Post-Remain: A stoic, philosophical stance or missed opportunity?
Raluca’s Confessions of a Remoaner published in Politically Speaking, reminds me of my time on the campaign. I stood at many a stall, analysed a lot of data, developed many bits of code and went on many a march. Which ended in political ugliness that ultimately let rip on the population.
Like Raluca, I spent 3 1/2 years campaign to stop Brexit. I made a lot of friends through that process. Raluca herself is one of the nicest people you’ll meet, amongst many nice people and I have to agree to the sense of community that it brought about was amazing.
I did it for free, because it was the right thing to do. But as an “anti-politician”, I’ve never been aligned to political parties, but through my youth, made myself much more familiar with political activism and organisational politics than I would like, given the propensity for to to do harm by design or incompetence. Especially given the lack of strategic thinking that often goes with it.
The Early Days
It was with a sigh of desperation, yet lack of surprise, that I watched the results of the 2016 EU Referendum roll in. It was 3am. I had woken to use the bathroom and was drawn to the drop in the value of the pound that little old Sunderland and caused, with the first result of voting to leave the EU.
“Listening” to twitter and seeing the shift in the two month prior, made me pretty confident Remain might lose and it transpired what I was hearing, was the sound of illegal overspend carried out by the Vote Leave and Leave EU campaigns.
Fast forward to the results of the 2019 European Parliamentary election and none of what Raluca described is in any way alien.
I know Raluca personally. She is a stalwart. An exceptional and relentless campaigner, whether for her Work Rights clients or her anti-Brexit work, she’s involved herself deeply in direct action but also with one of the best appreciations for strategic needs that I remember in the tens of thousands of people I personally met and worked with during the campaign.
We stood side by side on a number of different fronts. whether marching to Parliament Square, organising and facilitating street stalls, digitally campaigning or analysing data, Raluca was always there or thereabouts and worked about as hard as anyone I’d seen work.
Yet, I read her thoughts on it now, and I cannot help reading a subtle tempering of the level to which Remain had strategically failed. We lost long before Jeremy Corbyn voted to support Boris Johnson and in doing so, rid Labour of its power over parliament. As Remainers, were sold out by every major political party at every stage of the campaign and demonstrated to opposition that we were fragmented and with the right stimulus, could be made to fragment further. Labour would guarantee to be the sock-puppet that did that.
It was clear from the European parliamentary elections earlier that same year, Remain was dispensing with its Stop Brexit message and was regressing to political party allegiances. The Liberal Democrats had started a disinformation campaign to present themselves as the party of Remain and encouraged people to vote for them in seats they had no chance of winning while also in a fight with Brexit party supporters and everyone else was caught in the cross-fire.
The Brexit Party were consuming votes faster than even UKIP and the major parties and the Remain campaign, failed to see this as the testbed that it was. Exactly the indicator Boris supporters needed to confirm that as long as they made him leader, he had the numbers to to carry this country into a huge conservative majority. It hid conspicuously behind the façade of a Conservative collapse in the EuroParl elections, that were less a vote of no confidence in the Conservatives and more an expression of dissatisfaction with Theresa May.
Simultaneously, the Liberal Democrats, chomping for a power grab, did anything to push their agenda. Resorting to lying, racism and backstabbing Remain campaign members. Some in the Liberal Democrats took it upon themselves to create fabricated tactical voting campaigns and sites to push Liberal Democrat recommendation where they definitely had no chance. Watering down real tactical voting campaigns at the same time. Their political activists had also infiltrated the four biggest tactical voting campaigns, all of which I was initially on. They tried to swing results in their favour.
Specialist Data Scientists took a party blind stance to support Remain and only Remain. Yet, were ostracised by those infiltrators. Leaving many tactical voting campaigns with no experienced data people and at the Remain campaign at the mercy of an eminently equipped foe.
This was also a failure of epic proportions from Labour. Supporting Boris Johnson in his drive for a general election and alienating the very “many” they claimed to stand for. Exposing that lie through action when it didn’t matter and inaction when it did.
Labour had fired their own political scientists and analysts to save money after subscriptions tumbled. Withdrawals from members on both sides of the Brexit divide who felt, and ultimately were, let down by Labour’s Brexit stance. Labour left themselves with no choice but to simplified its strategy to “Vote for us” and prayer.
These difficulties were compounded by ChangeUK forming to run on a remain mandate. A blunder delivering one of the final nails in the coffin for the Remain campaign in the grand game of chess that only the Leave side knew was being played. A perfect storm that split Remain votes, losing significant political and giving away all the strategic space to right-wing Conservatives through a large pool of traditionally hidden voters, now aligned with the Brexit party.
Signing-off and Leaving Home
Unlike Raluca, on the 26th of May 2019, I formally left the Remain campaign. It was clear to me at that point we had lost. More than 95% of it due to a complete failure of strategic thinking and alignment from all the political parties campaigning for Remain, that confirmed to Cumming et al that Remain were not a serious political force that could stop it. He and his team now knew exactly what they had to do.
The leaders of both parties vowed to learn lessons. Yet it was clear only the Conservatives did. Jeremy Corbyn appearing oblivious to what had just happened, ordered the Labour party to support an election brought by Boris Johnson and gifting the Conservatives one of the biggest gains and Labour losses in their entire history. Created a majority bigger than anything the country has seen in 84 years and breaking down the red wall, which formed the core of the Labour votefor the previous 100 years.
Corbyn sat there oblivious. Labour’s supporters believing “Parliament will find a way” because the “Crowd is wise”. That some miracle would somehow re-emerge from the ashes of the 2017 general election and somehow save them after backing it. A line still peddled from labour’s political supporters to this day. Who are convinced this was somehow Jo Swinson’s fault.
Boris Johnson pulled off the greatest political rope-a-dope in British electoral history. Pretend to feign injury and encourage your opponents to come out swinging. Tempt them into the trap . Statistically Labour mortally self-wounded and needed saving, yet its far-left spun conspiracy theories about polling results and the organisations that ran them. Claiming it’s rigged when in reality the final result was only 1.7% lower than the data expected them to be at.
Sanity had disappeared in Labour long before. Just as malice had festered in the Liberal Democrats. Leading many Labour social media accounts to propagate more misinformation about why they lost. Disinforming thousands and tens of thousands of followers all at once. A practise that still occurs to this day.
The strategic failures were numerous! Too many believed in some magic of crowd wisdom and very view believed in data or statistics. Certainly not something Raluca could ever be accused of. Leaving a general failure to appreciate Leave campaigns’ ability to stay subservient to data driven strategies. Dominic Cummings was clearly driving a solid strategic army that bulldozed its way through the electorate and simply refused to respond.
I remember as clear as yesterday. In early 2018, I made the observation we never developed an anti-Cummings. There was nobody doing the work of Dominic Cummings on our side. Each time I brought it up, people cited some of the big YouTube names or lawyers who were doing extremely good work in both communicating and fighting case on statutory flanks. While essential, they were not strategists. Indeed many of them actively promoted the action that lost us the European elections. It is a different skillset and it dawned on me early that our side didn’t even know what strategy was!
Statistics, data science, mathematics and strategy are fundamentally different subjects to law, medicine and grass roots street stalls. Yet, many capable lawyers, medics, economists and grass roots activists entered that arena with the innocence and naivety of five year olds. Cummings’ strategic prowess ate them up and spat them out. Like a vampire that needs to affect other vampires, it chipped away chunks from the correct direction and our voter base through the misinforming of political activists who followed. Some fellow campaigner had followers in the millions! Leading a slow but significant drift away from a sensible strategy, before the step change the European elections brought. With it, went our ability to fight the Leave campaign. A mistake which would ultimately prove fatal.
There was no points fighting after April 2019. Yet, I still get asked how I knew this would happen? I will save the energy and detail that I put into prior campaigning, because some of that is still up and it isn’t worth repeating. It is fragmented, after Labour campaigners’ successfully brigading. Supporting the fare-right in its endeavour to digitally shred the evidence. Something they are still trying all this time later.
Suffice to say there are several certainties even in uncertainty. The likelihood of Remain convincing the numbers they needed to at the general election in the face of Labour smashing the bridge underneath everyone’s feet, was well under a fraction of 1%. As good as impossible. It needed labour to work tactically to save themselves from the mistakes their leadership made and then build on top. However, the campaigns had strong voices in that space and were well fragmented by this point. Having no single oppositional force meant fragmentation was always a risk that rode on the back of our campaign and now, having failed to address it, it was coming home to roost.
Democracy as Oppression of the Minority
Strategy is a niche area. In all the Leave campaigns, representing 17.4 million people in 2016, there was only one strategist. Dominic Cummings. Everything the conservative party did was subservient to his strategy. There is no need for infighting or throwing strategies at walls and seeing what stuck as if you were in a marketing or PR roundtable session. The strategy was clear, the target unequivocal the pathway now clear.
In planning, the enemy of strategy and efficacy is Democracy. It was a time to act fast! Otherwise, we forgo the ability to go far. But a voter base of 1,000,000 with one lone, albeit correct voice, will never win nor make a dent. Much like scientist experiences with the pandemic, this left Remain subject to an unstoppable, slow motion car crash, which I personally decided to watch from the side-lines from June 2019 onwards. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my time, energy and money supporting the campaign which was doomed to failure. I certainly wasn’t getting paid for it and it was now a huge expression of the Sunk Cost fallacy.
Yet, for the entertainment, not long before the general election I remember gate-crashing a Labour Compass meeting, as I had done with various meeting meetings, many times before. It was entitled “Are we ready to take on the Conservatives?”. I had an itch to the see if they really were serious about stopping the Conservative party pushing Brexit through. I left clear they were not. It seemed they were as far away as ever.
Kate green MP was in attendance and so were a couple of other party members. Green made it perfectly clear she refused to work with other parties ad tactically run. She refused to countenance a standing down in Tory-LibDem marginals, or to tactically vote. The “Government of National Unity” clearly a unicorn in the minds of Labour members that confirming their position as a Trojan in the Remain campaign. A traitor to the people who supported her and stood by her, but for her, it would make little difference when the general election came round.
All this ensured the results of the 2019 European parliamentary elections would reflect more severely in December’s 2019 General Election. Letting down people like Raluca and millions of others in favour of petty party-political allegiances, madness, incompetence, and conspiracy.
And how Boris did laugh!