Britain’s Image: Democracy at its Best or Worst?

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Neil Foote on #BrexitBy Neil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications

LONDON – The fallout of BREXIT vote on the UK has been swift. Prime Minister David Cameron resigned only hours after the votes were counted. The British Pound has dropped 4% today, its lowest level in 31 years. Leaders in the some other European Union countries, such as Netherlands and France, are threatening to call for similar referendums, leading to a possible disintegration of the EU.  The common thread between both sides is that, in effect, democracy has won. Even Cameron conceded that “the people have spoken” and that he is no longer the person to lead a country where 52% have told him that he is out of touch.  He gambled. He lost. Now, he’s going away. Done. At risk is the Britain’s reputation, its economy, and its future.

A solid 72% voted and the Leave campaign won by more than 1 million votes with solid victories throughout the country.  There were loud bursts of joy when the final votes were announced. The Leave camp is ecstatic that the sovereignty has a chance to take better control of its destiny. The Remain camp is deeply concerned, sad and uncertain. Both sides are stunned, almost paralyzed that the results turned out as they did. What to do now? Democracy has spoken, right? Everyone should revel that the systems put in place to ensure that the government would remain stable. Britain, of all countries, should be proud of this point in its history. Americans should be excited about how the people were given a chance to change the course of history – and decided to do it in a big way.

Yet, there is a vast gap in sentiment between the winners and the losers.

Britain’s Image: Democracy at its Best or Worst?Former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s “victory” press conference, he wasn’t his usual bombastic, in-your-face self. He was serious, complimentary to his rival – Cameron – and hardly as dogmatic about the future of the U.K. as he was during the weeks leading up to the vote. He seemingly even disappeared for days, perhaps contemplating the next best move.

With Cameron out of the picture, and the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure to resign but he’s dug in his heals, refusing the division in his own party. At the same time, the EU has borrowed a phrase from the Brits vernacular – “Get on with it.”  Companies with corporate offices in the UK have posited the idea that they will pack up and leave or lay off thousands of workers.

Democracy has spoken, and what we’re learning as so many have had in the past, that democracy is painful. Britain has learned it the hard way. Cameron, living in the shadows of his predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher, decided to take on his critics who have been rallying for the UK’s exit from the EU for decades. Now, as the Financial Times so eloquently wrote, “The man who brought Britain back from an economic precipice in 2010 will instead be remembered as the prime minister who gambled Britain’s place in history and lost.”

The hard truth about democracy in the era of social media is that knowledge of the issue doesn’t matter – emotion, fear and gut instinct is what drives decisions in the polling booth. What gets coverage is not necessarily the hard-core facts, but audio and video clips that capture a fleeting moment that could excite a core group of voters. Britain’s brand has taken a hit because Cameron could not fit into a new media cycle where traditional media coverage becomes a backdrop to the buzz of what social media has done to organize emotions and attitudes.

While Cameron has stepped down, there is a huge vacuum of leadership. No one is in charge. Cameron is a lame duck. The Leave Campaign is sorting out its next steps. No one is setting the tone for the future of Britain’s brand. What’s critical – sooner or later – is that all aspects of Britain’s brand, especially its economy, is looking for answers on how the country will continue to create value for those who live their now, those who are immigrants its other allies around the world who are wondering what is going to happen next.

About the Author: Neil Foote is a principal lecturer at the Mayborn School of Journalism and president of Foote Communications, a public relations and branding company.  He also is president of the National Black Public Relations Society, Inc. 

1 Comment

  1. DB on at 10:11 AM

    Wales is part of the UK. I think you mean France or the Netherlands are thinking about similar referendums to leave the UK.

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