A phrase used in the other referendum, the Scottish one to decide whether or not to leave the Union. This was coined by the ‘No’ campaigners to describe their own tactics. If folk recall, an unlikely alliance of Westminster and Scottish ‘remainers’ won the vote and, at least for a time, Scotland stayed ‘in’.
Some ascribed that success to the endless parading of the probable downside of ‘Leave’. I have my doubts, see below, but this undoubtedly influenced the conduct of the Remain campaign in the more recent EU Referendum.
Boris Johnson then applied the phrase to the Remain campaign, in his article in the Telegraph, a lovely piece of persiflage and emotional button-pushing if ever there was one. The taxi driver image is a powerful and funny one, even if it speaks to a particular disaffected constituency – the taxi driver is an immigrant, incompetent and can’t bother to learn English – they’re all like this, let’s get rid of them. There could be a less xenophobic reading – but generosity of spirit wouldn’t serve the demagogue’s purpose.
Demagogue’s Handbook item five – you have stirred up general confusion and emotion, but your opponents, whom you deride and insult at every level, are still repeating those pesky facts. What do you do?
Turn the facts against them!
Not, let us be clear, by finding facts to counter them, by referring to evidence, but rather to discredit the nature of those facts – in this case, they are all negative, therefore these are scare tactics. The assumption is, therefore, that they cannot be true and your audience, as proud Brits, will not be scared!
Boris begins his article ‘Are you frit? Are you frightened? Have they spooked you yet?‘ And, you will notice, he doesn’t actually counter the claims of the ‘Remainers’, but claims which he makes on their behalf. N.B. Who was it last used that dialect word ‘frit’ in politics? Someone whose voter constituency Boris wants to claim.*
Now, it has to be said, an incompetent opponent is really useful if you are to get away with this as a tactic.
Anyone seeing this gaining any credence need only put the positives forward. Just as Gordon Brown did in the Scottish referendum, giving people in the ‘No’ or wavering camps a positive vision of Scotland within the Union. ( Plus adding some electoral bribes. )
So where were the positives from Remain? It would have been an up-hill struggle I don’t doubt – thirty years of anti-EU press bias leaves its mark – which the campaign must have known. So why, at the very outset, wasn’t a positive vision formulated? Do the hard work at the start.
That an empire-less, 21st century, progressive and multi-cultural Britain fits naturally into a European Union whose values and history we share. That, together, despite our differences and, let’s remember, with a national veto on all major aspects of policy ( including greater political union and the Euro ), Europe could help the world move forward in tackling global issues like climate change, terrorism and the immediate refugee crisis in a way that independent nation states cannot e.g. by standing up to the big multi-national corporations. That close co-operation, at a political, economic and cultural level is a GOOD thing and that the EU club allows that to happen in a way which it could not if we were not members of it ( and this works both ways ).
That a country with the fifth highest GDP in the world could, if it so chose, fund services and support for immigrants as well as for the existing population (though the rich and the corporations would have to pay their fair contribution and the ideas of an out-dated and discredited neo-liberal form of capitalism would have to go). That the UK government chooses not to do this is the fault of the government, not the EU.
Yes, Britain is good at trade – that’s why our economy is already one of the most globalised in the world. Yes, Britain has always been in the vanguard of human rights ( we pretty much wrote the charter ) it’s what makes Britain one of the best places to live in the world. These are good things we share and they are magnified by being in the EU. I’ll stop there – I’m getting carried away and it’s too late.
Though, in writing the above paragraphs, it becomes easier to spot why some of those arguments weren’t deployed by a campaign centring on David Cameron and George Osbourne. Pity.
However, the Remain campaign chose not to counter the ‘scare tactics’ jibe and, even worse, they played right into the hands of the Brexiters. Boris’s article was published on 28th February. By Referendum Day the Remain campaign had stoked these fires even more, the most obviously counter-productive announcement being Osbourne’s ’emergency Brexit budget’. Unbelievable. Gun. Foot. Shoot.
I hope that the Clinton campaign learns from all of this, though the news from across the pond isn’t good. Is the world going to get a Trump Presidency by default? Things are getting really frightening now.
Watch out for the next extract from the Demagogue’s Handbook.
*The last politician to use this word, given that she came from a part of England which has that dialect, was Margaret Thatcher. Boris does not come from that region.