Brexit: a colossal collapse in communications and why Cameron deserved to go

I started writing this article at the beginning of June. Remember when the pound was a credible currency. And England’s football team still had support.

The aim then was to highlight the lack of any visible promotion I’d seen for the #Remain/#StrongerIn camp by that point. It felt frustrating that I’d already voted by post before the bulk of campaigning seemed to have started.

And then the tragic news came through about Jo Cox. An MP killed for her beliefs. A violent and mindless act of extremism. And suddenly the arguments were put into perspective.

Front page of Yorkshire Post

Yet the severity of one person’s actions did not put off a disillusioned nation from voting for, what one friend described as, a ‘cackle of political pantomime villains’. Post-Brexit I’ve witnessed the justifications from those voters about taking ‘control’ back from an over-bureaucratic Brussels. And that’s fine. Despite what #Remain voters say we do still live in a democracy.

The trouble with this is David Cameron. He handed control of our future to the public; who through no fault of their own simply didn’t have the knowledge or experience to make this decision. The giddy after-glow of an election landslide coupled with a threat on the right from UKIP prompted an ill-judged referendum promise.

The would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad stories which followed framed the problem perfectly. Just hours after the result came in, the most Googled phrases in the UK were ‘What is the EU?’ and ‘What happens if we leave the EU?’

It’s disturbing that people had to belatedly search for what should have been at the heart of the #Remain campaign. It was a chance to educate public about the great benefits of the EU. Not just garnering public backers. Or discrediting the opposition – although a thorough dismantling of inaccurate statistics would have helped (see £350m-a-week to the EU).

And a week after the vote, the advertising agencies responsible for the tardy #Remain showing, have released a cannon of work which was turned down. Reports of decision-by-committee and last minute changes, have all been levelled at the #Remain camp’s door. And all of this under the command of a former PR man! Communicating a message should be as simple as watching House of Cards for him by now.

Politics is personal. It invokes passion. And advertising needs to draw on that. At its persuasive best, it should convey one message leaving the viewer/reader with an emotion. The Leave campaign knew this – which is why they tapped into two main shared values with supporters. The desire to take back control from Europe. And immigration. As the ‘father of advertising’ David Ogilvy said: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”

The #Remain campaign had the support of almost anyone it wanted. Yet it ran with videos of celebs like Kiera Knightly telling us ‘don’t fuck with our future’. No matter the outcome, my future was always going to be different to theirs. So how could I relate? Calling on A-Listers to persuade those who felt disenfranchised, seems misjudged.

Keira Knightly support lacked relevance

Think back yourself to any stats you can remember from the whole referendum. I can only think of #Leave figures – despite how wild the National Statistics Office deemed them.

Cameron should never have put this choice in the hands of the population without first educating. And £9m on a poorly worded and confusing leaflet does not count. He had the chance to run a positive campaign. But it failed to ever get going. Perhaps it was misplaced arrogance when reading articles like this Torygraph one from February about just how easy the whole referendum would be.

Either way Cameron had to go. He’s not the first Conservative PM to have Europe contribute to their downfall. But he might be the last if his successor triggers article 50. Let’s hope we manage to get someone who is able to articulate their beliefs at little better.

The Brexit Battle Bus of lies – Credit: Charlotte Graham