Hidden away amongst the coverage since the New Year of the incipient European Union referendum campaign was the publication of a report by British Future advising both sides how (not) to talk about the Union. It didn't get the same coverage as David Cameron spouting on in Germany and Hungary about reform, nor speculation that the referendum will be this year (perhaps on 23 June), not in 2017, nor the news that Cabinet Ministers will be able to campaign freely. But the report deserves to be widely read: there are plenty of wise words in it about how the referendum will be won - or lost.
By far the most important observation in the report is that both sides in the debate need to find inspiring and uplifting messages, and to create and communicate a positive vision of the outcome they advocate. In particular, as the report says, "the question for the 'In' campaign is whether it wants to run a nit-picking campaign, where its only emotional argument is the fear of exit... The challenge for pro-Europeans is whether they can argue their case with passion as well as reason: will 'In' wrap itself in the blue and yellow of the EU flag, or speak powerfully to the identities that matter to most people in Britain?" This is absolutely the most critical question: and so far instead of an answer there has been a resounding, depressing, silence.
I believe strongly we have to stay in the Union: leaving risks the economic, social and cultural gains we have made by being part of the 'club'. And I have long argued that campaigners for Britain to stay in the Union need to construct a positive and inspiring case for doing so, not simply wave the shroud of all the disasters we will experience if we leave. This report backs up that view. It is therefore incomprehensible that Stronger In and others have so far failed to find the right tone of voice and the right arguments to motivate and encourage their supporters and to persuade the undecided.
There is no doubt that this referendum can easily be lost by the 'remain' campaign. The polls are febrile, but all of them have suggested that things are not going as well as they should be. So, as British Future so helpfully reminds us, it is past time for everyone who cares about the UK remaining in the EU to explain why it is so important and so valuable in every sense.
All too often even the most fervent pro-Europeans come across as rather defensive about our membership of the Union. It is time instead to be unashamed cheerleaders. It is time to talk about the decades of peace in Europe, and about the economic growth that has stemmed from that stable and safe environment. Time to point specifically to the British companies which have developed and thrived thanks to their access to European markets and European talent. And time to say that much foreign investment in Britain has come because we are part of the Union, bringing jobs and opportunities in its wake.
It is also time to talk about the cultural bonanza that has flowed from the free movement of people. The improved travel and leisure. The flowering of creativity and dynamism and excitement. The way that democracy, tolerance and the rule of law has been embedded all over the continent thanks to European institutions and the sharing of ideas and common values. These things have not just happened; they have been encouraged and promoted thanks to the opportunities fostered by the European Union.
But we should not stop there. We should also paint a positive picture of the future of Europe. For example, what benefits will be brought by the successful completion of the Single Market, for example in services or in digital? What will happen as we learn better how to work together to solve common problems like climate change, migration and security? As British Future reminds us, to win this referendum we need to inspire voters with a vision of an exciting future. It is well past time for those who care about Britain remaining in Europe to be inspirational.Suggest a correction