David Cameron following in Obama’s footsteps

Hot on the heels of President Obama’s excellent example of how to cage an audience’s Lizards (if you don’t know what that means, have a quick look at Getting past the audience’s Lizard Brain) in his second Inaugural Speech last week (read my blog on it here), the UK Prime Minister gave a masterclass on how to do it with his speech this week on Europe.

The speech had been promised for months and postponed several times and to say that it was ‘much anticipated’ (not only in the UK but also by the governing elites of Europe) was an understatement. To see how he dealt with his audience’s Lizards it’s necessary to look at who exactly was his audience. To me it seems he had 3 audiences; eurosceptic MPs in his own party, the UK eurosceptic population (threatening to defect to the UK Independence Party, according to opinion polls and recent by-election results) and the governments of the rest of the EU.

Now talk about re-negotiating the terms of UK membership is music to the ears of the first two, so they weren’t really a problem. The more radical his stance, the better. But the more radical it was, the worse it would be received by other EU governments. They were  anticipating a speech they wouldn’t like and their ‘Lizards’ were straining to be let off the leash before he opened his mouth and said a word. The second he started talking about renegotiating terms, their Lizards would escape and refuse to listen to another word of the speech, to the extent that his argument wouldn’t really have been given a fair hearing (read Confirmation Bias: why it’s so difficult to change some people’s minds).

So what did he do? In a genius stroke, he positioned the speech as not being about UK membership renegotiation at all, but about EU reform. About changes that were needed not just for the UK, but for all members of the EU. The very first words of the speech were “Today I want to talk about the future of Europe” (NOT the future of the UK in Europe).

  • The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South” (NOT from the UK)
  • “I want to speak to you today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change.”
  • “I am here today … (to)  acknowledge the nature of the challenges we face. To set out how I believe the European Union should respond to them.”
  • I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.”

He then set out his euro credentials and how strong the links were between the UK and the rest of Europe:

  • “For all our connections to the rest of the world … we have always been a European power – and we always will be … We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write our.”
  • “… in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.”
  • “I (don’t) want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat … I am not a British isolationist … I want the European Union to be a success.”

He then went on to make a strong and eloquent case for necessary reform, which I won’t go into because I’m not talking about the case he was making, but how he made it. If you want to read the full transcript, see Rhetorical devices used in David Cameron’s speech on Europe.

Now doing the above didn’t quash all opposition or criticism, of course, but the discussion that’s followed across Europe has been as much about the need for EU reform as it has been about the UK trying to claw back powers conceded over decades, with newspapers across the continent saying that he has a case and Europe really does need to change. That wouldn’t have happened had he simply talked about UK renegotiating its membership. So by thinking in advance about his audience’s concerns and how they’d perceive what he had to say, he’s changed the whole framework of the debate.


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