The Remain campaign is so used to loudly claiming the moral high ground and dismissing Brexiteers as backward, nasty reactionaries that even their “positive” closing message is unintentionally insulting toward half the country
Well, that calmer, politer politics didn’t last very long, did it?
On the first day of real campaigning following the murder of Jo Cox MP, the Remain campaign has hit the airwaves with this new meme, now being widely shared on social media.
Displaying a heart shape in the colours of the Union Flag, Britain Stronger in Europe exhort us to:
All pleasing words, you might think. But what does it say about those Britons – nearly half the country, according to opinion polls – who think that Britain should leave the European Union. Are they unkind people? Are they closed-minded and closed-hearted? Do they all seek to exclude people? Are they all racist? Apparently the official Remain campaign thinks so.
The image is accompanied on social media by the following message:
This referendum is about the type of country we want to live in.
SHARE this if you believe Britain is at our best when we’re outward-looking, inclusive and we stand together.
Just hammering the point home.
From a purely strategic and tactical viewpoint one can understand why Britain Stronger in Europe went for this approach. After all, almost none of their argument for staying in the EU has been based on the positives of the European Union (beyond woolly platitudes about “cooperation” and “working together”, which a ten year old can work out does not require the intermediation of Brussels). Rather, their argument has been a relentlessly fear-based approach, threatening and even bullying voters to vote Remain on pain of supposed economic disaster compounded by George Osborne’s vindictive “punishment budget”.
But to get Remainers to the polling station on Thursday, the campaign needs to give them something positive to think about, too. Even if it later turns out to be a pile of nonsense, their supporters must be made to think that they are doing something noble in choosing to fearfully stick with the status quo. And in this day and age, even better if they can then broadcast this positive message to others in order to signal their own virtue.
This social media post accomplishes the Remain campaign’s objectives brilliantly. It doesn’t get bogged down in the details of why the European is so great (it isn’t) or necessary (it really isn’t), or even why leaving would be so calamitous (it wouldn’t be). On the contrary, the Union Jack coloured heart and childish font keep things very superficial. It declares to the world that the person liking or sharing the message is a Good, Enlightened and Virtuous Person, unlike those knuckle-dragging, murderous subhumans who dare to believe in Brexit.
Another similar meme is also being shared widely on Facebook, as a play on Nigel Farage’s tired old “I want my country back” theme:
I want my country back, too. The country which celebrated Mo Farah winning at the Olympics, the same one who is proud to call Tom Daly or Mark Foster part of the British Olympic team, the country who cheers for Tanni Grey-Thompson. That, that’s my country. The same country which took Malala Yousafzai to its heart. My country is better for the diverse country it is, from the food available in the supermarket to St Paul’s Carnival & drinking Kenyan coffee with a Jewish bagel to cure a hangover from French wine. My Britain is not filled with hate or extremism. My Britain is not perfect but it isn’t better alone. My Britain is open, inclusive, progressive and an inspiring place to live.
Because of course a post-Brexit Britain would rejoice in none of these things, all of which are only made possible thanks to our membership of the European Union. Quite why Britain’s departure from a supranational political union would mean that Britain would become a country which starts booing its own black athletes, burning down bagel shops or pouring French wine into the sea at Dover harbour is of course never explained. But the Remain campaign don’t need to explain it. This is their own form of “dog-whistle” campaigning. They just have to suggest these these links, and immediately everyone who is preconditioned to equate euroscepticism with xenophobia or racism immediately pricks up their ears and awaits orders.
This is insulting beyond words to half the country who currently favour Brexit, particularly considering the hurried vow everybody took in the wake of the Jo Cox murder to immediately (and rather implausibly) be nice to one another. But one must admire the way that the Remain campaign stuck to the letter (if not the spirit) of their pledge – they managed to grievously insult half the country without using a single negative word, instead simply suggesting that Brexiteers represent the opposite of all these positive values.
Though as one commenter put it on the Britain Stronger in Europe Facebook page:
This idea that only those voting for Remain uphold those values is disgusting. None of us have a monopoly on those things. Remain shouting the loudest about being decent – total and utter hypocrisy #Brexit
But this is literally all they have. The Remain campaign kept the focus relentlessly and myopically on the economic question, wheeling out all of the same experts who told us two decades ago that Britain would wither and perish outside the euro. And the message has not gained sufficient traction to leave Remain confident of victory. So all they have left is to demonise the other side.
They cannot speak too passionately and warmly about the European Union, because the organisation is distrusted or hated – quite rightly – by anybody who remotely cares about democracy or the continued importance of the nation state. They cannot openly commit Britain to the EU’s clearly stated end goal – a common European state – because it would alienate too many people.
So all that is left for Remain is to demonise the other side, either explicitly (as they did before the murder of Jo Cox) or implicitly (as they are doing now, by suggesting that Leave voters are the antithesis of the wonderful, warm qualities listed in the Facebook meme).
And in terms of winning the referendum, it may just work. The relentless fearmongering, the demonising of Brexiteers, the desire of many people to virtue-signal the fact that they hold “open” and “progressive” views and the usual tendency for people to gravitate back towards the perceived status quo at the closing stages of a referendum campaign may push Remain over the line. Possibly quite convincingly.
But it has made the job of stitching the nation back together again almost impossible. And each time sanctimonious, preachy little graphics concocted by Britain Stronger in Europe are created and shared, it makes the task that much harder. Because whatever misanthropes, racists and bigots may support Leave, the vast majority of Brexiteers are good, honest decent people. They are patriots who genuinely (and in this blog’s view, quite rightly) believe that they are doing the right thing. And you can’t spend three months loudly questioning half the country’s intelligence, tolerance and moral code and then expect everybody to hold hands like one big happy family.
Given the way that this referendum has been fought by pro-EU forces, a vote to Remain will therefore resolve absolutely nothing. And prissy, sanctimonious little declarations of virtue like Stronger In’s “Remain Together” campaign message are the reason why.
Postscript: Mark Wallace also takes exception to Stronger In’s latest advert, in a piece for Conservative Home:
The implication is clear – if you’re someone who is voting Leave, you are supposedly declaring yourself to be unkind, closed, not inclusive, intolerant and in favour of division.
Not only is that entirely in conflict with the weekend’s warm words about a more reasonable and less unpleasant tone in the final days of the referendum campaign, but it is an extraordinary attack on the millions upon millions of voters who are – rightly, in this site’s view – planning to Vote Leave.
It isn’t the first time we’ve heard such dismissive criticisms of those who dare to disagree. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister declared that there is not “a single credible voice” arguing we will gain by leaving the EU, implicitly suggesting several members of his own Cabinet lack credibility. But the content of this particular advert makes it the broadest insult to voters, Party members, MPs and Ministers so far, and the timing makes a mockery of recent promises to raise the tone.
If Stronger In’s management intend to stand by this scurrilous line, will their overseers, Cameron and Osborne, continue to do so as well?
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