EU campaign: is it make your mind up time?
News that one of the Home Secretary’s closest advisers and a long-standing Conservative campaigner will leave the Home Office to campaign to leave the EU shows that Westminster insiders are already picking their sides. Stephen Parkinson, Theresa May’s longest-serving special adviser, will join Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings (former Gove SpAd) at Vote Leave – an offshoot of Business For Britain. For the campaign this is a prize hire – Parkinson has experience as the national organiser for the NO to AV campaign, served in CCHQ and in Lord Ashcroft’s target seat campaign. How long before others follow suit?
There is speculation that Parkinson’s departure indicates how Theresa May will herself campaign. More telling, however, is the vulnerability of the consensus that only once a negotiation is concluded will Ministers have to decide whose side they are on. The decision by Business for Britain to back a vote to leave prompted some businesspeople to quit – Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers has now signed up to the In Campaign, led by Marks and Spencer Chief Executive Lord Rose and run by Will Straw. It is getting tougher for high-profile figures to wait and see what the renegotiation will amount to.
The “campaign-before-the campaign” presents a dilemma. Many businesses, campaigning organisations and membership bodies understandably want to keep their heads down, but waiting until a deal is unveiled to the electorate now looks like fence-sitting. Staying out of debate completely could look at best indecisive and at worse indifferent. For some the calculation will be that the opportunities presented by taking a stance should not be missed.
Does this mean that, rather than shying away from the ongoing debate, organisations should be exploiting the inevitable choice we are all facing? Those that represent mass membership could take the opportunity to consult and to inform – demonstrating on an issue that will dominate the news agenda that they are offering a valued service. For business leaders there will be opportunities to profile raise, expand networks and burnish reputations. For campaigning organisations the inadequacies of current UK laws and regulations can be highlighted to draw attention to a whole range of issues.
For individuals whether we should stay or go will be a matter for the heart and the head. For organisations who engage in public affairs the campaign is a stage, the backdrop against which the lobbying show must go on.