Remain should have won the 2016 referendum. Of course, we should have done.
We should have won. We could have won. And we would have won, with an entirely different campaign.
The Remain campaign never expected to lose. That was their mistake number one.
They were driven by aloof, smug, complacency. They thought they could easily win with a campaign that instilled fear into the British people.
Forecasts of doom.
But they should have learnt from the Blitz: the British people cannot be cowed or scared into submission.
On the other hand, the Leave campaigns were brilliant, compelling, and charismatic. Albeit all based on lies, mistruths and false promises.
Too little was done by the Remain campaign to demolish those lies, mistruths and false promises.
There was no effective counterattack. There was no brilliant, compelling, and charismatic campaign by Remain.
▪ REMAINING INEFFECTIVE
And the problem for the pro-EU side today?
There is still no brilliant, compelling, and charismatic campaign to demolish the lies of Leave.
We can perhaps understand the complacency prior to the referendum.
For most of the 43 years of our membership of the EU up to the referendum, leaving was not a mainstream call or demand.
Prior to the referendum, leaving was only a general election pledge once – by Labour, under the leadership of Michael Foot, for the election of 1983.
Labour’s manifesto then promised:
‘On taking office we will open preliminary negotiations with the other EEC member states to establish a timetable for withdrawal.’
But Labour spectacularly lost that election, giving the Tories led by Margaret Thatcher a landslide victory, achieving their best results since 1935.
Ardent Eurosceptic MP, Tony Benn, lost his seat.
No mainstream British party again promised withdrawal from the European Community, until of course, after the referendum of 2016.
Then both the Tories and Labour promised to “respect” the referendum result to leave the EU, despite both the Conservative government and the Labour opposition previously warning the nation that leaving was not in our interests and would damage Britain.
But in the decades before that referendum, leaving wasn’t on the agenda.
Yes, we’d had 40 years of nasty, untrue stories about the EU and migrants in some sections of our media.
A daily deluge of drip-fed hate against anything EU and blaming migrants for our problems.
But even despite that, it was only a minority in Britain that wanted us to leave: a small number on the fringes of the main parties, and a small party called UKIP.
▪ WHY REMAIN LOST
Something dramatically changed during the referendum campaign.
For the first time, it wasn’t just the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express that inculcated their readers with hostility towards anything to do with the EU and migrants.
For the first time, the entire country was pervaded with the virus of these false claims, under the guise of ‘balance’ required by law for the referendum hustings.
All the UK was exposed to a massive national platform and loudspeaker that blamed the EU, and migrants, for the country’s misfortunes.
It was on TV, it was in all the newspapers, it was on hoardings by the roadside. It was everywhere. It was called balance.
But where was the balance for the Remain campaign?
The Remain side didn’t have anything, even remotely effective, by way of a counterstrike.
All this was avoidable, if only there had been a national awareness raising campaign about the EU during the four decades before the referendum.
If that had happened, the chances are we’d never have had a referendum, or else, the win for Remain would have been decisive.
So few people in Britain understand anything about the EU; how it functions, and how it benefits members.
Even fewer probably know why the EU was started in the first place – to create peace on our continent following the most devastating war.
So many people in the UK don’t even know that there is a democratically elected European Parliament, let alone what it does.
We’d known since at least six years before the referendum that the Tories, exclusively among the main parties, wanted another referendum on Europe.
That was the time to launch a national awareness raising campaign about the EU. Not doing so was a careless mistake.
▪ WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Here’s the thing.
Not launching a national awareness campaign about the EU after the referendum was a catastrophic mistake.
It’s now almost EIGHT years since the referendum, and millions across Britain still don’t know that the EU is a democracy, run by its members for the benefit of its members.
Worse, many believe the exact opposite.
There’s been no effective, national awareness raising campaign in the UK about the EU.
We’ve left the EU, based on ignorance about what precisely we left.
There is no escaping the fact that Britain urgently needs a national awareness campaign to explain the facts about the EU.
We’ve never had one. It’s time we did.
It will probably take a decade of professional awareness campaigning to fully demolish all the deep-seated lies of Leave, and properly explain the EU and its benefits.
But the sooner we start, the sooner we can succeed.
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