:21pm

    Leaving the EU would be a disaster. Like many of us I am committed to campaigning to win the referendum, whoever is leading the campaign to remain, and any subsequent vote in Parliament.

    However, Lord Rose’s appointment came out of the blue. The Tories are used to just obeying orders from on high, but I think Lib Dems are entitled to a proper explanation.

  • Denis Loretto 11th Oct '15 - 9:52pm

    @Paul Kenedy

    I don’t understand your comment, Paul. Are you under the impression that the organisation being launched tomorrow is a Liberal Democrat body? It is in fact intended to cover business, culture, academia and of course any political party or individual wanting to support it. I think it is a good decision not to appoint politicians in its top leadership positions.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Oct '15 - 10:12pm

    It is fair to bring up concern about a male dominated campaign.

    The Vote Leave campaign looks frighteningly well organised, considering the product they are selling is not the best.

    I had no opinions of Stuart Rose being selected, but his opening statement was very good when he talked about making a hard-headed decision on what is right for the UK. The campaign needs to be surrounded by people like that. Anyone sounding like an EU fundamentalist will make people turn off.

  • Paul Kennedy 12th Oct '15 - 9:01am

    Hi Dennis I’m not expecting the In campaign to be a Lib Dem body, and I understand the logic of whoever it was that selected Lord Rose, but equally would be worried if it were seen as a Tory body. We do not want the campaign to turn into a referendum on a Tory Govt which had only 37% of votes cast to start with, many of whom want to leave anyway. A particular concern will be the handling of Cameron’s renegotiation deal on which we will not be getting a separate vote.

    My question though is about governance. What was the process for selecting Lord Rose, and how will he and his colleagues be held accountable? How if at all are Lib Dems involved in that process, and how much say will we have going forward? The only information on website is the small print saying it is a company limited by guarantee.

  • Paul Kennedy 12th Oct '15 - 10:41am

    Jayne Mansfield
    No I think the logic of Rose’s appointment is to win over business donors and (typically Tory) voters whose concern is narrow self-interest, on the assumption that most liberals, greens and social democrats are more altruistic and so need less convincing of the case for international cooperation.

    I found this on the website
    I appreciate today is the main campaign launch and they have only just launched their website – but hopefully ours will be more developed shortly too!

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '15 - 11:39am

    Phyllis 12th Oct ’15 – 9:35am The campaign to remain in the EU AND TO IMPROVE IT was launched on 12/10/2015. REMAIN and LEAVE campaigns have both looked at the popularity of politicians and decided to use business people at the front because business leaders are focussed on their interests and the consequences for jobs and incomes, without being overtly party political.
    The Sunday Politics panel again includes Isabel Oakeshott, who has co-authored a book about David Cameron. The view of all three panellists is that if DC loses the EU referendum he will have failed and be out of a job, whereas if he wins there will be a leadership election in the Tory party, in which front-runners (such as Osborne) usually lose.
    They carelessly said that the other Prime Ministers in the EU want to know what DC wants. They should include the French President. The briefings to the Sunday Telegraph by Number10 are very slight, so if DC asks for very little and gets verry little he will have achieved very little, except a general election result in which Nigel Farage was not elected as an MP.
    The Pub Landlord, Al Murray, also stood for election in Thanet.
    “On 14 January 2015, Murray announced the formation of the Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP) and declared his candidacy, deploying his Pub Landlord persona, for the seat of South Thanet running against UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as parliamentary candidate in the 2015 UK General Election. … The party’s logo is an upside-down pound sign, not dissimilar to UKIP’s purple and gold pound sign. Murray said: “it seems to me that the UK is ready for a bloke waving a pint around, offering common sense solutions”, adding: “let it be known that like many of the parliamentary hopefuls in the forthcoming election, I have no idea where South Thanet is …”

  • peter tyzack 12th Oct '15 - 11:43am

    I am always puzzled by people asking on social media what our policy is, if we rely on such chatter for our ‘facts’ no wonder we are in a mess. Surely the answer is to look at the Party website.. if you can’t find a factual answer there then … we ARE in a mess.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '15 - 12:26pm

    peter tyzack 12th Oct ’15 – 11:43am How many people do we have at HQ doing that? Is there a role for LDV here?

  • What worries me is that Labour is going to be overwhelmingly fighting on The Leave side, so far no major figures have committed to either campaign but the grassroots seem to be mostly Anti EU. Over on Labour List (the equivalent of LDV) theres an article by Labour Leave. Theres approaching 250 comments & they seem to be Anti EU by 10 to 1. The campaign to stay seems to be dominated by The Moderates, ie the people who lost the leadership election.

  • Julian Tisi 12th Oct '15 - 5:30pm

    “Surely, if you really wanted your side in the campaign to win, the only thing you would be concerned about would be that you had the best people running your sides campaign regardless of their sex?”
    Well, yes but….
    One practical reason for favouring diversity in any way, shape or form is that you get a richer strand of viewpoints than you would if you have in a less diverse group of people. In the case of the EU campaign it seems to me that we need to employ all sorts of arguments in favour of staying in the EU which will stike a chord with a number of different people, including for example financial, emotional, cultural, social. There are plenty of reasons to want to stay in the EU and some will matter more to some than others – for example, some wil be convinced by the financial or commercial benefits of staying in or leaving; for others it will be freedom of movement – good or bad. For others, it’s a social or a cultural thing. If we focus too heavily on one thing, as we did previously – such as “it will cost us 3 million jobs if we leave” – even if our argument is strong – we will be exposed and could lose if our core argument is challenged. The Scottish Better Together campaign IMO was poor amongst other reasons because it focussed relentlessly on the financials. I believe the IN campaign could fail if it does the same.

    So in summary I think Caron is right. We should worry about the diversity – or lack of it – in the IN campaign.

  • Thank goodness Caroline Lucas is on the Remain IN campaign team.
    She is a much respected female politician and women will be interested in what she has to say.

  • Jayne yes I share your concerns. Surely there must be a heavyweight who can head up the Remain campaign. Still, there is a long way to go and maybe Rose will be elbowed out when the polls start to show the Leave campaign winning.

  • Joyce Onstad 13th Oct '15 - 11:59am

    Very good points Julian Tisi, We must take advantage of as diverse talent pool as we can so as to resonate with all sectors of our society. This will make our arguments richer, more engaging and I believe more effective.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Oct '15 - 2:47pm

    Pat 13th Oct ’15 – 8:45am “Thank goodness Caroline Lucas is on the Remain IN campaign team.
    She is a much respected female politician and women will be interested in what she has to say.”
    Not just women. Caroline Lucas was an MEP in the southeast and speaks with a depth of knowledge. She does, of course, want a greener Europe.

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