Anger. Shock. Despair. Fear. First Brexit. Now Trump. Tempting to believe “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”
Despair encourages populism. Defeatism strengthens fear. Anger feeds the monster. We are better than that. We must be more confident in our message assured that there are literally millions and millions of us who still believe in, support and encourage openness, unity, harmony, democracy, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. If we millions really believe that we’re down and out then it is probably the end of the story for our belief in liberal democracy. If, on the other hand, we galvanise with confidence and certainty we will defeat populism.
We can only slay the monster, however, if we learn from our mistakes and move forward with a different focus.
Focus on the positive
The EU has a huge amount of factual, real (not fake) feel-good stories to tell. Why were these never covered by the Remain campaign? Why did Remain not hot foot it down to Wales, the North East of England or Cornwall to cover how EU regional funds have literally given millions of euros in aid to help local communities rebuild their lives? Why did the Remain campaign not find a Latvian, Spanish and/or Polish paediatrician show casing how dedicated and committed they are to helping our sick children? Why not find a top-rate German specialist in Great Ormond Street Hospital? I know one – surely the Remain campaign could have found many like her or him who have dedicated ten years of their career and their professional expertise to helping our sick children – all thanks to the EU. Why not interview, feature, promote the numerous Romanian nurses who care – each and every day – for our elderly? Why did those managing the Remain campaign not visit the homes of those devastated by floods last Christmas and who benefited from an EU solidarity fund to help bring back some semblance of normality after the gruelling Christmas their endured last year? Why did the Remain campaign not focus on how our young can benefit from a top-tier education abroad thanks to EU funding and schemes? Surely with their funding the Remain campaign could have found a young British entrepreneur who is on the cusp of setting up shop in the EU and following their story highlighting how access to a vast single market could only ever be beneficial to the UK and our young achievers?
Above all – why oh why – did the Remain campaign not focus on Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union which states in black and white:
“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
Learn it and repeat it the same way American children learn the Gettysburg address. For this encapuslates who we are and what we believe in. We believe in the EU not out of some blind faith in all things European but because it has so much to offer us as a nation and as a continent. It is not too late. Let us stop engaging in tit for tat discussions with Brexiteers. You can’t defeat a populist that way. The only way to win an argument is to focus on the positive. The time really is ripe to talk about all of the fun things not the scary stories. Haloween is over. Open Britain – please take note. You have the funding and the contacts to start now with preparing these positive, feel good stories.
Engaging not mocking
One of the worst aspects of populism is it’s divisive nature. It really does encourage an “us” v “them” narrative. A winner takes all mentality. A zero-sum game. Let us stop right here and admit it – we don’t despise those who voted for Brexit. How can we? Many of them are either our parents, our siblings, our children or our friends. It is silly to suggest that we dislike those who we have loved and cherished for years. Every single person I know who voted for Brexit is not a bad person. I have known them for years and I have known them to be well intentioned, warm and pleasant friends. So, let us put to bed the notion that all those who voted for Brexit are racist, stupid xenophobes. Draw a distinction between all the politicians, journalists, editors and campaigners who knowingly lied to the electorate and the voter who voted in good faith. If you engage with someone who voted for Brexit do not mock, sneer or belittle their concerns. That just benefits the populists. Engage with those who voted for Brexit by focusing on the positive and believing in Article 2 of the Treat on European Union. Be confident in your belief in a peaceful Europe based on harmony, co-operation and openness. Our good friends and family who voted for Brexit will come to see things differently only if we focus on the positive and only if we engage with their concerns not dismiss them.
The media is currently swimming in the sewer. It is comment driven not factual driven. In today’s society we can no longer rely on the media to report the news but we can rely on it to peddle in rumour and gossip. No media is immune to this. It is sadly the nature of our times. Those who voted for Trump and Brexit see the media as biased. They have a point. The liberal media were unable to distinguish between the man Trump (who is reprehensible) Vote Leave (which is corrupt) and the voter (who it neither). Every time a comedian jeered at Trump or a journalist mocked Farage it was a jeer at a voter. How to defeat our populist media is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. It will be done however. In the meantime do not get whipped into a frenzy by screaming headlines. Stay calm and focus on the positive.
As Obama so rightly said on election night after the Clinton defeat. “Tomorrow the sun will shine again.” He is so right. There is a tomorrow and that tomorrow belongs to us – those who believe in respect, decency and certainty so let us move forward with a confidence in our stride and a belief in our shared values.