Take back control

The only way we make change is through dialogue with each other and understanding.

Jess Cordingly
29 June 2016

A march and rally organised by the UEA students union to protest against tuition fees, 2009. Flickr/Roger Blackwell. Some rights reserved.From the moment I heard their slogan, I knew the Leave campaign would win:Take Back Control.It's partly the language and psychology that make it so effective. It is so positive and yet so vague. Who wouldn't want to take back control? It suggests to everyone that if you don't vote leave, you're happy with "control" being somewhere else, held by someone else. Who would ever choose that?Remain palled into insignificance next to the language of control. I don't even know what their slogan was, if they had one. Long gone were the happy days of the "Better Together" campaign to keep Scotland in the UK. This campaign was mainly about the bad things that could happen if the UK left the EU. This felt so negative compared to the positive Take Back Control. No wonder Remain were called "Project Fear". It feels like the Remain camp put their bets onto a behavioural economics-based analysis of us all being naturally loss averse. There's a famous test where you can bet £100 for a 50:50 chance of winning another £100. The vast majority of people will not bet that £100 because the chance of doubling your money is not enough to counter the potential pain of the loss of £100. I can't remember exactly, but I think the potential winning amount needs to be at least £200 or more (so you end up with £300 if you win) for the average person to be able to counter the potential loss. Remain understood this loss aversion and focused on making the £100 loss as painful and detailed as possible.The key factor they missed here is that there are millions of people across the UK who already feel like that £100 has been lost. If you're gambling on behavioural economics (which is already a stupid way to conduct an argument), you have to be sure that there is actually something to lose.And this is why I knew Leave would win. I have to travel a lot with my job and I spend a lot of time talking to all sorts of lovely people who are having a very, very tough time. Old industrial towns across the UK where there is no good work, no prospect of good work and no memory of good work. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party campaigned to Remain in the EU for workers rights, but this is an argument with absolutely no traction if you are unemployed or working a zero hours contract. Or if your income comes through odd jobs. You have no workers rights to lose. The behavioural economics gamble is meaningless. And it isn't just post-industrial regions. A lot of the brilliant people I went to school with in Norwich have not felt happy for a long time. The apocalyptic 2008 financial crash hit when we were 23. We watched as the world we had been told to believe in turned out to be a fiction. Everything we had been told about working hard, playing by the rules, and there would be a job waiting for you - it was all lies. Lack of jobs, short term contracts only, rising rents and house prices, no pensions - all this hits hard for those of us who are £20,000 in debt from university. It hits even harder if you didn't go to university and so aren't getting the few good jobs that are out there. The British, and European, economies have been rebuilt since 2008 but on the same footing. Nothing really has changed, except that we know that none of the constructs are true or trustworthy. The young may be more open and liberal than the old, and the young did generally vote in favour of staying in. But not all of them. And not enough. But it wasn't just Remain's election to lose. It was Leave's to win. And here again is the absolute power of "Taking Back Control". Leave tapped into the exact thing that Remain ignored - that too many people in the UK feel they have nothing. They have nothing to lose. They aren't in control. They didn't ask for the set of global and national factors that led to industries closing, to their communities being under-invested in, to the financial disasters of the last decade. At no point have they felt in control of any of this. And here is someone offering control. Leave didn't say what that control was of - some interpreted it as borders, others as the economy, others as our decision-making powers. It didn't need specifying - it's just control. The thing that each and every one of us craves, along with love, above all else. If we don't have it for a long time, we become desperate. One of the interviews on the radio this weekend was with a young girl in Tipton. She had voted for Brexit. She told the journalist this was "the best day of my life. I voted for something and it happened!" Now, after years without it, she had control.It doesn't take much to understand this. And it doesn't take much to work it out. From a few conversations I've had over the last few months I felt convinced that Leave would win. But you do have to talk to people and understand where they are. You can't just assume. Remain felt like it assumed. It ran a campaign that I'm sure on paper and looked over by strategists made loads of sense. Behavioural economics. Loss aversion. Bringing in a range of celebrities and respected figures. Save Beckham for 2 days before polling day - that'll swing it! But it didn't. Read the comments underneath Stronger In's Facebook post about Beckham. Endless versions of "yeah that's alright for you David - you're a rich wanker. You would like the status quo. You would like Europe." Social media doesn't help with this. We get this sense that we are talking to all kinds of people and having a broad conversation. But we absolutely aren't. We are talking to the people who find us. Who follow us. And we are broadcasting, not talking. I joined Stronger In and kept being asked to retweet and share, but my followers are like me as well. It takes a long time for word to get out beyond people like me. It would have been far more effective for me just to have a chat with my neighbours. Leave used social media and they broadcast as well, but they talked too. Another sound bite from yesterday's interviews. A woman in a chip shop outside Durham. She had voted to leave, as had everyone she knew. She wanted to take back control. But also, she saw the UKIP man regularly. He came into the chippie. She'd never seen a Labour or Stronger In campaigner around there. She didn't know who they were.In all of this, my biggest criticism is of the Labour Party. The Remain campaign may have been crap. But in fairness this was an unusual campaign compared to normal elections and I think their strategists were caught off guard. But Labour is in these communities. Their MPs are based there. Didn't they see that a campaign based on economic fear, and in favour of workers rights, would have absolutely no traction in the communities they represent? They should have been knocking on every door. Listening to every comment. And telling their central team that the arguments weren't working. You can't dismiss this as people just being "bigots" as Gordon Brown did. You have to engage and understand.Maybe MPs and activists did this and maybe Labour HQ wouldn't listen. It doesn't matter now.  Because there was the Leave campaign, reminding us all - young and old, in cities and regions - that we feel out of control, tapping into the desperate sense that we somehow need to stop it, to stop the change, to stop the hurtling into the unknown, to somehow regain control. Of course, the truth is, this vote won't regain control. It will make us smaller, poorer, more frightened, more angry, more alone, more unable to control the choppy waters that surround us. That is why it is such a tragedy.So what do we do now?First of all we have to acknowledge, accept and understand that a huge number of people in the UK feel out of control, disconnected from and distrusting of liberal politics and capitalist systems, and have nothing to lose. This is a huge structural truth that isn't about to disappear. Personally, I'm going back into my job with renewed focus and purpose. At work I look predominantly at the support that people want and need when they are going through very tough times, from homelessness to addiction to mental and physical health problems to poverty, violence and abuse. I had been struggling to articulate how this work fits in with wider political and sociological changes that I see around me. Now I know. It is abundantly clear that all of us, whether we are facing tough times or not, want love and we want control. This means being respected, heard and taken seriously. I need to understand how we model good support for people based on this truth. I need to make the arguments for this and I need to work with others to get this support out there, within reach of people who need it.But the biggest challenge for all of us who were on the progressive Remain side is surely the future of the Labour Party. The Party is, seriously, on the brink of not existing. It's lost Scotland. Now it's lost Wales and the North and Midlands. So who does vote Labour? The few people still in trade unions and urban-centred middle class liberals? There's nothing wrong with being an urban middle class liberal. Liberalism is one of the most precious values we have, which is what makes its rejection so terrifying. But every political party apart from UKIP is competing for these generally middle class people, utterly ignoring the huge numbers of people who aren't and don't want to be this. This is dangerous, as it leaves a vacuum into which populists can walk. It's also totally wrong. When did political parties stop taking the concerns of millions of people seriously? When did they not notice that their declining membership was telling them something? Our representative model of democracy is based upon parties representing the people. If they don't, the whole thing is redundant.The only way forward for Labour, in my mind, is a period of serious community engagement. It really doesn't matter who the leader is - the critical factor is for the leader to understand what this referendum means to the Party. Put aside winning elections for a while, as painful as that may be. The trade unions may be almost redundant now in many regions, but every constituency still has a Labour Party - that is the most amazing reach.

Activists across the country should be supported and trained in community engagement techniques, whether that be dispute resolution, active listening or consensus building tools. They should get out, door to door, calling community meetings. And then they should listen, engage, understand, withhold judgement, and find ways to get each person to step into each other's shoes. The manifesto could be revisited. It is meaningless to so many people now. It could be rewritten based on important progressive, liberal values but talking about what these could mean to people now, making it relevant to their everyday lives. The RSA is about to start an interesting and similar piece of work using deliberative democracy to create the Citizen's Economic Council. Surely the Labour Party can trust those people it hopes will vote for them to stop broadcasting what and how they should think. It needs to start actively to listen and to understand, setting an example to those potential voters and members that the only way we make change is through dialogue with each other and understanding.

Because in the end, we have only got each other.

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