A few days on, having allowed the dust to somewhat settle, it’s time to understand what exactly went wrong within the Remain campaign that allowed the status-quo to be defeated in a UK referendum for the first time in its history. It’s also important to understand just what options are left for those of us who are still passionately committed to the idea of the UK retaining its place in the European Union, and how likely they are to succeed.
For me, the failure of the Remain campaign is threefold, with Remain supporting Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the SNP footing the majority of the blame. Firstly, the ridiculous scare stories, such as World War III and/or the end of the world, which flowed so freely from the mouths of the likes of David Cameron immediately set the Remain campaign onto the back foot; not only did it allow the Leave campaign to portray themselves as the positive campaign, but also cast doubt into voters minds into whether anything said by the Remain campaign was actually believable. All of a sudden, Brexiteer “facts” that £350 million could be reclaimed from the EU to be spent on the NHS sounded all the more plausible in comparison to the death and destruction foretold by the Remain campaign. What should have happened is that the positive campaign, focusing on the benefits of the EU, should have been made from the outset, rather than only once polls began to suggest that Brexit was increasingly likely.
The second major flaw was shown on results night itself, as Labour voters outside of London voted in droves for Leave. The blame for this must lie with the Labour Party, who for so long during the campaign struggled to get the Remain message out, with a poll half way through the campaign claiming that Labour voters were not sure as to the Party’s position on the EU Referendum being particularly telling. Even once Labour had decided to throw its weight more forcefully behind the Remain campaign it managed to make it as difficult as possible; the Labour leadership’s refusal to appear on platforms with members of other parties, in particular the Conservatives, meant that the campaign appear divided, meanwhile the Leave campaign managed to put differences of Left and Right to one side and appear far more unified, typified by the appearance of Labour MP Gisela Stuart in many of the TV debates. Jeremy Corbyn’s one TV appearance on the other hand could be seen as nothing less than a disaster for the Remain campaign, as he sat in front of a Sky News audience reeling off a list of complaints he had about the EU as much as promoting its benefits. Jeremy Corbyn’s luke warm embrace of the Remain cause undeniably helped pave the way for its downfall.
In much the same way, the SNP are far from blameless for the Remain campaign’s demise. Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s more convincing appearances in front of the TV cameras, one has to wonder how much the SNP’s heart was really in it, on the basis that a vote to Leave would almost certainly allow them to campaign for a cause of far greater importance to them, a second referendum on Scotland’s independence. Despite Scotland voting for Remain, the turnout was far lower than that of the rest of the UK, which suggests that the SNP, as the majority party in Scotland, did simply not try hard enough to get the Scottish voters into the polling booths. Had the turnout in Scotland been anything close to the 80% turnout seen in the Independence Referendum, it’s likely that we would now be looking at a Remain victory.
However that is not the case, and those of us who still believe in Britain’s place in the European Union must look elsewhere for options, although I stress that the democratic decision made last Thursday must be respected as such, and any attempt to reverse this decision must be made equally democratically.
Whilst the online petition for a second referendum is a valiant effort, there is no way for it to be successful as Leave campaigning Conservative MPs would never allow it. Therefore with a second referendum for now off the cards, in my opinion the best way forward would be to campaign for an early general election, at which a party stands on the basis that it will reverse the referendum decision, therefore turning the general election into a de facto second referendum. The Liberal Democrats have already made this pledge, and they seemed best placed to lead the charge, as the Conservatives cannot possibly stand for continued membership of the EU as half of their MPs fundamentally disagree with it, and Labour would be taking a monumental risk to do so, as it risks creating an even deeper rift between the Labour MPs and their voters in the north of England, who voted to Leave. This would only play into the hands of UKIP, leaving us with the very real prospect of a Conservative government with a UKIP opposition. Therefore if we are to continue the campaign to remain in the EU, as well as at the same time stem the rise of the Right in this country, we must all, at least for now, join the Lib Dem fight back.
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