The Remain supporters’ vote is divided and political tit-for-tat has ensued. With the European Elections weeks away, is there any room for partisanship and negative campaigning, or is this a winning strategy?
If the biggest takeaway from the European Union membership referendum is something about buses and hollow promises, in at a close second is the realisation that a voter’s heart is much stronger than their head. Doom and gloom didn’t sell. Reeling off statistics from economic think tanks had a hard time contending with one liners about regaining control and being prosperous again. The sort of thing which feels a great deal more tangible than the fact the big Bank of England believes it’s better if we stay. I hold my hands up to this myself; here is a post I wrote aged 16 to argue my own reasons for staying. I sound like a carbon copy of David Cameron (as much as it now pains me to say), or the Stronger In campaign; I wasn’t saying anything particularly striking.
Now, this lesson is not something niche that I’ve picked out post-Brexit. Countless newspapers and academics have repeatedly told us that the campaigns were poorly executed. Post-referendum Nick Clegg did a good job fleshing all the ’emotional positives’ out in his book ‘How to Stop Brexit’. I suppose it’s just a shame that those praises weren’t sung with a lot more force back when it counted. He wrote a passionate account of European Integration, making you feel a lot more connected to your Europeanness. Even as a remainer you realise that you could probably have been persuaded to shout louder about the EU three years ago.
Of course I must put in this disclaimer – hindsight is a wonderful thing – and I think it was quite easy (although very naive) to be complacent about the result being ‘Remain’ in 2016 when the polls didn’t say any different. We’ve seen the consequences now, but it seems like nothing has changed. Now, in the run up to the European Elections which are kind of billed as EU Referendum take two, the campaigns haven’t brightened up.
I’m sure we can agree that there’s a line between holding people to account and smearing them to further your campaign, especially without offering any real incentives to voting for your party. It quite depressing that democracy is now a case of ‘place your vote where it makes you feel least sick!’ rather than ‘vote in line with the party in which you see the most merit’. Here’s an informational slideshow I made with a five minute scroll through Twitter to give you some context:
Obviously, these are snippets of a wider campaign, and some parties are doing more smearing than the others. I couldn’t fairly represent what’s going on in my slideshow without spending a fair few weeks collecting data and sifting through millions of tweets, but I wanted to give you an example. It’s also not a phenomenon which has only started now. I think British voters know too well the political smearing that goes on during the run-up to elections. However, as a voter who is also looking to cast an issue-based vote, I feel less inclined to give up my vote for a party who’s playing party politics instead of campaigning solely on why my vote is best placed with them. I was genuinely very taken aback when I saw the Liberal Democrats and Green Party firing shots at each other last week. Obviously, it’s quite possible that I am alone in thinking that though, and maybe this sort of thing is good in small quantities, or resonates with others.
Dare I say it, the Brexit vote is probably comfortably with The Brexit Party seeing as the only alternative option would be the Conservatives who most consider incompetent. So, the Remain supporting parties have now resorted to petty jabs at each other to try and claw votes. There is genuinely no comradery or sense of securing a common desirable outcome, or even trying to campaign on their individual merits. It has fast descended into messy partisanship, something I completely loathe about British politics.
I know the way the EU referendum campaign (and now the European Elections campaign) was dealt with is just a product of the nature of our politics. What illustrates this well is that if you study UK politics at college, they usually make a point of making you compare pictures of international assemblies. What you realise how oppositional the UK is in particular. The House of Commons features two sides of political debate opposite each other (literally referred to as ‘adversarial layout’ whereas some country use semi-circle/circle socialisation models – sounds a bit more friendly right, like they’re here to do good not just be contrary for the sake of it), the second largest party is called ‘the opposition’, and if that’s not enough to convince you, the House of Commons sit two sword lengths apart. Our politics is quite literally built on the premise of fighting and negativity, and has preventative measures in place so our parliamentary predecessors didn’t knock each others heads off with the tips of their swords.
Sadly, I fear it will always be about polarisation, partisanship and adversarialism, and that’s becoming increasingly more apparent as the Remain campaign fail to draw lessons from previous losses. Let it not be forgotten however, that The Brexit Party have indeed got themselves a battle bus. There were of course lessons to be learnt on both sides of the debate; and I grant some credit to the Leave campaigners here. At least in The Brexit Party they have decided to discard precise misleading statistics, and instead use a nice and non-specific, no commitment ‘changing politics for good’.