Time to call a spade a spade
I was very happy to read Jonathan Freedland’s article in today’s Guardian. His self-explanatory title was “We can’t wait for a people’s vote; make the case against Brexit right now.”
Almost every day, I receive a message calling on me to write to my MP to persuade him or her to support the idea of a People’s Vote. Yesterday, the call came from Lord Kerslake and today it is from Lord Adonis. If I had heeded each such call that has come in over the last few months, I would have probably pestered my MP over 50 times, who, long ago, would have found a way of disposing of such letters without bothering to read them. If nothing else, the repetitive calls to write to our MP and to “chip in” suggest that the campaign is bereft of ideas on how to conduct itself and may be short of money.
The idea of holding a second referendum on whether to stay in or get out of the European Union makes democratic sense because it would show whether or not the “will of the people” is still in favour of leaving Europe now that voters understand more about what Brexit or a “no deal” might imply for our future. The thinly disguised hope of most of the People’s Vote supporters is that it would lead to a “win” for “remainers”, as the latest opinion polls suggest would be the case. The biggest risk is that it is quite likely that the proposal to hold a second referendum would not gain parliamentary approval, simply because we would be asking MPs to admit their own failure to reach a conclusion on how to move forward. And, if a people’s vote does go ahead, there is a big risk that “leave” might again win, if only because “remainers” have used all their resources on the call for the new vote rather than in making the case for the UK to stay in Europe. Today’s “day of action” may have been a good show of strength but should surely have been focussed on selling the advantages of staying in Europe rather than promoting a “process” as an end in itself.
This is why Freedland tells us: “I think pro-Europeans now have to make a different move. They can’t wait for the starting gun of a referendum that may or may not ever sound. Nor is it good enough to devote their energies simply to campaigning for such a vote, or to Commons manoeuvres to get one. They need instead to make the anti-Brexit case to the public right now, as if the referendum campaign had already begun. Don’t wait. Put up the posters, book the halls, spend the money right away. Do it now.”
Just one week ago, I had reached a similar conclusion and shared it with a friend who I believed might be involved in developing a new strategy for bringing the Brexit process to a closure, with Britain staying in Europe, by 29th March 2019. Here, with some slight recasting, is what I wrote:
“There seems to be a real opportunity to bring the Brexit process to a close by 29th March. If we don’t seize this opportunity, and pull all the stops out, we may have missed the bus.
People’s Vote has done a useful job in promoting the prospect of another referendum but it seems to be absorbing all “remain” campaigning capacities to promote its immediate objective rather than build popular support for Britain staying in Europe. Surely the highest priority right now must be to drum up massive visible support for the UK to turn its back on Brexit, given that we now know that there is no potential Brexit formula that will not leave Britain worse off and with less control over its destiny than the present arrangements.
I wonder how many potential voters even know that the UK government can unilaterally revoke the process of leaving Europe and let us get on with our normal lives, provided that we say we want do this before 29th March this year.
This calls for a deliberate focus of all campaigning capacity on achieving 3 goals within 6 weeks:
- To get an unassailable majority as soon as possible in parliament for Stopping No Deal. The present “amendment” is not sufficiently binding on government.
- To call on the leaders of all parties to be honest with themselves and the general public and to admit that there is no Brexit deal option that can compete with the present arrangements. We must nurture the idea of a consensual (non-blaming) approach to accepting that there is no prospect for arriving at a deal that is in the public interest.
- To build up a show of massive public support for MPs to request the PM to revoke Article 50 while this is possible.
If “no deal” is firmly ruled out and there is no proposed exit plan that can get both parliamentary and EU approval, then revoking Article 50 is the only way to avoid crashing out with catastrophic results.
Achieving these 3 objectives will require a highly focussed Whirlwind Campaign, using fresh tactics. Some possible elements include:
- Immediately shift all remain-supporting efforts, including People’s Vote (at least temporarily) from focusing on the call for a 2nd referendum in order to give full-time attention to this proposed campaign.
- Create a steering committee and small joint management team, backed by volunteers working from home.
- Do everything on the cheap and gain effectiveness by doing so, especially by mobilizing more and more volunteers across the country and getting the public to take possession of the campaign.
- Banish the term “remain”, that has bad connotations, and refer to “stay”!
- Keep all serving politicians out of campaign management. Avoid party affiliations. Appoint an Ambassador to Party Leaders.
- Use fresh tactics (there is a limit to how many times we can usefully write to our MPs!). For example, arrange weekly sit-ins outside every MP’s constituency office across the country on every Friday evening between now and end of March. Meetings will only close when MPs meet leaders or address the attendees. Use Saturdays for systematic house to house visits. Plan for just one major marching day.
- Don’t tell people what they should do. All contacts/propaganda/visits to be based on asking questions aimed at getting people to think seriously about what the options mean for their lives and their family.
- Create a simple campaign logo – perhaps a symbolic dove? Suggest DIY lapel badges, window posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, hats etc) encouraging individuals to craft their own. (run competition?).
- Describe and lament the mess in which we find ourselves but strictly avoid blaming anyone, any party, any media outlet etc. Avoid belligerence, triumphalism. Call for putting aside differences.
- Generate campaigning ideas centrally but encourage local groups to adapt them to the local scene.
- Target the “silent majority” who are fed up with the Brexit process and want to get back to a normal decent life.
If the EU and government insist on formal confirmation that the majority of people want to stay in Europe, then would be the time to seek approval for a second referendum which would only be possible by extending Article 50.