Persuading Leavers to remain – or not

Although the prospects for another referendum are looking increasingly rosy, nobody can predict the depth and extent of the chaos that will be needed to make it happen. At present, we cannot foresee the point at which the country will say; “OK, this has gone far enough. It’s time for a vote on it.” Sometime within the next 18 months would be sensible, of course, but regardless of when the time comes, the Remain camp will need to be confident of reversing last year’s original vote. Although a 52 to 48 result in favour of remain would be enough to win, it would be no more conclusive than the original referendum outcome and the bickering and hostility would continue. This means that the Remain campaigners will have to persuade a lot more people to change their minds in order to gain a conclusive outcome.

It is a characteristic of human nature is that people will always resist admitting that they were wrong. In most cases the evidence needs to be pretty conclusive before they consider a climb-down and even then, rational judgement cannot be assured. Arguments used during on-street canvassing may be rock solid yet the Brexit enthusiast will be capable of listening politely and then ignoring everything they have heard regardless of how rational and conclusive it may have been.

When canvassing, this makes it essential to identify and counter an individual’s reasons for supporting Brexit. Economic arguments will not work because if they did, nobody would have voted for Brexit in the first place. The Remain campaign failed to see this, which is why it lost. People will bicker about hard or soft Brexit, Customs Union membership or not, but these are not the real reasons behind people voting to leave, they are just incidental details. The key factors can now be narrowed down to “Getting Our Country Back” and stopping immigration from wherever it might originate. Another, less specific but equally compelling reason is that, thanks to years of tabloid abuse, many people simply don’t like or trust Europeans. Without an ability to argue persuasively against these points Remain supporters cannot hope to swing the vote.

The key point to remember is that voting to leave for most was not a rational choice. People might try and support their decision with statistics and political justifications, but ultimately it was a gut reaction fostered by beliefs and perceptions that are much harder to dislodge. Somebody can be battered with powerful and convincing arguments yet they will still not be persuaded that they were wrong.

Readers of The New European (who I hope will include all readers of this newsletter) may have read a recent article in which Anthony Clavane describes his findings during a recent visit to Clacton. He interviewed a substantial number of Baby Boomers, namely people over the age of 65, to discover whether there was any regret about their having, in the words of Vince Cable, “shafted the future of our young people.” Clavane concluded that, in short, there wasn’t. Not a jot. Pensioners, gits and geezers in various stages of decrepitude were unanimous in their belief that they had acted in the country’s best interests to shape its destiny for the benefit of young people who don’t have enough life experience to know better. Hard or soft Brexit is irrelevant, they just want out. It won’t matter to them if the economy collapses because it will be worth it and everyone has to make sacrifices. It will be a price worth paying “to get their country back”. One 92-year-old interviewee said; “Unlike the youngsters, we knew what it was like before we were in the EU…I’d have no regrets if the kids did lose their jobs… But I know how we used to live and how things used to be. We used to be much better off, definitely. The main thing is that Britain should have control of its own destiny.”

False Memory Syndrome is clearly a widespread malaise in Clacton as those of us who can also remember those days have no misconceptions about what a generally miserable and impoverished place Britain was to be in. Living in The Poor Man of Europe meant strikes, a huge trade gap, pollution, unaffordable foreign travel, a repressive judicial system and stultifying class divisions. People still complained about immigrants but in those days they were coming from Jamaica and the West Indies. Food was awful – so bad that newly arrived restaurateur Michel Roux recalls that he could only buy olive oil from a chemist. As far as this correspondent was concerned, the only good things to come out of the sixties and seventies were The Beatles and Carly Simon. To be fair, many Brexit head bangers would agree with this yet would still fall back onto the apparent need to “reclaim our sovereignty” as the ultimate solution to every ill. It may turn Britain into a crap country, but it will be our crap country. We can, of course, hope that when the next referendum occurs most of them will be dead. This will disqualify them from voting in a more conclusive way than the 16 to 18-year-olds, the EU citizens resident here and Brits living overseas were the last time.

This article is not, however, the place to spell-out and counter the gaping holes in the sovereignty argument, but it is something that anti-Brexit campaigners, must be equipped to do. Extensive reading, research and further articles here should, and must, equip every Remainer with the ability to shoot the sovereignty argument down in flames whenever it is heard. Of course, for the reasons explained earlier, that is still no guarantee that Brexiters will change their minds. The head bangers will still stuff their fingers in their ears and shout “la, la, la”. But it is our job to undermine their self-confidence, to introduce a worm of doubt that eats into their convictions. They still may never admit that they were wrong, but perhaps when the next polling day comes around they might just decide that it’s not worth firing-up the Zimmer frame, but to stay in front of the telly and leave politics to the young.