henry_5

I’ve just finished compiling a new book, Eloquence – A Treasury of Speechwriting Advice.

We have the UK referendum on our continued membership of the European Union this year. I’m in favour of staying in. But it’s up to us ‘inners’ to make the case. So I’ve been mulling over Drew Westen’s Elements of Creating a Compelling Political Narrative which is summarised on p55.

‘it should be a story…that could be illustrated in a children’s book’

Hmm. I wasn’t sure how I could make the Single European Act fun for kids.

But I have a 19 month-old son. We were watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Specifically the ‘Sad Story of Henry’ – and what a sad story it is.

Henry is a steam engine with beautiful green paint with red stripes. He goes into a tunnel as it starts to rain. He then refuses to come out of the tunnel because he’s afraid that rain will spoil his fresh green paint.

The Eurosceptics want to maintain Britain’s ‘fresh green paint’. Who doesn’t?

However, Henry doesn’t get the result he bargained for.

The Fat Controller tries several strategies to get Henry to come out, but Henry won’t move.

You expect a gentle compromise. This is a children’s book.

Instead the Fat Controller gets vengeful. If Henry won’t come out, he’ll never come out. The rails are removed and he bricks up the tunnel with Henry inside. The other engines jeer at Henry as they go past.

He becomes very glum. Because he’s stuck in the tunnel his fresh green paint is ruined anyway. And that’s the end of that episode!

That, to me, is the political narrative of leaving the EU.

We want to protect our ‘fresh green paint’, but we’ve got to work with the world as it is. That means compromises, disappointments, wear and tear. We can’t be afraid of the rain.

Like poor Henry, we’ll find ourselves bricked up with the rails removed if we choose to separate ourselves from our European neighbours.


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