My Three Cents

Nothing has astounded the world lately more than the sudden turn of events in Great Britain!

The Brexit campaign that many polls indicated would never win, won. And while many people celebrated the decision, many, many were unhappy about it. Global markets around the world took a nose dive, and the pound dropped to a thirty-year low against the dollar. Most economists and analysts see doom and gloom. This would certainly cause a recession in GB and most likely in the EU countries, they said. Experts differed on how it would impact the United States.

But let’s back up a minute and see where communication, the lack of it or inappropriate application of it, made a difference in the outcome of the vote.

The decision to have this issue put to the people as a referendum must be examined. As I understand it, there was debate among Conservatives during the last general election about leaving or staying in the EU, and Prime Minister Cameron, certain that the outcome would be to “remain,” thought a referendum would put an end to the debate once and for all.

Here’s my question: how carefully did he and the Conservatives do their research before making this momentous decision? Did they fully understand the psyche and concerns of the population in different sections of GB? Were focus groups assessed? Since there are 100,000 pages of regulations for members of the EU to abide by, did they consider how one distills this complexity and communicates the multiple implications of such, clarifying the advantages and disadvantages of membership?

Polls released in the U.S. of those voting to leave quoted many voters as saying: “What is the EU? (A shock!)”…“Why vote to leave the EU?” “I don’t like the immigrants the EU is sending here.” There were even rumors that the EU was going to outlaw Britain’s famed double decker buses. If there was no credence to any of the above, where were the authentic communications denying or commenting on these allegations. This is all indicative of the low level of understanding and ineffective communications that occurred, or areas where communications did not take place at all.

During this same period the “remain” group was unable to tell its story, in convincing language, of how departure would threaten and diminish GB in various areas. Apparently, it was unable to address convincingly the rumors and innuendos. It was unable to persuasively get people to believe the truth.

For the forces behind “remain” one can only assess that the research was poor and communications disappointing. This is the very essence of the key that turns the lock. Considering that the British in many ways invented modern representative government, something like Brexit perplexes Americans, where such a vote would only have been voted on in the U.S. Congress. We elect our congressmen with the hopes that they or their staff will understand such complexities. It remains unclear how the British government qualifies an issue for a national referendum. I’m confused.

So what next? Among other things, forces are gathering to “regrexit.” Many doubt the success of the “regrexit” movement. Yet Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove, key leaders of the “leave” campaign, along with a few others, have bowed out of the race to lead the Conservative party and become Prime Minister. The truth about the economic impact on London, which will no longer be the financial center of the EU, is now sinking in.

The forces of “remain” are pinning their hopes on the fact that the Brexit decision is only valid and enforceable if it is sealed with an affirmative vote from the House of Commons. Nevertheless, I see little publicity about the law requiring Parliament’s endorsement, and most people I have spoken to in NY are surprised to learn this. Is that because Parliament is merely a rubber stamp? What is the tradition here?

With all the resistance from multiple parts of the world, and within the U.K. itself, the story of the Parliamentary vote could give momentum to the other side and cause a deep “rethink” regarding the messages that need to be persuasively communicated to the members of Parliament.

For those Britons who voted “remain” and those that have come to regret their “leave” vote – the need to communicate effectively has never been more pressing.

thought leadership



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