Google “Brexit,” and you’ll see dozens of articles published in the last few hours. Columnists at The Economist, The Guardian, The New York Times, and many other leading news publications are divided on what a British exit, a “Brexit,” from the 28-nation European Union, would mean for the United Kingdom.
Speculation is rampant. “[Brexit] would imperil Britain’s security, when threats from terrorists and foreign powers are at their most severe in years,” one article says. “Those favoring continued U.K. membership of the EU are inclined to paint a picture in which our small island is left trying to fend for itself in a hostile world. This is highly misleading,” another reads.
Meanwhile, politicians are waging a popularity contest. British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson are at odds with one another and have resorted to personal attacks. Cabinet members are equally divided, and now they’re allowed to campaign for or against a Brexit. The business community generally favors the European Union over an exit, but they won’t take a strong collective stance.
The whole thing is an overly politicized mess, wrought with speculation and sensationalism. The average person in the U.K. isn’t sure what to believe, and they have no choice but to decide what will happen to the nation. According to the polls, likely voters in Britain are split, with 38% supporting a Brexit, 37% wishing to remain in the EU, and 25% undecided.
A lack of leadership has led cabinet members to operate independently, which is highly problematic for the public, because all they’re hearing is fragmented rhetoric and conflicting speculative claims. No one’s telling citizens how a British exit would really affect them. British citizens didn’t ask for this responsibility, and they wouldn’t even be subjected to a referendum if they had stronger leadership that was focused on building consensus.
“If we opt to ‘leave,’ will that mean air travel will double in price? What about visas — will a visa be required if we want to visit Spain? What about mobile roaming prices, will these be affected? Everybody is talking about exporting and how pricing will change if we vote to ‘leave’ but can you prove that? Where are the facts?” one International Business Times writer says.
All the bombast coming from politicians is a downfall of disintermediation — information to the public coming directly from the source rather than a third party — because it’s just rhetoric rather than fact-based. But they can still make it right.
Government officials need to engage the public with meaningful conversation rather than the noise they’ve been espousing. With a clear set of facts, people will be empowered to decide the future of their nation.
The priority should be conversation. Leaders could engage the public in a number of ways, such as a town hall-style Q&A or a prime-time televised program in which experts answer citizens’ questions from social media in real time. This would demystify the issue and serve to explain what’s at stake.
Top-down, disintegrated conversation doesn’t work for any government, let alone one on the brink of possible transition. Put the politics aside and put the people first.