Lifting the lid on the size and shape of Vote Leave’s Ground War during the referendum campaign

Lifting the lid on the size and shape of Vote Leave’s Ground War during the referendum campaign

At its launch in October 2015, Vote Leave had a vast challenge ahead of us: build a ground campaign from a standing start. Everyone at Vote Leave was ambitious for the grassroots campaign, and so we aimed big. What we wanted to do, and more importantly, needed to do, had not been done before in British political campaigning.

A political campaign’s ground war running at full tilt is always an impressively large operation, and powering it up involves massive effort from volunteers and staff. The difference with Vote Leave’s position when it launched back in October 2015 was that at election time political parties in the UK already have their activist base of loyal volunteers and councillors, trained and experienced in the dark arts of door knocking, ready to get out their walking boots and hit the streets. Vote Leave had nothing.

And Vote Leave wasn’t even in the same position in which previous referendum campaigns had found themselves. During the AV referendum, and the Scottish independence referendum, each campaign had access to an easily leveraged activist base. In the Scottish independence referendum, the SNP activists moved across from their party to the Yes campaign, whilst the No grassroots campaign benefited from Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem activists moving across en masse. The No to AV campaign piggybacked almost completely on the Conservative Party’s infrastructure, and the Yes to AV campaign had the Lib Dem’s once fearsome ground operation at their disposal. Vote Leave had nothing.

Vote Leave’s starting point really was weak, and uniquely so. And yet, on 23rd June, only eight months after Vote Leave had come into existence, there were over twelve thousands volunteers campaigning on the streets in support of a Leave vote. Their campaigning activity was organised, targeted, and effective. In fact, it had been each of those things for many months already.

What Vote Leave’s activists, of all parties and none, achieved during the referendum is truly remarkable. Those who know me know I play with a straight bat, and I promise these numbers are real. Here is the Vote Leave ground war by numbers:

  • 641. The number of constituencies that had a Vote Leave Coordinator. Our Constituency Coordinators were our senior volunteers in each constituency who – in between taking the kids to taekwondo and their mums to the dentist – organised leaflet drops, and cajoled other volunteers to go out door knocking.
  • 18. The average number of volunteers we had per constituency on polling day. In sharp contrast to the embarrassing ConservativesIn Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operation, Vote Leave had dawn raids in over a quarter of constituencies, marginal seat style GOTV operations in half, and targeted GOTV activity in 96%.
  • 5. The number of political parties represented amongst our activist base. It was brilliant to see how easily political foes united behind the Leave movement. Vote Leave’s activist base was approximately 40% Tory, 30% UKIP, 15% Labour/Lib Dem/DUP, and 15% independent.
  • 55,000,000. The total number of leaflets Vote Leave had printed for delivery by activists. Now even if some of these ended up in the recycling bin after the referendum was over, that’s still a seriously big number of leaflets hand-delivered direct to voters using only the shoe leather of volunteers.
  • 3. The number of warehouses storing and dispatching the ground campaign’s leaflets and campaigning kit. Supplying an army with clipboards, leaflets and posters requires a massive logistics operation. Our warehouses dispatched more than 500 pallets of leaflets for the GOTV operation alone.
  • 46. The number of professional staff working for the Vote Leave Ground Campaign. I wish I could name check all of them, because each was incredible and worked more hours a day than was good for their health simply for the love of the cause for which they were fighting.
  • 1. The number of Establishments shaken to its core by people power. Vote Leave’s band of brothers (and sisters!) showed the Treasury, the IMF, the OECD, the EU, and the President of the United States, that those with power cannot coerce the people into voting against their own interests.

When given the opportunity voters decided to take back control, and without the Vote Leave volunteer army campaigning hard across the cities, towns and villages of the UK, it simply would not have happened. Everyone who gave their time to the campaign should consider themselves a hero.