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Why the EU Elections are the People's Vote

Word Count: 1,500

Almost as soon as the referendum result became apparent, calls begun to be heard amongst Remainers that we should have a Second Referendum. Many had expected the vote to go Remain’s way and were left shocked and mortified when the vote went the other way, if only by a close margin. Many in Remain quickly started to tell the story that this could only have happened because the Brexit-voting population must largely be misinformed and have made a mistake. Thus, began the controversy of the People’s Vote.

Now was there misinformation during the EU referendum? Of course there was. When has there been a political campaign where there wasn’t? On the Brexit side, which Remain politician hasn’t rehashed the infamous ‘£350m for the NHS’ Brexit bus? Indeed, it was quite clear that much of the Brexit campaign was about stirring emotions and identifying ‘Brexit’ with the left behind and those spurned and ridiculed by the equally now infamous ‘liberal metropolitan elite’. Catchy car bumper slogans like ‘Take back control!’ and ‘Our Independence Day!’ could be seen galore. However, misinformation persisted on the Remain side too. I mean, the apocalypse hadn’t happened in the UK last time I checked, even if the £ has dropped. The Remain campaign did its fair share of emotion stirring around the ‘nightmare’ of a post-Brexit Britain. Furthermore, it was clear that accusations of the existence of a ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ were perhaps not quite untrue as Remain began identifying itself with urban-dwelling people with generally liberal outlooks and too often a sense of elitist enlightenment that at least they were not like those ‘backwards, regressive Brexiteers’.

Politics is essentially the art of story-telling and frequently it’s a case of the best story-teller wins. The political landscape is not conquered through facts and figures but through imagination, vision and a sense of what could be. So of course misinformation persists. A story cannot be true or false, but it can be truer or falser than another story. For this reason, political campaigns, like the EU referendum, contain a mixture of truth, exaggeration, half-truths, and blatant lies. There might be more truths than lies, but essentially there is always a mixture. Interestingly, Remain had the ‘facts advantage’ because it could actually talk about the tangible reality of how our relationship with the EU is now. The facts and figures were ready to hand, and because of this Remain politicians always seemed to be quoting statistics of various sorts about how the EU benefited the UK. Brexit politicians could only use facts and figures in a negative way to argue why the EU was bad for Britain. But with no positive facts of their own to say what a post-Brexit Britain would actually be like, they could only rely on models and what ifs. However, when it came to generating emotion, what was Remain supposed to do? “Three cheers for the status quo!”…Yeah, not the best campaign idea, especially when your supporters and politicians also concur that that status quo is not perfect. Stir up fear and dread about what Brexit could be? That’s a better way about it. Likewise, what Brexit did so well, and arguably what won it the referendum, was that it stirred up enough belief and passion amongst the British public about what post-Brexit Britain could look like that people were stirred to take the risk and vote to see this vision of possibility become a reality. This vision of possibility won out over the presentation of facts and figures about a relatively uninspiring status quo.

Why does all this matter? Because on May 23, in a strange twist of fate, the British public are unexpectedly going to be voting to send MEPs to a Parliament that 52% voted three years ago to leave. The EU Elections of 2019 will see the British electorate coming together to vote for (what are currently) utterly pointless MEPs, and because of this, the EU Election is not about electing MEPs—it’s about showing whose story is truer.

Since the referendum, the story of Remain is that the country has changed its mind and there is no longer a majority in favour of Brexit. What was presented as a rosy, simple, black-and-white picture of how the world could be has been shown to be a far more complicated, boring, confusing waste of resources than anyone was expecting. The British people have been sold a lie, and they now want out.

In the Brexit camp, the story is one of betrayal by Remain politicians who have sabotaged the will of the British people. They have botched what they promised to deliver, mainly because they haven’t had the guts to stick it to the EU and prove that a No Deal is better than a Bad Deal. The British people have not changed their mind. If anything, they are more determined than ever to prove to the patronising Remainers that they were not mistaken when they voted and meant what they said.

Neither of these stories presents a totally accurate picture of reality, though both do give some of that picture. However, believe me when I say that the EU elections will be used to legitimise one of these stories over the other. It is for this reason that Nigel Farage has brought himself out of retirement to once again lead the Brexit charge. Seeing the EU Elections for what they are—a People’s Vote by another name—Farage has made sure that The Brexit Party is the clear party to vote for if you want to leave the EU. Unfortunately for Remain, no politician has had the foresight to do the same. Those clearly wanting to vote ‘Remain’ in this EU Election must choose between either ChangeUK or the Liberal Democrats. And that’s not including the Labour and Green Parties who lean in the Remain direction.

A number of Remainers have been calling for a People’s Vote for some time. However, as far as I can see, it is those pushing for Brexit, not Remain, who are taking advantage of the EU Elections to have a People’s Vote on Brexiteer, not Remainer, terms. If the People’s Vote were ever to officially happen, it would be a passionate, frenzied and undoubtedly divisive contest. I honestly don’t know which side would end up winning such a contest, but both sides would give it their all. However, instead the Brexit campaign has spotted its opportunity to put an end to Remain’s story of a nation that has changed its mind without needing to risk such a contest. And that’s by having the contest under another name with a Remain vote that is disorganised and split and a Brexit campaign that is revitalised and energised.

Up to this point (I hope) I’ve held my cards relatively close to my chest. The debate around Brexit has become so polarising, you rarely hear people presenting their opinions in a way that doesn’t paint the other side as the ‘menace within’. However, I did vote Remain and did (and still do) think Brexit is a bad idea. Nevertheless, I hope I have been fair to both my Leave and Remain readers in presenting the stories and feelings of both sides. Politics should be about seeking to understand each other so that we can go forward together, not a fight to the death in order to crush the other side.

However, I have to be honest and say I have been hoping for a People’s Vote. Furthermore, my hope for this was for no more noble a reason than a political calculation on my part that it seems like the only chance there is of stopping something I think would be bad for Britain. It’s the only way of ‘proving’ Remain’s story that the people have had a change of heart. Likewise, I think Brexiteers are often so against a People’s Vote because they’ve made the same political calculation. To agree to a People’s Vote is to endorse the possibility that Remain’s story might be truer and that people have changed their minds. Why risk that if you think Brexit is what’s best for Britain?

But what if you can have a national vote on Europe which, because no one was expecting it and it’s not a People’s Vote with a Yes/No tick-box, doesn’t risk Remain coming together to present a united front? Then, you can placate ‘Remoaners’ with minimal risk. A close contest is less close when one side is pooling its votes amongst several different parties.

I wrote this post because, as I’ve explained, I think the Brexit campaign is being much savvier than Remain in understanding the importance of the upcoming EU elections. Leave understands that the Cup Final is not several months away but right here, right now, and it’s playing better football. This article is my little attempt to wake the Remain campaign up so there isn’t the same complacency there was when the EU referendum first happened. Whether or not it’s a fair contest or you’re ready for it, the ‘People’s Vote’ is happening next Thursday, and one story or another is going to be shown truer as a result. If you want Brexit, vote for the Brexit Party. If you want Remain, then don’t be complacent and find a clear way to show it.

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