Hugo Lucas is Director of Communications at Our Future, Our Choice.
There’s plenty to agree with in Chloe Westley’s column on this site yesterday. Social media has indeed brought out the worst of the Brexit debate. There’s been abuse on both sides of the argument, and high-voltage rhetoric by commentators and politicians hasn’t helped.
But Chloe is guilty of the charge she often levels at Remainers, tarring the other side with the same brush. For someone who believes so strongly in the value of the individual, it is a glaring act of mental collectivisation to lump Our Future, Our Choice (the group I belong to) in with those who created the unpleasant “Deatherendum” website, or those who think that over 75s should not be allowed to vote.
In-group polarisation is taking place at an increasing rate. While many supporters of Leave, who may previously have been in favour of an EEA Brexit, have tacked towards No Deal, others formerly in the centre of the Leave camp have switched to Remain or to a much softer Brexit. A tiny number have gone further out to the right, and now wear yellow vests outside Parliament, shouting abuse at those who they disagree with.
Similarly, some formerly middle-of-the-road Remainers have moved towards a soft Brexit, while others have spread to the point where they simply want to cancel Article 50. Venom, abuse and intolerance unfortunately exist on opposing fringes of the debate. But those on the extremes, the controversialists and firebrands at both edges of both camps, do not represent the whole of their movement.
So Jamelia doesn’t speak for us when she says that she thinks over-75s shouldn’t get a vote. Polly Toynbee doesn’t speak for us in her column, much discussed over the last few days. Nor does Jeremy Clarkson represent anyone but himself when he refers to leave voters as “coffin-dodgers”.
Nor do Arron Banks, Gerard Batten, or Nigel Farage speak for Leavers. We wouldn’t, and don’t, impute their statements onto Chloe.
At OFOC, we didn’t celebrate crossover day – the demographic development by which remainers outnumber leavers due to new entrants to the electorate, and, yes, the deaths of many older people who statistically were more likely to vote Leave.
Our campaign seeks to change minds – to imply anything else is to accuse us of acting in bad faith.
Chloe is wrong to say that our messaging is spiteful. We aren’t saying that young people matter more – we’re saying that they matter, and that their voice matters. This message is necessary in a climate that doesn’t treat young people with respect. We’re told we’re ungrateful, disinterested snowflakes. But we’re worse off than our parents, facing lower salaries, higher rents, and increasingly the prospect of never owning our own home.
And not only are the younger generation more united on Brexit than on any other issue, we care deeply about it. Both polling evidence and the anecdotal experience of our campaigning supports this – young people are fired up about politics in a way they haven’t been in the past.
And we’re democrats. If the public were to vote in a fresh referendum for a Brexit plan that is detailed to them in advance (much like the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, where a copy was sent to every household in Ireland and Northern Ireland), we would honour the result.
Some of us might well join the civil service and aid in its implementation. But the will of the people cannot be betrayed by the will of the people. Polling suggests that a referendum between a clearly defined Leave option and Remain would not be seen by the public as a rerun of the 2016 vote.
The seemingly unstoppable force of the mandate in 2016 has come up against the immovable object of reality – that there is no Brexit that leavers can unite around, and no Brexit that comes close to the promises made in 2016. And while there are people on both sides making unpleasant points, that doesn’t change the fundamental facts of the situation.
We recognise that many politicians will be uncomfortable with the idea of another referendum. But Parliament is hopelessly divided, and politicians have neither the will nor the ability to deliver a Brexit without some kind of kick up the backside. A new mandate to leave would be impossible to ignore. For the sake of Brexit voters and Remainers, let’s ask ourselves if we want this future.