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We are starting 50 points behind
17 Apr, 2018

People want change

London4Europe committee member Michael Romberg welcomes the new unity of the Remain movement in the campaign for a referendum on the terms with the option to Remain. However, it is not clear that the whole movement recognises the scale of the task. I don’t mean in the opinion polls – stubbornly stuck at half and half – but in Leave voters’ hearts.

It was good news that several of the main Remain groupings announced on 15 April 2018 that they would campaign on a common aim of obtaining: the People’s Vote.

That said, the terminology is pretty mealy-mouthed. Although the campaign must mean a referendum on the terms they seem determined to avoid the R-word, perhaps out of worry that people would think it a re-run of 2016. They want a Remain option only if the Government’s deal turns out to be a bad one – not clear who is going to assess that other than the voters or why any of us should think there might be a good Brexit deal. There is to be a march on 23 June and you have – ahem - the opportunity to join me in donating funds on the website.

It does not matter that there are various organisations. For as long as we have a common message it is all to the good that we have different messengers with diverse styles. The various presentations of the common theme can reach different audiences. United in Diversity – now where have l seen that slogan before?

Why we are 50 points behind

Much of the Remain movement has spent the last 22 months not just failing to make the right case but actively harming the cause. We need to understand that first so that we do not make the same mistake and second so that we realise how much we have to catch up and act accordingly. The problem was the two main messages that the Remain movement gave out.

The first was the belief – so elegantly presented for so long by Professor Grayling – that as the Leave vote was wrong Parliament should just set it aside. Many voted Leave out of frustration with a political system that did not listen to them, did not respect them. Much of the Remain movement said to these voters, in effect: Quite right, we don’t respect you; your views should not count. That has hardened attitudes. Even those who voted Leave for other reasons will have awarded Remain some minus points for being bad losers.

The second harmful message was to focus on obtaining a soft Brexit with an emphasis on protecting the economy. Open Britain was and is the most visible campaign group in this area. But even the European Movement initially responded to the referendum result with its “Red Lines” campaign for a better Brexit. Even now, the Peoples’ Vote commitment to “Protect our right to stay in the EU, if the final deal is a bad deal.” at least accepts the possibility of a good Brexit.

That message was – is - wrong on many levels:

  • tactical – it accepted Brexit as a done deal with only the How? left open;
  • campaigning – it repeated the mistakes of the joyless without-hope referendum campaign that appealed to peoples’ wallets. We lost, remember? Why would a repeat work better next time round?
  • strategic – it accepted the Brexiters’ view of the EU as a common market with ideas above its station rather than as an organisation dedicated to peace, furthering democracy and enhancing friendship and co-operation between peoples.

Why our message is now the right one

2016 was a vote on an idea. Leave had no plan. Even now there is still no plan. No-one takes a project from idea to implementation without a review of the project plan. It is democratic that the same people as decided the 2016 referendum should decide the next question in the sequence.

The key point we have now to get across

We listened. We heard you. Things are going to be different in the future. It is a difficult message for us to get across. Britain on 22 June 2016 was fine for us. We liked the culture, were comfortable with immigration and equal rights, were doing OK financially. What we really want is to put the clock back. But it won’t work.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel set in C19th Sicily The Leopard has a line: for things to stay the same, everything must change. That applies to us too.

We might win the vote with better campaigning and a higher turnout amongst younger voters. But “unfinished business” - Nigel Farage’s reasonable description of the UKIP response to the then expected 52:48 Remain victory – is not a solution. Our task is not just to settle the EU question but also to heal the country. As a matter of mechanics we have to get 2016 Leave voters to vote Remain.

They voted for Change. So we have to offer them a better Change than Leave offered. We are not yet doing that.

Europe is almost irrelevant to that, except that leaving makes everything harder: less money, less control, government capacity taken up on repairing the damage of Brexit not on making anything work better. Improving the public services that matter to people like the NHS is a matter for domestic politics, for the political parties.

The European Movement as a non-party/ all party organisation has no role in promoting specific changes. What we can do is point out neutrally to voters that all the political parties have proposals for making Britain work better for everyone. Those of us who are members of political parties can encourage these to present their policies in a Remain context; even the two main parties that support Brexit can at least make clear that their policies work at least as well under Remain as under Brexit.

But we must not promise a return to the status quo ante. Change, with a capital ‘C’, is what this campaign is about.




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