Studying public relations, I am interested in the nature of promotional culture and how it affects democracy within the UK, both for good and bad. A concern first manifested itself when I wrote a paper on the effects of political promotion on democracy last year and looked back at the referendum on 23rd June 2016 when Britain decided to leave the European Union. Now, nearly two years from that date, we are still not that much clearer on what the terms of our departure will be and to be honest, I’m not sure anyone had a clue before the vote either.
The Leave campaign was considerably more persuasive than the Remain campaign, that goes without saying. However, both sides fell victim to an incredible amount of political promotion of, quite honestly, lies. I’m, of course, not eluding to the idea that all political promotion efforts are lies, but how do we know when they are and when they aren’t?
With a situation like Brexit, we were all tired of turning on the news at 6 o’clock to hear yet another crazy reason from both sides of why Brexit would be a good idea or not. I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to what were clearly lies and over-exaggerations (the best example of this of course being the £350 million extra for the NHS) but I did notice how much others were being persuaded by convincing campaign efforts. I know that often much of a communications effort seeks to change opinions and, without the worst connotations of the word, manipulate. However, I, and I’m sure all good people out there, do believe that lying is fundamentally wrong.
Both the Leave and the Remain campaigns used promotional campaigns to persuade public opinion, one more successfully than the other. But the problem I have with the referendum was the lack of honest information that was available for the UK voting population to make an informed decision. We weren’t confronted with real scenarios that would occur after we decided to leave, just over-exaggerated speculations that fuelled a belief in either one of the campaigns. I imagine it was difficult to predict what would happen if we left the EU as we know it (Greenland left the European Economic Committee in 1985) as no country had ever done it before, but providing the electorate with speculated ideas wasn’t the fairest option.
This is not an attack on anyone who voted to leave the European Union by any means. I have always believed that if you can rationally justify your political decisions then you are well within your rights to vote however you see fit. A lot of people, however, still seem unsure about what they actually voted for…
Looking back at the referendum, I don’t think that the British public were in any state to make that huge political decision. I’m sure some people will agree with me and others won’t, but as we are not much further in determining the terms of our departure from the EU, I don’t think anyone understood the sheer size of the task at hand when we voted back in 2016.
Ultimately, the fundamental nature of our democracy allowed us all to have the chance to vote in the referendum, but were we educated enough to make an informed decision? I’m not sure.