We are approaching the March 29 deadline when the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union for good, yet with British politicians’ inability to compromise, it is still a mystery what the heck is waiting for us in the post-Brexit era; essentially, people are only guessing and no one knows anything.
It is fair to say that even those who had participated in the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign have been scratching their heads for the past two and a half years now. The Prime Minister, who voted to remain, found herself in a tricky situation after her predecessor left the sinking ship; she is the one who has to deliver the people’s will, and even though she made an agreement with Brussels and tried to push through the deal to save that far-gone legacy of hers, she failed, big time.
These people, the so-called Right Honorable Ladies, and Gentlemen must have found out a long time back, that to support an idea, a vision, a cause is quite difficult when you do not care about anything but power; and you only want a good slogan that pictures you as a hero who wants the people ‘Take Back Control’.
The new HBO film, ‘Brexit: An Uncivil War,’ tries to explain how easy it is to mislead a whole country. You wouldn’t believe it, but the winning formula has always been the same: get a ram, a speaking-head who can lead the way in public, but in the meantime find a mastermind who can orchestrate everything from backstage.
Everyone recognizes Boris Johnson, but I bet the majority of people have not heard of Dominic Cummings before. In a historical way, the latter is way more significant, even though he has not studied at Eton or garnered a bold reputation. This guy, Cummings, had a concept. He engineered the whole ‘Vote Leave’ campaign as a pioneer of its kind in the 21st century. Gone were the failing politicians, lobbyists and traditional campaigning approaches such as canvassing or working with focus-groups; these wars cannot be won by the regular method anymore.
To deliver Brexit, and even to elect Donald Trump as the President of the United States, the campaign needed to conquer a new battlefield: social media.
This type of war is complicated and risky at the same time. With all the use of algorithms and micro-targeting, you can find yourself in dangerous waters. In the new age of campaigns, private data is more valuable than ever – to misuse it, or in fact to use it without permission for any reason, is illegal. However, targeting based on personal info such as income or social patterns such as cultural fears and preferences can be rewarding, and during the Brexit campaign, Cummings recognized this historic opportunity.
The problem is, he may have broken some rules to be successful. The campaign is still under investigation, but it proved to be a litmus test for an even bigger stage: the 2016 US General Election. (There is evidence to support the involvement of Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in the referendum.)
“I’m sick of feeling like nothing like I have nothing! Like I know nothing. Like I am nothing. I’m sick of it!”, said this frustrated woman in the movie.
Speaking of fear, this quote tells a lot about the general mood among those who are feeling abandoned in their own country. Politicians and campaign gurus understand that even though the principal task is to find these people, the job is not to help them; it’s to plainly promise them something they have been seeking for a long time and assure them that they would be somebody again, or the first time ever. The gurus are selling them a fantasy, where they are the ones who matter. These voters, the hidden ones, win the biggest and most important battles – you want them on your side, for sure.
Basically, there was nothing special about the Brexit phenomenon; Vote Leave found a lot of people whom the Remain did not care about. And this is how the chaos was brought upon us.
“The train coming down the tracks isn’t the one that you expected. It’s not the one that’s advertised on the board. Well, tough. It isn’t even the one that I imagined. But I accept it. And you can’t stop it”, said Dominic Cummings (Benedict Cumberbatch) at the end of the movie to Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear), the main political strategist for Britain Stronger in Europe.
Who is to blame for it? We are all guilty, one way or another. It’s not just the British government’s fault. I am speaking as an EU citizen right now: without our cynicism and negligence, this non-establishment movement could not have reached millions all over the world. Meanwhile, Brexit is about to happen anyhow, Donald Trump seems like will not be impeached anytime soon, and Europe is turning its head away from the illiberal regimes on its soil.
This, indeed, is depressing. Maybe we just lost a battle that we had not realized is real.
Cover photo by philippedechet on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND