Pro-Europeans need a charismatic leader to win argument on EU
- Credit: PA
Alastair Campbell’s article asking “What more could Remainers have done” (TNE 226) continues to prompt letters...
Do not give up! A single pro-EU unified pressure group (not linked to any political party) is needed, ideally with a charismatic figurehead (but not a divisive politician).
We need to attract massive funding (I am sure many in business would be happy to put their money where their mouth is). We can emulate some of the tenacity and perseverance of the Leave campaign, do our market research and create some decent messaging, based on emotional triggers and not just rational ones. We need to be a pressure group with the clout and brand name of a long time campaigner like Greenpeace.
A realignment of the political stage is essential though. Without some kind of progressive alliance or at least an understanding between the opposition parties, history will repeat itself. The Labour Party needs to be bold and pragmatic and agree to work with the other parties, with the top priority of ousting the Tory in every viable seat at the next election.
A commitment to Electoral Reform will be the only way to keep the Conservatives out.
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I marched, I signed petitions, I wrote to my local MP (a lot). All to no avail so, yes, it is timely to ask why it didn’t work. My answers:
1. We had no single, charismatic leader.
2. No unifying single message (distinct lack of any three-part slogan).
3. Too much emphasis on facts (and trying to scare people rather than enthuse them) and not enough emotion.
4. Remain is passive. Leave is active. Language matters.
What we need to do now:
1. Serious work on the basics especially the rules around running any future referendums, a written constitution and a structure for a federal UK.
2. Opposition politicians need to wake up to the vast number of those who voted Remain and are horrified by what is happening. The polls are clear that the divisions are deep and they are not disappearing. We need a political home and both Labour and Liberal Democrat seem to be failing to provide one. I sympathise with Labour’s dilemma but am bemused by the Liberal Democrats.
3. Recognise this could be a long road. We may never rejoin but we can vastly improve on what we have now.
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We need a coherent opposition alliance that offers an inspiring agenda focused on campaigning for a complete overhaul of our failing politics. Britain’s first past the post system denies fair electoral representation. An unrepresentative upper House and a corrupt and devalued Honours system, tax havens and speculator-driven financial markets have all failed Britain.
As a civil servant I was involved in disbursing EU funds in the North West of England. I know what benefits the Structural Funds brought to the regions of the UK, that the EU sees regional development as a core economic and social aim. The partnerships did a great deal of good, despite government attempts to claim the credit or reduce their own funding on regional aid. Publicity for each and every project was a contractual obligation but frequently ignored. At the time of the referendum, I wrote to two local authorities in NE Lancashire to ask for a list of the projects supported in the 20 years of EU aid at that time. They couldn’t tell me. The files had been archived and/or destroyed. The media carry a large part of the responsibility, local press in particular. Sadly, as the local press becomes less independent, there will be fewer opportunities to reach local people with facts. The lies will not diminish – note the false claims on the removal of VAT on tampons.
We need to get organised. There are a number of pro-EU movements. I have joined the European Movement; there are others on social media. A rebuttal unit would be helpful for the correction of lies. We have an enormous difficulty with the right wing media so we must keep on the BBC’s tail, as they have a duty to be impartial.
We need a leader – or leadership team – with a clear vision which they are prepared to own and to sell. Hedging bets and trying to please everyone is never going to win the day. People want leaders who say what they mean – or at least sound like they do. Bizarrely, people tell me they like Boris Johnson because that’s what he does.
The vision needs to appeal to people’s guts, not just their heads. For example, “Vote for what is best for your grandchildren” is probably a better argument than “You might be worse off with the other lot”.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
There was a ‘perfect storm’ aspect to Brexit with the coincidence of unconnected events coming together to create the tsunami. For Labour the improbable gaining of the leadership by Jeremy Corbyn was the key factor, taking the party almost overnight from a strongly European party to a ‘pro-EU in name only’ position for the referendum.
Beyond Labour the ruthless culling of the pro-Europeans in the Conservatives and the weakness of the Lib Dem position post 2015 didn’t help the cause either. The voices for the pro-EU argument were articulate and informed but derided by a subset of the establishment who regarded us as the metropolitan elite out of touch with the voters.
While Boris Johnson’s incompetence may lead rapidly to his fall it is hard to see this directly leading to a Europhile coup – even in Labour. I think Keir Starmer gets this knowing that if Labour is to be a beneficiary of the Conservatives’ failure an anti-Brexit position won’t help him. He has to play the long game.
The politics of gradualism is counter-intuitive for restless political activists. But history teaches us it works.
We can take small steps and edge back towards the EU. Rejoining the single market and customs union would be a great start and if that involved signing up again to the four freedoms (as it almost certainly would) all the better.
You can’t underestimate the dysfunction at the heart of British politics and in particular Labour for Brexit. Having previously inserted Ed Miliband as stooge for the left wing unions, Corbyn was then frivolously installed (initially as a joke option) for the Labour leadership. Had David Miliband been elected instead of his brother, he would have surely won in 2010 and the wretchedly flawed and hubristic referendum would never have happened. Then, in 2016, any Labour leader but anti-EU Corbyn would have got out the crucial Labour Remain vote, even if meant them having to temporarily side with David Cameron.
A huge chunk of the electorate – pro free markets, low taxes, law and order and pro-EU – are effectively disenfranchised for at least a generation.
To be successful next time we will need a charismatic figurehead who can communicate powerfully with the public, neutralise the potentially destructive influence of much of the British press and unite the political support. Sadly, this person, was and still is, missing. Secondly, we need to be more ruthless. We were too tolerant and polite.
The only method that is likely to work, and also limit the damage of Brexit, is a gradualist one. After the divisions of the last five years, politicians outside of Scotland will be very nervous of proposing re-joining the EU for fear of reigniting the divisions.
The only way forward is going to be incremental. It will not be unpopular, as the reality is that not many Remainers are reconciled to Brexit, and there are few who would not wish to see the UK re-join.
There is another European country that shares the UK’s deep split on EU membership, and that is Switzerland, and it is to them that we need to look to a model of how the future may look.
Excellent letters from so many last week, from Gina Miller and many more. Unfortunately the way back may not happen in my lifetime.
I would advocate campaigning for a young persons European passport to allow all under 26 to live, travel and work throughout Europe and beyond for unlimited periods. All young people should be encouraged, even financed,to take time out after or during education to travel widely.
We have now ‘left’, but the EU remains our most influential neighbour. We need to find a way to stay engaged.
At the heart of all is our belief in democracy; in individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law. We need an education policy which nurtures an ability to think for ourselves, and not be misled by populist slogans.
These are not ‘Remain or Leave’ issues; all who care about the future should be engaged. We need to move on from the negative campaigning of the past and find common ground, not just with Europe but with each other.
I’d say we could have done more to get the BBC on side.
The BBC is the most trusted source of news in Britain. Most of the press was pro-Brexit. The anti-Brexit camp, like the Guardian and The New European, are read by far fewer people. Both pale into insignificance compared to social media which effectively hid any anti-Brexit messages from those not inclined to see them. This left the BBC as the arbitrator most likely to be trusted.
Yet the BBC was determinedly “balanced”, trying to balance truth and lies as if the reality was the midpoint between a truth and a lie. This might be balanced but it is not impartial.
This is not an anti-BBC screed but quite the opposite. It shows just how important the BBC is to public discourse and it should be cherished. It needs to regain its editorial confidence.
We need to thoroughly reform our flawed democracy so as to enable better government and more intelligent decision making. There are two aspect to this. Firstly we must get rid of the first-past-the-post voting system so that every citizen would have their views represented fairly in parliament. This means instituting some form of proportional representation. Secondly we need a written constitution that eliminates the unelected House of Lords and possibly replaces it with some form of advisory body. Such a constitution might permit referendums, but, if it did, there would be rules that would make it impossible for a government to set up or act upon one that hadn’t been carefully thought through - as was obviously the case with the Brexit referendum.
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