It should start now
The People’s Vote is right to campaign just for a referendum and to focus on MPs. However, we do need a separate pro-EU campaign now. The 2016 result is still the key democratic statement on Brexit. MPs will back a referendum to change course – but only if they are sure the public wishes that. At present we are still at half and half. So we need a Remain campaign to shift public opinion. London4Europe Committee member and former HM Treasury senior civil servant Michael Romberg applies some strategic analysis to the question. This blog sets out the need for a strategic Remain campaign to start now; a companion blog looks at where we are and what the People’s Vote campaign should do.
The strategic objections to launching a Remain campaign now that have been put forward are:
- Lack of resources.
- Campaigning for Remain would be talking to ourselves.
- It would be too difficult to persuade MPs to back a referendum if the campaign for it was associated with Remain.
- Sequencing: we need to get the referendum before we campaign how to win it.
Resources will come forward for an energising objective
People do not wish to campaign for a referendum. It’s just a mechanism, a necessary step towards achieving something worthwhile.
People do wish to campaign for Remain. A real Remain campaign would be able to raise the funds.
Moreover, the grassroots are a huge and under-used resource who should have a much bigger rôle in the Remain campaign than in the campaign for a referendum. They are ready to be mobilised by a worthwhile cause. More people would volunteer to work with a Remain campaign.
What do you say to your partner: “Let’s get some builders in” or “Let’s have a new bathroom”? It’s the aim that energises, not the method.
We have to talk to Leave voters
It is fascinating to hear some people say that a Remain campaign would be talking to ourselves. They must see the actual referendum campaign as about raising the turnout of Remain voters.
There is no point in 52R:48L. As the man said, that would be unfinished business by a long way. We would be heading to a third referendum. We would prolong the Brexit debate. Much more importantly, we would be a damaging force within the EU. British Governments would have to grandstand anti-EU stances in order to appease the half of the country that wanted to Leave.
To sort this out we need to do as well as in 1975 (67R:33L) on the turnout of 2016. That means converting six million Leave voters to vote Remain.
So we have to talk to Leave voters.
The best way to increase support for a referendum is to increase support for Remain
Everyone knows that People’s Vote is a Remain front. When did People’s Vote ever publish some pro-Brexit propaganda? It’s a bit late to pretend the campaign is neutral – even if good government arguments should appeal to both sides.
It is Remain voters who want a referendum. So to increase support for a referendum you have to increase support for Remain.
More importantly, you will only persuade MPs to back a referendum over the Deal if they see a country that overwhelmingly wishes to change course. Otherwise MPs will continue to be governed by the 2016 expression of the democratic will.
It is too late to affect public opinion for votes in September/ October 2019. But there is a real chance of a further purposeless extension – we need to be ready for future votes.
Leave has a 40 year head start; let’s not add to it
The electorate has had decades of anti-EU propaganda.
Even pro-EU politicians and commentators have either talked only about trade or treated the EU as a regrettable necessity.
We have already lost three years when we could have been campaigning for Remain with a positive hopeful message, not just anti-Brexit and pro-referendum (a process).
Let’s say it takes six months to get a referendum and a year from that decision to the day of the vote. If we do not start the campaign until the referendum has been decided on, we lose one third of the time available to change the minds of six million people.
Who thinks that is going to be such an easy task that we can throw away so much time?
The nature of the Remain campaign now
The essential point is that the Remain campaign would be talking to voters as the primary agents. They would be marking their ballot papers, not just talking to MPs.
For them, the people they trust most are “people like me”. Well, not me – metropolitan elite. They mean people like them. Local grassroots campaigners. So the whole structure of the campaign has to be an inverted pyramid, with the centre supporting the local campaign groups. That is the opposite of People’s Vote which, correctly, is focused on Westminister. So it needs a separate, different campaign.
The various national Remain bodies should work together to ensure that we now have both of the two parallel campaigns that we need. Otherwise we will have Brexit. It is still not too late to change. What is needed is:
- The People’s Vote campaign to reach out to No-Deal MPs to form an alliance to obtain majority support;
- All the national pro-EU bodies to set up or rally behind a Remain campaign that starts now;
- The messages of the pro-EU campaign need to be positive, hopeful, about Europe, sovereignty and freedom, not so much about trade, not project fear, not anti-Brexit, not promises on domestic policies or EU reform;
- The Remain campaign needs to be run as an inverted pyramid, with the centre supporting the grassroots.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.