Silence, bully and intimidate: a campaign strategy

Yesterday, I reported on the strongly pro-European stance adopted by Britain’s universities. Vice-chancellors are queueing up to raise the alarm about a possible Brexit, pointing out that a ‘No’ vote in the upcoming referendum would not only cut off a critical source of funding for their work, but would rip British researchers out of vital pan-European academic networks and destroy fruitful cross-border collaborations — not to mention depriving students of valuable cultural and study opportunities offered by EU-coordinated programmes such as Erasmus.

Today, the response from eurosceptics to the universities’ message has not been to engage with it, but rather, shamefully, to try and silence it.

Sadly, this bullying tactic has recently become common. It’s increasingly evident that many British people, businesses, academic institutions and other organisations are positive, outward-looking and pro-European. Faced with this uncomfortable truth, eurosceptics are not rising to the challenge. Instead, they are proving less and less willing to engage in debate, present counter-arguments or tackle issues.

Instead, their go-to tactic is now often to try and discredit their opponents by arguing that they have no right to speak out in the first place. Trying to silence the universities, they pretend that researchers’ motivations are untrustworthy because their work is EU-funded. Trying to silence businesses, they complain that their contribution to the debate is unwelcome and they must be punished. And trying to silence our international allies, they suggest that no other country is entitled to point out how much they would suffer if Britain left the EU, and everyone else should keep their noses out of “our” debate.

Aside from being quite sickening to watch, this kind of bullying is also misplaced for several reasons.

First, it’s no surprise that, the more people learn about the realities of our European Union membership, the more positive they become. Indeed, surely the very people whose voices are most valuable in our debate are those who have had direct experience of what the EU is really like!

Second, the suggestion that university professors are unable to come to an informed decision because they receive EU grants is a naked insult to their academic integrity. Besides, nearly all academic research is funded via general taxation. Do UKIP really believe that all our country’s professors of history, politics, economics and so on must be silenced from speaking in their own areas of expertise simply because their research funding is administered by the UK government?

Third, it’s breathtakingly hypocritical for complaints about taxpayer-funded bias to fall from the lips of the likes of UKIP. I don’t see any UKIP MEPs keeping their mouths shut, though they, too, are taxpayer-funded.

Finally, the whole reason we want to keep Britain in the EU is because our EU membership brings us benefits. Yet eurosceptics are now trying to stack the debate by claiming that anyone who has benefited is automatically barred from talking about it. On the contrary: everyone who benefits should be shouting from the rooftops!

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  1. Let’s not forget UKIP’s attempt to start a boycott against Sainsbury’s just because Lord Sainsbury made a public comment in support of the EU…

    …not realising that Lord Sainsbury and J. Sainsbury Plc aren’t actually the same thing.

  2. I am now a PhD student and wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without opportunities provided by the EU. These opportunities have culminated in the opportunity to place an experiment of my own design into space which I am very grateful for. I hope my expeirences will benefit not just me but those who I have an impact on in my life and britain in general.
    It has allowed me to expand my horizons and gain exposure of other cultures which I believe is very important to my personal development, especially as the world at present is becomming a much smaller place thanks to ongoing improvement in transportation and communications.
    A teacher of mine once said “You will get results you deserve. If you put in hard work, you will reap rewards”. It applies here in a way, If you don’t put effort into taking advantage of the EU you don’t get any direct rewards, If you don’t look for the subtle non-direct benefits (such as increased jobs and student opportunities) of being in the EU then of course the amount of money we pay looks like a lot. Some Euro-skeptics may have good reasons for their opinion but I think this is the basis for some misunderstanding.

  3. I have to agree. Unfortunately I’ve been at the receiving end of it. I think it goes a bit deeper than just Europe; it seems to be the modern campaign tool. Rather than talk about issues, give your followers a reason to ignore everyone else by shouting or bullying everyone else else into submission.

    Its created a bit of a cult. ‘University students don’t have a say; they’re intellectuals’, or ‘Business leaders can’t talk, they’re making money out of it’, or ‘that woman down the road can’t talk, she might move to Spain one day maybe’. Luckily, this nasty nasty way of campaigning simply can’t win. Becoming increasingly insular doesn’t convince anyone but those already convinced, and loses those that win referendums. So, by this time in 2016, they’ll be a historical footnote.

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