Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What's In A Name? The People's Vote Campaign

Last night at LSE Tom Baldwin made an impassioned plea for remaining in the European Union, he made a positive case saying Europe is 'bloody brilliant'. Tom is the Director of Communications for the People's Vote campaign. In his book on 'how politics and the media crashed democracy' he laments the populist cynicism, lies and half-truths undermining the trust in our democracy. I therefore had a question.

Why have they called the campaign to remain in the European Union, via a second referendum, a 'people's vote'? Is this not an example of the cynical populism he criticises in his book?

I fully understand the logic of trying to reach out beyond those that voted Remain by using a different campaign name. I also understand the populist approach where you adopt the mantle of 'the people'.  Political parties frequently do this, such as the Austrian People's Party or OVP.  This allows you to position yourself as representing the voice of the people against an elite or establishment. This provides the campaign with a useful reversal of roles in the Brexit debate, as to date Brexit has been seen as a revolt of the people in voting Leave against the wishes of a Remain establishment. Thus I understand the logic of the approach.

Tom's response to my question was 'we had to call the campaign something'. However, it seems to me you could call it what it is, namely a legitimate, some might argue laudable, campaign to reverse the vote of 2016 and remain in the European Union.

Tom also stated that the campaign sought, given what has happened since the referendum, an opportunity for people to have a further say. In reality, as Tom made very clear in his earlier talk, the aim of the campaign is to stop Brexit not to provide a further opportunity for reflection.

Maybe these things don't matter but my concern is the 'people's vote' approach is exactly what Tom describes in his book and that such an approach will simply increase cynicism and further undermine trust in politics.

I should say my fellow students do not share my concern. In discussing my concerns, they have argued from a Remain perspective that this is not a big issue and that using the 'people's vote' is justified to counter the Leave campaign's claim to own the democratic mandate.

I accept I may also be holding the campaign to a higher standard than the Leave campaign, as I expect a far more honest approach than the populist distortions we get from the likes of Nigel Farage.