Andrew Smith reviews the key players campaigning to keep the UK in the EU
There is still significant uncertainty about the date of the referendum on the UK membership of the European Union and the shape of the renegotiation deal that the Prime Minister might be able to strike. Following the weekend’s European Council meeting, he spoke about ‘good progress’ being made and a ‘pathway to a deal’ emerging, but it is clear that it will be difficult for a convincing deal to be struck especially on the vexed issue of migration.
The Prime Minister wants the referendum to happen as soon as possible, but knows that he needs to have a renegotiation deal that he can present as delivering meaningful change if he is going to avoid a vote for exit. He and his team are aiming for a deal to be struck at the February European Council with the referendum vote being held in the mid-summer next year at the earliest, or possibly in October.
Recent polls have presented a mixed picture, with on-line polls earlier this month showing Brexit enjoying a narrow lead, but more recent telephone polls have suggested that a majority of voters would prefer the UK to remain in the EU The campaign will be a hard fought one as different visions of the future of the UK and it’s place in the world clash.
Key players in Remain
Earlier this month, David Skelton, reviewed the key players campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, but who are the voices campaigning for the UK to stay in Europe?
The cross party Campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe is supported by a range of leading figures in the world of business, the military, academia, entertainment and the trade unions. The figurehead of the campaign is Lord (Stuart) Rose, the Conservative Peer and former Chief Executive of Marks& Spencer. Karen Brady another Conservative Peer and Chief Executive of West Ham is also a high profile supporter. June Sapong, the TV presenter; Brendan Barber, former General Secretary of the TUC; General Sir Peter Wall; and Lord Mandelson also serve as board members.
While the Vote Leave campaign has drawn on veterans of the successful 2011 NotoAV campaign, some of the the campaigners at the head of Britain Stronger in Europe have had less successful recent experiences in UK politics. Executive Director, Will Straw the former Labour Parliamentary Candidate and director of the IPPR think tank failed to win his marginal parliamentary seat and Ryan Coetzee, the Strategy Director played a leading role in the Liberal Democrats disastrous election campaign. Other key players include Lucy Thomas, the former Campaign Director of the Campaign Group Business for a new Europe.
One figure who does have some experience of winning recent referenda is Andrew Cooper, the Conservative Peer and former Strategy Director of the ‘no’ campaign in the Scottish referendum. Cooper has been described as the architect of the relentlessly negative Scottish ‘no’ campaign which focused on the negative consequence of the breakup of the United Kingdom rather than the positive aspects of the Union. Critics from the ‘leave’ side of the argument have already warned about ‘remain’ campaign using the same strategy of fear. Given the importance of the economic impact of the UK’s membership of the EU to public attitudes it is clear that the impact of leaving the EU on jobs and economic security will be a prominent part of the campaign.
The use of digital techniques will be vitally important to reaching undecided voters so Britain Stronger in Europe’s recruitment of Jim Messina, who led the Conservatives digital campaign during the general election and is a veteran of Obama’s two successful Presidential campaigns, is regarded as a coup.
Despite David Cameron has maintaining that he could recommend that the UK leave the EU if renegotiation isn’t successful, there are strong links between senior Conservatives close to the Prime Minister and Britain Stronger in Europe. As well as the former staffer Messina and Cooper the campaign is been supported by a number of people still employed by the Conservative Party
Most controversial amongst Conservative Eurosceptics was the role of Stephen Gilbert, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party who until recently combined his role in CCHQ with a role supporting Britain Stronger in Europe. He has recently temporarily left the party to work full time for the’ remain’ campaign providing strategy advice. Craig Elder and Tom Edmonds, the Conservative’s digital strategist who worked with Messina at Conservative Campaign Headquarters during the general election, have remained advisers to CCHQ whilst also working for the ’remain’ campaign.
It is clear that the Government will be throwing their full resources into keeping the UK in the EU Eurosceptics are incensed by the recent announcement that the Government will be providing an official dossier to every household setting out the details of the renegotiation deal and the arguments for staying in the EU, similar to official documentation that was produced ahead of the 1975 referendum. As well as support such as this, the programme of Government is been shaped around maximising public support for staying in the EU. Winning the referendum is critical to the Prime Minister’s legacy and George Osborne’s chances of succeeding Cameron when he steps down before the 2020 General Election.
As well as support from Conservative Party staffers, Downing Street is already doing a lot of the heavy lifting on making the ‘remain’ case. It has established an EU Reform Unit headed up by Special Advisers Mats Persson, who moved to Downing Street from the think tank Open Europe; Dan Korski, a former diplomat and Kate Marley, who before becoming a Special Adviser worked for David Cameron in opposition and then as a civil servant in the Cabinet Office. The unit is providing support to shape the UK’s renegotiation efforts, but are also seeking to build support for the outcome of the process. They know that the public needs to believe that change in the EU is possible if it is going to buy into any deal agreed by the Prime Minister and that persuasion needs to start now rather than waiting until it is finalised. The unit is therefore working to highlight positive stories from the EU and pressure is being put on Government departments to promote instances where they are winning the argument in Europe.
The Labour Party will be running their own ‘in’ campaign Labour in for Britain which will be led by Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary, which will play an important role in winning over undecided Labour voters and trade unionists to the ‘remain’ side. Despite early doubts about his pro-EU credentials, Labour in for Britain has the support of Jeremy Corbyn.
The intensity of the campaigns is likely to increase next year and making the pro-EU case will be easier when the scope of what might be deliverable in the EU renegotiation is clearer. Despite some early successes for Vote Leave, the balance of opinion within Westminster seems to be suggesting a win for the ‘remain’ campaign. The eventual result will depend on the significant number of undecided voters and persuading them that staying in the EU is the safest route. As recent referendums and the general election shows, safety can be a powerful motivator when people cast their votes.