We've seen the plethora of petitions, we've seen all of the "memes" and anecdotes on social media, and many of us have had massive arguments with Brexiters.
We've had an almost complete change of Government, the official opposition seems to be in disarray, whilst there are rumours of political parties forming an alliance in the next General Election to ensure pro EU candidates form an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.
As an ordinary, every day person, it can be easy to feel helpless amongst all of this turmoil.
So what can ordinary people, like you and me, actually do to help the fight back and save the UK's membership of the EU?
Whereas the Brexiters have reasonably well defined leadership in Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis, at the moment, the remainers lack any indication of agreed leadership. It is developing, but it is not there yet.
As remainers, we are stereotypically more likely to be independent critical thinkers, capable of leading ourselves rather than looking for leaders. So it may take a long time and prove difficult for a defined leadership of our campaign to form.
But in the meantime, we are in danger of becoming disheartened. And we are in a very real danger of failing to effectively win the hearts and (more importantly) the minds of those who once voted to leave.
So we, the ordinary, every day people, need a plan of action. We all need to realise that we can help the overall strategy (even before that strategy is fully formed) in our own small way.
And because the country is in such disarray, with no genuine idea of what Theresa May and the conservatives are actually planning, and what the process is likely to be, we need a plan that will work for all eventualities.
- We could have a 2nd referendum (unlikely).
- Parliament could reject the referendum and refuse to trigger Article 50 (50:50 at best).
- We could trigger Article 50 and end up with a Brexit deal, leading to another referendum.
- Everything could fall apart with no deal agreed before the next general election.
- We could end up with a Brexit deal that is forced upon us with no referendum.
So in the meantime, we need to work hard to convert brexiters and the undecideds that staying in the EU is in our best interests. If there is another referendum, we need to start the work now to make sure the result keeps us in the EU. Even if that referendum is in 41 years time, we need to start now.
We need to:
- Understand the power of social media and the internet
- Engage with the brexiters constructively and effectively
- Ensure that truth, reason and facts are the consistent message
Since 1973, those against globalisation have gradually gained dominance in the traditional media. It has got to the point where the Daily Express can print a blatant and outright lie on their front page, and those who want to believe it will not call it into question at all.
Meanwhile, we, the pro-globalists, did nothing. We didn't think it was worth fighting too heavily because it was obvious how ridiculous it was. We now know that it wasn't obvious to everybody.
Over the past 5-10 years, the anti-globalists have also learned how to use the new social media to their advantage.
We have well and truly been caught on the back foot, and we're the ones playing catch-up.
Using social media effectively is possibly the most powerful thing that you and I can do. And the great thing is that it isn't difficult.
Creating a new newspaper is beyond the ability of almost all of us, and creating a popular online newspaper or blog is just as challenging for most of us.
But we CAN use our own social media channels more effectively for the cause.
There are actually several audiences that we need to keep in mind when using social media; the brexiters, the swinging voters (observers), other remainers, and the social media algorithms.
We need to make sure that we are sharing any convincing and useful pro-EU content throughout our social media channels.
Not just "liking" the content, but sharing it.
When you see something in your social media feed, there's no reason to assume that others are seeing it too. By sharing the content (or re-tweeting) you are giving your friends the opportunity to also see the content.
Your brexiter friends will see it and it may help to convince them of the errors in their arguments.
Your swinging voter friends will see it and it may help to convince them more of your arguments.
Your remainer friends will see it and it may help to convince them that all is not lost, there are still people fighting the cause. Don't give up.
Also, the social media algorithm will see it. The more that a post is liked or shared, the more prominence it has in the algorithm. Not everything that you post is seen by everybody in your friend list. People have too many friends for that, so that social media algorithms try to decide what they would most like to see. Content that is highly liked and shared goes to the top of that list.
I would argue that you shouldn't share literally everything, but make sure you're sharing something every day, if not several times a day, that is useful, factual and convincing. You could start by sharing this action plan.
We're not expecting to convince people overnight. The leave campaign didn't win because of last minute convincing, well-referenced, reasoned arguments. They won because for the past 43 years, they've been putting out messages and sowing the seeds of doubt in people's minds. Little, and often.
We're 43 years behind, so we need at least little and often. If not, a lot and often.
Creating a background hum of facts and reason is not enough. We also need to engage directly with brexiters, and also those who are still undecided, or possibly regreting their decision.
But we need to be intelligent about how we engage with people.
We need to make sure that we are not getting involved in any arguments. Just discussions.
If a discussion becomes us versus them, barriers go up and it becomes impossible to change anybody's mind, regardless of how compelling the evidence is.
We must always start discussions with brexiters with an attitude of "help me to understand your point of view". We must have no preconceptions about their biases or prejudices (or their intelligence level).
From here, it should be questions all the way. It's no good saying "That's completely wrong because ..." regardless of how true your statement may be. Instead, we need to turn everything into a question.
- "How do you reconcile that with the consensus of economists who are saying ...?"
- "Do you believe that combatting/stopping/changing XYZ is worth the risks to our economy?"
- "Have you seen the conclusions from the LSE that immigrants contribute an extra £2Bn per year to our tax pot than they use in resources?"
And so on.
I know first hand how difficult this is. When somebody comes out with some utter garbage, it can be tempting to just bat it aside and destroy them. But this will not help. We don't want to destroy them, we want them to join us. And in order to do that, they need to work it out for themselves.
In the same way that a good teacher doesn't just tell you the answers, but instead asks you questions to help you work it out for yourself.
And a good psychiatrist doesn't just tell you what you need to do to sort your life out. They ask you questions so that you work out your own solutions.
You need to be their teacher and their psychiatrist.
But we also have another big problem. We are not engaging with reasonable, intelligent people most of the time. We'll be engaging with often poorly educated people, short tempered people, and sometimes downright aggresive people.
And we MUST NOT rise to the temptation to meet anger with anger.
A rule commonly used in professional negotiation is that only one person is allowed to get angry at a time.
So if they raise their voice or start to appear otherwise agitated, you must pause.
It only takes a pause of a few seconds to calm yourself down, to make it clear that you will NOT respond in kind, and to make it apparent to them and everybody else around them, that THEY have just embarassed themselves and you will not be doing the same.
Then very calmly, continue your questions.
Often brexiters will criticise you, rather than the EU to justify themselves. Personal attacks, or ad hominem, should not be tolerated. You are discussing the issues and personal attacks do not support anybody's point of view.
If you receive a personal insult, do not respond to it, or defend yourself against it. Just calmly point out that it does not support their argument to make personal insults and that you'd rather they helped you to understand their point of view.
It can be very tempting to defend yourself against the insult, even just with "That's not true and you know it". But that merely justifies that line of discussion and it can rapidly turn a discussion into a slagging match. Nip it in the bud as soon as you spot it and bring the discussion back to the issues.
Remember at all times throughout the discussion that you may only be discussing the issues with one person, but you will frequently have an audience. Particularly if you are discussing on social media. So you need to make sure that you are appealing to your audience as much as, if not more than the person you are actually engaging with. It is easier to convince your audience than it is the person you are discussing with. The person involved in the discussion has publicly declared their position and so they feel they must defend it. An observer who agrees with them has not publicly declared it, so psychologically, they feel more impartial.
Always play to your audience.
Sticking to the facts, not tolerating ad hominem attacks and not rising to anger or raised voices will appeal to your audience.
I'd recommend reading Getting to Yes by Profs. Roger Fisher & William L. Ury. It's the defining book on the subject of negotiation, but it is also a great book for general techniques for discussing delicate subjects with people who vehemently disagree with you.