Alastair Campbell on why Remainers won’t shut up and do what they’re told
PUBLISHED: 13:20 21 July 2016 | UPDATED: 17:35 23 July 2016
AP/Press Association Images
Can someone point me to that part of our great unwritten Constitution that says if you lose a vote you must immediately agree with those who won it?
Cast your mind back to the Scottish independence referendum. 55-45. A defeat for the YES campaign. Did the Nationalists overnight go “oh well, hey ho, we’re all Unionists now”? No. They accepted they lost the vote but declared that the fight for the cause they believe in goes on. The way they fought that fight contributed towards their success in the subsequent general election. Now the mess of the EU referendum means they may yet reach their goal, even more quickly than they imagined when that referendum was lost.
Or take something closer to home, my political home at least. When New Labour was in a long and winning (remember that?) ascendancy, did Labour’s Bennites put their hands up and say “sod it, might as well give up now”? If so, how the hell did Jeremy Corbyn become leader? And now that he is, have all those who see he cannot lead given up on the idea that he must be replaced? Far from it.
Similarly, did Nigel Farage, when he was in the small minority dismissed by David Cameron as fruitcakes, racists and loonies, vanish amid his succession of crushing electoral defeats? No. He kept on keeping on, until one day, alas, he won.
The lesson of all political history is you keep fighting for what you believe in.
So to all those who think the UK has made a decision of epically bad and dangerous proportions in voting to leave the EU – and they now include plenty who voted Leave – I say “do not give up the fight to make sure we are spared the consequences.”
Ah, say those who still believe they did the right thing, echoed by the same right-wing lying newspapers which helped lay the ground for Brexit, and the same right-wing lying politicians who helped take it over the line, but “the British people have spoken.” Indeed. But can someone tell me what we actually said? Every Leaver I speak to seems to say something different.
In the Mad Hatter world of UK politics, and its dumbed down, personality-obsessed media culture, where Dave v Boris morphed immediately to Theresa v Andrea and Jeremy v Angela, with the occasional broadsheet look at something called ‘policy’ or (perish the thought) ‘ideas’, we are now beginning to have the debate we didn’t have during the referendum campaign itself.
That is because after all the mind numbing speculation and the near meaningless slogans pre June 23, (take back control of what, precisely?) things have actually happened to bring home the reality of the Brexit decision and its implications. Business people and tourists have seen what the weak pound virtually every economic voice in the world warned of actually means. The decline of our political power has become visible in every humiliating encounter between ministers and overseas counterparts. And how nauseating has it been to see the chief cheerleaders of the Brexit Lie Machine – the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Star, the Telegraph – filling their money advice pages with stories of Brexit’s impact on the cost of holidays, phone calls, food – oh no, not coffee too! – and the effect on pensions and savings. All those things the Leave Lie Machine dismissed as ‘Project Fear’ now unfolding across the same pages of the papers which lied the most. Let’s hope the foreign, tax-dodging media owners and their lying editors, get more of the kind of direct action treatment Paul Dacre’s neighbours to his vast EU-grant-supported Scottish estate have decided to mete out.
The lies involved in the campaign are among the reasons there is now so much buyer’s remorse. I have been involved in some tough campaigns in my time, where claim and counter-claim get pushed and tested to the limit by politicians and media alike. But never one in which one side, perhaps inspired by Donald Trump’s success in winning the Republican nomination in the US presidential campaign, made a strategic decision to build its campaign around blatant, provable untruths. £350m a week goes to the EU. No it doesn’t. We can build a new hospital every week with the money. No we can’t. Turkey “is joining.” No it’s not. There “will be” an EU Army. No there won’t. We can have different immigration and customs policies without the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. No you can’t. We can be out of the EU but still in the single market without extra cost if we fancy it. Ditto. Even when the £350m figure was established as a lie, on they went with it. No shame, no backtracking, the more people talked about it the happier the Leave liars were.
But since the vote three very important things have happened. First, the full scale of the lying has been exposed. Second, by contrast, the sober reality of the Remain warnings is becoming equally clear. And third, the people who made this all happen vanished after the event. So not only have we voted for a pig in a poke; in scenes even George Orwell would have struggled to make sense of, the head pigs who created the mess immediately ran away to leave others to clean it up. The Prime Minister who decided to hold the referendum. Gone even earlier than he expected when he announced he would resign. Chancellor George Osborne. Gone. Michael Gove. Gone. Leadership ambitions up in smoke. Farage. Gone. Andrea Leadsom. Her fall from leader-in-waiting as rapid as her rise.
Of the many sick ironies of recent events surely one of the sickest is that a campaign supposedly all about ‘we the people’ deciding who governs us, rather than ‘unelected elites’, set up the election of a new Prime Minister by 0.3% of the population, the largely old, white, utterly undiverse and unrepresentative section of the population that makes up the Tory Party membership. And in the end, even they didn’t get a vote. We got a new Prime Minister by a process of voluntary leadership euthanasia by incompetence as Johnson, then Gove, then Leadsom went up in the flames still burning from the fire they had set alight. If it had happened in Africa or Latin America we’d be trotting out banana republic headlines. Having been to Latin America last week, may I say much of the rest of the world sees us today at best as a country which has opted voluntarily for decline, at worst a global laughing stock.
Politics across the entire landscape has rarely been more fluid. Changes as yet unthought of may hove into view. There is time for the recent outbreak of national and multiparty madness to calm down. We can all have a say in this. By keeping fighting for what we believe in.
In these circumstances, the political road to Brexit is littered with road humps and crossroads where choices have to be made. So is the legal road and good luck to all those lawyers doing their best to unpick the catastrophe the Brexit Lie Machine has delivered.