Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Brexit: it’s not my fault. But it might be yours.

It’s nearly a month since the Brexit referendum and it feels like a year. But I’m still angry.

On the day of the referendum I thought that it would be close, but I thought that in the end the vote would come down on the side of the status quo. I was still angry though because it felt like a monumental waste of money and energy. And because I was tired of propaganda (on both sides). And because someone had died.

The next day felt like most days in my adult lifetime after an election, because on most occasions the party I voted for hasn’t got in (my first general election was 1979). And there is always a period of shock and mourning.

But this was worse. The decision wasn’t just about the next five years. It was for ever.

I’d estimate that 99% of my friends and acquaintances were remainers. And most of them are around my age. So we are not the “older generation” who messed things up for the future. Or are we?

Here’s a confession. Six months ago I was toying with the idea of voting “out”. Not because immigration is an issue for me (it isn’t). Not because I’m xenophobic (I’m not). I did "want my country back", but not from the EU: from the Tories.

I was considering it because there are good left-wing arguments for being against the EU. We didn’t really hear them, though. We didn’t hear a range of arguments at all.

I was so fed up with the lack of serious information that I was considering spoiling my ballot paper in protest. (I’d never not vote – not after what women went through to get a vote.)

Here’s another confession. Other reasons tempted me to vote “out”. Because I don’t like being told what to think, and I like to think I’m a rebel. Yeah, the stupid reasons that are now being attributed to the “stupid” people who now wish they’d voted differently. That was nearly me. And not all those people are stupid.

It’s easy to point the finger, but if you treat people like idiots (as both campaigns and the media have done) perhaps it's not surprising when they act like idiots.

So whose fault was this?

1. The official Remain campaign


It was pretty obvious that the facts and figures coming out of the Brexit camp were propaganda. So what did the Remain campaign do? Hit us with more facts and figures. Why did they think theirs were any more credible? Particularly when we’d been told how much public money was spent on the leaflet that came through our doors.  And when the language it was written in was so simplistic and patronising – classic propaganda style. The obvious result is that people would just mistrust both sides of the campaign.

2. George Osborne

For saying that house prices would go down, as if that was a bad thing.

And for this: civil servants aren’t allowed to say anything remotely connected with an election or referendum during purdah. But because Osborne isn’t a civil servant he was allowed to talk about his “Brexit budget”, even though he was speaking not as an individual but in his capacity as chancellor – a public servant. That made me angry. And I don’t like being threatened and blackmailed. The result: making people want to do the opposite of what Osborne said.

3. The official Remain campaign (again)

All we got from the Remain campaign was negativity. Bad things might happen if we left the EU. But they didn’t come up with any reasons why the EU is a force for good. How difficult would it have been to tell the people in Wales or Cornwall how much EU investment had regenerated the places where they lived?  Surely someone could have come up with something to say under the heading “What’s the EU ever done for you?”

4. Labour

Too busy fighting each other to come up with any good reasons for Remain. (And too busy fighting each other now to be a proper opposition. Idiots.)

5. The local businessman

I went to a local debate held by my union. Someone from Trade Unionists Against The EU spoke for Brexit, with lots of good examples about privatisation and austerity. On the other side, a local businessman spoke for “Remain”: he began by stating that the Brexit side was emotional and intellectually weaker, then ended up talking about World War 2 and saying “we aren’t a nation of quitters”. In between, he said his business depended on EU immigrants because they can’t get the people they need in the UK. Which made me wonder, why is he not campaigning about the UK’s rubbish education system instead?

6. The media


Not just the pro Brexit media. The Guardian, my paper of choice, only showed one side of the argument. That’s not good enough.

7. The education system

Because I did actually hear someone at my local polling station say to his wife “Have you got a pen, because they’ve only got pencils.”

8. You

Well, maybe not you, the person who’s reading this. But a lot of people I know. All you people who were so convinced you were right and so convinced everyone else would agree with you.

Every one of you who wrote a smug post on social media that suggested all right-thinking people had to agree with your stance. Every one of you who posted a bit of Remain propaganda on Facebook.

Every one of you who shared a stupid meme.
  • Here’s a list of hundreds of world leaders who think we should remain. How do I know this is not just made up? And why should I do what they tell us to?
  • Here’s a list of people who think we should remain, including bankers and business leaders. Since when have you all trusted bankers and business leaders?
  • Here’s some photos of Brexiters, including Trump and Boris looking like idiots. Contrast this with photos of remainers… Richard Branson? Why should I trust what he says? I’ve been on his trains.

None of those things convinced me that you were right. And instead of making me agree with you, they pushed me further in the other direction. Because I don’t think friends should treat friends like idiots.

So why didn’t I vote out? The turning point for me was asking myself how I would feel if I woke up one morning and found out we were committed to leaving the EU. And I felt scared. So I voted for the status quo.

And obviously, I’d always do whatever the Sun said not to.

There were other things too, like Paul Mason’s post that was upfront about the EU’s failures but still came down for staying in (for now).

And this, although I’d already made up my mind by then.

So I know most of the people reading this will be worried about the future outside the EU, just as I am. But don’t be too quick to condemn those who voted for it. It might just be your fault.

1 comment:

  1. I came across this the other day on LinkedIn. It argues that the Remain campaign failed to follow even the basics of PR and marketing. Ignorance? Complacency? Who knows.