Will the People’s Vote campaign swing a second referendum?

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The Background

Whatever your view of Brexit, and however you voted, you cannot fail to recognise that June 2016 represented a seismic change for the UK and its future direction. The success of the ‘Leave’ campaign is, with hindsight, easy to understand.  A powerful slogan, with real emotional resonance – ‘Take back control’, a charismatic spokesperson in Boris, a divided and feeble campaign on behalf of those who wanted to remain and the abstention by Jeremy Corbyn from the debate. However, over two years on and only seven months away from when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, as the People’s Vote campaign keeps reminding us, it may be a big deal, but it’s not a done deal.

The Big Idea

The argument is simple. The decision on the final Brexit deal (whatever it looks like) is too important to be left to the politicians. They have demonstrated that they are simply not up to it. The people need to be given the chance to decide. Not only does the People’s Vote give licence to a second referendum (under another name) it also throws the responsibility for the decision, now that we all better understand the consequences, back onto each and every one of us. 

There will be no-one else to blame. ‘Demand a vote’ is a powerful call to action… it’s the democratic right for your voice to be heard.

What They Did

Perhaps the most significant decision, taking into account the different agendas of the various pressure groups*, was to fund and create the Media Hub in Millbank, as the central co-ordinating communications unit for the whole campaign. This has enabled the campaign to come to life with a consistent message across social, emails, experiential and PR, launching with the June march in London. The £1 million donation from Julian Dunkerton (the founder of Superdry) has allowed extensive research, described as the biggest polling operations ever undertaken in UK politics, thereby providing the content for all the newsfeeds, monitoring the shifts in public opinion that are taking place.

*Best for Britain, Open Britain, Britain for Europe, European Movement, Healthier in the EU, Scientists for Europe, OFOC, FFS, Wales for Europe, INFACTS.

The Review

I would not suggest that this is the most creative campaign of recent months, but through its simplicity and consistent message it has begun to address the biggest challenge it faced, namely the apathy that developed in the lead up to summer. 

Research showed that most people were concerned with more immediate issues such as knife crime, the NHS, house prices and austerity and that their main concern with Brexit was the length of time it was taking. Cutting through this demanded an event of some impact to grab the imagination, in particular, of those Leave voters who might be persuaded to reconsider. 

The march in London on 16 June dominated all the news channels that weekend and generated real momentum and self-confidence. A petition was launched which now has nearly 300,000 signatures (which will be delivered to number 10 the week before the Brexit deal is put to Parliament). The email campaign (usually with a humorous approach to attacking the disarray) and news stories are all about how badly things are going, as well as the steady shift in public opinion. The most recent polling suggests that 45% of voters want the electorate to have a say on the final Brexit deal, with 34% opposed. The majority has to be sufficiently significant for parliament to take note.

In Hindsight

We may well have reached a tipping point, which already is quite an achievement. But the main problem with the campaign (and partially the reason for its relative level of success) is that it can best be described as a Trojan horse. 

The real agenda behind the campaign is to stop Brexit and the People’s Vote is simply a mechanism with which to achieve that. As such, it is not surprising that it is not yet clear what the options are that people might vote for. ‘Yes’ or ’No’ to the deal and/or ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Brexit itself. And it is not yet clear when or who will make the first unequivocal demands to stop Brexit.

One of the other significant shortcomings is the lack of a Boris-type leader. Most of those associated with the Remain campaign are still toxic in some way or other and the absence of a charismatic, credible figurehead matters.

But the campaign has achieved a clear and coherent message. It has a brand identity and the various channels from social to press, to rallies and marches, to activists on the ground and even to Westminster lobbying, seem to be talking with one voice. It still needs to engage more powerfully with the youth vote and it needs the Labour Party leadership to re-engage with the issue.

Finally, my suspicion is that, as with all political campaigns, paid-for media has a role to play and this needs a budget and dare I say it, an ad agency to move it all up a notch. 

It’s not a done deal.

Graham Hinton

Graham Hinton

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