How to fight hard Brexit: Step 2 – Learn from the Brexiteers, use their tactics against them

In a series of three pieces, Atul Hatwal sets out how hard Brexit can be fought in the coming years. Today he looks at the political tactics needed to control the debate

The unwritten story of the past twenty years of British politics is the triumph of the nutter. Or at least, those who were once commonly described as such.

I started working for the Labour party in the mid-1990s. Back then, the Maastricht rebels – the political forbears of today’s Brexiteers – were regarded as fringe loons yearning for pre-Suez Britain, while hard left refuseniks such as Jeremy Corbyn were similarly dismissed as deluded Bennite voices from a long dead past.

In possibly the quote of the decade, John Major’s press secretary, Tim Collins, described John Redwood’s supporters in the 1995 Tory leadership contest as the “swivel-eyed barmy army, from ward eight at Broadmoor.”

How times change.

Many centrist words have been expended bemoaning the triumph of yesterday’s nutters, not enough understanding why they have been successful.

The journey from margin to mainstream for Brexiteers and hard left alike has been driven by a common political tactic, a tactic which pro-Europeans should repeat in the fight against hard Brexit: co-ordination between ultras and moderates.

Campaigns to move opinion on big issues are won by tag teams. Ultras and moderates working together, wittingly or otherwise.

Ultras are needed to yank the Overton window – that narrow range of ideas which constitute the acceptable range of debate at any one time – from its resting place. Moderates then intervene to legitimise the shift.

The cycle is well established.

First, the ultras say or do something arresting that is outside of the mainstream and are condemned as heretics. Then comes the rationalisation where moderates enter the debate, validating the underlying content of the ideas expressed if not the explicit nature of their presentation and finally, after several turns of the news cycle with multiple op-eds, bloviation, repetition and normalisation of the original ultra position, the centre of debate shifts.

The Maastricht rebels were ultras who created the political space for slightly more moderate Eurosceptics such as William Hague and Michael Howard to move the Tory party to the right on Europe, generating a momentum that David Cameron could not or did not have the courage to stop.

The net result is that the majority position in the Tory party of 2016 is to the right of what the Maastricht rebels were originally calling for.

Ed Miliband was content to allow people like Len McCluskey and hard left outriders to attack Labour centrists and trash the record of the last Labour government from the left. Miliband’s acquiescence simultaneously shifted the centre of Labour politics to the left and reconnected the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell with mainstream debate in the party.

The leftward momentum generated under Ed Miliband overwhelmed his political heirs at the 2015 and 2016 Labour leadership elections with the net result that Labour is firmly in the grip of the hard left.

Politicians like Ken Clarke, Anna Soubry, Caroline Lucas, Nick Clegg and David Lammy have emerged as outriders for the pro-European cause, starkly setting out the scale of the impending economic calamity. Journalists such as Ian Dunt, Matthew Parris, Matthew D’Ancona and David Aaronovitch make the unapologetic case against hard Brexit.

This group is growing and at the vanguard of the fight. Their passion and toughness, despite the opprobrium heaped upon them, establishes a bulwark against the momentum towards hard Brexit.

However, their efforts will be in vain unless more moderate pro-Europeans legitimise and validate what they are saying.

The easy option for moderates would be to criticise the outriders. To deride those MPs calling for more time and information about government plans before Article 50 is triggered.

There would be approving articles from Brexiteer commentators about the sensible centre turning away from shrill pro-EU voices that are divisive and alienate the public.

But this just plays the hard Brexiteer game.

One of the defining characteristics of the behaviour of mainstream Tory Eurosceptics when talking about the Maastricht rebels was a non-aggression pact. There might have been personal differences behind the scenes but there was rarely any criticism of the cause.

When the pro-EU outriders stake out a position, moderates need to move in behind them.

For example, if a politician such as David Lammy says he will vote against Article 50 because of the economic catastrophe of rushing into Brexit, moderates shouldn’t condemn him but instead talk about the real issues he is raising and the risks for their constituents from what is in prospect.

Their position might be to vote for Article 50, but the key is validate the issues David Lammy has forced onto the agenda by saying something as striking as that he’d vote down Article 50.

Similarly, if Nick Clegg calls for a second referendum, moderates shouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand but instead make the politically obvious point that whatever the final deal concluded by the government, it will have to demonstrably secure public support, whether at an election or a further referendum.

Once again, the key here is that the underlying point made by Clegg – that public support is a pre-requisite for the deal and cannot just be assumed – should be endorsed.

The 1990s Maastricht rebellion offers a template for how the parliamentary process can be used in a time of small government majority, to focus attention on a single issue. Pro-European MPs should return the complement.

The longer the political debate focuses on the economic consequences of hard Brexit, even though this will be contested by both the government and hard Brexiteers, the more the reality of the economic threat will seep into the public consciousness and slowly the terms of the discourse about the shape of Brexit will shift.

It’s the same basic rationale that Vote Leave successfully applied when sticking to their £350m figure on savings from leaving the EU.

The greater the controversy, the more an issue is debated, the more likely the central idea – if not the specific detail – cuts through to the public’s decision-making process.

Moderates are temperamentally inclined to avoid conflict. There will be plenty of abuse for those who do not dance to the Brexiteer tune and while the ultras will bear the brunt of the attack, there will still be torrents of anti-EU bile for all involved. But it will be a price worth paying. As Matthew D’Ancona eloquently set out earlier this week, it’s time for liberals to toughen up.

There was a memorable scene in the West Wing, which bears re-watching for moderate pro-Europeans. Bruno is talking to Sam, explaining why he is so frustrated with the timidity of so many his party,

“And instead of saying, ‘Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave It To Beaver trip back to the Fifties’, we cowered in the corner, and said, ‘Please. Don’t. Hurt. Me.’ No more.”

No. More.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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16 Responses to “How to fight hard Brexit: Step 2 – Learn from the Brexiteers, use their tactics against them”

  1. John P Reid says:

    In the USA on holiday,during the election, I found Hispanic and BAME people saying they were working class first, People of colour second, as such the Democrats distanced themselves from the blue collar working class, and the ethnic minority vote, felt Trump was for them
    The metropolitan electe argument on why the blue collar working class voted Brexit argument has been had


    At the 1983 election,the likes of Scargill/Hatton, Bernie grant, Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn thought Foot would win,they were in for such a shock ,one quote Corbyn made was it didn’t matter that the Tories did win the government would be brought down by ways outside parliament, as such the public didn’t hold labour’s convictions, felt that the Tories werent extreme, and if the country was having a civil war over th next few years, it wasnt due to the goevnerment, but a small group, who’s complaints werent genuine

    Labour thought if it could get a cross section of people’s who’s views didn’t fit in with Thatcherite Britain,it would be enough of a consensus to have broad appeal to win ale election.

    It never was.

    When Cameron took over the country in2010 he praised Labour for one thing ,outside No,10. ‘ the Country was much more at peace with itself that when Labour had took over’

    During the latter part of the New labour government, those who fitted into the ‘I’m alright Jack’ days of Thatcehrism(labour criticics description ,not mine) would say of Multi cultural UK, ‘I don’t recognize my country anymore’ when David Cameron became Tory leader in 2005 at conference,he said he wanted the Conservative party to accept modern Britain and embrace it for what it is’ .as that way the Tories could build on that to make it work for everyone

    Excluding Jo Cox murder, the Emails by the remain campaign,straight away afterwards for Remajn supporters ‘to exploit her death,’ the fact Thomas Maur clearly mentally ill, wasn’t allowed to talk ,to give sense if he was mentally ill, at his trial, didn’t out a plea in, and Steven Kinnock who hardly knew jo cox, milked it, to give a statement during the trial, there were still claims from the ram in team that Thomas Majr was a Nazi(Brexiters) no quotes saying everyone who voted remain, was a IrA sympathizer, thought it good Blri killed millions on a war built on a lie,and as they backed Remain,so must all remain supporters,

    The quotes then that all leave voters were racists, or no remain voters were racists(apart from Jeremy Clarkson) who they forget to mention.

    Or all leave voters were on the side of nazis and shard Jo Cox death.

    The fact is the liberal elite have took to social media this year to say how bad it was,that the public share their views on the tragic death, of gay rights icon(George Michael) who spent hakf his career in the closet as a heterosexual sex symbol, and the recent spat between Nigel Farage who’s been attacked by both Hope Nit hate,and UAF, to see Labour MPs gloat about it on, social media, that somehow, they falsely label him a fascist, and they miss the point that physically threatening Farage,is fascistic,in its one right,
    Same as professional victims like Lee Jasper ,Ava Vidal, dispite known facts,that Mark Dugan was lawfully killed, to play the victim, come out with quotes about it being ‘a long hot summer’ss there maybe more riots like 2011’ as some sort of threat, claiming, BAME people assaulting others in riots is ‘self defence’

    Then the liberal media, present this as ‘they want their country back, we ‘feel your pain’ not realizing that the blue collar working class,dint consider leave voters Nazis, racist who killed Jo cox, the reason why the working class Voted Trump in the USA, that they are at leave with the Country as it is, despite austerity, and don’t consider any attacks made by Hope not hate or, seeing Lee a Jasper,saying they’ll be more riots,as he stirs up trouble lying that Mark duggan was unlawfully killed
    As the public don’t hold the lets convictions on, thi a. So called, crisis in the country

    If labour wants to take a leaf out of Cameron’s book,and say to ourselves we should accept that the country is REALLY at peace with itself,and we accept modern British for what it is, we must accept that so called right wing Journalists, like Julia Hartley brewer, Tony Parsons, Katie Hopkins all once voted labour,and have views that many labour aupportes share and are not the bogey man

    David Lammy has said that article 50 shouldn’t be introduced,let alone his choice to vite against it, screening racism,again, if I was a Brexit labour MP I’d block his way into the division lobby, saying that as a spokesperson for Tottenham ,his election as a MP 20 months ago,shouldn’t have been recognized by the electorate, because if he’s a remainer,it’s not the decision ,I would have wanted

  2. John P Reid says:

    Do you really believe that of the last paragraph.

    Richard Hammod of Top gear, voted remain, he has just said he doesn’t like ice cream as its gay

    Regarding a trip back to the 50’s that was when the Tories win by being more left wing than labour and Attlee on housing ,

    Regarding anti Education, thankfully your mate Bidk cleft,would let students have a free education?
    And Xenophobic,what part of free movement in the EU, has seen less,much needed Bangladesh, and Singapore immigration,at the extent of cheap EU, one
    Don’t you understand

  3. Rallan says:

    People in politics who confuse the TV fiction show “The West Wing” with reality are tragic. They’re exactly the people who are now becoming unhinged as their fantasy of “making people better” is rejected by real people in the real world.

    Poor Atul. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower in the clouds.

  4. Alf says:

    Corbyn is just a Keynesian soft Leftist really. His views would have been seen as just run-of-the-mill in party terms prior to the right-wing entryist takeover spearheaded by Blair in the 90s. Corbyn just looks left these days because Labour became so Tory-lite.

    Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the 90s!

  5. LordBlagger says:

    The problem for you Atul is that your in the minority. There was a choice between stay in the UK and take whatever it dishes out. Something remainers couldn’t say, or hard Brexit.

    On the 350 million, you can’t tell the difference between net and gross.

    That’s why no one trusts you when it comes to state debts because you leave off the socialist welfare state’s pension debts. All 10,000 bn GBP

  6. Tafia says:

    Oh dear Atul, you forget a substantial percentage of Labour’s core vote wants hard Brexit – and if you attempt to interfere in that they will desert you in their hundreds of thousands. Likewise at least 30% of the SNPs core vote – including some of their =MSPs and senior party officials – and even Mhairi B;ack has stated publicly she only voted Remain because it was party policy – she is actually anti-EU. More than 10% of Plaid’s vote wnat hard Brexit as well.

    Now where do you thonk all these people will place their cross at a General Election Atul? I’ll tell you where they won’t be voting – for any party that supports Freedom of Movement – even a watered down version.

    You could well end up losing the third of Labour voters who despise Corbyn to the Limp Dems, and the third that despise the EU to UKIP. Won’t that be funny.

  7. Nomatestype says:

    What an excellent suggestion. “Moderates” and “Ultras” working together towards a common goal despite some policy/ ideological differences in other areas, to gradually convince the public of the benefits of a change in political and/ or philosophical direction.

    Why this could probably work when applied to the general appeal of the Labour Party couldn’t it?

    Shall we try it? Shall we try the “ultras” proposing radical changes to the established hegemony of political and economic thought which would benefit most in our society and the collective good?
    And have these proposals augmented by the Labour Party “moderates”, finding what they can support in the proposals? and expounding on the general direction of policy away from ruthless and wasteful application of neoliberal ideology? in aid of their mutual goal of supplanting the Tory government?

    I look forward to Atul Hatwal analysing further how the Labour”moderates” and “ultras” should be or could be mutually supportive, and an end to the continuing dissent and/or silent antagonism which so many “moderates” have counter- productively engaged in.

  8. Nomatestype says:

    I would question the analysis that Ed Miliband’s “acquiescence” to “hard left outriders” shifted control of Labour to the hard left.

    The “hard left” gained control because the “Labour centrists” enthusiastically backed voting reform allowing one member / one vote selection of the Labour leader.

    Labour members then voted for the only candidate who diverged from the contradictory proposition that they should admire Labour centrists governing record and wisdom while accepting that they should endure continuing humiliation and impoverishment in the workplace, and when trying to use public services, as a direct result of that governance and wisdom

  9. Richard MacKinnon says:

    These articles by Atul Hatwal are starting to become tedious. There is not one positive idea in whole piece. OK we get it, Mr Hatwal is not a supporter of Brexit, but do we need another hand wringing dissection of how we got here.

    Maybe I can help cheer Mr Hatwal up. Look at it this way Atul it could be a lot worse. Imagine how Jeremy must feel. He was a life long anti EU; but was persuaded, (maybe persuaded is the wrong word; coerced?) at the last minute to climb into the Remain camp only to find out he had been on the right side all along. I bet he feels really silly.

    PS I did smile at “No more”. I wonder what that means?

  10. Delta says:

    Hi Atul…thank you I have not had as good a laugh as when I read this and this is no criticism of you.
    Having witnessed the hostility in London towards Brexiteers which nobody seems too keen to talk about, having read the appalling low grad articles in the Guardian by reporters and some of the personalities you have mentioned I would be horrified if they were on my side on any issue.
    It is not “moderates” you need…it is something else. Obviously I am not going to tell you what that is.
    What our “side” has are talented people who certainly can “make the case” (as Tony Blair himself defined it) of an issue or policy, they are called politicians and you lack them you only have people occupying the positions and jobs not actual people who can do the jobs….

  11. paul barker says:

    This is an excellent article but I dont feel that it is completely honest. Part of the advance of The Far Left in Labour was down to the way that The Whole Party joined in attacking The Libdems as Yellow Tories, Traitors, Corrupt & so on, it gave The Left cover while they ratcheted up the rhetoric.
    Its all a bit late now, The “Nutters” control both Labour & Tories. Any serious fightback will be led by The Libdems.

  12. AnnoyingMess says:

    Is Mr Hatwal aware of how representative politics is meant to work?

    A candidate is elected to represent the people in his/her constituency – they’re not elected to carry out some worldwide progressive crusade.
    The day of the Common Purpose trained NGO fraternity is nearing its end – we’ve had quite enough, thank you

    And, as Rallan notes, followers of a US political soap opera – and who believe that it is somehow relevant to the street-level plebs – don’t deserve to be any where near power in the UK.

    When are the childish individuals at Labour Uncut going to grow up and realise that a whole tier of people in the UK are without representation.

    Please, you’re an embarrassment to a once-credible political party.

  13. Mike says:

    I fear you underestimate the time requred and the dilemma. We had 40 years of relentless and unanswered anti EU guff from two sides. We need time to re-establish the case for international cooperation and coordination to restrain multinational capitalism and protect both working people and the welfare state.

    Having said that delaying Article 50 offers us nothing but a period of entrenchment for the Brecxiteers. We need Article 50 to start flushing the issues and our tag team needs people to take small parts of the debate and win on those.

    Take fishing. The assumption is that post Brexit we get “control” we get “our” fish. In reality for decades the UK government has let tough choices be blamed on the EU rather than them. Norway faces big tariffs on farmed Salmon in to the EU, not a good precedent for Scotland. Meanwhile we already have over 80% of the quota in “our” waters, some of it sold to others. We still get regional funding and industry funding to both scrap and replace trawlers from the EU. Meanwhile outside of the EU all other countries have to accept access by others in part because the fish are mobile and cross borders but also because it is mpossible to police the waters via a navy rather than where the fish are landed.

    We still need to have the fish protected to make the catch sustainable. opting out of co-operation would be a disaster of overfishing with us taking too much and others denied access to a small part of our catch at the time of year they are with us fishing more in their own waters, possibly even before spawning.

    Our fishing industry will be harmed by Brexit but because for 30+ years everyone blamed the EU when the deals are far more international than that anyway hopes have been falsely raised and votes cast on a false premise. We need Article 50 triggering to shift to the meat of the debate on this and many other issues. That way the positive case for the EU can be made, not least to the several millions who hope to retire elsewhere in Europe with better weather, cheaper housing and lower cost food, fags and booze.

  14. John P Reid says:

    Thank god For delta and Mikes comments, I use to admire Labour-Uncut rightly predicting Ed miliband view of Ukip could split the Tory vote ,get a few Ex libdems opposed to the coalition,who admired Ed Milibnd remembering at the 2010 election, he was secretly against Iraq,
    Then. We could win by Default, but that strategy didn’t work,

    The one decent thing Jeremy is doing is the fact, that apart from a few moderates who’ll vote Libdem, due to his other policies, the fact Corbyn accepts Brexit,means we won’t lose even more labour leavers to Ukip,.. There’s hope one day,

  15. Yes We Could Do (Perhaps) says:

    UKIP message. = We’re out. We’re free!
    Labour Message = Pesky proletariat wants us out, so s’pose we’ve got to leave– even so, we MUST retain free movement so that we can stay in the Single Market .
    You might need to keep hoping John.

  16. John P Reid says:

    Yes we could do,perhaps
    (that’s Labour uncuts message, not labour’s , )even labour councillors in Tower Hamlets, ilford, have knocked on their constituents door, he have accepted we’ll be out the single market

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