Only Wales’ grassroots activists can take on Cummings and Banks’ next social media onslaught

The March for Europe. Picture by Neil Schofield-Hughes

Helen Wales, Chair of Cardiff for Europe

Everyone has a theory about why the campaign to Remain in the EU failed to convince in 2016.

Leave had better slogans. Remain only talked about the economy. People wanted to give Cameron a kicking. Project Fear. Cambridge Analytica. Boris Johnson’s ego.

One clear shortcoming was the campaign’s failure to talk meaningfully to communities outside the south-east corner of England, and its reliance on a centralised, top-down structure.

This second point served Wales particularly badly, where the campaign beyond the capital felt all but invisible and came hot on the heels of the Welsh Assembly elections.

But over the last three years, whilst many have been distracted by the painful and arcane machinations of Westminster, self-organised pro-European groups have been sprouting across the UK.

A few weeks ago, an estimated 140,000 activists gathered in London for the ‘No to Boris, Yes to Europe’ protest. The speakers did not include a single politician, with the organisers deliberately focusing on giving a voice to grassroots campaigners.

Cardiff for Europe formed in late 2016 in the time-honoured tradition of many a campaign group: strangers coming together in a pub and deciding that doing something was the only viable option.


But before you cry ‘Metropolitan elite’, take note: Cardiff for Europe is one of over twenty local groups working together under the Cymru Dros Ewrop – Wales for Europe banner. There are an estimated 200 local campaign groups now active across the UK, so Wales’s 10% of that total is disproportionately high.

Groups are active from Anglesey to Wrexham, from Pembrokeshire to Brecon, and across South Wales and the Valleys – Pontypridd, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Swansea, Neath, Bridgend.

Members comprise a refreshing mix of seasoned and first-time activists and are genuinely cross-party (though at Cardiff for Europe we are admittedly yet to welcome members from UKIP or the Brexit Party).

Optimism

One deserved criticism of the 2016 Stronger In campaign was its stubborn focus on the economy.

Most of the people now active in the pro-EU campaign will tell you clearly: it’s not just about the economy, stupid.

A recent Cardiff for Europe Facebook thread asked members what drove them to campaign. Responses included opportunities to work and travel freely across Europe, minimum standards for workers, consumer protections, environmental protections, a belief in international alliances, and, again and again, peace.

Having said that, we can’t ignore analysis that suggests that, of the four UK nations, Wales stands to suffer the most economically from Brexit.

This, along with recent Brexit Party polling in the European Parliament elections and ratcheting up of the No Deal game-playing from the new resident at 10 Downing Street, should worry anyone in Wales with even a flicker of feeling for Europe.

Many would say it should worry anyone in Wales full stop. But there are causes for optimism, too.

Whilst opinion admittedly remains divided, polls suggest that opinion in Wales is slowly shifting, as time passes and leaving the EU moves from a vague idea to a reality.

We’re already seeing the seeds of the cross-party cooperation that was so limited in Wales in 2016. The Lib Dem victory in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election is the most significant example.

Let’s also not forget either that in June, Welsh Assembly Members voted to give the people of Wales a say on the final Brexit deal.

Key

The greatest cause for optimism, though, is arguably that this mess has created a mass of local activists hungry to campaign.

The model for Wales for Europe is to work together nationally and talk about what matters locally, whether that’s jobs at Ford in Bridgend or Airbus in Flintshire, the challenges faced by Welsh-speaking communities farming in Ceredigion, clean beaches along our coastline, or what it will mean for Cardiff if our universities lose students and research funding.

Few now doubt that we will soon be facing a General Election, and many predict it will be followed by a new referendum on Brexit. Both are likely to be loud. Both are likely to be riddled with deliberately divisive, superficial and simplistic slogans.

It may seem naive to think that a motley crew of grassroots campaign groups has any chance of being louder than the next Dominic Cummings ‘masterpiece’ or the social media onslaught funded by the next Aaron Banks.

But surely we have to hope that a campaign driven by local activists who have conversations about what matters in our lives and in our different communities will have a key role to play in the decisions people make.

And if we can’t hope for that, what hope can any of us on either side of the Brexit fence really have for the future of our democracy?

To find out more about local campaign groups across Wales see here. This article is based on a speech given at the March for Change on 20th July 2019.

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Simon GruffyddRhodri ThomasCharles Evansj r humphrysAndrew Rowlands Recent comment authors
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Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

“pro-European groups”, “Cardiff for Europe”, “Wales for Europe”, etc. . Ever notice that European Unionists pretend that being pro EU is the same as pro Europe? This is direct contradiction to the fact that the most passionate voices for Europe, throughout Europe, are usually anti EU – and for good reason. The EU is not simply run in a profoundly undemocratic fashion by an unelected group of ‘commissionaires’ (much like the USSR before it), but it clearly stated goals to dismantle nations and national consciousness, much like the USSR tried, yet failed to do in the 20th century. Those of… Read more »

Andrew Rowlands
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Andrew Rowlands

But the dog’s dinner that is Brexit seems to be putting European party leaders like Marine Le Pen off from the idea of pushing for their own exits.

Charles Evans
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Charles Evans

Simon, you’ve been misinformed, the EU is not at all like the USSR. The USSR was a highly centralized state run by a single party, the Communist Party, with a state security police that was responsible for killing more Soviet citizens than even Hitler. In Europe we elect MEPs in Brussels to put our views forward in a democratic way where they can vote down proposals from commissionaires if they feel they don’t work for Wales. Also we have our own national governments which can also block any unfavourable proposed legislation. With regards the EU Parliament, iIn Wales we have… Read more »

Rhodri Thomas
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Rhodri Thomas

Why on earth do you write so much nonsense? A few minutes research on your part would show that none of what you allege is true. The EU is considerably more democratic and accountable than the UK.

j r humphrys
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j r humphrys

Ideally, would you wish Cymru to be in a position similar to, say, Jersey or Singapore? I certainly would.
But in the current situation:
If UK Gov. drops out of EU, a deal with Trump will mean “America First” holds the power.
If Wales drops out of the EU, UK Gov. holds the power.
If Wales drops out of the “UK”, England holds the power.
Meanwhile, in Ursula Van Der Leyden, we have a very reasonable person in the EU chair.
Not , as I say, ideal. But not a potential horror either.

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

“If Wales drops out of the “UK”, England holds the power.” you write.

Quite the contrary. England only holds power over Wales while Wales remains in the UK.

j r humphrys
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j r humphrys

If Wales drops out of UK, as well as the EU, England still holds the power, in the same way as
Trump will hold the power over England in any US trade deal. You can see this over the Google tax.
Of course, we could eventually avoid domination, if we are prepared to struggle through.
Other than that, we need the EU.

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

“If Wales drops out of UK, as well as the EU, England still holds the power” – that is only true if Wales remains shackled to the Bank of England monetary system based on phony commercial bank credit (public and private debt) as its money supply, now accounting for 98% of the total UK money supply. It’s not even ‘Legal Tender’. If Wales created its own sovereign money supply (Legal Tender) it would hold all the real power cards and would be a force to be reckoned with in the British Isles and Europe, if not the world at large.

Mari B
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Mari B

‪A 0.2% fall in GDP in Q2 of 2019 – the first fall for 7 years. This is due to a fall in manufacturing, production and construction. The UK is now heading towards a recession. What could possibly have contributed to the decline in our economy? Think we all know the answer! At the time of the EU referendum, the UK had the fastest growing economy in the G7. Now it has the slowest growing economy in the G7 – in fact, one that’s now shrinking rather than growing. Brexiters who said that the dire warnings about Brexit were ‘Project… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

The UK economy will continue to de-industrialise and decline whether inside or outside the EU. It’s not about trade. The cause is financialisation of our economy, both supported by the the City of London, the UK government, the EU. Since the 1980’s, the UK has shifted from a productive economy to a debt-based rentier economy based on wealth extraction rather than wealth production. It’s a Ponzi scheme that mathematically has to collapse some time in the future. The writing is on the wall. Neither the EU or Brexit will save us.