A lot of people I know were staring at the TV in hope or despair from the 10 o’clock news till that 6am declaration at the end of last week. (Some say they blinked in this time, but I don’t believe them.)
It’s for people other than me to handle the small print of what comes next. But what can come next – and what just happened – was/is determined by the communications side of this debate.
Look at the role of the PM’s ex-strategist – the black T-shirted Steve Hilton. He wasn’t just an eloquent – if alarmingly casual – front man. When, actually fairly solid, statistics were produced by ‘Remain’ it fell to him to say he used to (I paraphrase only slightly) make this stuff up when at number 10.
This seemed honest and direct – disarmingly so. We do like a redeemed sinner. And the tone seemed to respect the audience. It’s probably something ‘experts’ would have benefitted from trying to achieve.
Elsewhere Leave leaders found language that bigged people up, rather than (as Remain often seemed to do) telling them off. They did though, do plenty of telling experts off – some would say the veil slipped a bit there.
All this suited a guerilla war, which is pretty much what Leave ran – shooting at the massed ranks of economists, Nobels and statesmen who were out in the open, from behind rocks and shrubs.
That changes now. There were times when Leave people just couldn’t hold it together – Michael Gove’s Nazi jibes; Nigel Farage’s intemperate comments on murdered MP Jo Cox; that UKIP poster.
But this is Leave’s turn to be on open ground now, to deal in detail and tackle concrete points – the ‘experts’ are the ones behind the rocks.
In communications terms, things don’t need to feel tightly controlled to work. Leave showed that with what often came across as an unspun, unscripted and spontaneous way of talking.
In PR terms, though, just because neither side needs a delivery-ready script for all occasions (the outcome proved this) does not mean that in the battles to come they don’t need a plot.
Battles to come? Well yes. If ‘take back our country’ means unpicking legislation on workers rights, the environment, safety and equality, that will likely be happening hard up against the next general election.
If Leave leaders want the moral authority to do that, then they can’t afford much public veil-slipping.
And if the forces that backed Remain are to defend or salvage as much as possible of the things they care about, they need to review their tone – it has to reflect a respect for the people who voted out. There can be no more telling off.