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Election and other bits and bobs

Election and other bits and bobs

It’s election time –  unexpectedly – in the UK. This gives those of us that follow public communications lots to think about and discuss. Instead of our usual article I decided to just share a few things I have been thinking about:

Just to restate a basic – this blog is apolitical. I comment on communication style, skills and lessons. Not on who people should vote for.

Watching Corbyn’s election communication style

Having become something of a lame duck leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a rather good first speech of the campaign last week. You can both watch and read it here. He has since spoken in Scotland and been interviewed on Andrew Marr and he looked relaxed and reasonably happy. Somewhat more in control than he was at the start of his leadership. He could still learn a thing or to from us about controlling interviews. 

Election and other bits and bobs

Someone pointed out to me that Corbyn is looking as if he is going to follow Trump and the Brexit referendum Leave campaign and concentrate on big picture assertions and ignore the detail: Shout loudly about ‘enemies of the people’, threaten big business, Philip Green etc. and avoid the complexities of reality. It has worked for others.

Blair steps into the fray with a confused message

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair – in my view normally a brilliant communicator– stepped into the campaign with a very confused message in an interview on BBC Radio 4. What he was probably saying was vote liberal or vote tactically but it was not clear. I know he was trying to avoid the wrong headlines but he needs to rehire Alistair Campbell.

Theresa May loses key comms personnel

And a final observation about the UK election this week: we note the departure of two key people from Theresa May’s PR team as explained here in the FT. Katie Perrior Downing Street Director of Communications resigned immediately after the election was called, while Lizzie Loudon, the Prime Ministers personal press secretary announced her resignation last Friday. This is a significant change and it will be interesting to see if May’s buttoned-up ice-maiden style changes.

French elections fascinate

We are also watching with fascination the French Presidential election. Not much to say about this today yet but more (from Laura in Brussels) in the near future. But we did notice this article in the FT which suggests politics is all about style over substance.

Election and other bits and bobs

Airline apology: how it should be done

In other news, there was this snippet you may have missed about an unfortunate incident on an American Airlines flight. Clearly, there were echoes of the United Airlines story of earlier in the month but this time the apology was swift and apparently unmuddied by ambiguity.

Lucy Kellaway shares her embarrassing public speaking experience

I am a dyed in the wool Lucy Kellaway fan, she is always an entertaining read. Assuming you have a subscription to the FT, this column from her is about how she got over confident and did a bad speech. It is worth a couple of minutes if only to remind ourselves it can happen to any of us. I did something very similar many years ago. Pride comes before a fall!

And finally…we make the news (in Estonia)

And finally, Laura Shields the Brussels Director of Media Coach International Ltd made the media herself in Estonia. The Environment minister there blogged about his training with her – including posting pictures –  and it was picked up by a prominent online news site. If you can read Estonian you will find it here. We suspect google translate doesn’t do it justice.

Laura-Estonia-Environment-Minister

 

Photos used under creative commons licence, Wikimedia etc. 

Legs-it distraction: what women should wear

Legs-it: what should women leaders wear?

Legs-it was the clever caption on The Daily Mail front page photo of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon showing a lot of leg last week. An article that prompted a great deal of coverage. As was widely noted at the time, the picture and cheeky headline received a great deal more attention than the substance of these powerful women’s frosty meeting or the issues surrounding it.

 

Legs-it distraction: what women should wear

 

Legs-it prompted a storm of twitter protest

As well as mainstream media there was a storm of Twitter protest with a lot of big names weighing in. From a journalists point of view it is all good clean fun and it will certainly have helped to sell newspapers.
 
Legs-it distraction: what women should wear
Among the more intelligent and thoughtful comments there was this from Jo Ellison at the FT – generally bemoaning the obsession with any woman’s physical assets, whilst bizarrely arguing that studying and commenting on their clothes is helpful and legitimate. That article led me to a much more interesting FT piece by novelist Joanna Trollope, on how women in the city no longer dressed in a modified masculine style and how the tech revolution has fuelled a fashion revolution in the corridors of power.
 

Legs-it PR lessons

There are a couple of PR lessons that jumped out at me from the legs-it furore.

First, I think short skirts are a nightmare in any context involving cameras and sitting down. I don’t mean just mini-skirts but even on-the-knee skirts will ride up when you sit.
 
It’s okay at a wedding when almost all shots will be whilst standing. But – as this picture demonstrates – once a woman sits the dominant visual element is the legs. (Flesh coloured legs are to my mind much more distracting than the coloured tights favoured by many younger women.) So among all the much more important affairs of business it is worth giving these things a thought. This is not a huge ask because almost all female leaders think about appropriate dress code every day. There are a huge range of risks and sensitivities that have to be navigated and it is all part of the job. It had not occurred to me until I was reading about this but Angela Merkel always wears trousers, apparently deliberately avoiding the sort of distraction evidenced by May and Sturgeon. Hillary Clinton is another powerful woman who, years ago, took on board the practicality of trousers and became queen of the pantsuit. 
 
Secondly, I would point out that, to get this shot, the cameraman would have had to stoop quite low, literally as well as figuratively. If you were the PR minder, you should have been thinking about that. Minders can and do step in although this is another fraught area as you don’t want to become part of the story.
 
Of course, serious professional women should not be judged on what they wear or the shape of their legs. It is a nonsense and sexist. But I am inclined to think boys will be boys and journalists will be journalists and we don’t have to condone it to want to avoid the situation in the first place.
 
So here are my takeaways:
  • As ever, what you wear and how you look should be controlled to ensure it is not a distraction. No dangly earrings, no flamboyant jewelry, no crazy shoes and men should avoid hilarious ties or bright socks.
  • Serious women might consider avoiding knee length skirts if they are going to be filmed or photographed sitting down. Men should avoid short socks that will show too much hairy leg between sock and trouser when sitting down.
  • If you are the PR man or woman – think about controlling the shot. What is in front, what is behind and what is the angle of the cameras.
In the end this is the sort of story that is tomorrow’s chip-paper as used to be said. But remember the media – even at their worst – really only reflect the society we live in. So while Guardian and FT readers will be genuinely exercised by the substance of the niftily named indyref2, an awful lot of others would have been thinking what a lot of leg! And that is a distraction from the important bit of the story.
Eddie Mair Media Training basics: don't shoot the messenger

Media Training basics: don’t shoot the messenger

Media training basics include understanding that interviews with journalists are an opportunity rather than a threat.

Sure, there are potential pitfalls and problems that you might encounter in the course of the conversation, but the key point to realise is that you have been selected as an opinion leader, with a chance to influence what others think.

With this in mind, it would be madness to criticise the very broadcaster that is providing you with the interview opportunity. Nevertheless, a surprising number of interviewees seem to forget or ignore this and waste time shooting the messenger.

Media Training basics: case study

Media Training Basics Don't Shoot the Messenger

Peter Bone MP used an interview on BBC Radio 4 PM programme to criticise the ‘pro-EU’ stance of the BBC

Take Peter Bone, for example – a politician since 1977 and an MP since 2005. The Conservative member for Wellingborough is a prominent Eurosceptic and has been through countless interactions with the media. He was invited onto a recent edition of Radio 4’s PM programme to discuss comments made by Brexit secretary David Davis that day, suggesting the government was not ruling out paying into the Brussels budget in exchange for access to the single market.

Presenter Eddie Mair asked Mr Bone what he thought of what had been said – a gentle, easy opening question that should have provided him with an opportunity to say almost anything he liked on the subject.

Media Training basics: why waste easy questions?

But within his first answer, Mr Bone had dismissed the story as people “clutching at straws” who were “desperate for any news”. This is never a good tactic. Journalists hate being told what constitutes a story – and from the listeners’ point of view, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone agreeing to be interviewed believes there is something to talk about.

Then when Eddie Mair pushed him a little harder (“forgive us for listening to what government ministers say and trying to interpret them on behalf of the listeners”), Mr Bone responded, “It is the BBC, of course, and I know you’re terribly, terribly pro-EU.”

Suddenly the debate switched from discussing access to the EU single market to the manner in which the BBC was covering the issue:

Media Training Basics Don't Shoot the Messenger

Eddie Mair is a very experienced BBC presenter.

Peter Bone:  “There you see – there we go again: BBC – pro-EU hat on, you just can’t see reality…”

Eddie Mair:   “Is it easier to bash the BBC than to deal with the question?”

Peter Bone:  “I don’t have to bash the BBC because it’s unmitigating (sic) pro-EU…. I mean, it’s just the way you start these reports…”

Eddie Mair:   “Have you seen reports in The Telegraph posing the same questions?”

You can hear the interview here until the end of December 2016

Listeners on both sides of the debate will resent this approach – especially as the only other interviewee on the subject was fellow-Brexiteer Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the free-market think tank The Institute of Economic Affairs. What’s more, soundbites introducing the article had come from Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Nigel Farage, David Davis and Ian Duncan Smith – not a Remainer in sight.

Bone should have known better and kept his powder dry. When landing a key message should be your strategic purpose, it’s a waste of ammunition to target the media instead. Doing so frustrates interviewers who spend time dodging the bullets, and alienates the audience who are left wondering what the battle was all about.

Expecting a radio interview opportunity to come up in the near future? I and the team of trainers at The Media Coach have years of broadcast news experience; we can prepare you for a radio or TV interview and ensure you avoid making such basic mistakes.  

Photos used under creative comms licence

communication style leadership

Communication style: Tory leadership race

Communication style will be a crucial factor in the Tory leadership race. The five candidates all threw their hats in the ring this week as the political meltdown following the Brexit vote continued to dominate UK headlines.

MPs will be voting today (5th July) with the results announced at 7pm.  The next round of voting will take place on Thursday 7th.  In this post, I am going to give a quick analysis of the communication style of each of the candidates.

 

tory leadership 2016

There are five contenders in the Tory leadership race

 Communication style: Theresa May

Theresa May, as I write the front runner, launched her bid with an excellent speech. Why do I think it was good:

  • It was statesman-like and extremely reassuring.
  • It went to extraordinary lengths to be inclusive.
  • It gave clear answers to the hot topic question. No invoking of Article 50 until the negotiating position is clear. No general election until 2020, and no change in the status of EU nationals in the UK.
  • The best line for me ‘I am the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major, public service is what we do’.
  • The speech was clear, structured and well paced.

What I would change:

  • After the hyperbole of the referendum campaigns, Theresa May’s lack of ‘showiness’ may be seen as a real virtue but if she wins it will not be long before people claim she is ‘boring’. She will not go down as one of the world’s great orators because she chooses not to let her passion show.
  • One of the perception-dangers of being a very senior woman is that you can come across as being schoolmarmish. The launch speech mostly avoided this but in general, May is a bit austere and preachy.
  • May doesn’t tell stories. Inserting anecdotes about ‘Joe who I met last week in Sunderland’ has become a standard part of political speeches but is often done really badly. May chooses to avoid this.


Theresa May’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom gave a detailed interview to Andrew Marr before launching her campaign on Monday. She is a confident and authoritative speaker although with less gravitas than Theresa May.

Why her communication style is good:

  • She comes across as honest and straight forward.
  • She has a more positive vision and seems less tired than Theresa May.
  • She has warmth as well as some authority.
  • She is likeable and mostly in control.

What I would change:

  • In the Andrew Marr interview, her naiveté showed. In particular, she was bounced into promising to publish her tax returns even though she had clearly never considered this before the interview. (She later said she would only do this if she gets into the last two in the race.) This may seem like a small thing but you can’t have a Prime Minister that makes up policy in response to a tough question.
  • Although compared to the general population she has authority, she has less than Theresa May and Liam Fox.
  • She is, as a communicator, ‘lighter-weight’ than Theresa May and other female leaders such as Angela Merkel. Her voice is higher and more feminine. This shouldn’t matter but it might.

Andrea Leadsom’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Michael Gove

Michael Gove as a former journalist is a good communicator and he does, as do the others, articulate an argument well, particularly when on prepared ground. He also knows that he lacks some of the standard oratory skills. He said himself  ‘whatever charisma is, I don’t have it.”

  • Gove does show passion although his oration skills don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
  • His launch speech was full of vision for a strong and proud Britain.
  • There is a strong sense of ‘grit’, a feeling that he is prepared to fight for what he believes is right.

What I would change:

  • Gove to me has an irritating voice and is also unfortunate looking. Both could be improved with a bit of effort.
  • When reading from his script in the launch speech, the sentences are too long, making it harder for him to make sense of it as he reads it.
  • He comes across as someone who has absolute conviction in his own view rather than someone who will lead a team of people with different views.


Michael Gove’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Stephen Crabb

Stephen Crabb is an outsider in this contest and many think he is mostly marking his card for the future.

What I like:

  • His communication style is less formal than the other candidates, he has a sense of Blair about him although this is somewhat reduced when giving a formal speech.
  • He has natural warmth and a slight regional (Welsh) accent, always a plus if you want to come across as a man of the people.
  • He uses lots of personal anecdotes.

What I would change:

  • He needs to let his natural warmth show when making or reading a speech. Not so easily done but just takes practice.

Stephen Crabb’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Liam Fox

Liam Fox is an experienced senior politician. He has gravitas. Like Stephen Crabbe he is much better (more appealing to normal people) in an interview than in his formal launch speech.

What I like:

  • Fox is blessed with a deep and statesman-like voice, more obvious in conversation or interview than in his launch speech.
  • He has gravitas.
  • His launch speech demonstrated his grasp of the international picture in a way the others did not.

What I would change:

  • I would want to see him inject his natural warmth into his formal speeches.
  • He would find it easier to read his speeches if he made his sentences shorter.
  • Sadly he comes across as another ‘grey man’ of politics. He is neither young, a woman or nerdy and this may count against him.

Liam Fox’s leadership launch transcript

 

How to survive a TV debate, David Cameron

How to survive a TV debate 1: Cameron the smooth

Those wanting to study how to survive a TV debate could do a lot worse than dissect the performance of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a high-profile, live-grilling on Sky News. However, the headlines Cameron got after his one hour marathon by both a political correspondent out to make his name and a live audience, were universally negative. The Week ran ‘Cameron mauled by TV audience’ and most of the coverage focused on a rather rude student who accused the PM of ‘waffling’.

You can watch the whole one hour here.

How to survive a TV debate: Cameron did an excellent job

All of which seems unjust if not plain misleading. Not normally a fan of Cameron I have to say I think he did an excellent job. He was superbly well briefed, he did not get caught out by any question, from either the correspondent Faisal Islam or the audience. I am pleased to see that I am not completely alone in my assessment. Rather begrudgingly, the Chief Political Commentator for the Independent newspaper at least, agreed with me as you can read here.

How to survive a TV debate: anticipate the tough questions

For students of the PR lesson, it is important to understand that one of the tricks of the journalist is to find a damning nugget of information and then go on and on about it. If the question hasn’t been anticipated the interviewee is left struggling to confidently and credibly answer. The problem is, of course, that there are a huge number of possible ‘damning nuggets’. Faisal Islam started with the manifesto promise from 6 years ago that net migration would be reduced to tens rather than hundreds of thousands, something that the government has failed to deliver on. He moved on to the recent promise that VAT would not rise and noted that the European Court of Justice had overruled a UK law that made solar panels VAT free, suggesting that UK government did not have sovereign control over its VAT rules. He also tried to challenge the Prime Minister with the number of times that the EU Council of Ministers had over-ruled the British government. None of these were questions the Prime Minister looked surprised by or did not have a clear response to. He dismissed the last as a ‘totally spurious figure’ before Islam could actually say it.

Once the set piece political interview was over the PM faced a studio audience. The problem with responding to a public audience is they are, by definition, very diverse and you have even less idea what is coming up. Cameron faced questions about issues as unrelated to the debate as the funding of mental health and his previous pronouncements on the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Again he had clear credible arguments to all of these questions.

How to survive a TV debate: use examples

The Prime Minister not only answered questions credibly but repeatedly landed his main message, that leaving the EU would be ‘an act of economic self harm’; he used lots of examples to back up his points. He talked about why Britain sells no beef or lamb to the US (no trade deal), how the UK’s car industry currently sells all over Europe but outside the EU it would be likely to face a 10% tariff. He also explained that it is easy now for someone from Bolton making fan belts to sell them to all 28 countries, rather than outside the EU trying to meet 27 different sets of rules.

How to survive a TV debate: stay polite

When dealing with the audience he was endlessly polite. The question from the student who accused him of waffling was incoherent and much more waffly than the answer. And despite her rudeness the Prime Minister did his best to answer her.

I saw no evidence of mauling.

I do happen to agree that the missing bit from the whole Remain campaign has been an articulation of the positive vision for a better functioning EU. But this cannot be a mistake. The campaign must be polling, researching which arguments play well, and must be concluding that the positive vision piece just doesn’t work. Perhaps the EU fails in so many ways it is better to not draw attention to what it could do and could achieve.

The question remains, if the Prime Minister did such a good job why did he get negative coverage for the debate and why did it not get ‘cut through’.

The answer, I suggest, is that no one believes anything he says. This is not just Cameron’s problem. It is a problem throughout the world. Since the financial crisis of 2008 cynicism about politicians in power and anything that can be called the establishment has never been higher, at least in the countries commonly called ‘the west’. In the wider Brexit debate there is an endless call for real facts and yet every attempt to deliver serious analysis, projected numbers or explanations are dismissed as unreliable or untrue. It is difficult to see how democracy is going to adapt to this new reality.

How to survive a TV debate, Michael Gove

How to survive a TV debate 2: Gove the fearless

Students of how to survive a TV debate would learn rather different lessons from watching Michael Gove, a leading spokesperson for the UK’s EU Leave campaign, compared to the first debate in the series with Prime Minister David Cameron.

You can watch the full one hour debate here.

How to survive a TV debate: good humour and grace under fire

This was another polished performance, full of good humour and an ability to handle aggressive questioning with toughness, but also good grace and prepared lines. But where the Prime Minister apparently answered questions, Michael Gove sought to move the debate onto different grounds. This is what you do when you have less facts and less third-party endorsements than the opposition. Gove rarely responded directly to questions whilst waiting for the opportunity to land his message: he went from question to message in a heartbeat.

Here is an example.
How many independent economic authorities share your dream of Britain outside the EU? Can you name a single one?
If you are talking about the economic authorities that have already weighed into the debate, they are people who have been wrong in the past and who didn’t predict the global crash in 2008…I prefer to take the views of business people …

Michael Gove repeatedly landed his messages. Here are the ones I spotted with links to other commentators who saw what I did.

How to survive a TV debate: deploy metaphors

One of the best lines of the debate came from a member of the audience. He argued ‘You are asking us to vote for a divorce and sort out the financial settlement afterwards. That makes no sense to me, you negotiate before (you leave). And with respect Mr Gove, you are like a First World War general, waiving the flag, saying ‘over the top men’. But you have no idea what is going on on the front line or what the casualty rate will be’. Gove listened to this patiently and then answered respectfully and skillfully moving the conversation on to his message about putting faith in the British people.

Gove had good metaphors of his own. He suggested that the UK, ‘rather than being a difficult lodger in a house we didn’t design could be a friendly neighbour in a home we could call our own’.

As we have noted many times before in our blogs, metaphors are mighty powerful weapons of war.

What was missing from a spin doctors point of view were the numbers and the everyday examples. Where was the fan-belt maker from Bolton and the car exporters from Sunderland?

How to survive a TV debate: rhetorical flourish

There were however, some clever rhetorical flourishes. Gove challenged us all to name the five presidents of Europe. He asserted that none of us could. ‘The European Union’, he said, ‘is not a democracy, no one is elected, no one can name the presidents and none of us can sack them’. He went on: ‘The most powerful symbol of our democracy is the removal van that arrives outside 10 Downing Street every five or ten years’. Examples of prepared, powerful, clever, rhetoric.

Interestingly, while the questions from the audience were just as tough as in the previous programme, overall the audience were much more supportive of Michael Gove than they were of the Prime Minister. While the set piece interview for Gove was more manic, with more interruptions and more heated, the discussion with the audience was much friendlier and more respectful.

Message-building-brexit-shows-how-quotes-are-crafted-image

Message building and the art of the quote

Message building is an art not a science but one of the key elements is being able to find quotable language. For students of message building and the crafted quote (or ‘sizzle’ as we call it), the Brexit referendum in the UK is proving a wonderful real-time case study.

Message building brexit shows how quotes are crafted

The UK is in the middle of a campaign about whether to stay or leave the EU

Message building is art not science

Coming up with great quotes day after day must be keeping the spin-doctors and speech writers very busy but here are a few of our favourites.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Brexit would cause ‘profound economic shock’.

Chris Grayling, Cabinet Minister
‘The Commission’s locker is full of new ideas and new plans. If we vote to remain, the door of that locker will be opened wide the day after.’

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister
Brexit would be the ‘gamble of the century’.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
‘Let us say knickers to the pessimists and the merchants of gloom’.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party
Corbyn warned that a Conservative government would take the opportunity of Brexit to slash protection for workers, in a ‘bonfire of rights’.

William Keegan, Guardian writer
Brexit would be ‘a messy divorce and very hard on the children’.

Stephan Crabb, Cabinet Minister
Brexit would amount to an ‘act of self-harm’

Message building with numbers

Gisela Stuart, Co-Chair of Vote Leave
‘Every week we send £350m to Brussels. I’d rather that we control how to spend that money, and if I had that control I would spend it on the NHS.’ Note that here Stuart goes for the numbers rather than the quotable language. The Leave campaign has had a lot of success with the £350m a week figure; even though it has been debunked several times (as here), it continues to be used repeatedly.

Message building: use judgement and caution in crafting the quote

Boris Johnson
Earlier he used the quote that leaving the EU would be ‘like a prisoner escaping jail’. Boris also often uses expletives that others in public life avoid as here in the Express. He is one of the most quotable politicians but it has got him into deep trouble in the past. He once had to apologise to the whole of Liverpool after accusing them of ‘wallowing in grief’ over the death of a local man beheaded by militants in Iraq. Nowadays, he is more disciplined and uses his flowery language to more strategic political effect.

George Osborne
The Chancellor has also dubbed Pro-Brexit advocates as ‘economically illiterate’. Earlier he said leaving the EU would be ‘political arson’. We are watching Osborne closely. He used to be an unimpressive media performer but, presumably as part of his preparation to be a contender for Prime Minister, he has put a lot of effort into improving his communication skills. He is much better at the crafted quote than his boss and ex PR man David Cameron.

IMF
This august body claimed the UK’s exit from EU could cause ‘severe regional and global damage’. Here we see a ‘serious’ international organisation being cautious with its language but as a result most people will have missed their important intervention.

Aaron Banks, Leave campaigner
‘Freedom has never been so cheap’. He was commentating on the Stay campaigns figure that the cost of leaving the EU would amount to 21p per household per day.

Metaphors widely used in message building

Put them all together like this and firstly you can see how spin doctors love metaphor and simile. Second, it looks idiotic and superficial but remember these phrases were just one element in a wider interview or speech. It is the element designed to be quoted by the journalists. These phrases are the sign-posts in the argument. There is plenty of detail out there to substantiate the headlines. While the quotes may annoy the academically minded purists we should not kid ourselves that people would choose, without them, to wade through the IMF or Treasury reports on impact of staying or going.

Learn to craft a good quote and as a PR or speech writer you will go far.

Message building and The Media Coach

We run message building workshops to help organisations plan external communications. We also have a twitter account @mediasizzle that just picks up examples of quotable language.

Image used under Creative Comms Licence credit “Descrier” descrier.co.uk

Brexit-Creative-Commons-Kevin-Friery

3 Stories the UK’s Pro-EU lobby should tell

Brexit-Creative-Commons-Kevin-Friery

The Pro-EU lobby in the UK lacks a great story

We’re less than three weeks into the shadow UK-EU referendum campaign and already companies and business groups have started drip feeding negative warnings about vague threats to jobs and growth into the public debate.

Airbus, JCB and Vodafone are just three of the big names adding their two cents but precisely, who these warnings are aimed at is beyond me given that negative campaigning went down like a lead balloon in Scotland.

None of these arguments are wrong but we need something more to get inspired. Even the most casual observer knows that a large chunk of the UK in EU discussion is about British identity and that ‘red tape’, ‘renegotiation’ and ‘Brussels decides’ are often trigger words to fire people up about the fear of British identity under threat.

They are also side lining the much bigger story about the EU and Britain. In her book ‘Acts of Union and Disunion’, the historian Linda Colley argues that throughout history British identity has periodically organised itself around a series of ‘constitutive stories’ that include liberty, monarchy, the sea, constitutional superiority, islands and (at times) Europe.  These stories have been particularly helpful during times of external pressure because they give the often fractious group of different nations a common identity to converge around.

Eurosceptics are great at exploiting these ideas which is why any campaign (and I use this term in the loosest sense) for staying in the EU needs to pitch its battle lines firmly around these areas.  This means looking at identity and beyond jobs, growth, reform, regulation, renegotiation, the national interest, immigration or, shock horror, caps on mobile phone roaming charges.

Fortunately, the signs are that the pro-camp is starting to see that economic arguments alone won’t be enough. Any successful pro-EU campaign needs to re-claim and re-frame these ideas by coming up with a better set of stories about why being British means being at the heart of the EU. It doesn’t mean its leaders need to chuck their studies about British jobs and influence out of the window. But it does mean understanding that people need more than a set of data and scaremongering soundbites about loss of growth and trade to get excited.

Whether we’ll get this kind of approach is debatable, particularly given the less than inspiring line up of big names tasked with leading the referendum discussion.

But I do think we need to see three kinds of identity-based stories doing the rounds.  I don’t claim to have them all fleshed out but they broadly fall into stories that address the questions – what do I want for me/my family, what kind of country do I want to live in, and what kind of world do I want to live in?
The first story needs to address the issue of ‘small values’ i.e. one that addresses what being in the EU means to people at an individual and familial level. This could be very much tied to the ambition and aspiration (whatever that means) agenda that everyone seems to be getting excited about in Westminster. If we are to believe that Britain is a place that rewards hard work then being part of the club that shapes the rules of the world’s biggest single market of 500 million people is essential. If people are personally ambitious then they need to feel personally invested in the club that is the gateway to that prosperity.  And they need to be able to explain that to other people they know.

Then we need one on big values i.e. what kind of country do I want to live in?  This story is the counterpoint to the perennial ‘red tape’ argument put out by businesses and addresses a lot of the good things that Brits want in their lives – such as holidays, better environmental and energy efficiency standards for fighting climate change and energy dependence and more control over working hours.

And finally we need one about Britain’s place in the world through the EU. And this is the one about taking a lead and setting common standards on climate change, equal pay, human rights energy security, scientific research and Russia. It’s partly about influence but it’s equally about pragmatism and also understanding why being part of a bigger group is key for economies of scale as well as influence.

Reclaiming and mastering the narrative for the pro-EU camp will be hard but essential not least because it’s starting on the back foot. It will require pushing back against the common garden way of talking about and framing the EU and making British people feel as though they are making an active, deliberate and inclusive choice about being British when they choose to be in the EU.

Will these tales be enough? Possibly not.  But Britain’s membership of the EU is about more than the national interest. It’s about our national identity and a vision we can and should be proud to be part of. Those who support it must make their voice heard and must not get side tracked by arguments over reform and re-negotiation.

In short, we must hear the kind of stories that show how the success and values of all Britons – not just Britain – have built and are built through Europe.