Like a knight in shining rhetoric, last week Sir Keir Starmer – the newly appointed Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European Union – rode into his first opposition debate on Brexit and did what many have argued Labour has failed to do time and time again – provided genuine opposition.
He did so by presenting clear and thoughtful arguments against the Government’s current position on the role of parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit, and at the same time sought to find areas of common ground with the Government.
In doing this, he provided a masterclass, not just for Parliament, but for the PR industry too.
The EU Referendum put communications and rhetoric in the spotlight – we heard the good, the bad, the ugly and the type of political language that Orwell said "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
For many, during Brexit the language of politics reached a new low – rhetoric was in ruins.
Sir Keir Starmer won the trust of many of those from across the House – he prioritised credibility and legitimacy with his key audiences and those he was seeking to persuade, over short-term profile and headlines.
He brought intellectual debate back in to fashion by examining complex issues such as the history of the royal prerogative and the proper use of executive power; and made nuance and precision central to his communications.
Brexit has and will make and break reputations.
The lessons that can be learnt from this week’s opposition debate are that far from entering an era of post-truth, as is often argued today, for Brexit to work, it will necessitate a new era of political dialogue.
Communications agencies of all types will have a pivotal role to play in working with organisations of all types to develop messaging that doesn’t just build profile, but builds collaboration, partnership and understanding – globally, nationally, sectorally and on a cross-party basis.
Formulating narratives that can credibly capture the inherent complexity of the Brexit negotiations that can also speak to consumer, citizen and political audiences will be vital.
A greater focus on evidence and research will be more important than ever, as will the effective and timely use of technical language and expert advocates and endorsements.
Consideration will also need to be given to the most appropriate forms of media and digital platforms through which messages can be delivered, and finding the right balance between public and private communications.
Theresa May has said she wants to take the opportunity of Brexit to create a country that works for everyone.
This requires political dialogue that includes everyone – that speaks to those on the left, the right and everyone in between.
Last week, we saw Parliament at its best doing just that. Brexit also requires the PR industry to be at its best, too.
Chris Hall is senior consultant at Bell Pottinger
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