So that’s it then. We’ve voted to leave Europe. Let’s put to one side that whatever your political views on this subject, the facts are that the future of the UK’s economy has been plunged into uncertainty as David Cameron announces he will stand down as Prime Minister.
However, as well as a country (largely) in shock, we now have a country divided. Divided by age – 24% of 18-24 year olds voted to leave the EU, compared to 58% of over 65 year olds – divided by region…even by family and friendships. A YouGov poll earlier this week found that 50 percent of the public – and 70 percent of ‘remain’ voters – thought the referendum had made British society more divided. So much for a United Kingdom.
To be clear, we’re interested in this issue – and writing this blog – from a communications perspective. As we face an uncertain future, it seems blackly fitting that uncertainty has been the overriding theme running throughout the entire campaign. Irrespective of your political standpoint, most would agree that the communications strategies (or lack thereof) around the EU referendum have lacked any level of clarity; in fact, in our opinion, they’ve been frankly muddled and confusing. A Sky News online poll on Wednesday found that 75 percent of respondents did not think the campaigns had been helpful, with 40 percent saying they had been actively unhelpful.
While the decision whether to leave the EU is a complex debate with many perspectives, the media’s treatment has been decidedly black and white. Rather than publishing the facts, instead – like kids in a playground – the national news organisations perhaps predictably picked ‘sides’. Where intelligent communications strategies should have been objective and insightful, dealing with the truths and cutting through the noise, we’ve instead had negative campaigning and embittered, repetitive shouting as arguments try to get heard. As a result, communications became very negative and focused on people’s fears and emotions, as opposed to trying to give a more comprehensive guide as to what the EU is about and the resulting implications of leaving – based on hard facts.
Both sides of the EU debate have accused each other of lies and scaremongering, and both were criticised by independent bodies for misrepresenting facts. Research by Ipsos Mori published this month found significant misconceptions on issues such as the level of EU inward investment, which was underestimated, through to the numbers of EU citizens living in Britain, strongly overestimated. Similiarly, critics have slammed campaign groups on both sides of the EU referendum debate for failing to articulate the impact leaving Europe would have on voters’ personal finances. No wonder that on the day before voting took place, polls suggested that 10 per cent of the electorate were still undecided. We’d argue that from a communications perspective, there was both a lack of clarity and effective engagement with the various demographics of target voters.
But, at the end of the day, the British public has made its decision… The real question now is how to move forward into these unchartered waters. And the reality of the situation is now simple – with Article 50 able to be triggered at any point, blocking entry back into the EU unless by unanimous consent from all other member states, it’s time to take stock and work through what the decision to leave Europe actually means for us – as a nation and at a personal and business level. And the fact we have to do this now, after the horse has bolted (so to speak), only highlights the way that both sides of the Brexit camp have let us down. Let’s hope from now on that communications are more insightful, particularly when the outcome is one of such gravity.
Chief Content Officer aka Writer