Brexit, Politics and the Media vs the Undecideds

24/05/2016 15:27 | Updated 24 May 2016

We're on the home straight. The time is nearly nigh. In just over a month, we'll vote in the EU Referendum. The polls are close and the stakes are high. It's clear that the undecideds will decide it. And because of this, we're on the cusp of a media and political storm the like of which we've never seen before. Grab the popcorn!

Yes, it's all very exciting. But it's also rather worrying. Why are people still undecided? After all, it's a simple choice: in or out. We all have a gut feeling one way or the other, surely?

For me, just like many long-time Labour Party members, the choice should be simple. We are all Europeans. To leave the EU would be a disaster. It has given us peace, arguably prosperity, and certainly many vitally important social rights and safeguards. If you'd asked me 'in or out' five years ago, I would have been a Remainer all the way.

But for me, politics and the media have muddied this clear-water choice. So at the moment I'm one of the undecideds - flip flopping gently on a daily, occasionally hourly, basis. And for an opinionated PR man, with clients not just in the UK but Europe and worldwide, this is a very uncomfortable place to be.

Thankfully, I'm not alone. At the last count, around 25 per cent of people are still undecided; a figure which, even to me, seems bizarrely high. It's not like it's a hard question, is it? Well, it shouldn't be if we had only the facts to work on - and events in Europe were not in so much flux at the moment. But sadly, politics and the media have ammunition to play with and have successfully made it a very hard choice for many.

More Fear, Fewer Facts

In this EU Referendum campaign, politicians and the media are currently unlikely, but rather successful, bedfellows. Driven by social media, over the last decade politicians have gradually moved away from reasoned factual arguments into sound-bite speak aimed at what they perceive to be the lowest common denominator. The media has been doing this for 50 years, so for once, right now, politics and the media are speaking with one very loud and very alarmist tone of voice.

Of course, over the last week, the political establishment, all of whom are Remainers, have been ably assisted by everyone from American banks threatening to quit the UK; Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England not ruling out a recession; and late-entrant Christine Lagarde, MD of the IMF, telling us all that we are utterly, utterly doomed if we leave.

The Brexiters are not much better when it comes to hyperbole, matching the Remainers in the rush to cite others to bolster their case. Boris resorted to the current vogue for Hitler; the tabloids cited Migrant Watch stating that immigration 'costs the British taxpayer £3m per day'; many used former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips' thoughtful and considered report, Race and Faith, to scare the pants off people and, probably, the most bizarre intervention thus far, Leave.EU used faux facts to make the case that leaving the EU would increase our chances of winning the Eurovision Song Content.

All of these stories are opinions dressed up as facts. The truthful answer is that short of a few very obvious consequences of leaving the EU, such as an immediate fall in the stock market and a visible wave of horror rippling outwards from Brussels, factually, no one knows what would happen. And it's likely that nothing seismic would change until our EU 'divorce proceedings' period of two years was complete. Ditto, clearly, if we stay in. Nothing will change at all.

Doomed either way

Over the last couple of weeks the tension and pressure has ratcheted up. We've been told by the media and by politicians that a vote for whatever we choose - leave or stay - will cause the same end result: war, pestilence, poverty, isolation, fear, and - worst of all - a fall in house prices.

As an undecided, I feel like I just want to stop the campaign and get off now. There are so many conflicting points of view and so many actors at work. It's like being on the fairground waltzers as a kid and suddenly feeling sick when the guy spins your carriage. I can see the rubbish from the utter rubbish; but every new opinion gives me new and instant food for thought.

So how will this end? What's in store for us over the next month? As an undecided, I like to think I've got a fairly good grasp on both sides of the argument. My gut tells me that we are better off in the EU; it's a fine institution, a model that served us well for decades. But my heart does, I admit, yearn for the excitement and freedom of Brexit. I accept that the EU has changed since the 1970s and there's no reason to be hopeful that the inevitable further change will benefit the people of the UK - or in fact, many of the peoples of Europe.

The Undecideds Are Driving the Campaign

Because I'm one of the undecideds, and because we hold the key to the result, we are driving the political strategy and media coverage. It's clear that both sides will do anything to win us over. And it's also clear that there is a way to go before the shark is completely jumped. This makes me think that it's not going to be long before we see some very underhand activity.

First in the spotlight is probably Jeremy Corbyn. It would only take one secret recording or a 'friend' to blow Brexit wide open. Tariq Ali has already started what may become a chain reaction. Secondly, David Cameron: leaks of internal documents or private letters are a huge danger for him and the Remain campaign.

But my honest fear is actually more about what happens after the vote, whether it's for or against. This campaign has been nasty and it's going to get nastier still. It's inevitable that either way, politics will change when we wake up on the 24th June. The losers will be bitter and embattled. Politicians will lose their jobs and be out for blood. The media will continue to scaremonger either way because it's now proven itself; and likely around 50 per cent of the UK population will feel cheated either way. I will vote, and so will the majority of undecideds. And whatever the outcome, I think, like many, I'll feel more sadness than jubilation either way.