When does the autopsy on the Remain campaign begin?

by Kevin Meagher

Three months after the Remain campaign crashed to defeat, there is ne’er a squeak in British politics about what went wrong.

This is strange. Surely an autopsy on a losing campaign is entirely logical and much needed?

Where did the high hopes and expectations of Remainers come unstuck? When was the moment the voting public decided they wanted to jump the other way?

There’s lots of analysis about the effects of Brexit (with the Fabians weighing in just this week), but nothing about the campaign itself.

Perhaps the absence of any hint of organised reflection and public analysis is explained by the reaction of many hard-core Remainers.

They refuse to come out of the jungle and accept the war is over. Denialism is rampant.

They want to play on after the allotted 90 minutes. To continue boxing for a 13th round. Any excuse to avoid the glaring conclusion: they lost.

‘Ah but Leave promised to spend £350 million more on the NHS, that’s why they won.’

Their lies were better than our lies.

‘There should be a second referendum’.

Best out of three?

This refusal to pore over the failure of the Remain campaign shows-up how our unloved political class simply cannot accept or understand why they are no longer in control of events.

It’s an unfamiliar feeling. But this is the true meaning of Brexit. The moment when the British public became self-aware and political authority died a very public death.

When Westminster learned the hard way that it doesn’t, in fact, have magical powers of persuasion.

Outside London and the EU client statelets of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England was a desert for Remainers.

What united the fishermen of Grimsby, with the ex-steel workers of Redcar was the clear sense the EU was damaging to their lives and communities. They were right: it was.

The common fisheries policy and the inability of the British government to offer state aid to keep the steel industry going impacted disastrously on those areas.

Of course there were plenty of other places that benefitted massively from EU funding, but many of them also opted to leave. Why did the message not get through?

Perhaps it’s because Remain was, in its bones, an establishment attempt to talk down to the little people. No dialogue, no conversation, no persuasion; just a procession of political and business elites taking turns to shout down a megaphone.

It was a poorly-led and badly conceived attempt to bounce the British public with a bombardment of desperate exaggerations that quickly ceased to be credible.

Of course, the Remain effort would have been helped if the European Union had displayed even the merest interest in reforming itself in recent years.

Somewhere along the way, the dream of inter-governmental co-operation descended into bureaucratic bullying and waste.

When Europe should have combined German industriousness and British invention, it settled for Mediterranean levels of probity and leadership from the gnomes of Brussels.

Still, the campaign could have been won if David Cameron had been equal to the task of negotiating a better deal for the UK. Limiting the free movement of people in the single market to stem migration into Britain would have probably done enough to convince a majority of Brits to stay.

But Frau Merkel was too pig-headed to help him secure one.

She was willing to do whatever it took to keep a basket case like Greece in the Eurozone, but was obstinacy personified when it came to preventing Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, from walking out the door. Madness.

So we are where we are; not where we ought to be or, indeed, could have been.

Does any of it now matter?

If there is any prospect of a second referendum at some stage, then, yes, it does.

Understanding why Remain lost ground throughout the campaign, why nothing it did worked and why there was no moment when it’s overblown pitch to retain the status quo cut-through with the British public, are all necessary lessons to learn.

Instead of behaving as they were meant to, voters defied expectations and opted for the devil they didn’t know.

This is surely the acme of a disastrous campaign?

A large dose of humility and introspection is the obvious remedy.

I shall not, however, hold my breath.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut


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13 Responses to “When does the autopsy on the Remain campaign begin?”

  1. ad says:

    Surely an autopsy on a losing campaign is entirely logical and much needed?

    Why? Are we going to have another referendum campaign to apply the lessons to?

  2. Yellow Submarine says:

    Curious as I’ve spent the last 100 days reading stuff on why Remain lost. I don’t think the analysis goes far, fast or deep enough yet but to argue there has been no reflection on it at all is absurd. The authors catergorisation of Remain as the establishment is lazy as well. As has been well established both Remain and Leave were Westminster led establishment campaigns.

  3. Dragonfighter says:

    A good start would be to recognise which way each country of the UK voted, Wales voted LEAVE.

  4. Martin says:

    There is little talk about what went wrong as the principal architect of the disaster (one D. Cameron) has fallen on his sword. Cameron thought he could deploy the usual Tory economic scare tactics (Vote for the other lot and your job will disappear and your mortgage will go up) that served him so well in the Scottish referendum and the 2015 general election. Boy was he ever wrong.

    Let’s not forget Gideon’s warning about house prices falling if we left. A few people I know thought that would be a good thing.

  5. sewartboye says:

    I thought I was reading a UKIP rant not a Labour guy here, but when Kevin states that: “The moment when the British public became self-aware and political authority died a very public death” as his analysis of Brexit, his personal views become very clear. I disagree with most of them as sheer bias and not true. Years of misinformation on the EU (bent bananas etc) peddled by the likes of Boris Johnson ((his first career as Telegraph Brussels man) and the Mail etc, linked to real fears that people have about about immigration was the potent mix that pulled in Leave voters. My Mum used to live in Spalding where the town centre has changed dramatically due to a high level of east European farm workers. It completely unsettles her and others to hear foreign voices on market day and pure Polish cafes etc. So when an opportunity came to say ‘stick it’ they did. You dismiss Scotland and London as ‘EU client statelets’ – blimey mate, you need to get out more. They are a lot more sophisticated and grown up about their politics than you seem to be. Get out more and away from your little bubble of pub bar sanctimonious opinion.

  6. Anon says:

    The voting experience for the UK public normally consists of “keeping the other guy out”.
    Free of tribal loyalty, the UK public finally had a chance to say what they thought of the European Union.

    Anti-EU sentiment has always been there – and @sewartboye advancing the argument that the UK people base our democracy on “bent bananas” is frankly insulting; the EU parliament deciding for the UK whether its people should be able to smoke an e-ciggy is more to the point – or whether it should have an EU constitution rammed down its throat in the form of the Lisbon Treaty.

  7. Mark Livingston says:

    Alan Johnson was hopeless. Neither seen nor heard.

  8. “What united the fishermen of Grimsby, with the ex-steel workers of Redcar was the clear sense the EU was damaging to their lives and communities. They were right: it was.”

    They believed that the EU was damaging their lives and communities. What was really damaging them was the Westminster Gov’t.

    True, the remain campaign was incompetent, but leaving the EU won’t make any of those people’s lives better, it will only make them worse.

    Yes, we lost, and we need to address the real issue.

  9. While I disagree with parts of Kevin Meagher’s article (for example, there has been quite of lot of thought into why Remain lost), he is right about two things:
    – if there is a second referendum, it really matters that we understand why people voted Leave
    – once the terms of exit are negotiated, there could be a further referendum (but probably only if public opinion shifts in favour of Remain)

  10. Jean-Claude Drunkard says:

    once the terms of exit are negotiated, there could be a further referendum (but probably only if public opinion shifts in favour of Remain)

    That’s bollocks. Once Article 50 is invoked we are out 24 months later even if the negotiations are still on-going. It cannot be un-invoked – it is deliberately designed to be a totally closed one-way process.

    Get two hard facts in your head.
    1. There can be no negotiations until Article 50 is invoked.
    2. It cannot be stopped or reversed once it is.

    A second referendum would be a totally pointless and irrelvant exercise because it can’t actually achieve anything.

  11. James Thursday says:

    The campaign failed on a number of levels, from personalities to leaflets.

    The theory was ‘better together’ struggled as it was all party, so for the EU ref it was going to be Labour in talking to their voters, Tories to theirs etc and stronger in to everyone else. It didn’t work as A lot of Tories decided a quiet campaign would be career beneficial whatever the result, the highest profile remainers are eithe back bench or back home.

    Corbyn was at best a reluctant remainer, hardly the attitude to motivate a Labour ‘in’ campaign that never really got running. The Lib Dems were the most active, but there wasn’t enough of them to make an impact nationwide. It ended up as the Dave and George show, hardly the duo to attract the working class vote!

    The Leave campaign were far more motivated, they had been convinced for a decade or more that the UK’s ills were from either the people or rules that came from Europe or could be solved by the money that went the other way. Their campaign started in the 1990’s.

    That was probably the main issue. Leave started 25 years before remain. And in those 25 years, the Tories wouldn’t challenge as it would re-open wounds. New Labour saw it as a potential vote loser and would try to keep on home turf of NHS and welfare. Even the Lib Dems would rarely put it on the front of anything. When you want to repeat a message to get the non political voter out, 25 year head start is buggy, especially with most print media on your side.

    Politicians also failed any EU positive was jumped on the minister or MP to take full credit, every awkward decision could be blamed on EU rules. Politicians spent years feeding the ‘leave’ monster, for short term personal gain.

    Finally the leaflets. Leave produced clear simple messages, mostly nonsense but clear. Remain tried to be clever and produce leaflets for different people depending whether the were in business, in poverty, in fear or green. As these were handed out at street stalls on a Saturday afternoon, You’d often hand the wrong messages out.

    I’m not sure we need any more than that. If there is another referendum, it will be a different question, based on destination rather than departure. As that was the mistake of the last referendum. Leavers voted for their own different utopian promised land, when you add to the 48% the leavers who don’t like the Theresa deal you end with a tiny minority who actually won the referendum.

  12. @Jean-Claude Drunkard said “Once Article 50 is invoked we are out 24 months later even if the negotiations are still on-going. It cannot be un-invoked – it is deliberately designed to be a totally closed one-way process”

    There’s some debate on the legalities of this. See https://infacts.org/revoking-article-50/

    Regardless, if the rest of Europe don’t want a hard exit after 24 months, the negotiations can be extended beyond 24 months. They could, in theory, be extended indefinitely.

    This is important for those of us who cling to the hope that our membership of the EU can be preserved.

    If there were a further referendum before article 50 (and there won’t be), we would lose, because there would not have been enough time for the consequences of the Brexit vote to affect voters.

    If, after Article 50, things start to get bad, public opinion may change. In that case, it *might* be possible to get a referendum on exit terms, and to win it.

    (It could be argued that any further referendum was a third referendum, there having been a referendum in 1973)

  13. Tafia says:

    George stop clutching at straws. Tusk, Junker et al have already made it perfectly clear.

    First you won’t accept the result, then you won’t accept the negotiation rules even though the tin Gods you worship have made them clear (and we’ve accepted). Next you’ll refuse to accept the Corbyn result, the 3.30 at Haydock, and whether 9 out of 10 cats prefer whiskas.

    We’re going. That is all there is to it. And we don’t have to go through the negotiations if we don’t want to. We can just chuck in A50, forego the negotiations and walk away and there is absolutely nothing the EU can do about it.

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