THE BLOG

Slip Sliding Away: Complacency, the Conservatives and Brexit

04/11/2015 12:31 GMT | Updated 04/11/2016 09:12 GMT

Anyone distracted yesterday by George Osborne's speech about the UK's future position in the European Union might have been forgiven for overlooking the latest survey by Eversheds' employment practice. That would have been a shame, because there was an interesting little nugget in there, namely that British HR professionals report that only 6 percent of their employers have started to make contingency plans for Brexit. This despite the impact that the UK leaving the EU might have on the supply and terms and conditions of employees (as well everything else).

That feels an awful lot like businesses being complacent about an issue which, even for the most domestically focused, poses real risks. Consider another survey published this week by MNI, the research arm of the Deutsche Boerse. It asked people in the finance sector in 21 countries whether the UK would still be in the EU in 2020. 72 percent said it would be. Again, that suggests a high level of confidence, which bears out what I am hearing anecdotally: although there is a little nervousness around, the vast majority of business folk assume that Britons in general share their pragmatism, and can barely imagine the UK in the end doing anything so silly as voting to leave the Union.

Maybe they are right. After all, the polls generally still suggest that voters are in favour of staying in. But they have narrowed sharply over the summer, and we should, as I've said before, remember what happened in Scotland when complacency took hold. With Eurosceptism rampant in the media, in the Conservative Party and now, possibly, in the leadership of the Labour Party, those opposed to Britain leaving need to stop taking anything for granted, and mount a vigorous and positive campaign to persuade their fellow citizens to remain.

So where is that campaign? A few weeks ago Stronger In was launched, with Stuart Rose at the helm. Happy days, it seemed: the campaign looked organised, it had some funding, and it had some recognisable personalities as its leading lights. Along with many others, I breathed a sigh of relief . But now I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to get nervous again.

My immediate concern is not so much about Stronger In, although I wish it would stop indulging in squabbling, in-fighting and blood-letting, and instead commission a creative and positive campaign in favour of UK membership (in a shameless plug, I'd suggest that #missingtype is a good example of what can be achieved). And the fact that it seems to have become a refuge for several New Labour old lags is unfortunate. The bigger worry is the Conservative anti-Brexit, pro-EU, campaign - or, more accurately, the lack so far of such a campaign. From what I hear, many existing and groups of Tories who might in the past have spoken up in favour of remaining in seem paralysed, perhaps beleaguered, and haven't really begun to stir just yet. With David Cameron due to reveal his negotiating position as soon as next week this torpor is dangerous. Whatever the Prime Minister says is likely to be greeted with boos from his right-wing; having a supporting chorus from parts of his own party is vital.

There are hopes that all of this could soon change, and a new, impassioned and effective pro-European Conservative grouping will emerge. I really hope so. None of us who believe in the UK continuing to be part of the European Union can afford to be complacent. We are in a fight. And all of us, whether Conservatives, the business community or simply voters, have to stir ourselves. There is a lot to do, a lot to lose, and a whole lot to gain.