Having appealed to Leave voters, no-deal must be on the ballot paper
I always disagreed with the People’s Vote campaign’s strategic decision not to campaign for Remain. Now we must live with the consequences and support a three-way choice. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes.
The People’s Vote campaign led Remainers to coalesce around the referendum as the way ahead. That was a real achievement.
The PV Campaign’s Strategic Choice
Opinion polls and focus groups showed clearly that support for a referendum on the terms of Brexit fell sharply when one of the options would be Remain.
As a result, the People’s Vote campaign avoided “Remain” as a campaign theme.
It could have decided to campaign to change minds, to create Remainers who would then want a referendum with Remain on the ballot paper. But it chose not to.
Where public opinion is now
Leave voters do say yes to polls that ask: “would you like a choice between no-deal and Theresa May’s deal?”.
The People’s Vote campaign does not publish the material that underpins its press releases on public opinion polling. So we should assume that the question does not make clear that Remain should be on the ballot paper. If it did, support would be much lower.
We now have to live with the consequences
We are now stuck with having to follow the logic of the People’s Vote campaign. Having appealed to supporters of no-deal, we have to put their option on the ballot paper.
That fills many Remainers with horror. Leavers don’t agree but Remainers do believe that no-deal would be hugely disruptive.
But excluding “the one true Brexit option” from the ballot paper would mean that the country could not heal after the referendum.
Otherwise Leavers would continue to agitate that Leave would have won - or Brexit would have turned out wonderful - if only that option had been available to voters.
That may change if MPs and campaigners succeed in persuading the public that no-deal is a bad idea. Perhaps public opinion will coalesce around a single option. Or perhaps there will be two leading Brexit options not including no-deal, or more than two. But for now, no-deal has to be seen as an option if the referendum is to settle the question.
Nor is No-deal an immoral choice: it is not like “imprison all red-headed people” – an unjust decision that should not be left to a majority vote. No-deal is just (in my view) a really bad policy.
How to structure a three-way choice
So whatever the difficulties there has to be a three-way choice. We should follow the logic of decision-making. In the end, it is a choice between Remain (the do-nothing option) and one single plan for change: the best available Brexit. So we need to know which Brexit is best.
Therefore there should be a two-round vote on separate days. Round 1 chooses the best available Brexit; Round 2 sets that against Remain. The case is argued elegantly by Professor Alan Winters (with worked examples illustrating the problems of multiple choice questions here) and less elegantly in an earlier blog of mine here. I have also in a separate blog addressed the question of whether Remainers could game Round 1 by choosing the Brexit most likely to lose in Round 2 (no, it’s too difficult).
Time to campaign for Remain
The more important lesson is that because we have not been campaigning for Remain the country is still at half and half on the merits of Brexit. So if we wish Remain to win in that referendum we really do have to campaign for it. As the proverb puts it: the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago; the second-best time is now.
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