Long time readers of this website will have known me to compare things in politics with the Yes to AV campaign a fair few times in the past. All I can say is that the Yes to AV campaign was such a perfect distillation of how not to do politics, that rare example of the perfectly terrible political campaign, it echoes through the ages. Whenever something reminds me of it, I know it will almost certainly end in tears.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 general election, electoral reformers spotted an opportunity. It looked like the Lib Dems, longtime champions of changing the electoral system, were destined to hold the balance power in any new government. Now was the time to strike. They had one small problem, however: no one who isn’t either a Lib Dem or a weird electoral nerd (and I will leave you to distinguish between those two things) gives the slightest shit about electoral reform. But this wasn’t going to stop them, oh no. They took to astroturfing, big time. Paid for protests and social media campaigns that looked like a bunch of real people were now worked up into a frenzy about the Single Transferrable Vote. It was reasonably successful. In fact, it was so successful that it convinced the people who had done the astroturfing – in other words, those who knew for a positive fact that the groundswell for electoral change was complete bullshit – there was a mass movement out there waiting to do whatever it took to change the voting system. This “movement delusion” became the backbone of everything that went wrong for Yes to AV.
It appears something similar has happened to the Tory Eurosceptics, who for reference, are now in charge of the country. They started the calls for no deal Brexit a few years ago as a tactic – a way to scare the EU into giving the UK a better trade deal. I spoke to a few Eurosceptic Tory MPs at the time who talked about actually going through with a no deal Brexit as “madness” and that “it will never happen”. They reasoned that pushing no deal in fact made no deal less likely because it would cause the EU to “see sense”. Yet now, they have swallowed their own BS whole; they, like the electoral reformers a decade ago, have accepted as reality something they should know isn’t true because they started the untruth themselves. The no deal Brexit they thought of as ridiculously impossible, something that would be a disaster, is now their assumed goal. They tricked a lot of people into believing this – what’s really amazing is that they seemed to have tricked themselves along the way.
This is one of the things about politics that is rarely acknowledged; the way a whole bunch of people gathered together toward a common goal can start to seriously chip away at each other’s sense of reality. How the unthinkable becomes the norm as even those who know better via their own experience start to believe in lies. It’s how a lot of very bad things have happened throughout history. It’s how a no deal Brexit might come to pass as well.