The EU referendum on June 23rd is without doubt the most important political event for a generation. For the vast majority of people, me included, it will be the first time we have had a say on Britain’s relationship with the European Union. It is because this is so important we must make it count.
This is a referendum, not an election. No matter where in the country you live, your vote matters as much as your MP's. This is something the Leave campaigns need to make clear as often as they can. The press have amused themselves by keeping us up to date on which Tory MPs want to leave and which don’t, and while undoubtably this has given some of them the boost they needed to find the courage of their convictions, this is a decision for the whole electorate to make. There are no safe seats, and saying “there’s no point voting around here, Labour always get in” is not a valid excuse.
While the votes of MPs, ministers and other prominent figures count as much as yours or mine, they do have a vital role to play in the referendum campaign. Political hacks like you and I know how we’re going to vote and why. Indeed, many of us had made our decision before we were sure there would be a referendum, but this is not the case for everyone. A significant proportion of the population have not yet made up their mind. Some may not do so until they’re in the polling booth, and they will be basing their decisions on what they hear from the Leave and Remain campaigns between now and June 23rd. It falls on our MPs, councillors, leading business people and community leaders, the opinion formers of our society, to show leadership, communicate information and refute the arguments of our opponents.
The campaign to leave the EU certainly can win. The polls might show the Remain camp to have a slight advantage, but in their hearts the British people are generally distrustful of Brussels, especially those who had the opportunity to vote in the last referendum, and coincidentally are the most likely to vote in this one. In order to make the most of this innate advantage the Leave campaigns need to cooperate until an official campaign is chosen, and then seamlessly merge into one effective force. Coverage of disunity in the Brexit camp cannot be allowed to overshadow our message, we only have one chance to win this. As the old proverb goes, for want of a nail the shoe was lost…
While we risk losing press coverage if we are divided, it is clear that Number 10 have lost the vast majority of newspapers already. While we might have expected the Mail and the Express to back Leave come what may, the fact that David Cameron’s pet paper The Sun have led with a number of front pages ridiculing his campaign makes it very clear which way the wind is blowing.
To us Conservatives democracy is paramount, so whatever the outcome of referendum it is important we respect it and our colleagues on the other side of the debate, both now and after the votes are counted. It goes without saying that being reasonable helps our arguments, and that an informed debate is to our advantage. So however angry the condescension of some Remain supporters makes us, we must not rise to their trolling.
Chris Rowell is a Senior Public Relations Consultant based in the North of England. He ran Andrea Jenkyns MP’s successful 2015 General Election Campaign, which unseated the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He is also a member of the Conservative Way Forward National Organising Committee.