Could it be that the narrative around regulations has started to shift? Our view at Unchecked UK is that there is room for cautious optimism.
Our anecdotal evidence suggests that the message that regulations should be described as protections has started to cut through. Efforts to push back against the Retained EU Law Bill, for example, have consistently referenced the loss of environmental, consumer and worker protections, including by many members of our network. The term has also permeated policy and political discourse, with the likes of the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office now consistently referring to regulations as ‘protections’.
Does this matter? We believe that it’s important for two reasons. Firstly, we know from our strategic communications research that the public responds very differently to arguments that are framed around protections, compared with those which reference regulations. To paraphrase George Lakoff, a leading thinker in the power of narratives, when you frame regulations as protections you conjure the real things that will be lost.
Secondly, this indicates that those of us who care about robust regulations are starting to align around a consistent story. And as any communications expert will tell you, narrative shifts can only happens when the alternative is repeated often, and by many voices.
Although it’s still very early days, it seems possible that this new focus is starting to influence the Government’s approach too. Indeed, although the push for deregulation is seldom far from the headlines lately, the tone of recent policy statements is markedly different to what we’ve seen in the past.
There is, of course, no room for complacency. Experience shows that placatory language on protections can be used as an effective decoy for deregulation. This was a tactic used extensively during the Coalition years.
This is why we plan to build up momentum behind our narrative change efforts in the coming months. To kick off, we will be working with More in Common on a series of focus groups with key voter groups in swing seats (more details shortly). We look forward to sharing this work with the network soon.