Leaked emails from an advertising agency close to the Labour Party suggest that linking the euro with patriotism and associating a ‘no’ vote with isolation, could be major themes in any ‘yes’ campaign in a referendum.
No great surprises then, given that those emotional buttons have long been given a push by pro-euro campaigners, but there is another area I think would be worth exploring, particularly among the younger urban population that should be a fruitful territory for the ‘yes’ campaign – Europe is cool.
Just take a look around the centres of Britain’s main cities. Everything that is cool, modern and fashionable is European. Drink espresso or eat a panino in a continental style cafe. Buy Italian clothes, drink French wine, try a little tapas or take home some German salami from the deli. Later watch Real Madrid in the Champions League on telly in a pub (now with the added bonus of Britain’s most famous footballer playing for the Spaniards).
Fashionable food and celebrity chefs increasingly dominate television and magazines. If you are making a salad you drizzle olive oil, you add some feta cheese or some mozzarella di bufala – on our plates we are increasingly European.
And highly relevant to the currency debate – more and more Brits are taking their holidays in Europe and no longer just on the beaches of Spain. We are all over in the continent in the summer months and it is no longer just the middle classes who enjoy discovering other cultures and peoples, the budget airline companies make a weekend in Barcelona or Rome a relatively cheap treat for the young and the working class with a bit of disposable income.
Then look at what is naff in the city centres of London or Manchester – greasy and gawdy Kentucky Fried Chickens, Burger Kings, McDonalds – the NAFTA meal deal. The North American multinationals know their appeal is limited – McDonald’s tried an Italian theme not so long ago but it was laughable. This sort of stuff is the naffest of all – Americans trying in vain to do European – Pizza Hut and Starbucks, pale imitations of what the Italians do best. Apart from music, where the Anglosphere still dominates, the Atalantic relationship really isn’t that special on the streets.
What about our native traditions? They are closing down Angus Steak Houses which belong to a pre-EU era of long forgotten isolation when garlic bread was ‘foreign’. British food has been revitalised by an injection of Med method and continental cool and we still have room for our favourites – we haven’t lost our traditions by our close relationship with Europe and it works both ways – young British designers show off their gear on the catwalks of Milan and Paris, getting the added kudos of a thumbs-up from the continent. And of course, despite the euro appeal, we remain committed to our other international influences from Asia.
None of this is going to change the minds of those who are set against any arrangement with the continent but the fact that Europe is cool will mean any attempt at xenophobia from the ‘no’ campaign is likely to backfire with a large section of the population.
It also offers a possible idea of the kind of tone and image that the ‘yes’ campaign should be putting forward – modern, in-touch, open-minded and involved with Europe. It doesn’t answer the key economic questions of course, it doesn’t deal with the European constitution or any other issue. But on the important terrain of image, mood and impression, the times are with the Europeans.