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Does marching work?

Brian Williamson

It is interesting to see the power of the people, or the lack of it, when 700,000 remainers marched in the hope that Brexit gets a second vote. The question is ‘does that sort of demonstration work?’ The answer is yes…and no. It is easier to explain the no side first. Contributor Brian Williamson, Entrepreneur-in-Residence – Kissing With Confidence Training.

One million marched to stop the Iraq war and nothing really happened to stop that. However the biggest lesson we can learn about this which is directly attributable to Brexit is the Vietnam War. I have just invested 20 hours watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War and boy is it powerful stuff.

The Vietnam War triggered the most, and the biggest, marches over the widest possible geographical spread in the history of anyone complaining about anything. Foreign governments condemned the war at various times of its ten year duration. Worldwide, probably close to a billion people marched against the war. And did that change anything? Well the American public thought it managed to stop the bombing and it did very briefly. Then the bombing re-started and guess what…so did the lying.

Lyndon B Johnson did not want the American public to know he had re-started bombing and it was the end of him as President. He did not seek re-election for a second term. The public thought it could rely on the new broom to sort out all this lying and deception, and in came President Nixon. Of course, and famously, he was resigned over Watergate but there was lying long before then and he actually prolonged the war by scuppering peace talks to further his own end. This at a time when both sides wanted some sort of peace.

So that’s the “no” argument…nothing really changed, the war continued. Eventually, a deal was struck and whilst it was badged as a peace deal it just removed America from the ring and left the North and South to have a war on their own which ended up with the North taking over the South. The outcome was the very one which was feared from the outset and that had started the war in the first place. In the words of a then GI, John Kerry…”People died for the biggest nothing”.

So despite the atrocities of that war, the lying the cheating, the 60,000 Americans who died and the 3m Vietnamese who lost their lives from both North and South…no marching stopped them. That means that, in my view, the 700,000 are really not going to get another ballot or stop Brexit.

However let’s look at the “yes” side of things. Marchers do achieve big things, perhaps bigger than they imagine. President Johnson lost his appetite to be President; public opinion and marchers did that. President Nixon lost his integrity, was caught and lost his job. The marchers forced him to keep secret what he was doing and that was his undoing. So perhaps Brexit marching is more likely to topple Theresa May than secure a second referendum. Marching can win wars rather than win battles.

But why are we marching anyway…we voted for this, that’s democracy. I believe that the marchers want a second referendum because they believe they were misled. The £350m per week Brexit “dividend” that it was said would be re-directed from the EU to the NHS built up a groundswell in favour of Brexit, yet that money seems to be lost in the mire of divorce. The immigrant issue was highlighted as a real societal problem yet businesses up and down the country say they cannot operate without our European workforce. New research has found that Brexit is already costing the economy £500m a week which, bizarrely, equates to the $500m a week the Vietnam War was estimated to have cost.

So why are these two events similar?
We got into Brexit because we were misled and the misleaders have disappeared like snow off a dyke on a warm day. We were misled by listening to soundbites and slogans rather than having facts. Now that we have more facts we are better positioned to make a decision. I wanted to remain and voted so, however, now that I see the intransigence of the EU I am more settled about coming out. So where in today’s world someone can be prosecuted for inciting violence, we must introduce a similar crime where a politician can be prosecuted for inciting voters with anything other than the truth. There must be rigour behind these words if “we, the people” are to have our trust in our elected politicians restored.

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