Well Duh!

So it was finally revealed that a lack of information was the primary reason why the Lisbon Treaty was voted down. Hardly insightful, given that even the dogs on the street could tell the electorate barely had a bog’s notion what they were voting for.

However this type of analysis undermines how good a job the No Campaign did. If you don’t believe me, read into some of the statistics discussed in the Irish Times report on the analysis. If one singles out Coir, who could be labeled the looney brigade among the No campaigners, and looks at two statistics from the report, “A total of 33 per cent of the electorate thought that the introduction of conscription into a European army was included in the Lisbon Treaty while 34 per cent believed that it would end Ireland’s control over the country’s abortion policy,” it is evident that Coir did a good job of getting their key messages across.

The Yes Campaign did an exceptionally poor job of communicating the benefits of Lisbon and got bogged down in debating the credentials of members of the no campaign and very basic issues such as reading the Lisbon Treaty itself. Not to appear aloft and talk down to the electorate, but it should have been pointed out how many times has any lay person read a piece of legislation and understood what it meant? Kathy Foley’s efforts to read the treaty were amusing, and summed up the fact that Heat magazine is always going to be a more popular read that any legal documents.

The problem for the Yes Campaign is that they seemed to have been equally confused by the document and struggled to make it relevant to people’s everyday lives, particularly important given the lack of understanding among the general public as to what exactly the EU does. What we got were ambiguous campaign slogans, when we should have gotten the ‘Spoofers Guide On How Not To Vote No‘ by Jason O’Mahony. The guide is a great read an easily surpasses any of the other material that I was supplied with in the course of the campaign.

As O’Mahony points out in his pamphlet:

There are decent, informed people who take an interest in current affairs who would gnaw off their own arms before
they’d read anything about an EU treaty. That’s fair enough, that’s a sign that you’re a normal person. This is dry, dry
stuff. Complicated? Yes it is. This is the phone book and the guide to programming your video (if anyone still has one)
wrapped up together.

It is boring. But what did you expect? It’s a treaty. Has any child ever ripped off the wrapping paper on Christmas morning
and went “Oh! The Treaty of Versailles! You shouldn’t have! I’m going to activate the stability destroying reparation
mechanisms against Germany right now!”

People think the EU is complicated. It is, because life is complicated. I don’t know how an iPod works, or Air Traffic
Control, or my microwave, but I do know how they make my life better. The EU is complicated because it comprises
of 490 million people, with different languages and cultures and viewpoints, and that’s what makes it complicated. It
attempts to accommodate everything from Irish attitudes to abortion to Danish attitudes to holiday homes to Austrian
attitudes to nuclear power. The negotiations at one stage included a discussion on whether (and I’m not joking here) the
EU should protect the rights of animals in space. Ridiculous? Possibly. Democratic? Definitely.

All in all it just goes to show that perhaps we should be putting more emphasis on Civics (or whatever they call the subject in schools now) if politicians want the general public to be in a position to vote on subjects like the Lisbon Treaty and understand how the EU operates.

Unfortunately though it looks like we are going to remain bogged down in questioning the source of Libertas’ funding and having a knickerfit at the thought that the Irish public has clear misgivings about the future direction of the EU.

I found Chairman of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) Willie O’Reilly’s comments about the balance of the media coverage of the Lisbon Treaty referendum of interest last week. O’Reilly is quoted in the Irish Times as saying, “By giving equal time to both sides we gave the No case more credibility and less scrutiny than it deserved,” and added that the rules for 50:50 balance in a referendum “make a megaphone for any argument regardless of its own merit and or the credibility of its proponents.

I have to admit that I’m pretty surprised by O’Reilly’s comments for a number of reasons. Yes Campaign representatives decided to go on air and waste valuable time querying the source of Libertas’ funding when they should have been giving the electorate reasons to vote yes. Furthermore, I find the assumption that by giving the No campaign a fair split of media coverage acted as a megaphone for the No campaign arguments slightly naive. Topics like tax harmonisation and neutrality were underlying issues that the Yes Campaign underestimated how deepseeded the electorate’s concerns about them were.

With all this in mind, the PRII is running an event next Tuesday which will see Richard Oakley from the Sunday Times and Stephen Collins from the Irish Times debate and analyse the communications strategies employed by both the pro and anti lobbies during the recent referendum, and to wargame the challenges facing either side were another referendum to take place. I hope to make it along myself and if anyone is interested in attending, details on the event can be found here.

One Response to “Well Duh!”  

  1. 1 Damian Hockney

    Remember, it is not in the Yes side’s interests to be clear about the Treaty or explain its contents. Had they explained or engaged in proper debate about specifics, then the No vote would have been higher. And the political class knew this. It’s almost irrelevant whether some aspects of the debate were open to question. The Yes campaign could have engaged but dared not. In the UK people were told absolutely that Maastricht (ie th Treaty on European Union) would not mean certain things…and which were then rammed home anyway under tortuous interpretations of the Treaty by EU institutions. And you are quite right about Willie O’Reilly’s comments – is it not extraordinary that the entire establishment can be so pissed off that the people are rejecting them that they have to look at ways of denying a voice to alternative views. “If the politicians don’t say it, then it shouldn’t be said on the media…” Indeed, if the people will not agree with what A dangerous path Willie. Next thing they’ll be using the ‘counter terror’ argument to disallow Libertas and ther No campaign a voice.

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Piaras Kelly
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