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Brexit: some thoughts for campaigners

4 July 2016
Author: Tom Baker

It’s been a difficult few weeks. From the murder of Jo Cox MP, someone I didn’t know personally but had worked with many of my friends and was a tireless champion for many of the causes that matter to me, to the Brexit vote and the ongoing political fallout. With the outlook still uncertain, here are a few initial thoughts for campaigners. 

1. Be intentional about focusing on self care

I've sent David Braniff-Herbert's article to many people I work with. We’re in turbulent times and they’ll require us to organise, but we can’t do that without looking after ourselves. We really do need to be in this for the long-run.

The Good Campaigner also offers some interesting thoughts on personal resilience. Getting together, taking time off from social media and building community are all things that matter more than ever before.

2. Get out of the city and into the country

Many have written eloquently about the implications of the divisions or splits between the parts of the country that voted for Remain and Leave. This polling from Lord Ashcroft is useful to get a sense of the difference in views on a range of issues.

As campaigners, if we want to grow support for our issues then we have to do that amoung enough groups to demonstrate that there are political gains to be made from backing our issues – and to do that will mean getting outside of the big cities. Fail to do so and there is a risk that the issues that we’re campaigning on are seen in the same way that the Remain campaign was  as part of the establishment.

At times like this I can’t help but think of the example of Shelter who deliberately sent their teams out and about to marginal seats to test the key messages for their 2015 election housing campaign, or Invisible Children who honed their message for Kony 2012 through years and years of presentations to groups of young people. Both are examples of campaigns that recognised the importance of engaging with the public, and really understanding them, in order to build support.

3. Talk to people

Last week I heard academic Josh Kalla talk about research he’s done with community organisers in LA to prove that it's possible to change minds on transgender people through deep canvassing. But this technique requires large numbers of organisers who are given the time to listen to people and share personal stories – difficult when investment and resources are in short supply.

One of my criticisms of the Stronger In campaign was its apparent obsession with high-visibility campaigning like street stalls and leafleting outside stations. While this might have been a necessity given the resources they had, it never felt like a strategy for connecting people with personal reasons to vote Remain.

4. Recognise that expert voices don’t cut through to all

The Stronger In campaign has spent most of the campaign telling us how many experts were for Remain. I’m sure that was backed up and informed by polling, but as the polling below shows, for myriad reasons many people don’t trust experts any more. It means we need to think again about our messengers as well as our messages.

5. Bring our issues together

The recent Networked Change report finds that the most successful networks are the ones that cross movement boundaries. Our campaigning can sometimes pit one issue against another, but in wake of the referendum we need to do more to find common cause and connect our issues together.

6. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for

In the coming weeks and months we’ll need to organise ourselves with plans and strategies that respond to the situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes I live in the belief that others will be the leaders to help navigate a path forward, but if you’re reading this, it's down to you, me and other campaigners to explore solutions that allow us to do that.

7. We have #MoreInCommon

To celebrate the life of Jo Cox, I stood with more than 5,000 others in Trafalgar Square to say that we have #MoreInCommon. The event, which was one of more than 20 around the world, was organised in just five days by friends and colleagues of Jo.

None of those friends wanted to be organising the event in such circumstances, but the way they went about wanting to celebrate her life was inspiring, helping to ensure the message from Jo Cox's maiden speech that "we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us" was shared. It’s a message to hold on to in all of the current uncertainty.

About the author

Tom Baker
Save the Children

Tom Baker is head of mobilisation at Save the Children UK, and previously worked at Bond, Tearfund and Christian Aid.