Lessons from the Remain campaign

I was the Field Director for Britain Stronger in Europe in Yorkshire, the Humber and Lincolnshire for six months preceding the referendum in June 2016. Perhaps more so than in any other region, the support for Brexit across my bit of the north drove the final result. I can’t claim to have been involved in the shaping the strategy of the campaign, but I was responsible for delivering it on the ground in some parts of the country most crucial to delivering a result that would have kept us in the EU. For all the people who have been let down, scared and scarred by the result in 2016, I’m truly sorry we didn’t do better.

History is too often written by the winners, and the Remain campaign has come in for a volley of criticism. While I share a lot of those sentiments, I don’t think anyone should underestimate the dynamics that our campaign was asked to manoeuvre around in just a few short months. Over thirty years of smears against the EU and an economy riven by the divided costs of austerity were never going to be easy to overcome. It has also become increasingly clear that the two campaigns were not playing by the same rules. Elements of the Leave campaign don’t seem to have been playing by the rules at all.

Despite the evident challenges, it’s undeniable that our campaign was in many ways a poor one.

As we move closer to March and possibly edge towards a second vote on the final deal, I thought it was worth collecting my thoughts on what we should and could have done differently. A common theme in the media is that Remain supporters haven’t learned the lessons from losing in 2016. This is an attempt to provide some insight into what those lessons might be based on my experience of the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign, and what I saw from the other groups and campaigns fighting to keep us in the EU.

Rather than write one overly long blog I’m going to split it up into a few more manageable posts. Amongst other things I want to touch on are our use of data, how and where we tried to engage voters, how we recruited and worked with volunteers, and what our messages were.

I know many of you will have worked on the campaign, and most of you will have been touched by it in some way, so I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments. If you have any suggestions, if there’s something specific you think I should focus on, or if you have any questions about what we did and why, please do post them below and I’ll do my best to respond. I’d also appreciate you sharing this far and wide in the hope we can start a conversation about what lessons we should learn from the Remain campaign. Until next time.

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