The day after the 2020 referendum
Regular London4Europe author who writes under the name George Stevenson looks forward to the day after Remain obtain more votes than Leave in the People's Vote, the 2020 referendum. He cautions us against triumphalism. We need to draw on our own experience to think about how Leave voters will feel. We should reach out to them by calling for the political parties to adopt policies that will bring us all back together.
The complete quote from Winston Churchill is ‘“In War, Resolution; In Defeat, Defiance; In Victory, Magnanimity; and in Peace, Good Will’
The first part of the quote seems particularly appropriate for us at the moment, especially in these dangerous times, and after 3½ years of hard slog. We have been resolute and defiant, and the UK is still in the EU. However, the second part is equally important when we consider the People’s Vote or referendum that we hope to get and to win.
Imagine the morning after the referendum. The vote in favour of Remain has not been overwhelming, but conclusive enough to settle the matter. The leaders of the ‘Remain’ campaign (or whatever we call it - hopefully something better) and the pro-EU political parties talk about a victory for hope, open-mindedness and for progressive values, and a defeat of nationalism and isolationism. Nigel Farage is defiant, but his body language shows that he knows that the battle, and probably the war, is lost. The caretaker prime minister says that now the matter is settled, he or she will consider when and how to dissolve parliament and hold a general election. There are spontaneous celebrations in London and other major cities.
In such circumstances, most of us would feel pleased, and probably overjoyed. We would probably feel that after several years of being belittled and ignored, we would be entitled to celebrate and to savour our victory. And of course we would. But we need to consider how those on the opposing side would feel in such circumstances, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
The week of 23rdJune 2016 was probably one of the worst of my life. A serious personal issue had caused me and my family extreme stress, and the EU referendum result, with all that it implied, seemed to add a further level of despair and anger. Finding out that one of my closest friends had voted ‘leave’, and was unapologetic about it, was probably the final straw. Many of us, I’m sure, will have similar stories, although without the complicating factors. Yet, in my last blog, I suggested that this was one of the reasons why we now have such a passionate and active pro-EU force.
So consider how someone who had voted ‘leave’ (for whatever option is on offer for leaving) would feel on the morning of a ‘Remain’ victory. He or she may have reasons which seem logical to them for voting as they did. They may not consider themselves particularly nationalist or xenophobic. They may genuinely feel that leaving was the right thing to do. And they have been denied their wish at the final moment.
In this situation, if we are not magnanimous with our victory, we could risk inflaming a sense of disappointment, or betrayal, helping to create the very type of passionate campaigning force which we have used so successfully ourselves.
Sure, it’s difficult to be sympathetic towards a campaign and some individuals who have systematically belittled us, dismissed our views and been abusive and in some cases threatening. But we should remember that most of the ‘leave’ voters are individuals, who won’t have been involved in the campaign, and we can empathise with their disappointment, perhaps based on our own experience. Empathy is a powerful human emotion - most of us feel better if we have our emotions or views acknowledged, even if the other person still disagrees with us. Using empathy is not only decent human behaviour, but smart campaigning, too.
So celebrate, yes, and enjoy the moment. We will have worked hard to reach this point. But, no triumphalism. The phrase ‘you lost, get over it’, used soon after the 2016 referendum, may well have been a catalyst for many ‘remain’ voters to become more involved in campaigning, so let’s not gift a similar sense to the ‘leave’ side, which can be exploited by those determined to continue the fight. We’ll need to be ultra-careful with social media at this time.
We’ll then have to turn our formidable campaigning power to both continuing to make a positive case for the EU, and to persuading the political parties to develop and implement policies which will address the concerns of ‘leave’ voters. Michael Romberg’s excellent recent blog makes some suggestions - you can take your pick based on your own concerns and your political stripe. To these, I would add policies on inequality, housing and transport, all of which could help people to feel that they were more ‘in control’. One positive from the last few years is that there is now much greater political engagement than previously, and many more committed activists. Let’s use our strength to truly make a difference.
Magnanimity in victory, and goodwill in peace. We can win the "war" - let us also win the peace.
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