Thursday, May 12, 2016

The book "Project Fear" revisited

Joe Pike's book "Project Fear" was apparently mentioned in Question Time this evening.

I reviewed that book and commented on its' implications last year in a post called

Project Fear: lessons from a referendum.

With a bit less than two months to go until the EU membership referendum, it is striking how many of the concerns I expressed about how this current referendum might come to resemble the Scottish one have come to pass.

This is an extract from what I wrote at the time

"The first thing which horrified me about this book was how the divisive nature of the campaign, the lies told by the Nationalists and over-concentration on negative arguments by the unionists, have left a legacy of distrust and anger which will scar Scotland for years.

The second thing which horrified me was the dawning realisation of how easy it would be for each side in the forthcoming European referendum to repeat the mistakes of one or both sides.


It is painfully obvious from some of the internecine battles within UKIP about which of the rival "out" campaigns to support that those who wish to leave the EU could all too easily fall into the trap of repeating many of the mistakes that the "Yes Scotland" campaign made.

It is equally obvious that those who want Britain to remain part of the EU will have to raise their game dramatically if they want to avoid becoming Project Fear II - especially as some of their most powerful negative arguments about the economic risks of not being EU members have been weakened when the pro-EU lobby "cried wolf" about the consequences if Britain did not join the Eurozone.

Companies which threatened to stop investing in Britain should the country not join the Euro, and did not carry out the threat when Britain kept the pound instead, are unlikely to be believed if they repeat the threat, this time as an indication of what they will do should we leave the EU. It doesn't matter whether they are telling the truth this time - because they cried wolf before they will not be believed.

If the "Out" campaign is characterised by the sort of wilful failure to spell out what a "leave" vote actually means combined with the sort of narrow and often spiteful nationalism which sadly characterised "Yes Scotland" they will deserve to lose.

If the "In" campaign run a campaign based on scaremongering and lacking a positive vision for the benefits of Europe in Britain they too will deserve to lose,

Britain, however, does not deserve that sort of choice any more than Scotland did last year."
 



Clearly one lesson that separatists in this referendum have learned from the failure of their equivalents in the Scottish one is that fear is a powerful weapon. The Brexit camp have deployed two tactics to counter a perceived "Project Fear" by the Remain side, either of which would probably have worked better on its' own because in a sense they are contradictory.

On the one hand, the "Leave" side and their allies in the newspapers have done their best to constantly present in an exaggerated form, and then ridicule, any argument by the Remain side which is, or can be represented as being, a warning about the risks of leaving. They have tried to present all Remain arguments as being nothing but ridiculous scare stories.

On the other hand "Leave" have also run their own "Project Fear" about what Conservative Home called "The Risks of Remain," designed to suggest that there is no status quo and making the case that staying in the EU has risks too.

This has ranged from some well argued articles on Conservative Home to several utterly ridiculous scaremongers such as the suggestion from Leave.EU that voting Remain might result in the forced privatisation of the NHS. I have explained why this is complete nonsense in a number of posts, most recently here.

If the British electorate has as much sense as I think they have, the "Leave" campaign would have gained rather more traction by depicting "Remain" arguments as daft scaremongers like

"voting for leave will mean world war III, millions of people losing their jobs next day and the collapse of the NHS"

had not a very vocal element of "Leave" supporters been frantically spreading equally ridiculous scaremongers like 

"Voting Remain will mean the privatisation of the NHS, Britain's armed forces being forcibly integrated into a European Army and 72 million Turkish people moving to Britain"

As far as I can tell, the sensible people on each side do not believe and have not put forward such views, at least not in such an extreme form, but a lot of hysteria is floating around.

Roll on June 24th!

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