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Brexit – Ignorance and Denial

Robert Braban – August 2017

It’s true to say that when people awoke to the Referendum result on 24th June 2016, many were shocked and surprised. Most were asking: "where did this all go wrong"?

How could a sensible educated nation throw away the prosperity gained over forty plus years, to enter a lottery with a very small chance of winning”?

Those more actively involved in the campaign will have been less surprised. The lacklustre Remain campaign failed in many regards. It was poorly managed and went against all rules of marketing by concentrating on negative messages. When did you last hear an advertising slogan that warned potential customers of the consequences of not buying a product? If there are examples, they are rare indeed.

This failure to market a positive image was a serious error, but of even greater significance was the failure to recognise, understand, accept and face up to the nature of the electorate and that it comprises some 20% of voters who are functionally illiterate (damningly, roughly the same percentage as the whole world figure).

The ‘Leave’ campaign clearly did understand and knew how to exert maximum influence. On numerous occasions during the eight months leading up to the vote I called attention to the 2015 report by the World Literacy Foundation, which disclosed that between 6 and 8 million of the adult population of the United Kingdom, is functionally illiterate. That’s c20% of Britain’s voters. Moreover, when you arrive at the 8 millionth person, there is not a sudden jump to full literacy, but a gradual rise.

Despite this stark demographic, the constant message from the Remain campaigners was to treat the whole electorate to a diet of detailed university level economics and social warnings.

What did the ‘Leave’ campaign do? They wrote a simple lie on the side of a big red bus and drove it around the UK. It was recognition that you need to deliver a message that can be understood without the need to reason. It does not even need to be true. It simply needs to be believable. When the red bus message started to diminish in effect, they introduced a racist theme that was likely to resonate most powerfully with those of limited education.

What does functional illiteracy actually mean? According to Andrew Kay, CEO of the WLF: “There’s evidence that a person who is either completely illiterate or has functional illiteracy … that has a lifelong impact on them and their employment, and their ability to earn income. That’s true in all countries and all economies”. The report said illiterate people earn up to 42% less than those who can read. Tasks that illiterate people can’t perform include:

• Reading a medicine label

• Reading a nutritional label on a food product

• Balancing a chequebook

• Filling out a job application

• Reading and responding to correspondence in the workplace

• Filling out a home loan application

• Reading a bank statement

• Comparing the cost of two items to work out which one offers the best value

• Working out the correct change at a supermarket

But the costs extend beyond an individual’s wallet: illiteracy can result in poor health, hygiene and nutrition, and more workplace accidents. From the above it soon becomes clear that this section of the electorate certainly cannot read and understand a political manifesto or even begin to grasp the complexities of Britain’s relationship with the EU. They were totally at the mercy of the unscrupulous extremists in the Tory Party, UKIP and others campaigning to leave the EU.

Admittedly, we cannot be certain how many voted, but with a turnout of 72.2% and clear evidence that many young voters did not vote, it was certainly a significant number.

According to the report, the UK itself suffers financially from the costs of poor literacy: Illiteracy estimated to cost UK economy approximately $127 billion a year (£81 billion) This is the highest in Europe, ahead of Germany $61.70bn or France $44.28bn. It also goes some way to explaining why we have low productivity.

Of the $127 billion annual cost to the UK, $36.8bn goes on welfare, unemployment and social programmes. An additional $91.6bn is lost through lower personal incomes and business earnings.

The many commentators and journalists who seek to ignore this section of our electorate, or even worse, who pretend it does not exist, have done the Remain cause no favours. Once indoctrinated these electors will not be persuaded by a new message on the side of the bus.

Surely the best strategy is to ensure that the truth about voter illiteracy is pulled out from under the carpet to make certain that more moderate Brexiteers understand the nature of their bedfellows. They must be given the opportunity to see that they are not a part of a visionary movement, but tools of extremists manipulating those unable to think for themselves. Those in the middle are already seeing the folly of Brexit and proper exposure of how they come to be in a majority may give them food for thought.

Before you next berate someone who uses ‘Stupid’ to describe a Brexiteer, reflect on the fact that they are in with a better than 40% chance of being right and despite using an emotive word are certainly doing better than those in denial.