Rethinking Europe

The “Keep Britain in Europe” Campaign Starts

StrongerIn, the campaign to stop Brexit, is off to a good start. But can it last?

Credit: Gutzemberg Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The “In” campaign seemed to be in good heart. It was better organized than the three “Out” campaigns.
  • The #StrongerIn folk sensibly kept politicians off the stage and out of the hall.
  • The #StrongerIn campaign has decided to defy conventional wisdom and campaign in prose.

“Britain Stronger in Europe,” the mainstream campaign to stop Brexit from happening, has now been launched.

Lord Stuart Rose, former boss of Marks and Spencer, once the UK’s most popular High Street store, launched the #StrongerIn movement with a scripted speech that is long on economics, short on politics and indifferent to the visionary lines of Winston Churchill’s still vivid appeal for a “United States of Europe” made exactly 70 years ago in Zürich.

Rose’s address started off what clearly is going to be a campaign based on Europe being good for British business.

There were other touches – a retired top cop, Sir High Orde, praising the European Arrest Warrant to the skies and a young student talking about her Erasmus and language learning benefits from the EU.

In fact, there were four women and just three men speaking which was a pleasant change from the aging male faces of the pro-Brexit crowd who seem to be financed exclusively by men well into the second half of their lives.

London’s pro-European elite turned out in force. There was a suggestion that the #StrongerIn launch might have taken place in Manchester – a British city that is not London.

But the great and the good made it clear that while they might go out to the east end of the city, travelling up north was out of the question. They are busy men and women, after all.

The “In” campaign seemed to be in good heart. It was better organized than the shambolic launch of the three “Out” campaigns.

One headed by Nigel Farage or UKIP, one that has anti-EU Tory and Labour MPs on it and is run by the most effective campaigner in Britain, Matthew Elliot, and one launched by the former Tory Chancellor, Nigel Lawson.

Too many Nigels spoil the broth

The #StrongerIn folk sensibly kept politicians off the stage and out of the hall. No Lords Mandelson, Heseltine, Ashdown, Tony Blair or John Major, not even Nick Clegg.

Instead, there is a retired general secretary of the TUC, the city’s no. 1 PR man, and Caroline Lucas, the Green politician.

The latter is a smart move as continental Greens can be as ugly in their hate of Brussels as any populist and nationalist Eurosceptic movement.

Now it has to get down to business. And business has to be gently weaned away from the last 15 years of EU-hostile reports and criticisms by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, and the Institute of Directors.

Go to the average regional small town Chamber of Commerce in the last decade and you will hear replayed all the clichés from the Daily Mail or Telegraph and the constant negativity about the EU from business outfits.

Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, Napoleon had famously declared. If our top shopkeeper, Lord Rose, can go out every evening between now and the referendum and take his message to businesses, big and small, then perhaps Brexit can be avoided.

Carefully structured campaign

The prime minister’s cynical opportunism in calling a referendum simply for internal party political gain was not mentioned and probably cannot be, as #StrongerIn has to eschew party politics.

Nor can the borderline farce of the so-called re-negotiations, which, as a number of papers have pointed out, has reduced the once grandiose claims of “regaining control of our frontiers,” reducing Social Europe, or building a giant coalition of non-Euro nations to nugatory demands.

That makes sense and so does the fact that the “In” campaign does not need to highlight the paucity of No. 10 Downing Street’s much-reduced ambitions.

But while pro-Europeans keep mum, their opponents will not. And a campaign that is seen as shoring up a prime minister who has spent his years in the Commons decrying the EU and who won’t even contest the next election is going to find balance hard.

The #StrongerIn campaign has decided to defy conventional wisdom and campaign in prose.

The poetry or at least the invocation of an epic struggle to win back lost sovereignty will reside with the Outs. This may need correction.

Much will turn on money and the media. In 1975, the “Yes” campaign outspent the “No” campaign by 12-1 and all the mass media were resolutely pro-European.

The money factor

The OUTs have raised £20 million and the big mass circulation tabloids and broadsheet papers are still full of propaganda and scorn for the EU.

The modest launch of the #StrongerIn campaign was held in a disused brewery in Brick Lane, the East London street legendary for its scores of curry restaurants. It wasn’t glitzy and that worked.

But unless #StrongerIn has a young energetic campaigner in every city and most towns in Britain working 18 hours a day to create a locally based Wigan In Europe or Worcester in Europe or Wolverhampton in Europe, relying on London celebrities who can give an hour or two to a launch will not be enough.

And while there are one or two wealthy pro-European benefactors, none has the bottomless purse of the hedge funds, forex traders, spread-bet billionaires and Hong Kong Über-rich that worship at the shrine of Mrs Thatcher, the Goddess of Eurosceptics.

There are even rumors that Putin — who puts endless cash into any anti-EU party on the continent — is encouraging London based Russian oligarchs to quietly finance any campaign that will secure Brexit and thus massively weaken the EU.

So, a good start for #StrongerIn, but there is a long way to go before it can be said they will be able to avert Brexit or defeat the millions being spent to isolate us from Europe.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” published by IB Tauris-Bloomsbury, London, October 2019. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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