I remember thinking, during the Brexit campaign back in 2016, that if only the Remain side had made sure that their opponents did not get a monopoly of patriotism – dragging out a dambuster or two, digging out Vera Lynn – then they might have had some chance of capturing the public’s mood.
Unfortunately, as we now know, Project Fear involved increasingly senior economists that we really shouldn’t leave the single market.
It was a little bit dull and deeply technocratic.
So when I went to York for last weekend, to go to the Lib Dem conference – their first face-to-face conference since before the lockdown for four years.
So I was glad to hear the party leader Ed Davey interpreting Liberalism in terms of his pride in being British.
It was an excellent performance.
“Just as it didn’t deter the great liberal heroes of the past, who fought bravely, who overcame the odds, and changed our country for the better,” he said. “We stand on the shoulders of those Liberals in Britain who helped to write the best chapters of our island story so far. Our job today is to write the next chapter for Britain. To make our country’s future as bright as we know it can be. To make our fair deal for people, a reality for all. To win the battle for liberal Britain.”
I can’t say that the audience absolutely lapped it up. It wasn’t until he said that we would never sort out the economy until we “fix our relationship with Europe.”
That was when the audience gave a standing ovation – you should also, if you listen carefully to the recording – be able to hear a dog barking and joining in with the applause.
Unfortunately, the writers of Ed Davey’s speeches don’t seem to have been in contact with the set designers. They seem to have designed a backdrop so dull that I can’t remember the slogan at all.
It was something about fairness, which was so staggeringly bland that nobody could possibly disagree with it.
But there wasn’t a union jack in sight anywhere. I’m sure there will be at the next Starmer conference. Not everyone will hear what he said, after all. So what about those famous ‘optics’?
To coin a phrase: why should we let the devils have all the best tunes?
UPDATE: MONDAY AFTERNOON: It has been pointed out to me, quite gently, that – in fact – there was a big union jack behind Davey as he spoke. It is here:
Do you see it? No, I didn’t either, and I was in the hall. So, I’m very sorry to impugn the reputations of the designers. All I can say is that it may be too subtle to get the message fully across, at least enough to reclaim the flag for the forces of light and the radical centre.