Shape the debate about the UK and the EU

David Cameron EU speech

A few days ago, Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech in London on what he called “the future of Europe,” setting out his stall about the UK, the European Union, Europe itself and how he sees the future for these entities.

I watched his live delivery on the TV news. I liked much of what I heard: in essence, a call to action for anyone with a point of view about the UK’s future as a member of the EU, or not, to articulate that point of view, and contribute to the debate. “Join the conversation,” if you will.

I am quite sure the conversation that will ensue between now and the end of this Parliament’s life in 2015 will encompass the widest diversity of opinion about the European Union and the UK’s role in and/or with it that it’s possible to imagine. The conversation will undoubtedly get very ugly at times among the politicians, special interest groups, and others. Indeed, also no doubt among friends in the pub on a Saturday night.

The culmination of Cameron’s call to action will be a referendum offered to voters in the United Kingdom during the first half of the next Parliament after 2015 to decide, in a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote, whether they wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the EU, or quit. That, said Cameron, will happen if his Conservative Party wins the next election and if he continues as Prime Minister.

There were a lot of ifs, and no mention of what may or may not happen if his party is in a coalition government again. No details in the speech either but, said Cameron, that’s coming:

[…] The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.

It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart.

And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.

It will be an in-out referendum.

Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.

So in the coming months, and continuing right through to 2015, I’d expect to see a great deal of communication about this issue, certainly from David Cameron and the Conservative Party, but also from the other political parties who will want to make their own cases for how they see the UK’s future in or out of the EU, even if any of them already have articulated a view on whether they think citizens should be able to vote on this matter or not (I’m looking at you, Ed Milliband).

While the politicos in Westminster will have their say – and think about where such people rank in the latest trust barometer from Edelman, published earlier this week – I’d also like to hear what others in public service think. For instance, what do the 100+ bloggers at our embassies around the world think and sense where they are? Especially those in embassies and consulates in EU countries.

And I expect every channel across the social web will play a significant role as not only the conduit for communicating the various points of view everyone has but also stimulating that conversation, facilitating engagement on and offline – the contemporary manifestation of our freedom of speech and how we exercise it.

If you’d like to read the text of David Cameron’s speech, and see the recording of him delivering it, you can do so at the Number 10 website and at YouTube respectively. You can also read the speech (and download a PDF copy) right here in this embedded Scribd document I made.

[scribd id=122317750 key=key-14nupckkdnaaxuprmzz1 mode=scroll]

(As an aside, there’s a great backstory here, about Clare Foges, the woman who is Cameron’s chief speech-writer and who wrote this speech. The Daily Mail has the story which, unfortunately, reads like the rejected script from one of the storylines in Love Actually. But, see though the sickliness of the writing for some insight into the inner workings of Cameron’s close team.)

The Economist this week has a good risk assessment of Cameron’s call, labeling him ‘The gambler.’ And a wicked cover!

It looks like Europe will continue to be a hot topic in the UK for years to come. This time, though, our whingeing, supporting, complaining, championing, disparaging and everything else might actually have some point.

What a terrific communication challenge. And an opportunity to help shape the debate if you join in, whatever your point of view.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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