Britain is on course to vote in the European Parliament elections in a month’s time. This obviously provides a massive opportunity for both Brexiteers and Remainers to make a statement amidst an ongoing political crisis.
Brexiteers can argue that remainers and “the establishment” are trying to overturn Brexit and need a boot up the backside. Remainers can point to the disastrous Brexit process, and to political inertia, and call upon the support of a huge constituency of frustrated voters.
Everything hinges on political messaging and tactics and so far it’s Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party that has set the agenda.
Clearly, they have a major advantage in being a unified pro-Brexit force competing only with the far right UKIP while Remain voters can choose between Change UK, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats if they want to support unequivocally Remain candidates and Labour if they’re still deluded. This splitting of the Remain vote will inevitably mean the Remain supporting parties end up with fewer MEPs than if they had joined forces under one banner.
Change UK has come in for criticism for refusing to support a “Remain alliance” or sign up to a “non-aggression pact”. However, the reasoning behind their reluctance is understandable. Change UK is trying to become a new political force that is about more than Brexit and don’t want to be tarnished by association with the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. Fine. The problem is, they are doing fine only at tarnishing themselves.
The launch of the Brexit Party, less than two weeks ago, has been a huge success and they look set to win the Euro elections. Their messaging has been simple and clear and lends itself well to memorable slogans and social media campaigns. Much like the successful 2014 Ukip European parliament election campaign, and with the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, everyone knows who the Brexit Party are, what they are about and their messaging is everywhere online.
The political challenges have been brilliantly handled. Among their candidates they have a former marine, a nurse, a boss of a charity and a well-known Left-wing polemicist. They all shared a stage today to say that although they don’t agree about everything, and though they disagree with Nigel Farage about many things, they all believe that democracy is being betrayed. This is powerful messaging.
It’s remarkable just how bad the response from Change UK has been. They are supposed to be an exciting new political force about to break the mould and inspire the nation, but if they continue as they are this is nothing but a delusion.
They launched their candidate list today, promising that their candidates would be “household names”. It turns out that this is only the case if the household is full of political pundits. Boris Johnson’s sister, a couple of former Conservative MPs and a QC. They hardly set the world alight.
Bafflingly, they turned down Richard Dawkins. Sure, his militant atheism can be controversial, but he has a huge global profile and a massive following. His criticism of religion is hardly less controversial than some of the cranks who have been exposed in the Brexit Party.
When they officially became a political party and chose the name “Change UK”, that was the time to start establishing their brand and hammering home the name of their Party. They needed a simple message of optimism and change. Are you sick of Brexit? Vote for us? Think the government is a mess? Send them a message! Are you a homeless liberal? Join us!
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Instead, they are still calling themselves three different things and their branding is all over the place. They should be embarrassed.
Even though they are supposedly called “Change UK” they are also still using “The Independent Group” and are in many places also labelled “Change UK – The Independent Group”. On top of that, they are still also calling themselves “the Tiggers” and “TIG”. This is truly awful and confusing marketing.
The “Independent Group” should have been dropped totally as soon as they adopted a new name, aside from the obvious branding reasons, they are no longer independent candidates. There is a suspicion they are still using it so they can continue to call themselves “Tiggers” and use tiger emojis. If that is the case then it is just tragic.
Across their social media accounts, they are still called “the Independent Group”. It’s a sure-fire way of confusing the public and a major blunder in the era of online communications. Search for Change UK on Twitter and the first account that shows up is the Brexit Party, the same applies across the major search engines.
Who on earth is advising them? Say what you like about Dominic Cummings, but the figure who headed Vote Leave, the official, non-Farage campaign in 2016, wouldn’t have let this happen.
Search engine optimisation matters. Their confusing messaging and weird insistence on using three different names is the reason that when you type ‘Change UK’ into Google you do not find their website or social media accounts on the first page.
For their logo they have chosen four black lines. Seriously. So-called “centrists” are often dismissed as bland, PR types, but they can’t even get this right. It boggles the mind just how bad the marketing is.
Supposedly, they want to shake British politics up and become our answer to Macron’s “En Marche” in France, riding a wave of apathy and frustration with a message of hope and change and they have a logo that might suit a struggling insurance company. It looks like the product of a party created by a squabbling committee of bland marketing executives.
Their Euro election launch today should have been a major event, but their Facebook live feed was watched at one point by around only 500 people. Many of them journalists. We are not witnessing a new dawn along the lines of Barack Obama’s rise in the US here.
It’s as if nothing has been learned from the referendum. “Take back control”, now there’s a powerful message and proper branding. “The Brexit Party”, “tell them again”, “democracy is being betrayed”, these all cut through. Scoff if you like, but don’t expect to win elections if you can’t combat such clear messages.
It’s not even the case that to beat the populists they have to become populists. They need only look to the success of New Labour and Cameron’s Conservatives in 2015. They won elections with the power of clear messaging, slogans and an easily communicated philosophy.
All Change UK Independent Group Tiggers appear to have so far is meaningless corporate drivel. There is nothing to inspire passion in remainers or disenfranchised liberals of the kind that took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to express their dismay at Brexit. It’s astonishingly uninspiring and incoherent.
What is their elevator pitch? Their message for the doorstep? Who knows. Interim leader Heidi Allen MP says they are about more than Brexit and they want to change politics. So far, they have not given us a single detail about how they will do this. It all seems very hollow.
It’s unforgivable because there is a huge opportunity for a pro-EU liberal party. Between the Conservatives, who are the party of a botched Brexit, and the far left Corbynite Labour Party, there is a wide-open space. Supporters of both dismiss the idea that there is a constituency for a liberal party of the centre ground, but there could be if there was a properly organised movement with strong leadership.
Change UK should have adopted clear, cutting messages about a political crisis created by the incompetent shambles of a government and a cynical far left opposition playing political games with Brexit. They needed to communicate to the electorate why they are the forward-thinking, vibrant and dynamic new Party that will change Britain for the better.
Instead we have a party with three names, no policies, an apparently temporary leader, too many candidates no one has ever heard of and incoherent messaging. What a shambles.