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The time is now to start preparing for the next public vote
26 Nov, 2020

In the second of three blog posts (for the first see here), Gareth Steel outlines one way pro-Europeans can build up the assets we need to win next time.

“What do we want?”  “A People’s Vote”

“When do we want it?” “NOW!“

I would usually cock my megaphone and say “Once we have given the Electoral Commission new powers, amended electoral law generally, and had time to prepare for the campaign at grassroots level”. It usually got a hollow laugh.

But that underlines the only good thing to come from Brexit: time. We now have time to build the assets we need for the next public vote. I remember Sir Graham Watson MEP opening a keynote address in Spring 2016 with the words: “Be afraid, be very afraid”.  He went on to say that we were approximately two years behind where we should have been in our referendum preparations. Cue intakes of breath in the audience as we wondered whether we faced an insurmountable obstacle.

Well perhaps it shouldn’t have been one, but it was. I was a volunteer constituency spreadsheet man, trying to deploy lists of Stronger In volunteers to knock on doors and get the vote out. The experience marked me. Unlike the political parties, we had no long-standing doorstep information – just our own recent records.  It was chaotic and exhausting: our improvised systems got us through to the other side of polling day, but we needed more.

Shortage of time was a critical handicap. Towards the end of the People’s Vote period, they came up with a valuable resource portal, where groups could find maps of the constituencies they covered. These were colour-coded into more or less promising areas and groups could draw up their own canvassing patches (known as “turf cutting”). You can see output from the People’s Vote system alongside the United Kingdom pro-European Network (UKPEN) Ordnance Survey method for mapping down to polling district level

Most of this is not rocket science and should not need to be done more than once - barring constituency boundary changes, which now seem less likely. It’s just a matter of deciding that thorough constituency intelligence is an asset we need and recognising we now have time to develop it. This is where a national framework of European Movement branches can play a vital role in taking on some of this work themselves, but also in identifying the affiliated - and where necessary the non-affiliated groups - which can be asked to be responsible for mapping and turf-cutting in particular constituencies.

What are the main obstacles to developing mapping and ‘turf cutting’? There are three main ones:

  1. Short termism. We don’t know if and when we shall secure another public vote. So the danger is that the drive to do this work will only really be recognised when it is once again too late. Let’s do better than what has happened to the climate emergency, and act now on the basis of the precautionary principle.
  2. Turf wars. Which local group covers which constituency can be a source of friction. But if all are working on a single pooled resource, that friction can be eliminated and also gaps can be identified. There’s plenty of work for all and all can benefit.
  3. “Not invented here” syndrome. Organisations can fall into the trap of wanting their own system to be used – even when they haven’t actually got one! People’s Vote (PV) nominated two constituencies in London in February 2019 for everyone to descend on and leaflet door to door. UKPEN spoke to the local link person and prepared maps (see here). On the day, I handed out my 5 clipboards with detailed street plans and location maps to 30 plus people who beetled off and covered the targeted areas with no duplication or confusion. There was no follow up enquiry into how to use the system at other times. PV campaign headquarters kept it all pretty quiet: it was not invented there.

So let’s be “afraid, very afraid” of missing the boat again. Let’s look beyond the next eye-catching campaign to the time we now have available to create assets nation-wide. Good organisation can win it for us.

A good starting point is to have every constituency page in UKPEN’s classic gazetteer adopted by a local group or groups and used to build up the store of local knowledge. As soon as this becomes something that could be misused by the other side, it can move to parallel pages that are protected by passwords. The surface of the system can remain public though, as it is an easy way, along with the computer-generated version of the gazetteer, for newcomers to find their local group(s).

I commend UKPEN’s classic gazetteer to European Movement branches, all local pro-European groups and their members. Reinvent it if you must, but a lot of work is already in the bag, so using it would be better. Now is the time for those willing to do some homework to make a start.  

Gareth Steel
Co-Founder, UKPEN and Co-Chair, Lewisham East Branch, European Movement

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


Part 1: Let’s build Pro-European assets for the future

Part 2: The time is now to start preparing for the next public vote

Part 3: United in Diversity – Pro-Europeans should register their support!


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Andrew (Andy) Pye
published this page in Latest blogs 2020-11-26 13:53:17 +0000