No it isn’t. So let's be positive.
Our correspondent, who writes under the name George Stevenson, says that losing a vote is no reason to give up on our arguments. But we have to recognise that while we disagree with them the Leavers also have valid opinions. So we should make the positive case for the EU: peace, co-operation to tackle huge issues, freedom. Our strong and growing pro-EU movement gives us a real prospect of success.
Somehow, the idea has taken root that the opinions of the 52% who voted to leave the EU are more important than the 48% who voted to remain. We are categorised as ‘Remoaners’, ‘enemies of the people’, unpatriotic or unwilling to ‘get behind’ any plan. Brexit has at times seemed like a religious or political doctrine that has to be defended at all cost, with no dissent permitted. Throw in a bit of inverse snobbery about middle class Remainers, and we sometimes feel under siege- dismissed and ignored, and told that we mustn’t think what we do. It annoys the hell out of me, and probably you as well.
But complaining about this, however justified it might be, won’t get us very far. Leavers will claim that they have been ignored for years or decades, and that they were dismissed or patronised for daring to voice an alternative view (remember the furore over Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ comment in the 2010 election).
But in the end, this is just a difference of opinion. We believe that the country is better remaining in the EU, whilst leavers believe that it would be better if we left. Both opinions are equally valid, even if we disagree with the opposite one. Also, it would be bizarre if a politician, having lost an election, decided that ‘the people have spoken’ and declined to continue to fight for what she or he believed in. European Movement Chair, and former Conservative minister, Stephen Dorrell has said that after the Conservatives lost the 1997 election, the party didn’t throw in the towel, but kept campaigning on the issues it thought important, and generally acting like an opposition normally would. Whilst not unexpected, the scale of the defeat, after so long a period in government, must have felt as catastrophic to many Conservative politicians and party members as the result of the EU referendum felt to us.
So we need to reframe the debate, so that it becomes clearer that this is a difference of two valid opinions. To do this, we need to make a positive case for the EU, not just attack the opposite view. Recent blogs on this site have given powerful suggestions on how to make the case on sovereignty, democracy and identity, key messages to draw on and on how best to engage with the concerns of Leavers. We can shout about the success of the EU as a peace project, about how co-operation allows us to tackle huge issues such as climate change or tax avoidance by multi-national corporations, about how valuable having the ability to travel across the continent as of right is, and even how it makes it easier and less stressful to fall in love with someone from another country (something anyone can do, whether it’s a colleague, that nice person in the local shop or pub, or a holiday romance that’s seems more enduring).
Then we show that we, too, have a right to be heard, but more importantly, have something important and positive to say. No-one likes a serial moaner, after all. Doing this should also engage and enthuse a much wider supporter base, who will have a cause to rally behind, and who will be critical resources when the referendum comes.
And paradoxically, this attempt to ignore, dismiss and silence Remainers may prove to be our biggest asset. If we stop Brexit (and let’s be positive and say that we will), it will be in no small part because of this. We now have a growing and passionate pro-EU force, something unthinkable only a few years ago. A more consensual and politically-savvy prime minister, either in 2016 or now, could have listened to our concerns and produced a compromise for a softer Brexit which might have been acceptable to enough people. To misquote Basil Fawlty (just after the UK had joined the then EEC) ‘I didn’t vote for it myself, quite honestly, but now that we’re out, I’m determined to make it work’. Whilst heretical now, in 2016, any Prime Minister could have refused to take any quick decisions, but used the vote to see if it were possible to agree a better deal within the EU. After all, our new Prime Minister has admitted that the purpose of a strong Leave vote was to frighten the EU into doing just that. Just sounding a bit nicer or more consensual could have won more people round. No-one likes to be ignored after all.
Let us channel our anger and frustration into something positive, instead of moaning. Remember that just under 30 years ago, huge numbers of people who were tired of being ignored and pushed around started movements which succeeded in overthrowing (mostly peacefully) the Communist governments in central & eastern Europe. The time is ours now. Let us take it.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe.