Following our lively programme of guest speakers last year, we started the year with a bang in that department.
In early January, we attracted 200 people to a talk by the former President of the Farmers’ Union, Sir Peter Kendall. His theme was the impact of Brexit on British agriculture, and his assessment was rather sobering. It provoked a lot of questions from the audience in which the farming community were well represented, an interesting and slightly different mix from attendees at our previous events. It shows that people are keen to hear the views from an ‘expert’ on issues that affect them directly.
In mid-January, a few of us went to a talk organised by Cheltenham for Europe; the speaker was Darren Jones, the newly-elected Labour MP for Bristol North West. Mr Jones is opposed to Brexit in any form, and has defied the whips on every occasion he has been asked to vote against his convictions. He was a very entertaining speaker so of course we invited him to Stratford on the spot. He was kind enough to accept and we’re now finalising a date after the local elections.
Before January was out, we had another sort of event – the revelation of a giant cheque outside the office of our MP, Nadhim Zahawi, showing exactly how much Brexit is going to cost us. You might call it ‘The Bill of the People’. Unfortunately Mr Zahawi was not available to receive it but lots of our supporters were there.
Next up in early February was the 3rd West Midlands Regional Meeting, where we invited all the local ‘for Europe’ groups to get together in Stratford to share experiences and co-ordinate activities. We had a total of 30 people from 14 different groups, with support from Tom Brufatto , the Chair of Britain for Europe, and Tim Verboven from the European Movement. Hot topics were the new ‘‘Grassroots Co-ordination Group’ (GCG)’ founded by Chuka Umunna, the anti-Brexit movement among army veterans, a new youth group called ‘The 75%’, and guidance from Tom Brufatto about how to put across our objectives clearly.
In late February we welcomed the Brexit Truth Bus to Stratford as part of its national tour. David Bradley addressed the crowd , and we were entertained by the faux Boris as well as the colourful Europe Supergirl. The slogan on the bus was ‘Brexit: Is it worth it?’, so it was gratifying to hear that phrase echoed in the national media after the event. It seems to have caught on.
Before the month was out, we had another speaker event. Professor Stuart Croft who is the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Warwick, came to talk about ‘Science, Skills, the Economy and Brexit’. His prognosis was gloomy on all those fronts if Brexit goes ahead, and gloomy too on the prospects of stopping Brexit. We obviously need to redouble our efforts!
In early March we facilitated an event with Warwick & District for Europe where Professor Michael Dougan from Liverpool University was invited to give a talk on the legal aspects of Brexit. He gave a lively performance to a gathering of several hundred people, which was encouraging for the newly formed group. In fact Stratford for Europe has been closely involved in the formation of an active group in the Warwick area (one of our steering group is its chair), so this event proved a successful launch with the opportunity to sign up lots of new members.
A week later we had another session of ‘Brexit Café’ in Stratford where we offer the opportunity for people of all persuasions to have a friendly chat over a cup of coffee. It was encouraging that both Leavers and Remainers attended and were able engaged in non-confrontational debate. We plan to run more of these sessions.
March also saw an impressive local advertising campaign organised by our media team. They took three issues of particular local interest – the automotive industry, security and health care – and produced damning quotes from the government’s own reports, under the same heading in each case: ‘Brexit – Is it worth it?’. The advertisements went out with the local weekly freesheet that goes to all households in the area, so had a wide reach. We financed the campaign with a crowdfunder but more donations would be welcome! On 24th of March we participated in a day of action around the country by running a Mass Street Campaign in Stratford to mark the start of the 365 day countdown to Britain turning its back on the EU. With the help of our supporters, we fielded people all around the town handing out leaflets, signing up new supporters and doing an opinion survey. The survey showed that of those who had voted Leave, only 78% said they would definitely or probably still vote Leave now, and nearly 20% said they would now definitely vote to Remain. In addition, of the non-voters in the Referendum, 93% said they would definitely or probably vote Remain now. While this isn’t a scientific sample of the population, it nevertheless matches the trend against Brexit shown in national opinion polls.
And we did it all again a few weeks later for the Europe Action Day on 14th April, sponsored by the new national group of anti-Brexit organisations . In fact our loyal and energetic supporters have been turning out regularly once a month all through the winter (and sometimes more often) to make our presence felt in Stratford and to encourage those who don’t want Brexit that all is still to play for. Now that some of our team have been on a training course sponsored by Best for Britain, we hope to be even more successful with our campaigning in future.
In between all these events, we have been diligent letter writers – to the BBC, to the national and local press, to MPs and Lords among others. We get into the local press at least twice a month with letters and press releases. As ever, our expert and hard-working digital team have publicised all our activities as well as other local news related to Brexit. Between them they cover our website, our Twitter feed and our Facebook page, all of which attract a lot of traffic and lively debate. They give us a reach and presence which greatly amplifies all the other work we do to make contact with the public and to change opinions.
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The EU has given us the three Ps – Peace, Prosperity and Power – for the last 45 years, so let’s keep campaigning to stay in.
- Our next Regional Meeting on 22nd April
- The Great London March, Saturday 23rd June (why not book a seat on our coach?)
- Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP 30th April
- Stephen Dorrell, Chair of the European Movement, Thursday 10th May
- Professor Anthony Grayling at Warwick&District for Europe, 26th June