This article in The Guardian is being shared widely by Rejoiners at the moment. It is a good piece of academic analysis. Yet I have some problems with a couple of the points it makes (I guess that’s unsurprising!!). It’s a long piece, so buckle yourself in for a long ride. Here’s what I really like about the piece:
The article correctly states that the Brexit mindset is a complex interwoven set of beliefs (coalitions within coalitions) that keep getting reinforced by our populist media. I articulated this via my ‘Brexit Brain’ model below. Quite why I coined the phrase ‘Brexorcism‘ to describe the complex quasi-religious mindset change process in the book Reboot Britain.
“It’s really hard. We see tremendous stability over very long periods of time. A choice like Brexit provides endless stimuli to feed that brain activity. It’s coalitions within coalitions within coalitions…” Darren Schreiber.
Thus, normal approaches to change management are not valid: ‘Carrots and sticks; are often used to change simple levels of behaviour and performance at work. For example, if you pay people more, they might work harder for a while. Put them under threat, they may also work harder, go on strike, work less or leave the company etc. But changing Kwasi-religious beliefs such as Brexit is a whole different ball game. It’s not a rational choice as the Guardian article rightly explains.
Whole brained change
I advocate a blend of so-called left (more analytical) and right brained (more emotional) thinking to reach deep into the Brexit psyche of my ‘clients’, what is known as a ‘hearts and minds’ approach in business consulting circles. Using hard hitting emotional headlines to grab people by the heart and longer more analytical approaches to ensure that their heads fall in line with their hearts. The dual approach is epitomised in the book Private Eyelines, a book targeted at leave voters to help them understand how they were lied to. p.s. DO NOT buy the book on Amazon. I get a £2.00 royalty on a sale of £32.99 for six months work, as Amazon keep all the profits! Whilst I don’t write books as an income source, I also don’t write them to boost Amazon’s profits. If you wish to buy a copy direct at an author’s discount, talk to me direct via firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way the left-right brain divide has been questioned but the idea of whole brain thinking (analytical and emotional) is a handy notion to help us think about the need to reach head and heart.
“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” Leon Festinger.
Another truism in the article is the belief that all leave voters are unresponsive to dialogue, thick or closed. This reveals itself in oft quoted statements by some Remainers, who say things like “You can’t educate pork”, “I’ve tried everything” and “They are thick as mince”. Truth be told, some Remainers lack the skills, patience and time to conduct effective Brexorcisms. Also it really matters who you choose as your ‘client’. There really is no point working on a ‘Nigel Farage type hardcore Brexiters’ but many leave voters are not hard leavers. Selection of your targets is key, both in terms of where they sit on the Remain – Leave continuum and to what extent they are key opinion formers for others who follow their views.
“When you pathologise the other side, there’s no point in reaching out to them” Brian Hughes.
Relationship and rapport is key
The article goes on to say something terribly important. “If there is a way through this, he suggests, it is to break down the myths of us and them.” A successful Brexorcism only operates on the basis of a strong relationship and a basic bond of trust. If you are going to challenge beliefs, you need a massive ‘bank balance’ of relationship power to succeed. This is why Steve Bray and his cult have changed very few minds by ‘shouting at people’ in Parliament, upsetting sympathetic media people into the process. In case of doubt, I started on the street with Steve at No 10 Vigil. He quickly spotted that the real action was at Parliament instead of Downing Street and set up a splinter group. Later on, I tried to gain him a permanent platform with other figures at Channel 4 News which he rejected. Of course, Steve’s activities outside the House of Commons have other functions. However, his finest moments were when he quietly but firmly ask politicians difficult questions using a Socratic style and a ‘servant leadership’ approach. But everything counts. We need to use all the therapeutic communication styles as discussed by John Heron in Reboot Britain. Social settings such as cafes, pubs etc. are often more helpful than formal settings, hence my comments about the sauna below, although the sauna is not the only environment in which you can change someone’s mind about Brexit!
In the article, Carol Tavris confirms the view that ‘consonance’ or rapport is vital as a starting point for a successful Brexorcism. The conversation is a healthy mixture of what Comms people call ‘pull’ and ‘push’ strategies or what musicians and psychologists call consonance and dissonance. Finding some common ground is extremely important or giving away trivial wins in order to build a connection. One of the difficulties I notice in some activists is their fundamentalist need to ‘win’ all the arguments with leave voters. It’s better to let them have some small wins in the dance of Brexorcism.
“When we argue with somebody about their beliefs, the absolute crucial thing to avoid is making them feel foolish. If you say something like, ‘How could you be so stupid?’, that will almost always make your listener become even more committed to their belief. If you say instead, ‘Well, many of my own expectations turned out not to be the case too’, that might be a place to start.”
The Guardian article suggests that we must fully convert people to become Rejoiners. This is akin to a religious conversion or what I call a 360-degree Brexorcism. This is fundamentally incorrect. All we need to deliver as a ‘MVP‘ (Minimum Viable Product” is to move people from the idea that Brexit is a good idea towards ambivalence or doubt about the value of Brexit, a 180-degree Brexorcism. This is a much easier task. This converts in behavioural terms to people not voting in another referendum / General Election to support a Brexit party or possibly voting for a pro-Rejoin party to balance out their previous vote. Obviously a full conversion to the cause would be a much stronger position but, as the article points out, it is much more difficult. This is like trying convert a moderate Christian to Islamic fundamentalism when we only need to go as far as agnosticism, not even atheism.
Our approach to Brexorcism has validation from low-profile approaches to change which were reported on by the BBC some while back. A Brexorcism blends ideas from psychology, sociology, anthropology and therapeutic interventions. People who tell me that you cannot change the minds of Brexit voters simply have not understood the fundamentals of Brexorcism which requires large doses of skill, patience and time. I’m offering a free masterclass on the topic for North Hertfordshire for Europe on Sunday November 19th at 5.00 pm via ZOOM. Contact me to reserve your place. I am also willing to give keynotes and masterclasses on our UK tour to develop a cadre of Brexorcists. This is vital if we are to move the dial faster on Brexit regret by a General Election.
The will of the people has changed
My other major beef with the article is that it suggests that “though there is some anecdotal and polling evidence that there has been a shift in sentiment, and that remain might now prevail, the same polls show very little appetite to reopen the question.” This is incorrect on two levels:
There has been a seismic shift from 4% to 24% of people that believe that Brexit has failed. By 2024 it is quite feasible that 70% of people will believe that Brexit has failed. At that point politicians will no longer be able to look the other way.
Whilst it’s true that there is currently no appetite to reopen the Brexit question, this is merely a feature of where we have got to in the cycle. Also, of course, a sense of foreboding that another referendum would re-open all the family feeds / social angst and so on. However, another bloody referendum is not the only way to settle the matter. It is also quite certain that not opening up the difficult question will mean that the wounds of Brexit will remain with us for generations to come. Some kind of healing could actually take place with a grown-up recognition that Brexit has failed and that rejoining the EU is both possible and desirable. There is an embedded assumption that we MUST do this via a referendum. It ain’t necessarily so. See this article for London for Europe and Reboot Britain on the choices we face.
Myths and Riffs of Brexit
I note that the last remaining Brexiters are putting forward a number of myths to silence debate. Sadly some remainers also buy into these myths due to learned helplessness. For example:
We’ll have to have the Euro
We’ll have to have Schengen
The EU will reject our application
And so on.
See our article for Bylines Myths and Riffs of Brexit for a fuller exposition on these myths.
‘Learned helplessness’ on the part of Remainers plays into a passive acceptance of the idea that Brexit is done and it cannot be undone. This is the belief that we don’t deserve to join anew as it might be considered anti-democratic etc. However, a referendum won through fraud, fake social media ads and which was judged illegal by the Supreme Court had it been mandatory is not the high-water mark of democracy. Leavers were not satisfied by a super majority (67.2% on a 64% turnout) in the initial referendum to join the EU in 1975. Nor should we.
Indonesia – our structural deficit
Learned helplessness prevails in a vacuum of leadership and a lack of coherent strategy. Whilst the Remain movement was relatively united in the summer of 2019 after a number of victories, the 2019 election fragmented people again along political party lines. There are now as many proposals on how we rejoin as there are pundits. I describe the organisational structure of the Remain movement as being like Indonesia i.e. 17 000 islands and a few bigger ones. But all operating independently. The bigger beasts such as the European Movement compete with other actors such as Best for Britain. Others prefer to plough their own furrow. Some have been asleep at the wheel, calling for Remainers to make the most of Brexit. Yet, the only good Brexit is a dead Brexit. The consequence of being ‘Indonesia’ is that we find it hard to do things at scale. Fragmentation of strategy / structure and poor leadership also mean that we spend as much time arguing internally about strategy as we do in acting on Brexit and Rejoin. I set out five goals which we coalesce around on a monthly basis. It ain’t perfect but we do our best to provide clarity and collaborative leadership across a group of people from Europe. Join us on the first Wednesday of each month at 8 pm UK time via ZOOM. See also our article on Strategies to Join EU anew.
Not fade away
One specific point in the article which is not quite correct is the mention of BBC Question Time’s Brexit special event in Clacton. The journalist stated that the audience was made up entirely of those who voted leave. He went on to suggest that this was presumably to ensure the debate would not simply descend into an all-too familiar slanging match. We actually attended the event and talked with people on the street in Clacton. Levels of ‘Bregret’ were widespread in Brexity Clacton outside the event. They were also quite easy to get from people who realised that they had been taken for fools. The Brexit voting audience were also happy to speak with us after the event and many were of the view that Brexit had failed and that they were lied to. It is therefore a mistake to assume that all Brexiters attending BBC QT are now fully committed to Brexit.
This was mirrored in Brexit voting Deal the other week and on BBC Any Questions in Tory voting Southend on 17 August 2023, where the audience failed to applaud any of the statements made by the Tory panel member. Having been at the centre of some extreme nastiness by Brexiters, including the ex Met Policeman who issued threats of violence, spray painted my house and attended with a knife, I observe from Brexit voting Kent that the slanging matches have largely subsided. However, the article is correct when it infers that the products of Brexit won’t go away by not talking about it. See our Brexit iceberg below. Like it or loathe it, Brexit is the smelly dump and stain in the toilet bowel of life that won’t flush.
Brexit will continue to traumatise a generation if we do not burst the boil of Brexit one way or another. I believe in facing problems rather than sweeping them under political carpets. Labour in particular will be culpable for assisting the tragedy of Brexit if they continue to look away. Much in the way that the vast majority of good German people were silenced through fear during Hitler’s populist uprising. Fence sitting on Brexit is assent.
“The Tories will crow about Brexit being done. The Labour frontbench will solemnly observe that past tense, and avoid the B-word, as if it is a triggering trauma for the party and the country, best left undisturbed.”
Brexit is the smelly dump and stain in the toilet bowl of life that won’t flush
As an aside, I found the opening paragraph about ‘Brexit hard man’ Steve Baker an unusual lead into the Guardian piece. I saw Mr Baker’s attempt to draw sympathy from the public to be a calculated attempt to humanise him as a piece of electioneering and not a window on his tortured Brexit soul. No decent Christian would agree with the human principles on which Brexit is founded. Like everything else with Brexit, it’s just another set of illusions. For example, The European Research Group (ERG) does no research. The weaponisation of asylum seekers to appeal to racists and people with feeble minds is not what Jesus would have done. and so on. Baker uses his faux Christianity as a shield and has now turned into a snowflake to gain sympathy from his constituents using the Brexit confessional box. Baker’s so called mental illness, beard growth and acne were mobilised as excuses. Krishnan Guru-Murphy’s analysis was correct when he pointed out that Baker was a C…nt.
Baker explained “I felt repugnant, hateful, to blame for all of the troubles that we had, absolutely without any joy, constantly worried about everything to the point of mental torment. A constant state of panic attacks and anxiety”. So he should, for all the pain he has inflicted on our children and those having anxiety, depression and lost careers / jobs / livelihoods due to Brexit. In fact, Baker should be in jail alongside Rees-Mogg who promised us cheap training shoes, Farage who promised a boom in fish and chips and Johnson who said that Brexit would make my wife’s breasts bigger. I’ve checked several times. They haven’t.