We are experiencing the eye of the storm in terms of the culture war in this country at the moment. At least I hope we are – please tell me it doesn’t get worse from here somehow. Remainers like to say that Brexit caused this; that it was the vote to Leave the European Union that caused this division to explode into the open and become so poisonous. They are technically correct, yet Remainers fail to see the part they played in making that happen – or why that ultimately worked against what they wanted, which was either to somehow remain in the EU or failing that, to stay as close to the EU as possible.
One of the ways that Leave won in 2016 was by exploiting culture war splits. Both Vote Leave and Leave.EU understood that a lot of the old Labour vote was socially conservative or at least, relatively socially conservative and could be pushed to vote Leave with the right messaging. Yet after the referendum result was in, Remainers failed to understand that continuing to put Brexit through the prism of the culture war would always favour Leave, just as it had in the final referendum result. Further, that ramping this up and calling everyone who voted Leave a racist or at the very least a xenophobe – as well as stupid and easily led – hardened everyone’s position. If you want to convince someone to change their mind on something, calling them a stupid racist is not the best way of going about this to say the least. Seems obvious when you put it like that. Yet that is what the basic Remain messaging sounded like to Leavers for three and a half years.
It reminds me of something from 2012. It was Lib Dem spring conference in Newcastle. There was a vote of the membership to approve or vote down the Health and Social Care Act, aka the Lansley reforms. The leadership of the party was nervous about the result. Everyone knew it was on a knife’s edge. If it was voted down, it would have created a serious problem for the Lib Dem leadership in government. Yet they had an unlikely ally in getting it through: Labour activists. There was a horde of them outside of the building, handing out flyers to people waiting in the security queue. I’ll never forget what the woman who handed me a flyer said: “I hate the Lib Dems, you’re all scum. If you vote through this Bill you’ll never be forgiven”. I will also never forget that there were four people immediately ahead of me in the queue, all of them with voting member badges. One of them, who had got the same spiel as I had, said to his friends, “You know what? I was going to avoid voting on the Lansley thing but after that, I’m going to vote it through.” The Labour activists who had assumedly come to try and halt the Bill’s progress using what could have been a decent route at Lib Dem conference had directly helped achieve the opposite of their stated goal.
I often thought of this when I watched Remain campaigners over the 2016-2019 period. Particularly as I have a lot of Leaver followers on social media despite having always been a vocal Remainer. I believe there is a reason for that: I never call them stupid, or racist, or say that they are fools or that they had some nefarious reason for voting the way that they did. I disagree with them on Brexit and that’s it. I haven’t othered them or demonised them. I just think that if Remain campaigners had figured out that this was a necessary first step in creating a dialogue, it might have helped their cause a great deal.
But that’s in the past. What’s in front of us now is this never-ending culture war. And Remainers can play a big part in defusing it. Stop thinking everyone who voted Leave is by definition a horrible person. Try and understand why they voted for Brexit; walk a mile in their shoes and it might give you some insights. If someone isn’t obviously a racist, don’t assume they are. Brexit is either going to work or it isn’t. Stop fighting yesterday’s war and focus on defusing the one we’re in right now.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
It’s available here: