Thoughts on the EU Referendum and Campaign
by Peter Carroll
Number 10 couldn’t have hoped for a more powerful intervention from President Obama than the one he delivered during his visit. Those advocating ‘Leave’ must be hoping that Obama’s impact will fade as fast as the roar of Air Force One. Two things particularly struck me during the President’s intervention, and both concerned the use of words.
On the one hand, we had that ‘part Kenyan' reference from Boris Johnson. These words from a man widely recognised to be an effective communicator have earned opprobrium from many and almost disbelief from others. Some people say that words are cheap. In many circumstances that be true. But in politics, they can be very expensive, particularly in terms of reputation. I have a feeling that these words will come to haunt Boris. It may turn out to be case that they have shifted him from being Leaves greatest asset, to something of a liability. It was all the more disastrous as it risks puncturing the notion that he is man sensitive to issues of race and ethnicity having been theMayor of one of the world’s most diverse cities for nigh on 8 years. I am reminded of a comment from one of my colleagues in government days following an unfortunate ‘mis speak’ from another colleague. Wisely he said, ‘in most cases politicians can control very little in life, but they should at least be able to control what comes out of their own mouths’. How true.
On the other hand, I was struck by the phrase ‘back of the queue’ from the supreme Communicator in Chief. I’m sure we all knew what he was trying to say. And the words did send out a powerful message. But they transmitted something else too, that jarred with all the other sentiments that he expressed with evident sincerity. Those words didn’t just say ‘a trade deal with a stand-alone UK will be complicated, so it might take a lot longer than people think’. No. For many, it could have communicated the same feeling as ‘on your own you’ll be insignificant’, something that could really get the backs up of a lot of people, even some of those who agreed with his intervention.
But all that said, it feels as if the President has boosted the Remain camp, and done real damage to the Leavers.
It’s clear that the Remain camp is deploying fear spiced up with a lot of heavyweight endorsement from pretty much every significant organisation on the planet. Fear of uncertainty, fear of risk, fear of isolation. But there is another side to campaign dynamics. And that is the power of hope and the positive. My feeling is that having assumed a dominant position by the deployment of fear, there’s a need now to bring yet more people behind Remain on a message of hope. And I mean about the ‘big stuff’. Yes, there have been some statements about the EU being a force for good because it helps keep roaming charges down. But I’m talking about the hope and positivity of the EU being a part of the reason that our continent hasn’t been ripped apart by war for 70 odd years now. Yes NATO is the prime defensive alliance. But the EU has brought about a civic culture in Europe that means it’s now unthinkable that Britain, France and Germany and others could ever see such a disastrous deterioration in relationships that we ended up at war with each other. And after all, doesn’t hope, in the end, always trump fear.
Gamekeeper turned poacher
by Will de Peyer
It is now a year since I handed in the Treasury, Downing Street, Cabinet Office and Parliamentary passes that hung around my neck for much of the previous five years. While I miss being at the heart of the 24/7 government machine, especially around the Budget and Autumn Statements and Spending Reviews, the experiences gained sitting around the Cabinet table and influencing the direction of economic policy for the UK will stay with me forever.
And it’s that experience that I bring to help clients of Tendo Consulting. The insight provided by the last five years actually being in government was a real eye opener, even to someone who had worked in and around Westminster in opposition for 4 years. The truth is, nothing prepares you for government, and it is unlike any other job and environment. Maybe that’s why so many organisations, and even some of the well-established agencies themselves that those organisations rely on for strategic counsel, sometimes make very basic mistakes in both their understanding and interactions with government. So whilst it’s true that many organisations have complex needs and ‘asks’ of government and so need advice and counsel of commensurate sophistication, there’s 3 particular pieces of advice that I’d offer based on my first year at Tendo. They may sound simple, but they are so often overlooked:
1. Work out what you want and be able to communicate it succinctly and in a way that makes it as attractive as possible to the politician or official that you are engaging with! Some of the most frustrating meetings I attended in government, even at Number 10 with the PM present, were those at which organisations didn’t have a clear agenda and clear idea of what they actually wanted government to do. As well as being profoundly unhelpful to the organisation, it gets embarrassing too. I’ve had the experience on a number of occasions of having to press someone 25 minutes into a 30 minute meeting to set out what they want. This leads to a profoundly negative feeling on both sides of the Ministerial table of valuable time wasted and opportunities lost.
2. Nearly every ask of government is best advanced by engagement with the relevant officials AND a concurrent engagement with the elected politicians. There is generally an overestimation of the effectiveness of engaging with officials and an underestimation of the ability of MPs and Ministers to influence government thinking.
And finally but most importantly,
3. Get on with it! The Doris Lessing quote “"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible." springs to mind. Government often moves at a glacial speed, but once it gets moving it becomes increasingly difficult to alter its course. So if you have an ‘ask’ of government it’s generally always best to start engagement early, even if you haven’t got every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed. In most cases it’s best to act early and refine later.
Yes, life outside of government is different. But helping our growing range of clients to get more out of their engagement with the government machine, whether it be giving strategic counsel to the experienced, or helping organisations engage with the political world for the first time feels just as rewarding.
Tendo Consulting was founded by Peter Carroll and Will de Peyer who both served as Special Advisors in HM Treasury during the last government. Before that, Peter founded and ran a number of award winning and successful campaigns including Joanna Lumley’s Gurkha Justice Campaign and FairFuelUK, while Will had a career in the City.