Building a ‘global progressive consensus’ around an issue today could be the best way to turn people against it
Sixteen months have now passed since the British people voted to leave the EU.
In the largest single mandate in Britain’s long democratic history, over 17 million people voted on the 23rd June 2016 to withdraw the UK from ‘ever closer union’ with many of its European neighbours.
It is important to remember that this was vehemently not what our political elite wanted.
Labour and the Lib Dems campaigned — albeit badly — to remain. Only 6 of 30 Conservative cabinet members backed leave — an important point to highlight given how strangely shocked UK journalists are now that a Conservative cabinet could be split on how to leave the EU. As the BBC graph below shows, the vast majority of MPs also backed remain, with Labour, in particular, appearing out of touch with its electorate.
The Conservative government even went as far as to use £9million of public funds to controversially deliver a leaflet to every household backing the remain vote. It also adopted the ill-advised and much criticised ‘Project Fear’ in the hope that the British people could be scared into voting for something (How could they fail to grasp the stubbornness of the British character!?).
David Cameron and George Osborne also called in as many favours as they could from the worlds of international diplomacy, finance, academia and media to create the appearance of a ‘global progressive consensus’ for the UK’s membership of the EU.
Investment banks, car manufacturers, international financial institutions, green NGOs, airlines, US presidents, universities, generals, scientists and the dreaded ‘experts’ were all called upon to publicly back EU membership.
While the tactic may have seemed sound at the time, there was one big snag though.
It failed to either identify or understand the widespread pessimism that had settled deep within voters — not just in Britain — but around the world. It grossly underestimated the lack of trust the ordinary voter now had in the ‘global progressive consensus’ being wheeled out in front of them on an hourly basis as the vote approached.
Because, in their eyes, this was, ultimately, the same consensus that had brought us the financial crash of 2007. The same consensus that had bailed out the banks and imposed austerity on the people. The same consensus that had lead us into destabilising wars in the Middle East and the failed conflicts born out of the Arab Spring. The same consensus that had ultimately lead to Europe’s borders crumbling under the sheer weight of numbers trying to flee conflict and poverty. The same consensus that had failed to manage the euro currency area, or support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, or to address the loss of trust which emanated from the MPs expenses scandal, or the wikileaks, luxleaks and Panama papers revelations.
No company would ever be suicidal enough to market its products today by calling on the global political, economic or journalistic elite to appeal to the wider public on its behalf.
The remain campaign foolishly thought it could.