Why we lost – 8 reasons

by Hugo Dixon | 26.06.2016

The value of post mortems is they help us learn lessons. Here are eight reasons why the Remain camp lost the EU referendum.

1. No positive agenda

David Cameron and the official remain campaign, Stronger In, did almost nothing to explain the value of what we got from our membership or the opportunities to lead Europe if we stayed. It was right, of course, to point out the economic and political risks of quitting the EU, but we were hopping on one leg rather than sprinting on two.

The lack of a positive agenda meant we couldn’t inspire young or progressive voters about why we should stay. It also meant the Leave camp was able to fill the void with its untrue scare story that we would be sucked into a European superstate with its own army.

2. Distrust of politicians

Despite running a campaign of misinformation, the Leave camp was trusted more than the Remain camp because the public is fed up with spin, lies and broken promises. This didn’t start with Cameron – Tony Blair was a master – but the current prime minister had his own albatross: his foolish unmet pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.

Cameron also struggled to explain why he thought leaving the EU would be so disastrous when only weeks before he had been claiming we’d do fine if we quit.

The trust deficit opened the door to populists such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. They have simplistic solutions to complex problems, make extravagant promises they can’t meet and peddled myths by the dozen to twist voters’ minds. But at least the electorate thinks they are authentic.

3. No fairness agenda

EU membership has benefited Britain. So has globalisation, inward migration and the advance of technology. But the fruits of economic success have not been shared fairly. The credit crunch followed by six years of Tory austerity have exacerbated the problem. Migrants and the EU became the scapegoats for the people’s frustration. Cameron was extraordinarily badly equipped to connect with voters who have been left behind.

4. Nothing to say on migration

EU migrants aren’t to blame for NHS waiting times, overcrowded schools and housing shortages. The government is. Cameron could hardly say that. What he could have done was explain how mass migration from outside the EU is the big challenge of the future, and that we will be better able to tackle it by being inside the bloc.

The prime minister could also have explained how EU migrants benefit Britain while acknowledging that the wealth they create doesn’t always reach the communities where it is needed. That would have meant reviving the migration impact fund that he scrapped when he entered Downing Street.

Meanwhile, the Leave camp was devilishly brilliant in the way it muddled four issues: free movement of EU citizens, which applies to Britain; the EU’s open borders, which doesn’t apply to us since we’re outside the Schengen Area; the refugee crisis, which has barely hit Britain since the rest of the EU acts as a 1,000 mile buffer zone for us; and the fib that Turkey is scheduled to join the EU in 2020. After drinking this cocktail, many voters were reeling.

5. A weak official campaign

Stronger In was a well oiled machine, but it lacked horsepower. Its chairman, Stuart Rose, knew little about the EU, made gaffes when he opened his mouth and didn’t put enough time into the cause. For several key weeks he was absent abroad.

There were strategic mistakes – not just those highlighted above but others such as the failure to point out how Brexit could lead to Scotland leaving the EU. Stronger In was also slow to rebut the untruths peddled by the Leave camp. As a result, the people came to believe that we really do send £350 million a week to Brussels, that Turkey is on the point of joining the EU, that an EU army was going to be foisted on us and other such nonsense. It also failed to exploit the fact that the Leave camp didn’t spell out a plan for quitting the EU.

Downing Street filled the leadership void. The problem was that its agenda was all Project Fear. Although it was right to warn the public of the risks of quitting the EU, the way this was done – with excessively precise forecasts, for example that each family would be £4,300 worse off in 2030 – lacked credibility and backfired.

6. Labour’s absence

Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have his heart in the campaign. His interventions were weak and counterproductive. Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, who was supposedly running the Labour In campaign, failed to make an impact on the airwaves. As a result, traditional Labour voters didn’t get a strong message that we should stay in the EU from people they trusted – and, instead, many fell prey to UKIP’s siren song.

7. Wrong messengers

Often the Remain camp fielded speakers who lacked passion and didn’t know their facts well enough to knock back the Leave camp’s propaganda. This is partly because Stronger In and Downing Street were so concerned to have speakers on-message that they put up safe, dull choices.

Towards the end of the campaign, Remain did produce some strong voices: Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan, John Major and Amber Rudd. But they came late in the day. What’s more, other powerful voices such as Gordon Brown, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Emma Reynolds had only walk-on parts.

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    8. Hostile press and weak BBC

    The Mail, Telegraph, Express and Sun didn’t just pump out pro-Brexit editorials. They also published a string of false stories about migrants.

    Meanwhile, the BBC, which is by far the most important source of news for the public, failed in its mission to inform and educate. Of course, it had to give equal time to the two sides. But it failed to challenge adequately the veracity of the claims being pumped out by the official camps, especially Leave. The BBC didn’t do nearly enough either to get Leave to spell out a plan for exiting the EU. It also allowed Stronger In and Downing Street to dictate which pro-Remain spokespeople should get access to the airwaves.

    We have lost an important battle. But there will be more battles to come – both over how to minimise the damage of this referendum vote and over Britain’s future political direction. If we don’t learn the lessons of this defeat, we will lose future battles too.

    This piece was corrected to change “Remain” to “Leave” in the second paragraph of the fifth point on August 7, 2016

    9 Responses to “Why we lost – 8 reasons”

    • It might have helped the in campaign if the party that is united about being in Europe, the Loberal Democrats were invited onto question and answer panels and asked questions on the news.
      4000 people have joined that party since the result but still they are ignored by the media.

    • One issue going back a long way has been lack of coverage of the European Parliament or EU politics. Many voted out because it is seen as remote. We were part of the EU for 40 years, and I cannot remember the BBC or other broadcasters covering debates, apart from Farage making fun of can Rompey. The only stories were the silly tabloid stories. The press, both right and left killed it off through hostility or indifference.

    • The failure to get Tim Farron on the TV was a mean minded stupid error. Tim is by far the !it powerful, articulate speaker infused with positivity. Shameful he wasn’t used more. ( And you yourself failed to mention)

    • Quite frankly that is all rubbish. We who voted out are sick and tired of politions getting further and further “out of touch” with the ordinary people of this Country, that being a stark fact and one Man Nigel Farage the only person to say this, there was only going to be one result. Politicians must ask themselves why some people who voted hadn’t done so since Margaret Thatcher came to power. All of this post analysis is pointless, far too in depth and will not admit the truths. Tory Anna Soubry,Friday morning, actually said we white ageing voters have voted against immigration and most of us have never even seen an immigrant. Where is the excuse for THAT !! We cannot sustain an unlimited number of immigrants and none of the remain side would even admit to this. We DO send £350m to Brussels but the money we get back is spent on what the unelected want to spend it on. So that sum IS a sum to be considered, we would not spend our money as they did. Finally all the retainers gripes, all of these “8 reasons why we lost” cock’n’bull stories will only seek to damage the structure of our society we are all so passionate about. We are Great and we can be again. We need a political “pick meup” WHY can’t they look to give us some good news, at least tell us we may start manufacturing things again or they’re going come to terms with the criticism and get back to the streets of Britain to see what is happening, the public is not happy.

      • Well said – just goes to show they are still not listening! The French had the right idea when they removed the elites in their revolution – seems to be the only way to get the message across!

      • What absolute rubbish! We DO NOT send £350m to the EU & never have. That figure was the original amount they wanted which Maggie Thatcher disagreed with. She negotiated a rebate (this isn’t a refund or money we get back) which reduced the amount we actually pay the EU. Try properly researching your information before spouting nonsense that the typical vote leaver has been led to believe.
        You most definitely are correct that most vote leavers chose this because of immigration & losing faith with the politicians who run the country but sadly yet again this has nothing to do with being in the EU.
        If you did some research you would also find out that prior to being in the EU (1973) we were deemed a poor small nation in Europe. We became more powerful & well off by using the EU as a stepping stone.
        We have now just stepped off that stone with all the leavers arrogance believing we will be taller & stronger.
        The reason the remain camp are going in depth now is because quite clearly the leavers did not fully research the information beforehand. Otherwise they would realise that leaving the EU will not change immigration at all.

    • Under point 5, why does Stuart Rose have to take the flack? Will Straw, he of the defective parentage, was in charge of Britain Stronger in Europe. Straw was an establishment place person with antecedents that are prepared to be filmed peddling influence and mistaking themselves for God, it being highly likely that they will be heavily criticised by Chilcot. Britain Stronger in Europe was not a well-oiled machine. If it had been, Remain might have won.

      Turkish membership of the EU was not raised by the Leave campaign. It was raised by Angela Merkel. It was the EU that said it would be accelerated, not the Leave campaign. The Prime Minister was offered, but refused, the opportunity to stop facing both ways on this matter by saying he would resolutely use the blocking minority to stop Turkish accession even if the other 27 were against him.

      Under 6, why is Jeremy Corbyn taking the flack? He had a great responsibility as Labour Party Leader but his Party has only turned on him because they are expecting a general election. The Shadow Leader of the House (failed) Chris Bryant resigns because he has not heard of the Fixed Term Parliament Act and refuses to explain how the general election he is anticipating will be called or financed. He cannot just click and collect a General Election from Argos.

      Alan Johnson was responsible for running Labour in for Britain which was an unutterable shambles because Johnson did not have the skills. Remember when Ed Miliband tried to stave off Balls and made Johnson Shadow Chancellor? All Johnson did was make full play of his total ignorance and terrify those with whom a putative Chancellor of the Exchequer may have to deal thereby bringing the Crown low. He was a poor appointment to Remain and should not stand again for Parliament.

      Under 7, the Remain side was utterly reckless in bringing forward Gordon Brown given the confusion in which he resigned from a bankrupt country. Tainted by Ed Balls and Damian McBride who libelled opponents and licked the boots of bankers because they had no skills of their own and ‘phone throwing, he was the one who delivered the victory to YES in the SCOXIT referendum in the name of NO. Having refused Scotland the right to destroy the GBP in the referendum campaign, he made a vow for which he had no locus standi giving Scotland the right to alter its own taxes which, now they have voted NO, means that they can destroy the GBP by underfinancing their expenditure and we can’t stop them. I suspected as soon as I saw him appear that Leave had it in the bag and that he only appeared because Will Straw knew that and had given up.

      Emma Reynolds and Caroline Lucas had by far the best arguments but the Remain side was too interested in the back-stabbing among Conservatives on the Leave side to be bothered to listen to anything they said unless they were prepared to go into shouting matches with the likes of Farage.

      Under 8, you are too timid. The BBC lost its right to levy a licence fee because it showed no interest in anything except the Conservative party in-fighting from the off. One principal on the leave.eu campaign was fined by the FSA in 2004 for lack of due skill care and diligence and a misleading financial promotion but he was being quoted and interviewed on the BBC only this very morning. Otherwise no information arose out of the thuggery of BBC interviewers. Laura Kuenssberg got the vitriol because she is hopeless not for reasons of misogyny which is why John Pienaar has had to be resurrected as Deputy Political Editor.

      Finally it must be admitted that too many people tried to produce too many facts which led to too many people trying to check them. In the end the facts, either way, did not win the argument for either side. The people did not really answer the question on the ballot paper. For all the work of the Electoral Commission, many did not understand the question on the ballot paper. They voted in response to “what has the EU ever done for us?” and concluded “not much except make it difficult for me to see a doctor or get my child into school.”

    • The one thing that the “Stay In” party missed was not “What has Europe done for us?” but, “What has Europe done for us that the UK couldn’t have done alone?” It seems the efforts put in by the “Oldies” – yes kids, the ones that did all the work to get you in the EEC and now the ones getting you out of the political superstate it’s become – to give their progeny a better life has, by delivering that, produced a bunch of whingeing reprobates who can’t look up from their mobile phones long enough to run their own lives. Being looked after by mother Europe seems to fit their lifestyle to a tee. Now either take a seat at the table, or be on the menu.

    • Vote reMOAN… The lies put out by the remain campaign about the agenda of the EU were the reason people voted out. To the EU we are cattle, the want to level the 28 economies, mix the populations, enslave us in debt, perpetuate the terrorism propaganda to keep you and your family in fear… They have done a good job on the youth by scaring them through the media. The EU will not reform as it’s working exactly the way it was always meant to by slowly eroding nations… Keep one eye on America as the anti gun legislation propaganda continues so that the American people lose their right to bare arms and then their government will push forwards and American version of the EU with their neighbours… But hey, you voted remain and want to bury your heads in the sand and believe the 40inch flat screen made outside the EU is telling you the truth.