Friday, 22 July 2016

Why Remain lost (redux)


Can I start firstly by saying this is a marketing view not a political one (although inevitably there'll be some politics). And secondly that Remain lost the referendum, Leave didn't win it. The campaign to stay in the European Union went from a secure opinion poll lead at the start of 2016 to losing the referendum six months later. At the outset of the campaign - which really started back in January not at the official campaign launch - Remain (or Stronger In) held all the cards. The campaign could count on the support of the three mainstream party leaders, most of the established names in politics, business, academia and science. Plus a reliable stream of celebrities happy to smile at the camera and proclaim "Stronger In".

The 'Stronger In' message - immigration aside - should also have been a winner. Thousands of foot soldiers to be recruited from the direct beneficiaries of EU members, from organisations receiving grants, from the ranks of universities. Big business, local government and the 'third sector' could be relied on to do the right thing in getting that message across.

So what went wrong? Well before some analysis from cleverer marketers than me, I'd like to share a couple of anecdotes (or qualitative analysis if you prefer).

Here in Cullingworth, the Village Hall decided to hold a referendum debate - they'd sounded out some folk in the village who all seemed keen and got a time and date (the venue, of course, would be the hall). A call to the local MP provided a Leave speaker pretty quickly and the Hall then contacted Stronger In - firing an email off to the address on that organisation's website. Nothing. No response at all. The good folk from the Hall chased - still nothing. I messaged the chief executive of the campaign, the Stronger In press office and another In twitter account. No response. Eventually, on the eve of the event, we got a limp phone message: "have you got a speaker?"

As it happened, other avenues had got us a speaker (thank you to Richard Corbett MEP for stepping up). But had we not used those avenues the event wouldn't have happened. The Stronger In campaign had failed at the very first hurdle of any campaign - not responding to enquiries. And, while Will Straw and the Stronger In press office were having a fun spat on Twitter with the much better organised (if smaller and poorer) Leave campaign, they also failed to respond to a request - from a non-partisan organisation - for campaign help.

The second anecdote is about public perception of what the vote was about. I'm sat in the sitting room of some local members - we were actually there to talk about the May local elections - and the referendum, perhaps inevitably, came up. Now these members are both elderly - 70s maybe even 80s - and they spoke about their doubts. Not selfishly but from the perspective of their children and grandchildren - "this is about twenty, thirty, forty years in the future - what sort of Britain we want for them" was the driver of their doubt. Now I don't know how this couple voted but I do know that the Stronger In campaign completely missed their perspective - the public campaign (where it was coherent) was entirely about the next few years.

I picked up this time perception time and time again but the Remain campaign stayed trapped in its short-termism - there was no message that answered my members' question: "what would a Stronger In Britain be like in twenty, thirty or forty years". Other than a sort of grandfatherly (at best) "it won't be good, you know - I wouldn't do it". And this short-termism continues after the Brexit vote - West Yorkshire Combined Authority in a report on 'Brexit implications' described 'long term' as 2017-2018.

I commented before on how the advertising folk - and Remain had access to all the top agencies, a deep well of marketing knowledge - saw the campaign as a shambles, without any positive message and focused more on personalities than on that message. Well here's another comment - focused more on tactical communications issues - from Mike Hind:

It was almost as if Remain actively wanted to exclude you if you read the Daily Express. Tepid offerings of business information and hesitant requests to support them if you’d “like to” hardly spoke of a passion to mobilise people who are generally more turned on by a direct call to arms. It didn’t work for me — and I was a financial contributor to the campaign. A despairing one.

Hind looks at web messaging, brand development and the lack of any apparent strategy. But this paragraph gets to the core of it - there was no message for the elderly couple sat in a Yorkshire sitting room worrying about their grandchildren. Instead Stronger In figures spent time painting these likely (but not certain) Leave voters as if they were pariahs - racist xenophobes, Little Englanders, selfish, ill-educated, lacking in understanding. A communications strategy designed to reassure the core thirty- and forty-something professional audience of Stronger In not a strategy to have a conversation with people in places like Cullingworth who hadn't made their minds up.

As I started out saying - Stronger In, or Remain, began the campaign with all the advantages, all the expertise and the basis of an effective organisation. And blew it. On the evening of polling day - a few minutes after the polls had shut, the BBC interviewed Ed Miliband. It doesn't matter what the MP for Doncaster North said in the interview, it matters where it was conducted - from London. Miliband wasn't where he would have been most effective - in his constituency where he's known, influential and probably liked.

The problem now is that those who campaigned to remain a member of the EU are compounding their error. They're still preferring to paint Leave voters as thick, ill-educated, oafish bigots rather than begin the job of listening to those people. Analyses of voting that confirm this view are shared. Bad news of any sort is leapt on and spread around - whether its reports of xenophobic attacks (do note that West Yorkshire police say there's no post-referendum increase in such attacks) or some snippet of economic news, mostly opinion or anecdote, that confirms the Remain campaign's predictions of short-term doom and gloom.

Right now there's a peace to win. And it won't be won by portraying half the nation as stupid, bigoted, ignorant and selfish. It will be won by presenting the case most of us support - Britain as an outward-looking, co-operative, creative nation that's up for trade, intellectual exchange and, yes, sensibly managed immigration.



Anonymous said...

Had you given any thought to the possibility that many, many people who voted Leave may have already made their minds up about Britains membership of the European Union many months, days and even decades before they were ever given the opportunity to vote on Britain's membership?

In many previous General elections the mainstream Political Parties failed to ever discuss changes in Britain's participation from 'Common Market' to 'Single Market' or from EEC through EC to eventually EU or, more importantly failed by default exclusion in their manifestos to offer the electorate a choice and thus a voice.

Despite popular assumption the the electorate are gullible and can be bought with promises of health, wealth and happiness they People do have a strong sense of what Democracy should feel like in post-Second World War Britain.

The People of today are the children, grand-children and great=grandchildren of their forebears who fought for freedom and Democracy in that Great War. We celebrate our forebears sacrifices every November and it does have impact.

assumption is made that Parliament has Sovereign Authority but, actually, that sovereign Power is only invested in Westminster Palace for up to 5 years at a time and it is held by permission of the people who vote for their representative Members of Parliament. The ultimate sovereignty lies with The People i.e. the Electorate and is given to the current Parliament only for the duration of that Parliament.

Thus, as Britain's membership and relationship with the eventual Political Union born form the original 'Common Market' when, by subsequent to joining Referendum, the People voted to accept surrender of some Sovereignty to Brussels subsequent moves to greater cooperation and closer union through the Treaties of Masstricht and later Lisbon without asking the people, specifically, if they wanted Britain to surrender more of their ultimate sovereignty to Brussels a great deal of resentment built up.

Finally, for various reasons, the manifesto promise of a Referendum arrived and many, many people knew exactly how they would vote when the date of the Referendum arrived.

Alongside resentments of ever-increasing numbers of economic migration to the UK of Europeans who come for the money not to necessarily settle and become British and integrate, are/were resentments of a low-wage economy driven by cheap labour from 'abroad' and resentment of fat-cat Bankers and 'Financial Services' being THE industry that does the best from Britain's membership of the EU along with a long-held common view that those fat-cat Bankers did better form the recovery form the Crash of 2008 than the people who paid the costs of that Crash through almost everlasting 'austerity' measures.

I believe many, many people knew exactly how they would vote BEFORE any campaigning occurred and from a marketing perspective the remain Camp, as Sellers, were selling a a product that was past-its-sell-by-date and the only buyers were those who are/were europhile and had already bought the product.

The Remain Campaign simply did not know how much resentment there was to the European Union (nor, probably did the Leave Campaigners to be fair) out there among the people. Both sides ran disreputable campaigns in order to sell or try to make people buy Remain or Leave but I believe a LOT of of people who voted Leave did so with their minds made up well before the Referendum.

Just something to consider as no one will ever know why people voted the way they did ... resentment, immigration, fear of economic Leaveaggedon, love of freedom of travel, europhilia, or whatever. The simple fact is that more people voted to leave than remain and, thereby, Remain (or Stronger.In) lost their wish to cajole the People (as a majority) to vote their way.

I think they were on a losing wicket before the referendum was even promised and the Silent Majority have finally had their voice heard.

Anonymous said...

Remain was on a hiding to nothing if they talked about the future. If they claimed that things would improve, then people would wonder why they hadn't in the past 40 odd years. Why would Britain's voice be any more powerful than it had been so far - especially as even the threat of leaving had generated zero concessions worth a damn?

The future of the EU looks strongly like being one or more of self-destruction, less sovereignty, dis-integration, draconian rule over failing states, a financial black hole, decreasing world relevance ... etc - with the "etc" being nothing good.

I would suggest that most remain voters were naively voting for some sort of safe more-or-less status quo. Any serious debate about the future would have exposed that prospect as having zero credibility.

Anonymous said...

Whilst accepting the basic premise, the key difference between the campaigns was the difference between 'hearts' and 'minds'.
The 'Leave' message played to the hearts, encouraging visions of the culture of an independent Britain in a Brexit future, whilst the 'Remain' message was the cold, clinical logic of finance and establishment, playing to the mind alone.

We may be critical of the 'Leave' campaign's over-focus on immigration as an issue, but that was really about the future culture of the nation - did we want our culture further compromised by uncontrolled additions or would we rather reverse the trend. Similarly, the hearts were stimulated by the 'take back control' message - it didn't have any hard examples to offer, but simply the emotive message of being more in control of your own destiny, and that worked.

In the end, those 'heart-based' messages scored far more highly than the cynical finance-based ones: something for which some of us will 'remain' eternally grateful.

Dr Evil said...

I had made my mind up several years ago. I see a positive long term future being unshackled from the EU though I would appreciate a faster decision to trigger article 50. This is far too slow. We could be out very quickly triggering WTO rules and claim back our waters. Then we can negotiate and negotiate hard re quotas of EU citizens on a points basis (ie what use are they to us) as we deport all EU citizens on benefits and on trade deals..

DorsetDipper said...

Came here from Dillow.

Excellent article, chimes with many of my thoughts, but IMHO misses a key point - Merkel and the EU commission.

I was persuadable when the negotiations started, but cautious as the referendum itself weakened our position. Cameron came back with nothing, and Juncker said "there will be no reform to the EU". It was clear to me the EU had seized the opportunity to demolish the traditional UK position of half-in-half-out and in the future there would be only one way - their way. On that basis I had to vote out. To echo your old couple, my children would be in a political union in which they had no say and by that time could not leave (leaving is hard enough now and would only have got worse over time). Traditionally, only bad things happen to people who are powerless and have no choices.

Remain's hysteria failed to cover up the main point - loss of control for which the biggest example is immigration. There have been predictions of the UK population rising to 80M by 2050. No UK political was able to give a coherent response on how this could be prevented whilst we were in the EU for the obvious reason there was actually nothing they could do. I'm honestly not sure what Remain could have done to address this obvious and brutal fact.