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A march is not a campaign
20 Jun, 2019

The task is to persuade Leavers, not Remainers

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes that we need to launch the Remain campaign now, not just march. A march needs to be integrated into a campaign strategy.

A companion article is called: We need two campaigns.


There are two mutually reinforcing marches coming up. Britain for Europe together with other bodies is organising the 20 July 2019 March for Remain. The People’s Vote campaign is organising rallies and a great march on 12 October. Terrific. I have really enjoyed the atmosphere of our marches. Being with like-minded, positive people. Reading the placards. Both dates are in my diary.

But a march is no substitute for a campaign. A march is talking to ourselves – a campaign engages with those we have to persuade.


Three years on – and no real progress

Not just no progress for Leave: remember when it was going to be “the easiest deal in the history of the world”? Guardian columnist Rafael Behr sums it up in 100 seconds: 2016 was a fact-free vote for an unrealisable dream; the Government created a real-world Brexit; Leavers did not like the reality of Brexit; so they retreated into dreamland again.

But no progress for Remain either. In spite of a succession of almost uniformly bad news for Brexit the country is still at half and half on the merits.

Ours is consistently the bigger half. But we have never had a lead that was sure to outlast a campaign. At the beginning of 2017, Theresa May had a YouGov favourability score of around 50% for best Prime Minister as against Corbyn's 15%; by the time of the general election they were equal.

We have made some progress. A referendum on the terms – People’s Vote – is firmly on the agenda.

But we pay a heavy price for the decision of the centre of the movement to campaign almost exclusively for a referendum and not for Remain. Remember, we have to overcome decades of anti-EU messaging.


So what should the campaigns do

People’s Vote has been amazingly good at organising marches and getting 100,000s of us out there. But they have been less good at using the build-up and capitalising on the opportunity for follow-through. 


Discovering resources

We need to use the enthusiasm generated by the marches to sign up new supporters and volunteers to strengthen the Grassroots. That means:

  • sorting out the online sign-ups for both sets of marches so that people sign up not just with PV/ the Remain campaign but also with the other campaign and with their local groups in a GDPR-compliant way – a series of tick-boxes. No data hoarding please – we are all in this together;
  • encouraging local groups to capitalise on the march by getting people to sign up with the local group and the two national campaigns, especially if you have a captive audience say on a coach; and
  • producing sign-up sheets for the day that are multi-organisation and encouraging activists to get people to sign up.


Campaigning week by week

There need to be a small number of key messages that last for months or the whole campaign

Also, for each week from now on until Referendum Day there should be a theme of the week. NHS, peace, unemployment, community, trade, immigration, how the EU works, sovereignty, how trade works, freedom of movement ...

For that to work, there needs to be a message to go out, leaflets with the message and that point to longer-read materials, campaign briefs so that individual canvassers know what they are talking about, social media messages that can be adapted locally, high quality graphic design – all the paraphernalia of a modern campaign.

The themes and the materials need to have been tested on the target groups first. But they need also to be discussed with the grassroots before they are produced. Too many leaflets are binned because volunteers refuse to carry the message they contain.

Campaign message

Yes of course a referendum - but we have to focus on a case that will appeal to soft Leavers and to those Remainers who think that 2016 settled it. So keep off any criticism of 2016. Instead, say that 2016 was a vote on an idea – there was no plan to which anyone could sign up. There needs to be a review once there is a plan. Also, No-Deal was explicitly rejected by 2016 Leave campaigners as a possibility, so that option has no democratic backing.

Yes of course, mention the harms of Brexit - but it's not our key point. A focus on harms just re-runs Project Fear and has the same effect. That is especially true of highlighting the first few weeks of chaos after a No-Deal Brexit rather than the longer term difficulties of building relationships after you prove yourself to be an unreliable and hostile partner.

Not Remain and Reform the EU – we cannot deliver it.

Be careful with UK domestic reform. Only the political parties can deliver it. And we must not present the analysis of one particular party. We should point out it will be easier if we Remain (more time and money).

Let’s focus on the benefits of EU membership. That enables a positive hopeful message. It is also what the activists wish to be saying. We have to focus on our take on the issues that matter to Leave voters: the benefits of pooling sovereignty, that the EU is democratic, that freedom of movement is a good thing, that all Europeans are members of the same community of shared history and values.

A pro-EU message would support a PV. A few people would support a PV on good government grounds.  In reality it is only people who wish to change direction who support it. So the way to create support for PV is to create support for Remain.


High Level Follow Through

In addition, the national campaigns need to think through their national or political level build-up and follow-through, based on various options for what happens at the march. There need to be co-ordinated plans for what happens next.


The campaigns need to complement each other

This is no time for egos, conflict or competition. It’s great that we have two campaigns with complementary messages. They need to work together.

Because as individuals, we have a single simple message: let’s Remain in the great European peace and democracy project; a referendum on the terms is the democratic and honourable means to do so.




The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe.