What was it that clinched Brexit? Most successful political campaigns contain the following nine elements:
- They get the backing of big names
- They win the media
- They win the economic argument
- They repeat a consistent message
- They confirm voter suspicions about the other side
- They argue 70% positive, 30% negative
- They define the enemy and frame the choice
- They talk of the real concerns of real people
- They show passion
Looking back at the campaigns, we can instantly dismiss five of these as Remain wins. Vote Leave had Boris Johnson, but they also de facto had Farage – appealing to only a select group of the electorate – and Michael Gove, a man so unaware of his own electoral toxicity that he stabbed Boris in the back and honestly thought he could be Prime Minister.
Against Boris were Cameron and Osborne, Obama and Merkel, Blair and Major. Joining them were Sir Alan Sugar, David Beckham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Clarkson and Simon Cowell, to name but a few. Clearly, Remain won this category.
Remain also won (2) the media battle: the more influential TV news media gave Remain greater coverage; the press though on average were more biased to Leave. And Remain won the economic arguments too. Scores of economists, bankers, business leaders and commentators lined up to back Remain. Had it not been for George Osborne’s ridiculous £4300 cost-to-every-family claim, Remain could have wiped the board on this.
Both sides had a consistent message (4) repeated ad nauseam. Remain relentlessly talked of the economy; Leave persisted with immigration. Yet Leave’s voice was diluted: who was in charge? Vote Leave, Leave.EU, Grassroots Out, or UKIP? And, whereas Cameron led Remain from the front, Leave’s message was diluted in the multitude: Boris, IDS, Gove, Grayling…
When it came to confirming voter suspicions about the other side (5), Remain’s Project Fear hammered the message home that Leave did not have economic credibility. Yet Remain also did Leave a favour: by wheeling out the bosses of Virgin, the Premier League, Toyota, Vauxhall, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, IMF, OECD and WTO, as well as Lord Stuart Rose, Lord Sainsbury and Sir Philip Green of BHS infamy, Remain’s detachment from real people became very apparent.
Where Leave won
The 70% positive, 30% negative rule (6) was a Leave victory. Project Fear could only offer the thought that life would go on as before; the EU would continue to accrue power at Britain’s expense; families would continue struggling to feed their children while being tied down by 30-year mortgages.
Leave – although using the negative fear of uncontrolled immigration – did also present a message of hope; a global vision for Britain’s trading future; a fairer society at home; more money for Britain.
When defining the enemy and framing the choice (7), Cameron was reluctant to target MPs in the Conservative Party. And who else could Remain choose as enemies? The angry, betrayed British people? Leave won this hands-down: ‘Vote Leave, take back control’ said it all. Leave was ‘us’; Remain was ‘them’. This was very apparent in Leave’s connection with real people and real concerns (8). The list above of millionaire businessmen and political leaders has little in common with the average family. Normal people saw a detached elite arguing for the same system that was eroding Britain and making change ever harder.
And Leave won outright when it came to passion (9). Few dared to put a ‘Remain’ advert in their window outside of London; yet Leave plastered the country. Ordinary people cared about Britain and the country’s survival in a way that Remain could not counter.
The campaigns thus did not have as much affect as we think. The real factor that won the vote was the EU itself. For forty years after first being mis-sold the European Union, the British people have felt cheated. An encroaching non-democratic superstate was not the trading club Britain signed up to.
The diligence of reporters in Britain, unafraid to kow-tow to Brussels and the government, and willing to report the reality of what was happening, fed that discontentment. So when the arrogant Euro-elite failed to offer the UK any concessions in Cameron’s negotiations, the stage was set for Britain’s revenge.
In quiet dignity, droves of people who never usually bother to vote in national elections calmly walked to the polling booths to make their decision. Britain was worth saving. There’s life in the old bulldog yet!