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Remainers must not be silenced

May 2, 2017 12:45 PM
By John Ki'ng in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

In the aftermath of the referendum, the Remain viewpoint has been a still small voice. Too still and too small. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first to do with the character of Remainers and the second with how they've been treated.

Remainers on the whole are civilised people, reflective and self critical, inclined to see the other person's point of view. They are not given to elbowing their way to the front of the bar shouting their order for a drink; they leave that to the Nigel Farages of this world.

You saw this with the protest march on 25th March, a model of dignity and decorum. The placards were inventive and humorous. How did the BBC reward them? By giving the event scant coverage. Unfortunately good manners and disciplined behaviour are not very newsworthy and they devoted more time to Mr Farage on that important day.

Considering the huge importance of Brexit, protests about it have been less than expected, and the reasons for this have been analysed by Davidson. But now it's time to take the gloves off. As Emmanuel Macron has said, liberal values must be defended with a vigour to match that of the far right. Otherwise, they are dead in the water.

Britain is like a ship cut off from its home port, drifting out into the Atlantic. It has been boarded by buccaneers, and the passengers taken hostage. The first thing these desperados do is silence all dissent. "We are all buccaneers/Brexiteers now", they say. And woe betide anyone who isn't.

Stockholm syndrome

Under these conditions, a curious thing happens. Many of the passengers start singing from the buccaneers' song sheet, claiming they always wanted to be pirates. It's called the Stockholm syndrome, in which the allegiances of victims become reversed. In a milder guise, it is simply the tendency to give in to bullies. In Brexit Britain today, many have trimmed their sails according to the prevailing wind. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" has become their motto. Of course everyone prefers to be on the winning side. The problem is that over the long term, Brexit will make us losers.

To cap it all, most of our MP's were effectively silenced too, trooping meekly through the lobbies to support what most of them knew was wrong.

To those familiar with the experiments of Stanley Milgram, this is familiar territory: people will set aside their normal misgivings to a surprising extent if they are ordered to. In this case by the whips, or ultimately by the need to observe "democracy". In other words to obey the "will of the people", despite the validity of that notion having been effectively demolished by Britain's leading philosopher, AC Grayling, who had written to all MPs personally.

Fighting for our future

Many have assumed that as the pain of Brexit bites, leave voters will wake up and change their minds. I hope this happens, but, if my Stockholm syndrome analogy is correct, the opposite will occur. As situation worsens, loyalty to Theresa May will increase, and any overture by the EU to "rescue" us or take us back will evoke hostility.

A formidable struggle therefore lies ahead, but I take comfort from the confidence of A C Grayling, that we will win in the end. The fight-back begins with the coming election, where we should "consider supporting the Liberal Democrats as much as possible", he says. (New European, 28 April-4 May).

So in practical terms when engaging the public, what should be our message to the doubters? This is something we have been debating in my local campaigning group, Stratford4Europe. First and foremost, to defend the EU, its noble ideals and magnificent achievements; the fact that it is a protector not a persecutor. Flawed admittedly, but still a great institution over which we were due to preside this year. And which we should be leading, not leaving.

* John King is a retired consultant psychiatrist, medical researcher and Lib Dem member. He has advised the consumers association on aromatherapy products and demonstrated the therapeutic power of fragrances on BBC's "Tomorrows World".