by GK Strategy 7th April, 2016
3 min read

EU Referendum series: The designation of campaigns

The campaign for Britain to remain a member of or leave the European Union now has 76 days to go until polling day on 23rd June. Next week marks a milestone in the campaign with the Electoral Commission designating the official campaigns on the 14th April. With the formal campaign kicking off the day after, the battle will step up a gear. This blog profiles the organisations vying for designation, who might receive this official recognition and what it could mean for the campaign.

On 31st March, the deadline passed for each campaign group to apply for the designation as the official campaign by the Electoral Commission, which provides the benefits of a grant up to £600,000, free mail outs, more media airtime and campaign broadcasts as well as an overall spending limit of £7 million. Britain Stronger In Europe, run by former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose, is set to receive the Electoral Commission’s designation as the official ‘Remain’ campaign. They also have Karen Brady, vice-chair of West Ham FC, Megan Dunn, President of the NUS and Roland Rudd, a PR consultant and boss of Finsbury, on their team. The involvement of the NUS will be important in attempting to turn out the student vote, of whom 70% back a ‘Remain’ vote (according to the Higher Education Policy Institute).

After sharing a platform with the Conservatives during the Scottish referendum and suffering near annihilation in the 2015 general election, Labour are running a separate campaign – Labour In for Britain – headed by the former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. This also means Labour can keep its campaign finance spending separate. However, distance from the Conservatives could be a double-edged sword with the potential to cause problems in terms of co-ordinating messaging and fieldwork.

Meanwhile, the ‘Leave’ campaign is split. Vote Leave, run by Mathew Elliot, its chief executive, and Dominic Cummings, its campaign director and a former Special Adviser to Michael Gove, is focusing on the macroeconomic case for Brexit. Cummings’ political views are more socially liberal than those of many campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, and his direct, no-nonsense approach has had a mixed impact. Vote Leave had been seen as the main campaign, with Michael Gove and other Cabinet ministers working with them. However, political and personal divisions have fostered the rise of an alternative group, Grassroots Out (GO). GO are headed by FTI Consulting’s managing director Alex Deane, and are an amalgamation of other anti-EU groups, including UKIP-backed Leave.EU. GO has the support of politicians from a range of parties, including Peter Bone from the Conservatives, Kate Hoey from Labour and Nigel Farage from UKIP, and are directly challenging Vote Leave for the designation.

The Electoral Commission state that they “shall designate whichever of the applicants appears to the Commission to represent to the greatest extent those campaigning for that outcome.” The loser in this contest will be restricted to £700,000 overall spending and miss out on the official benefits. The choice of which campaign gets the designation will affect the messaging and personalities at the heart of the ‘Leave’ campaign over the coming weeks.

When it comes to messaging, ‘Leave’ campaigners have the harder job convincing the public to vote against the status quo. However, their message ‘Vote Leave, Take Back Control’ is a strong one, as it seeks to reflect the uncertainty associated with Brexit back onto the ‘Remain’ camp. Uncertainty, and associated fears, are a strong factor in the minds of undecided voters. Indeed, this formed a central pillar of Better Together’s strategy in the Scottish referendum, particularly around the future of the Pound. Uncertainty over leaving the EU is the In campaign’s strongest weapon, and it is one that David Cameron’s Daft Punk-inspired message of ‘Stronger, Safer, Better Off in’ seeks to reinforce. Both sides will be aware, however, that excessive negativity runs the risk of alienating voters, particularly for ‘Remain’ who face a much harder challenge in motivating their younger demographic of support to turn out on polling day.

Commentators will watch the designation of the official ‘Leave’ campaign with interest, as it will affect the politics and the debate of the referendum. This, in turn, could impact upon Britain’s post-referendum settlement and relationship with the EU if a ‘Brexit’ vote materialises in June, as different arguments put forward may shape perceptions of the relationship Britain wants with Europe. In the meantime, both ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigners will battle for the hearts and minds of the British public in the hope of emerging triumphant when the country wakes up on 24th June.

GK Strategy can provide an analysis of the implications of a vote to leave as well as weekly monitoring updates on the EU referendum. For more information, please contact Helen@gkstrategy.com

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