A second Remain campaign must learn from its mistakes

If recent news reports are to be believed, a consensus on how best to achieve a second referendum is coming together. Vote through Theresa May’s deal on the proviso that it is put to the people first, with Remain an option on the ballot paper. There are many hurdles to jump over before then, not least convincing a reluctant Labour leadership to whip its MPs into voting for it. In preparation for the possibility, those campaigning on the Remain side should be gearing up for it, and we must learnt the lessons of the 2016 vote.

Firstly, it is vital to accept that a lot of people are going to be very angry about this. That is understandable. Their right to protest peacefully about a second referendum must be respected, upheld and admired.

Secondly, remainers should be careful about the way in which they speak about their opponents, and I refer here to both the politicians and the electorate as a whole. No patronising, no tarring leavers with the same brush as Nigel Farage and no condescension. It doesn’t help; it doesn’t address the valid concerns that people have about the EU; more importantly, it is a guaranteed vote-winner for the leave campaign.

Thirdly, it can’t be a negative campaign based on the horrors of the outcome of a leave vote. Facts and forecasts are important and should play a role, but there is a positive emotional case to be made and it must be heard. I want to hear more from the nurses from other EU countries, without whom the NHS wouldn’t function. I want to see more about UK citizens who have gone to live in other countries and made a success of it. I want to hear about small businesses that have made enduring partnerships with other businesses on the European mainland. I want to hear stories of friendships and relationships that have come about as a result of our ability to travel the EU with no restrictions. Positive stories that extol the virtues of freedom of movement and of free trade with our neighbours are going to have a far wider impact than graphs that predict economic doom if we were to leave. However accurate these may be, they should be used as evidence to back up the emotional arguments, rather than the main thrust of the campaign. If you’ve been trapped in low paid work (or indeed no work at all) for many years and you feel that the economic odds are stacked against you, then being told by someone who is clearly very well-off that you shouldn’t vote to leave the EU because it will damage the economy is not going to ring true. If a healthy economy is seen as only benefitting those at the top, then a campaign based on scare tactics will not work with the vast majority of the electorate.

It is also vital to address the idea of cultural identity and sovereignty. My hunch is that if you were to ask a group of people from all walks of life about their idea of British culture, most would find it difficult to define. This is a problem. During the 2016 referendum, the line of reclaiming sovereignty was a powerful one that spoke to a lot of people. If we can successfully articulate a vision of how Britain (I suppose I am probably talking more specifically about England here) can retain a unique and individual identity whilst remaining a part of the EU, this would go a long way towards assuaging these fears. It needn’t be exclusive to others and it needn’t be placed in direct opposition to anyone else’s culture. Scottish identity thrives within the UK; Cornish identity thrives within England – there is no reason at all why English and British identity cannot thrive within the EU, while welcoming a whole array of other cultures into our communities. I am English, British, European and an adopted Brummie – there is no reason why I can’t celebrate all of these identities or why they can’t co-exist, but for whatever reason the progressive left is frequently rather squeamish on the issue.

If a second referendum is given the green light by Parliament, the Leave campaign writes itself. Politicians betrayed you; the elite are ignoring the will of the people – it will be a powerful and seductive argument. The Remain campaign will need to up its game.

* David Gray is a musician, actor and writer based in Birmingham

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26 Comments

  • Grant Christopher 19th Feb '19 - 1:09pm

    “Secondly, remainers should be careful about the way in which they speak about their opponents, and I refer here to both the politicians and the electorate as a whole. No patronising, no tarring leavers with the same brush as Nigel Farage and no condescension. It doesn’t help; it doesn’t address the valid concerns that people have about the EU; more importantly, it is a guaranteed vote-winner for the leave campaign.”

    Okay, serious question: what are their valid concerns? Looking at the best information available to two issues I hear from leavers are immigration and sovereignty. But these are not negative effects. Immigration helps the economy and NHS. We share a bit of sovereignty to get a harmonised system frictionless trade and movement of people. I fundamentally disagree on the facts with leavers.

  • Play nice and lose. To change the theme you outlined

    Polticians have betrayed you for years, they do the bidding of the elite like Murdoch and the Barclays. They blame the EU for everything they get wrong, but the fault lies with them, do you want to give them even more chance to feck things up.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 2:29pm

    We do need to be positive. We also need to have answers to the simple slogans Leavers will throw at us again. How about a `Brexit means ..’ series: for example, `Brexit means losing control”, explaining how the EU has given us great influence in setting the terms of international trade, whereas if we leave we’ll largely have to accept whatever terms the US, China etc impose on us.

  • John Marriott 19th Feb '19 - 2:44pm

    Referendum #3 Rule 1: Don’t put ‘frankie’ in charge of the campaign.

    Better still, don’t count your chickens. You need to suspend Article 50 first.

  • William Fowler 19th Feb '19 - 2:48pm

    Well at least there is a lot of pressure from members and many MP’s on the Labour leadership to step up and go for a second vote. Also, if a second vote does get the go-ahead then the EU should also step up to offer a better deal than they did to Cameron – if Sir Vince somehow comes back with the improved deal all the better for the prospects of the LibDems. Lots to play for.

  • John I rather doubt I’d get the gig, but the plan I’ve outlined is but a variation of the one that has beaten nice Liberal Democrat candidates for the last few elections. World is becoming a nastier place, you may have noticed those that don’t pretend to be nice have started to push aside those whose chief claim to fame is,”I’m nice”. If the Lib Dems don’t develop a spine, a belly full of fire and commitment no amount of niceness will compensate for that.

  • To win the next referendum the plan should be to campaign on the virtues of the European Union. And the second like unto this is to start straight after the last one with a positive campaign on the virtues of the European Union.

  • Leave, of course, have two and a half years on us already because they have never stopped campaigning. Given that we have just let them, and waffled on anodynely about a “people’s vote” without saying why we want one, or what we want out of it, or why remaining would be a good idea, for fear of annoying Norman Lamb’s constituents…

    I think even if we do, by some miracle, get a people’s vote within the available very short time frame before the Europarl elections, we’re screwed anyway because leave, with it’s massive media muscle and a two and a half year head start, will absolutely mullerise us.

  • In all the comments on Brexit on this thread and others, no one mentions the Irish border. As you will recall, the Irish border issue has been the single biggest obstacle to May Getting a deal through Parliament. All the fluffy stuff about showing people how nice the EU is well meaning humbug. Show people the pub bombings in Guildford and Birmingham, show them what happened last time we had a border, throw in a few job losses at Honda. Ask them how many lives in Northern Ireland is worth a trade deal with anyone ? I didn’t vote remain because I thought a European Superstate was a fantastic idea, I voted remain because I thought leaving at this time in our history represented an existential risk to peace and security and to the Union. Let’s treat people like adults, make them face dark truths and hash realities.
    And if they still wish that upon themselves then I think I’m off. Canada is very nice, bit cold in winter…..come on you Blue Jays !

  • Are you going to tell them that the Eurozone will be a fantastic opportunity? If, somehow we remain in the EU it will involve warts and all. The EU will not allow the UK to remain semi-detached and no EU member state would tolerate that. We shall lose our opt outs.

    Then there are the small matters of EU legal supremacy, EU law making, EU competences and the UK as a rule taker – all things that the average voter has learned a great deal about since the referendum. Then there is the looming possibility of the EU suprastate. If you are going to be honest about sovereignty, it involves a lot more than cultural identity.

  • @Jennie – I’m mystified by Leave’s massive media muscle. Remain is strongly supported by the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Mail (under new editor), not to mention the full force of the BBC, ITV and channel 4.

  • The Remain campaign last time could have focussed on positives: “Remain: Because Europe Needs Our Influence”; “Remain: Because Pollution Doesn’t Stop at Dover”; “Remain: Because Europe Needs to be Reformed”; “Remain: Because Being Part of Something Big is Safer”, etc. – with suitable imagery. Sadly this would not work for a second referendum because our reputation in Europe has been trashed by the incompetence of the Tory negotiations and the vindictiveness and hostility over decades of large parts of our media. I knew the last referendum was lost a couple of weeks beforehand: if there is another one we have no chance at all of winning it.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 6:19pm

    @Peter – `We will lose all our opt-outs’. Not if we revoke Article 50 before 29 March: the legal advice is quite clear that that would cancel the whole process, leaving us as members of the EU with our current favourable deal including opt-outs.

  • @tonyhill- You make some good points. You are right, things have changed since the last referendum. People know more about the issues today than two years ago. Many resent the way the EU has responded to May (I think the EU has been very patient!).

    Project Fear has been a huge factor recently but as we saw before, it can have the opposite effect. Talk about evacuating the Queen can explain why that happens. People feel insulted by the stupidity.

    But mainly, people instinctively see a second referendum as trashing democracy. We all sneered when the EU achieved second referenda in France and in Ireland. It really is a nasty insult to voters and is seen that way by the British people, though apparently not by those desperate to overturn Brexit.

    There will be some who would welcome the opportunity to change their vote, but I feel sure that just like Project Fear, the people would act in the opposite way and take the opportunity to give the establishment a bloody nose. I argued this on this site over two years ago because I thought it was a terrible vote losing policy for the Party. I was ignored then and expect to be ignored now. It is telling that even Corbyn and Len McCluskey recognise that it is not a good idea to have a second referendum and these are men that I don’t usually identify with in political debates.

  • @Denis Mollison – You are technically correct. However, the EU made it clear about three years ago that the opt outs must be got rid of for the unity and forward progress of the EU. The EU always makes use of opportunities and they would see our cancellation of Brexit as an ideal time. None of the other members like our special status and we can hardly threaten to leave. I know that there are other states not yet in the Eurozone, the EU would be sending a powerful message if they dealt with the UK first. They would all see it as one of the famous consequences for having the audacity to nearly leave.

    It is inevitable that we shall have to join the Eurozone unless, of course, it collapses first.

  • @Peter

    Denmark also has an opt-out from the Eurozone under the Maastricht treaty. NINE members don’t use the euro. A country has to spend two years in the European Exchange Rate (ERM II) – only Denmark (ironically) is currently part of ERM II.

    On Schengen – 6 EU countries are not in it including Ireland which along with the UK has an opt out.

    The EU is not some sort of terrible “bogeyman” – it is sovereign countries co-operating under the auspices of treaties.

  • Denis Mollison 19th Feb '19 - 8:34pm

    @Peter – I just don’t see it as ` inevitable that we shall have to join the Eurozone’; it may not collapse, but it so evidently needs reform that they’re unlikely to get any more entrants to it prior to that.

  • @Michael 1 – All true. Even if my timescale is totally wrong, you must surely agree that the EU will not tolerate all these exceptions to their planned integration indefinitely.

    Meanwhile, the integration process will continue in other ways. The official direction of travel is still ever closer union.

  • @Peter

    The “EU” does not exist as such 🙂 ! (And you wondered what all the fuss was about!)

    It is sovereign countries co-operating together under international treaties.

    The question is whether ALL the EU countries (including the UK if we are still in) will agree and ratify a new treaty UNANIMOUSLY. So the question is whether if we stayed in the UK would ratify a treaty that “forced” us into the Eurozone and Schengen. This would have to be put to a referendum in the UK under the law on EU treaty changes. Now what do you think the chances of that being agreed in a referendum are?

  • There isn’t going to be a second refurendum, either support the PM, or leave with no deal.

  • Can’t understand all these doubters who want to postpone Brexit. We Britons have been patient for so long, awaiting the treat the Government is bringing to our door. I can’t wait to sample my succulent leg of unicorn and oodles of lovely cake. Express delivery is what we need! Not long to go now though. But please, don’t delay it with this second referendum nonsense.

  • Adrian’s last sentence in a very good piece is something to hold on to.
    Meanwhile, when the Falklands affair kicked off I was a PPC for Barnsley Central – a seat for which my 19.2 % still seems to be our highest vote share! However at the 1992 local elections held against the backdrop of the Falklands Barnsley voters retreated to more of what they knew at what was seen as a time of crisis – the Labour comfort
    blanket.

  • Joan Walmsley 20th Feb '19 - 10:44am

    I agree with those who recommend emphasising the positive aspects of our EU membership, using examples of real people, if we were to have a referendum on the deal. On immigration there are a lot of positives and most people are quite aware that EU NHS staff are already leaving or not applying to come in the case of nurses. However, I do think we have to tackle this ‘taking back control’ argument. Control to whom? Control to a handful of ministers and a prime minister who appears to have total control of the fate of the country, holding the gun of ‘no deal’ to our heads like some old wild west gun slinger? “Drop your gun or the kid gets it”, the kid being the economy in this case. Recent events have raised serious questions about our constitution and our democracy and added weight to the argument in favour of proportional representation. ‘Executive creep’ began with Tony Blair and has developed rampantly under Teresa May, especially since she has no effective official opposition. I do hope our MPs ‘take back control’ next week. It’s about time!

  • David Gray you wrote about the need to “address the valid concerns that people have about the EU”. I agree. However, as we as a party don’t have the policies to address these issues, let alone a Remain campaign having the policies. I am not convinced that talking about middle class benefits of being in the EU will convince those who voted last time to Leave.

    So any new campaign will again focus on the economic effects of leaving as it is one way to convince some of them who voted Leave. This economic argument should include how the political class is going to provide full employment and employment which is beneficial to the worker and not employment where the worker feels they are being taken advance of.

    William Fowler, do you really believe that the EU will come up with something which will reduce the number of people from other EU countries who would like to come here, if we stay?

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