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Paul Simons: why the referendum campaigners need to home in on the key issue – immigration

The best bit of propaganda in the public domain regarding next week’s voting on the In or Out EU debate is the latest for the Remain cohort. Looks like an old fashioned 48 sheet poster (hurrah) with the image of Messrs Gove, Johnson and Farage with the line “Don’t let them gamble with your future.” In my humble opinion the most relevant overarching thought – so far – capable of getting real traction.

My guess is 98 per cent of the population will be incapable of recalling any fact other than immigration. Also most of the ‘facts’ are speculation and without any credibility for those of us trying to dig a bit deeper.

The correct poster reflecting a non-partisan position would have been an image of Messrs Cameron and Osborne on the right; Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell on the far left and Messrs Johnson and Gove straddling the middle. Nigel Farage could be running amok in the background. The headline would be slightly amended to read “Who would you trust to gamble with your future?”

The big issue is immigration and its knock-on effect on employment, the NHS, benefits, housing – indeed most of the list of issues being debated and argued. The public get immigration, the numbers are in everyone’s grasp, the current government has failed to reduce net immigration and we can all feel the infrastructure of the UK creaking under the strain of more and more people arriving, pennyless and often ill with nowhere to live.

In 1968 Enoch Powell made a speech in Birmingham that became known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech due to an allusion to the Roman poet Virgil (‘I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood’). His hypothesis was that immigration from the Commonwealth remaining unchecked would lead to riots and public disorder. He was sacked by the PM from the Tory Shadow Cabinet the day after the speech. However the Conservatives won the next general election and much credit was placed at Powell’s door. The Labour government had introduced the Race Relations Bill which resulted in mass protests.

But, as they say. ‘what goes around round goes around.” Back in 1968 immigration led to a change in government. The general public were concerned about immigration then as their sons and daughters are today. Since 1968 the impact of immigration from the Commonwealth has had profound effects on the DNA of the UK with many urban areas becoming ghettos of varying cultures. The debate to have is whether this is a good thing or not, half a century later.

Returning to the new ‘remain’ poster it underlines a truth about communication that has been lost in the lead up to the referendum. None of us are able to filter, analyse and store the mass of information all interested parties spew out in these circumstances. The challenge is to get to the one, highest common factor issue that connects to a majority and build all communication around that. I think it’s called good advertising practice.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

One comment

  1. I’d argue the real issue is sovereignty.

    Loss of control over immigration is a secondary factor, caused by the greater loss of control over legislative independence that stems from our membership of the EU.

    The EU is pushing towards a degree of political integration that was not part of the ‘free trade’ deal we were sold on entry in 1973, or at any time since.

    The Brussels clique’s gameplan became a lot clearer when the word ‘Economic’ was dropped from the European Community’s name, to be replaced by the word ‘Union’.

    Do we, as a nation, want to be increasingly subordinate to a supranational government we (or indeed anyone) can’t vote out of power?

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