There was a good article in the Spectator by Nick Cohen yesterday about the People’s Vote campaign and how while they have done well to advance the cause of getting a second referendum seriously considered, they haven’t done a lot of thinking about what to do if a referendum actually happens. What ideas will the Remain campaign be based on? Who will lead it?
The scary thing to me about the People’s Vote campaign is that they are already sounding a little like Yes to AV, which if you need reminding, lost their referendum campaign by 36 points in 2011. I worked on that campaign and some of the echoes are a little eerie.
The most Yes to AV-like thing coming from the People’s Vote squad is the idea that non-politicians are more important than politicians in convincing the public on matters of pubic policy. Yes to AV tried this in 2011 and it would be hard to overstate how much this tactic failed. When it comes to politics, people listen to politicians. Even the ones who supposedly hate politicians take their lead from politicians. Look at all the Leave voters who hang off of Farage’s every word, to take only the most obvious example. People by and large don’t like being told how to vote by celebrity luvvies. Also, the news channels want to put politicians up against politicians. We tried many times in 2011 to get them to take some actor and they wouldn’t do it. The Remain campaign would face the same obstacle.
I also hear sounds about how a Remain campaign wants to fight as an “anti-establishment force”. Good luck with that. Again, Yes to AV did the same thing and it failed spectacularly. Trying to ride the wave of anti-politics for something that is inherently constructive in nature will almost always fail.
The worst thing about being a liberal is that liberals seem so unable to learn from their past political mistakes. The same shitty, proven not to work ideas just keep getting recycled over and over again. Look, guys, what about this for an idea? Assemble a good, cross-party group of MPs as your main spokespeople. There are lots of good ones to choose from on your side. Then set about explaining the real advantages of being in the EU. I would also explain that if people vote Leave again, there will be decades of Brexit bullshit to follow. That’s your basic campaign, right there.
Don’t tell people you know how much Brexit will cost every household to the penny. Don’t talk about food shortages. And please, please, please, don’t have actors try and explain why people should vote to remain in the EU instead of politicians. Win the politics – you can do it, you know. Liberals would win a lot more political scraps if they tried to fight them properly in the first place.
Thing is, a lot of them honestly think that people accidentally voted to leave the EU (when all they really wanted to do was eg give Cameron a kicking, or protest about austerity, or some such), so they don’t really need to campaign. They just need to give the electorate to opportunity to correct its mistake.
(Which actually is another point of comparison with the Yes to AV campaign, which seemed honestly to believe that actual real people with lives (as opposed to politics nerds) were just dying for a chance to change the voting system, so the result was a forgone conclusion, and therefore produced an insular back-slapping campaign that looked more like a premature victory celebration — ‘Look at these activists building sandcastles in the space of our slogan, isn’t that a jolly day out!’ — than anything that might actually persuade anyone to vote for change).
On that in particular – it was decided on the Yes to AV campaign that activists would paint their own banners in order to make them look more grassrootsy. What we discovered when we did it this way is that the amateur banners were more expensive to produce than having professionally made banners done – which pretty much sums up that whole campaign rather neatly.
The weakness and strength of a new referendum is the question itself. If Johnson has a specific proposal then OK, otherwise May’s agreement would have been possible. A referendum offering ‘no deal’ would be too irresponsible to agree to. Obviously a choice between fantasy and reality is a false equivalent and asking for trouble.
However you look at it there is no form of remotely realistic Brexit that even most Brexiters would sign up to. So there would be a real likelihood that a referendum would be widely boycotted or have very many spoiled voting slips.
Remain would win by a country mile! But what would it mean? More to the point would it be worth it? You are right that who fronts a remain campaign is a big headache. If the vote was on a Johnson agreed deal, you can bet that Corbyn would announce that he has to lead any campaign against the Tories; we would be back to the same questions as we have had over an interim government. It would be dangerous for Corbyn because a referendum would be an opportunity for other figures in Labour (Jess Philips?) to achieve a prominence that would displace Corbyn. Obviously, it would also be a further opportunity for Jo Swinson.
So why not just tackle the main Leave argument head on? ‘Don’t lose control’ (of Europe) because when we lower the Union Jack in Brussels we won’t be raising it in Washington or Beijing! And what happened to being emotive!? ‘After two Europe-centred World Wars, and countless historical wars, a multi-national parliament for Europe really is human progress!’
Great points Nick, especially about not running on the economic apocalypse line again. Instead the advantages of membership and the years of brexit wrangling that await with a leave vote, spot on.