There’s a warning in a comment from Gina Miller: “We discovered that a vast swathe of people who would vote for no deal across the country would do so because their perception is that no deal means remaining”.
As a strong supporter of full EU membership, the danger is that I seize on every opinion poll that suggests Remain would win in a People’s Vote. But the polls are still uncomfortably close: Remain is ahead almost everywhere, but not by nearly enough. The tracking at whatukthinks.org shows Remain on 36%, Leave on 33% and “don’t know” at 31%. That’s too close. Over at BrexitCentral numbers are being quoted that show Leave in a strong position. My twitter feed showed a BMG poll putting Remain at 52% and Leave at 40%, with the gap widening, but BMG also have a more fine-grained poll showing 51% against a second referendum, and “Canada Plus” as the preferred option for all age groups except those under 34.
Back in the summer, Andrew Duff was counselling caution on a referendum, with a view to a new political party putting the case for re-joining the EU in a future General Election. He has a point: the huge danger is that we lose a referendum and people discover what has been lost only after actually leaving.
Things have moved on a lot since then, but on 12 December Carole Cadwalla drew attention to a piece in Private Eye saying that two of Cambridge Analytica’s key data scientists, Tadas Jucikas and Brent Clickard, are now in business with UKIP’s ex-MP Douglas Carswell and Vote Leave’s former Chief Tech Officer Thomas Borwick. It’s hard not to read that also as preparation for a referendum.
It’s not that the 2016 Leave campaign simply lied. There’s was a cynical campaign, fuelling and exploiting people’s anxieties. The anxieties have not gone away. There’s no reason to think that a new Leave campaign would behave any differently, and this time they will be able to draw on the frustration of those who think that their bright Brexit is being “stolen”.
The problem is highlighted by a tweet from Matthew Goodwin on 15 December, referencing a page that has since been deleted on the Opinium web site saying “When we ran an open text question asking people to name a public figure whose views on Brexit they respect, the most popular individuals named (apart from variations of “nobody”) were all Leavers: Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Few mentioned any prominent Remain-backing politicians…”
So where do we go?
In 2016 the Remain campaign was accused of lacking emotion. We were hamstrung by responding reasonably to David Cameron’s (needless) “renegotiation”. Right now, we are hamstrung by responding reasonably to Theresa May’s “deal” and parliamentary chaos.
In 2015 I stood against the Tory Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen. In the closing speeches at the end of one hustings, our UKIP opponent did what came naturally. Bridgen did the same, with more coherence, beginning “As a convinced Eurosceptic”. I dumped what I was going to say, began “As a convinced European”. There was fire in my belly. On the morning after the referendum I was at a conference in Spain. My sunglasses hid my tears. It’s time for the emotion to be front and central.
But the emotion is more complex than (mythical) “foreigners taking our jobs”. It’s about peace — so the Cenotaph means “never again” not “we won last time”. It’s about shared values. It’s about lives massively enriched by friendships across Europe. It’s about freedom to travel. It’s also about knowing that Europe has its shameful parts — none of the European stories of colonising and enslaving other parts of the world can stand much scrutiny — but those are stories we share. It’s about a future that is not simple, but our shared European heritage offers a support that’s not there in fantasies of Empire.
And leadership… We need the visible faces of support for remaining in the EU. Gina Miller, Layla Moran, Caroline Lucas, Ken Clarke, Andrew Adonis — these are all people to have in the media spotlight.
We can’t afford to be seduced by a selective reading of the polls, but have every reason to push for a European future.