In the Brexit debacle, can journalism heal the country?

So, for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we have reached ‘Peak Brexit’ and we’re heading steadily towards a second referendum / people’s vote or similar. We’re definitively not there yet, but let’s assume the troops are in position, they have their battle orders, and just need to keep disciplined, follow the plan and take the hill.

Then what?

Because the one thing the government (or what little is left) has got right is that at least some of the people who voted in 2016 for leave will feel betrayed. And it’s worth repeating that it does not help us if people who voted Remain just running around saying leave-votes are ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘racist’ or ‘left behind’.

There was an interview a few days ago on BBC News 24 where the male anchor journalist was interviewing a woman by video link, she being for remain from a business perspective. He was hostile with her in the Radio 4 Today programme style of shouting come-of-it as if it is journalism, and she kept answering his belligerent questions in a cool and factual manner. So her microphone was muted while she was still speaking and he talked over her. Maybe it was just a bad day, because he later moved on a picked a fight with the weather presenter.

This type of ‘journalism’ will do further damage. It’s all too lazy to go with camera to a small market town and find the most annoyed old man on the street for a rant and rave. An easy piece to file, but it tells us nothing new and helps no-one.

There has been some very good journalism on Brexit, probably all in the ‘investigative’ box – from illegal over-spending to foreign financing to fake social media posts to insider dealing – these revelations have peeled open the layers of deceptions.

Some of the leave people, both as politicians and ordinary people, are implacable. The dogma cuts deep within families as well as communities and political parties. For some this is their adult life’s work, so the idea that they will be won over by a new poll result or a new legal clause is not realistic.

But the spectrum of reasons that people had for voting leave in 2016 includes austerity, inequality, London centralism, unemployment, migration and more.

So, perhaps a starting point is for journalism (because parties are failing here) to explore the potential for common ground within these reasons between leave and remain.

And maybe one starting point is for the remain ‘camp’ to be humble and open minded. One point of contact in making common ground might be in starting discussions on the weaknesses of the EU as it is today. The remain ‘camp’ has been reluctant to have this conversation because it could undermine the campaign. And yes, sure, the die-hard Brexiteer extremists will lap up every morsel and shout it back to the world. But let’s just assume that intelligent journalism has kicked in and we’ve moved on from Nigel Farage getting his thirty-plus slots on Question Time because he is a good shouter.

So, what might intelligent journalism cover? Some suggestions:

· On the economic departments within the European Commission behaving as though people don’t matter as much as money does. These offices seem to be just a colonial outpost of KPMG or McKinsey. Look at the debacle over breaking up the Royal Bank of Scotland with the now-abandoned spin-out of Williams and Glyn’s, leaving 30-mile-wide circles across cities with no branches, all because of an economic dogma.

· On neoliberalism becoming the ‘common sense’ of some parts of the EU, which is where the debates on State Aid restrictions need to be liberated from squabbling lawyers and brought into popular conversations with balanced options for improvements.

· On how the EU can support democracy as an international effort between peoples supporting each other, whether Hungary or Poland or wherever, without always deferring to member state governments.

· On how to open the Council of Ministers to more democratic scrutiny, instead of it being a cosy club for governments to do what they wish.

I hope this helps towards the next conversations between those who will talk, both leave and remain.

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