Can we improve the quality of the referendum debate?

calculator-scientificThe Treasury Select Committee has said that the EU referendum debate ‘is being poorly served by inconsistent, unqualified and, in some cases, misleading claims and counter-claims’. Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the UCL Constitution Unit, asks whether there is anything that can be done about this. He identifies a number of possible mechanisms for identifying falsehoods and enforcing truthfulness, but warns that there is a danger that injunctions against certain claims could be presented as evidence of an ‘establishment plot’. A deeper shift in political culture may be required.

Alan Renwick has co-ordinated an open letter to the Daily Telegraph from a group of over 200 senior academics to criticise the deliberate misinformation circulated by both sides of the Brexit debate.

How can we encourage accuracy in the claims made by referendum campaigners? This has become a vital concern. In its report published last month, the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee said, ‘The public debate is being poorly served by inconsistent, unqualified and, in some cases, misleading claims and counter-claims. Members of both the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ camps are making such claims.’  Speaking at the weekend, Sir John Major said, ‘I am angry about the way the British people are being misled’, and argued that Vote Leave were running ‘a deceitful campaign’. Continue reading

The high stakes of the EU referendum

stakesFour weeks ago, the UCL European Institute launched the Brexit Divisions project – comprising two guest edited weeks with openDemocracy and two public debates – to explore the strategies and stakes of the upcoming EU referendum. Looking back, Uta Staiger, Deputy Director of the UCL European Institute, explains what we’ve learned.

There’s a referendum coming.

And as the director of British Future Sunder Katwala has pointed out, it may still be quite a good referendum, too. One that encourages democratic engagement. One that may increase people’s knowledge and understanding of Britain’s place in the EU. One that will pitch arguments against each other and let them battle it out in public to settle a thorny issue decidedly.

But it is not yet. Continue reading

Fighting the EU referendum online: strategies, frames and successes

European Leaders Gather In Brussels For EU Crunch Summit. Pool/Getty Images. All rights reserved.Simon Usherwood, Senior Fellow of UK in a Changing Europe, and Katharine Wright, Research Fellow of UK in a Changing Europe, argue that social media campaigning will be crucial to the outcome of the Brexit referendum. New research shows us what in and out groups are saying online. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

As in all aspects of modern politics and indeed all aspects of the modern world, online activity is a crucial aspect of referendum campaigns. The possibilities of un-mediated messaging directly to voters and of creating interactive and participatory communities combine to offer a powerful incentive to move into online spaces for all political actors. In a referendum – a contest with a binary outcome – the potential to engage and mobilise supporters for a referendum vote is even stronger, so it comes as no surprise that the British referendum on the EU is being hotly contested online. Continue reading

Why Britain will choose the safer option and Vote Leave

Vote leave badges. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images. All rights reserved.Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of Vote Leave, argues that the need for ‘one size fits all’ regulations to cover all of Europe makes it impossible for the EU to pursue the best interests of all its members. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy

In less than four months’ time, the British people will make the most historic political decision of a generation. The choice we face is clear. A vote to stay in will mean a permanent loss of control to Brussels and confirm the supremacy of EU law forever. A vote to leave returns control to the British people, giving us the power to make our own laws and hold the people who make them to account. We take back the power to set our own policies on trade, migration and human rights, and the power to spend our own money on our own priorities. Continue reading

Six paradoxes of the Brexit debate

Screenshot 2016-03-04 14.14.02The ‘Brexit’ debate has taken off in the UK in the ten days since David Cameron got his new deal at February’s European Council summit, with daily media coverage and social media from both sides swinging into gear. How the debate, and the polls, will evolve over the coming four months is unclear but, Kirsty Hughes explains, so far various paradoxes are emerging.

1. Mainly an intra-government debate

To all appearances, media coverage to date suggests that the Brexit debate is essentially only a debate between two different camps in the Conservative government: a debate between mild eurosceptics in the British cabinet, including the Prime Minister, against a half dozen strong eurosceptics also in the cabinet. Continue reading