By Georgia Bachti, YEM UK Treasurer
From scaremongering and elitism to loss of touch with the public and blind submission to corporate interests, the Remain side became the target of various accusations in the months leading up to the referendum. When engaging with them, Remainers passionately rejected them as dishonest communication ploys. The morning of June 24 found us all puzzled and wondering: if these accusations were indeed false, why was the referendum lost?
As is always the case with politics, the answer is complex and ambiguous. The fact remains though that a large portion of the blame is to be borne by those individuals and groups that campaigned for ‘Remain’. Indeed, political science singles out campaigns for referendums as particularly influential for the eventual outcome, contrary to their relatively modest impact on other types of elections. Thus, self-criticism is necessary. In retrospect, I have come to identify two fundamental issues with the Remain campaign: it was lacking emotion and it was lacking leadership. Let me examine those in turn.
Emotion is always a curious factor to consider in politics, but I believe that in this case it was a determining factor in rallying people behind the cause of Brexit. What was striking about the Leave campaign was their consistent failure to present voters with a coherent alternative to the EU. That was partly because there isn’t a sound one, partly because they represented diverse people in terms of politics and party affiliations. What truly united them was effectively an emotion, a passion to ‘take back control’, no matter what that meant. After all, in the words of Vote Leave’s campaign director Dominic Cummings ‘accuracy is for snake-oil pussies’ . The Remain side, on the other hand, was caught up in a ‘war of facts’ against their opponents, which focused more on correcting the claims of the Brexiteers than offering the electorate positive reasons to vote for the EU. Ultimately, this tactic failed to convince and motivate.
Claiming that leadership was lacking in such a personality-based debate might at first appear slightly paradoxical. What I mean by that is not absence of familiar political faces in the campaign; quite on the contrary, high-profile figures from Mark Carney to George Osborne dominated public discussions. Their interventions, however, came across more like a struggle for power than the honest and informative stance democratic leaders are expected to showcase. As the recent report of the Electoral Reform Society found, the public was not significantly swayed towards Remain by any of the leading figures, with David Cameron’s prominence even appearing to backfire, making 29% of voters more likely to vote Brexit. The aftermath of this lacking and fragmented leadership is still painfully felt today: the government’s reluctant stance to formally proceed with Brexit isn’t presented with a strong pro-EU alternative that could regain the trust of the disillusioned electorate.
Looking to the future I am now confronted with an inescapable paradox: what is a committed Europhile and a committed democrat to do in the face of Brexit? Opposing the referendum result feels like betraying a fundamental democratic procedure; accepting it leaves me with the bitter sensation that British democracy can do much better.