People’s Vote: A final say on the Brexit deal risks the revival of misinformation politics | Liam O’Dell

Expecting the electorate to vote on a Brexit deal they haven’t read is the type of blind faith and naïvety which was easily exploited in 2016.

Most of the general public didn’t look at this week’s draft withdrawal agreement in full. A total of 585 pages in length, it fell on journalists and politicians, each with their own conscious or unconscious bias, to summarise the entire document and inform the British people. The same will happen with the final deal, and if a People’s Vote is granted, it’ll be yet another referendum led by soundbites and manipulation.

Photo: David Holt/Flickr.

It is this, alongside the fact that the vote will most definitely include a ‘remain’ option, which allows for the ‘final say’ project to be easily dismissed as a “loser’s vote” or a re-run of the first referendum. If it does indeed come to fruition, it would not only be met with contempt by Brexiteers, but it would further fuel disillusionment and a hatred of the establishment and public institutions. Misinformation’s revival would put fake news and manipulation back on the agenda, and the tireless work of journalists using investigative reporting to win back public trust in a post-truth climate will be undone.

This wouldn’t be the only detrimental backtrack to occur if a people’s vote was granted. It would also involve significant u-turns from the Conservative government – both on its stance on a people’s vote and going back to the public for a second time. The first decision will damage the party’s reputation amongst Brexiteers, whilst the second will most likely infuriate some SNP politicians who have consistently faced opposition to calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Such a decision would be unlikely for a unionist party, and would only lead to an increase in support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

Not only that, but the Tories’ decision to allow the public to have the final say would also come with a sense of concession from Theresa May (if indeed, she is still negotiating in this hypothetical scenario) that her deal may not be the best option. Whether such a sentiment is explicitly stated, or simply implied, it’s a decision which would harm the case for the public to vote for her deal should that be on the ballot paper. As such, even if there were three choices on the ballot (a ‘no deal Brexit’, May’s deal, or remain), it could still appear to be a remain-leave referendum if it’s deemed that May no longer has confidence in her own deal by calling a people’s vote.

I do, however, think that this would be unlikely, and the government would still urge the public to back her arrangements. In which case, consider this: what’s not to say that they might send out leaflets to households similar to the ones they sent in 2016? Granted, this may be where the Electoral Commission steps in, but could UK households receive a summary of the deal from the Prime Minister, and if so, what would the implications of this be?

While all of this is, of course, hypothetical, if the People’s Vote campaign wishes to win over more leavers and remainers, it must be seen as offering the single, logical solution which is optimistic and would not create further division. This would also involve setting down the foundations for a fair and honest referendum, free from sensationalist language and misleading information.

Unfortunately, those behind the campaign are yet to acknowledge the full scale of misinformation and post-truth in our political processes. In their reportA Roadmap to a People’s Vote, the group say “there is a strong democratic case for much better regulation and transparency in political advertising on the internet, or even going further”, calling for social media companies to be “challenged to show that they are taking all actions within their power to prevent abuse” with the threat of tough new legislation if they don’t. It’s a promising step, but one which completely ignores the other, wider issues which tie into the misinformation machine. If a referendum on the final deal were to see the creation of official campaigns, their activities must be closely monitored for accuracy and fairness.

Yet, in amongst all of this, they recognise that “there may not be time for legislation” around online political advertising. When one considers the fact that there wouldn’t be enough time to call another referendum before the Brexit deadline of 29 March next year, both the plausibility of a people’s vote and its repercussions are called into question.

To truly learn from the lessons of 2016, adequate safeguards and provisions preventing the revival of misinformation in our political discourse must be put in place during a people’s vote. Without these assurances, the campaign will continue to be branded a re-run of the first referendum, and will fail to win over the support from Brexiteers which it so desperately needs.

Liam O’Dell is a freelance journalist and blogger.

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Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona (REVIEW)

How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.

Photo: Penguin Books.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.

Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.

Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.

If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.

The EU Referendum: Why a vote to remain will protect our human rights | The Friday Article

Earlier this week, the House of Commons debated our involvement with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) following Theresa May’s comments about Britain leaving the convention.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my decision to vote for us to remain in the European Union. Since publishing that article, I’ll admit that I do agree with what some of the ‘leave’ campaigners had to say in the comments, but I have yet to have someone explain how a vote to leave would benefit human rights. It is both this and this week’s debate which has prompted me to ask: even if all the reasons to stay in the EU are flawed, should we remain in the European Union to protect our human rights?

European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights. Photo: barnyz on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

This question comes down to the fact that all EU member countries must sign up to the ECHR. If we vote to leave the European Union in June, we sever ties with all aspects of the union including the European Convention on Human Rights. In turn, this paves the way for our government to work on a British Bill of Rights – which is something a single government shouldn’t be allowed to deal with.

I mean, each political party is biased towards different social classes, social topics and so forth. With that in mind, could any government or party come up with a British Bill of Rights which is fair for everyone? At the moment, the outcry towards changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could lead some to believe that the Conservatives may not be the best people to trust with our human rights – myself included.

Of course, our country does have separated powers, which mean the judiciary and judges are separate from the executive (government) and legislature (parliament). However, even if these new British rights were to be created by lawyers (like the convention was after WW2), what’s not to say that there won’t be any government influence over these new rights?

Whilst ‘leave’ voters are right to argue that the EU taking some of our sovereignty impacts our independence, it also adds more accountability to our governments. In her speech this week, Theresa May said the ECHR “binds the hands of parliament” – but isn’t that down to the accountabilty the ECHR (and indeed the ECJ) provides? If we don’t like what a government is doing, or if we need another level to appeal to in law, then both the ECJ and ECHR can help UK citizens. Why should these be removed? Does this imply that the Tories dislike accountability?

Despite this, I do appreciate the difficulty the UK had with the ECHR over the deportation of radical preachers, but that is a matter for reform, not withdrawal from the convention – reform and a possible withdrawal being something the Attorney General touched on in this week’s debate on the matter.

Very much like the EU, the ECHR has a lot of close ties with Britain that would simply cause problems if these are cut. For example, Joanna Cherry from the SNP said that because the Scotland Act is strongly bound to the ECHR, leaving the convention would cause a constitutional crisis – something all governments should avoid.

But as well as the ties to Scotland, an excellent and hilarious comedy sketch from the Guardian points out some of the flaws in the argument for us to leave the ECHR, and what the convention has done for us:

Lastly, a vote to remain would secure our ties to the ECHR. If we stay in the EU but choose to leave the convention, it’s unlikely the European Union would allow us to withdraw. It would be problematic in terms of the British Bill of Rights, but good news for those who think the government shouldn’t have control over our rights.

What do you think? How will you be voting in June’s EU referendum? Do you think we should leave the ECHR or seek reform? Comment below!

Liam

Confusing politics and why the ‘remain’ campaign has an advantage | The Friday Article

News and politics are boring – that is, until it can be related to people. It’s why Ebola only became a UK problem when nurse Pauline Cafferkey contracted the virus last year. In terms of politics, Nick Clegg’s apology for raising tuition fees prompted more young people to get involved with voting. As a result, the Liberal Democrats’ seats in parliament were slashed from 57 to 8. Now, with the EU Referendum approaching, people want to know how exactly the EU affects them – and that’s where Britain Stronger In Europe may have the upper hand.

Politics surrounding the UK and the EU has always been confusing - this is where the 'remain' campaign has the advantage. Photo: Michael Sauers on Flickr.
Politics surrounding the UK and the EU has always been confusing – this is where the ‘remain’ campaign has the advantage. Photo: Michael Sauers on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

With any election or referendum, vast amounts of political information is thrown at us in order to make an informed decision on who or what to vote for. In my case, it fuelled my interest in politics further ahead of last year’s general election. With the question of whether we should leave the European Union, we once again expect this barrage of detail. However, I get the impression that the UK’s business with the EU remains fairly secretive and hidden in the media. So, for a lot of us, we may have to learn about the numerous aspects of the European Union before we cast our vote. But, we would most likely turn to the ‘remain’ campaign for the positives before looking at Vote Leave’s scrutiny of these benefits.

This comes from something within our human nature: we like to criticise from time to time. On most occasions, we learn about a topic, see the positives and then criticise the idea with opposing views. It’s a technique which has helped comedians and of course, politicians.

If you don’t know much about the EU, turning to the leave campaign may not work. It’s hard for us to understand the criticism when we don’t know what it is that’s being criticised. As a result, many will turn to ‘remain’ for the facts first, before looking at ‘leave’ for the opposing views – some people will choose to adopt the views of ‘remain’, others may decide to back leaving the EU. Either way, the ‘remain’ campaign has that ‘first impression’ which puts them at a slight advantage.

The effect is purely psychological, but it may have unintended benefits for those campaigning for us to remain in a reformed European Union.

Are you interested in politics? Do you think this is a strategy that the ‘remain’ camp are using? Comment below!

Liam