With tensions growing in Westminster, a People’s Vote is now a firm possibility rather than an emerging movement. However, if the ultimate goal is to stop Brexit, then Remain must adapt and change to reflect the past three years, and its own failures.
In April this year, the People’s Vote campaign was formally established with its eyes set on a referendum as an achievable route out of Brexit. The continual criticisms of People’s Vote have made scathing remarks on its anti-democratic establishment ethos, or its ‘metropolitan elite’ focus.
But after three major protest marches, and hundreds of local events organised in parallel, the People’s Vote campaign has finally become a mainstream option.
Undoubtedly this is the result of incredible dedication by activists and local groups who have committed their time to petitioning and canvassing across the UK. It is through this grassroots activism that the campaign can achieve its final goal.
The Westminster atmosphere is fraught with uncertainty and gridlock. The postponing of the ‘meaningful vote’ on 11 December showed that the Conservative government are deeply divided and unable to establish a consensus in line with Theresa May’s deal.
While the Prime Minister predictably escaped being ousted, her position is built on soft sand that could shift with any passing day. The People’s Vote campaign has rightly capitalised on this volatility and used it to promote the necessity for a second referendum.
Now I was a sceptic of the second referendum concept. Truth be told, I had consigned myself to be a political nomad after two years of disappointment. The turning point for me came in June when the first official People’s Vote march descended onto London with 100,000 supporters in procession.
I remember seeing the CCTV footage of the march entering Parliament Square, emblazoned in a sea of colourful flags and banners. For the first time, I sensed there was a way out of the Brexit mess through legitimate and honest means.
I subsequently attended the October march along with 700,000 people performing as a mist of confidence to a single idea.
And now People’s Vote is climbing higher in notice and understanding, with polls all suggesting a true breakthrough. If there is a second referendum, and the People’s Vote campaign is to succeed in its goal – the arguments and rhetoric must reflect the opportunity we have to stop Brexit.
There is now a stronger motivation for remaining in the EU, but the future campaign must reflect that notion without question. Listed below are several areas I believe need a serious focus for a successful future campaign:
Firstly, this is a people’s movement established by and for the people. If the referendum comes, a Remain campaign cannot get stuck on who should be the sole figurehead.
Lord Adonis has suggested former PM John Major as a potential candidate. It is my view that having an official leader would weaken that sense of collective decision-making that People’s Vote is intrinsically built on.
A dynamic and diverse group of voices and activists should perform a collective role, each with their specialist areas but working on the same ethos and motivations. It is also important that this wide group is not made up of the traditional voices from politics, but local and regional activism, as well as business and culture.
If a second referendum has been achieved, the Remain campaign must fully support its democratic credentials. It would be an extension to the 2016 referendum, working with new information and arguments to perform its role.
But this does not mean that Remain is above the arguments made in 2016, or somehow superior to the opposite choice on ballot. Harnessing this crucial argument is vital to prove People’s Vote as a legitimate campaign working for the people.
Alongside that is the prevailing argument of Remain as an ‘establishment’ voice which repelled some voters for suggestions of superiority or authority. To counter this, Remain must emphasise the universal impact of both choices on the ballot paper.
In Remain’s case, there has to include a concluding tone to the chaos of the past three years. Explaining how staying in the EU will mean that Britain’s position will stay the same without any huge constitutional changes like Brexit. Appealing to universal arguments may be more beneficial than specific evidence-based rhetoric in some cases.
The largest ethical change has to come through a complete and unequivocal acceptance of freedom of movement and migration. This cannot be up for debate.
Undoubtedly, the 2016 referendum included arguments based on anti-FOM/migration ideology and critique. The recent collapse of UKIP can be used as a prime example of how prejudice can never succeed as a political motivation.
People’s Vote must drop all notions that the UK can reform freedom of movement and instead champion its importance. Crucially, this promotion should be done appealing to human experience and natural rights, rather than economic benefits.
To support that change, a Remain campaign has to harness what the EU is good for. The 2016 Remain campaign failed to capture this emotion, instead focusing largely on economics.
Championing EU policy and polity in areas such as science, technology and culture, as a reciprocal benefit. Emphasising the important role of EU policy on climate change is also highly pertinent.
But importantly, this description cannot exclusively rely on economic arguments alone. Hearing numbers and figures about GDP or deficits has been proved to be a dull argument in serious emotional choices like Brexit. Using well rounded phrasing such as “Staying as an EU member will continue to make our society and economy better off.” One should not be without the other.
It is also important to reach out to every part of the UK, in every nation and region to show why Remain is good for them. Local campaigners have already worked with this, but a wider campaign point is vital to ensure universal success.
Criticisms of Remain’s reach into working class, seaside, ‘forgotten’ boroughs should be a deep focus – emphasising locality as well as a wider national message.
We also have to promote the millions of EU citizens who are living in the UK, working, living, and loving thanks to the EU and freedom of movement.
Creating a diverse picture of how the EU operates in Britain is essential to show its integrated nature. Establishing this as a natural course of life is certainly a way to show how established the UK is with EU nations.
Finally, rather than expressly pointing out the illegal nature of the 2016 vote, this should be reduced as a working argument. The effectiveness of proving how 2016 was a crime is suggesting that people’s now deeply entrenched views are now worth much less.
Instead, establishing the concept that 2016 was a ‘flawed vote’ still maintains its controversy but cuts out the specifics. This referendum would be a shot at redemption, and a different mandate to 2016.
If a referendum is to occur, the Remain argument must be more passionate, diverse, and responsive than the previous vote. The People’s Vote has succeeded as a movement due to its ability to work with all sections of society, and through an international lens.
Seeing the colours and stripes on flags in October, proved to me that this campaign was worth more than a simple argument. Saying “We want a referendum” is an easy expression but learning and responding to people’s concerns is a truly human gesture.
Remain has to adapt to be a notion of civility and compassion. Presenting the political impasse as a meaningful chance to rectify politics and give the people their right to a vote.
If Remain is to succeed, it must be about the people – not Westminster.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)