How to persuade a Brexit voter to support you in the Local Elections?

As I am writing this article, there are thirty-two days until the next local elections. As someone who is standing, we are entering the last stages of the campaign. The finish line is quite close!

This year, in order to know how much time, effort and energy I invested in campaigning, I decided to create a simple timesheet. It is nice to see that since October 2021, I have spent twenty-five hours door knocking, more than twenty-five hours delivering our leaflets and another ten meeting our delivery network. I hope that the outcome will be positive for me and our local Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrat team.

I’ve said it a few times but I really enjoy door knocking. I like meeting people, discussing current local and at times, national and global matters. I am learning to become a better listener. Without being judgmental, it is good to find out why people vote in a certain way or why they support a particular policy.

On Saturday, 2nd April, I had probably one of the best conversations so far. It was quite important for me; not only as a human being but also as an aspiring local councillor. I tend to keep my canvassing exercise quick as there are so many doors to door to knock on. However there are occasions when it is really worth stopping and engaging in the conversation. On this sunny but fresh Saturday morning, I had an opportunity to talk to a resident, who is a Conservative Party voter, someone who supported the Leave campaign. We spoke at length about reasons why the EU has benefited my life, enabled me to work and study in the UK. We spoke quite a lot about the EU Referendum. I found it interesting to listen to his views on Europe and the future of the European Union. We both agreed that there is an “identify crisis” in Europe. The anti-European sentiment is felt throughout our continent, in particular in Eastern Europe. We spoke a lot about quality of politics and politicians, first past the post system and whether the Local Government as a whole became too political. I agreed that whether you are a Labour or the Conservative vote, potholes and parking shouldn’t be a political matter. I was even asked why I decided to stand for the Liberal Democrats, a question that I was never asked before. Towards the end, we spoke about the costs of living crisis. Another wake-up call for me; you don’t have to be on low income to struggle. These days, many families will struggle, regardless of their financial status. As someone who is self-employed, this particular individual, in his late 60’s and who lives in a very affluent part of the town, continues to work to provide for his family and support his children. It is so easy to make an assumption that if you live in a nice house, you must be OK.

The experience of my last canvassing days was very important. I understood that as an activist, councillor or generally as a human being, I need to continue to remain authentic. I need to be able to defend my own views, however the ability to listen might only help me to grow and explore a different ray of views and perceptions on a particular topic. I understood clearly that although I can’t pretend to know everything, I really should try to be myself; with all my strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, where possible, I should always seek to engage in dialogue in a positive, constructive way. A positive attitude, smile, and a bit of passion for civic life also helps!

And what was the outcome of the conversation? I was simply told: “You know what? I will vote for you”. I didn’t count on it, however I do think that my approach to the conversation, willingness to listen and not judge helped enormously to build a good relationship with someone, who is unlikely to vote for the Liberal Democrats in any elections. I must admit that I felt chuffed to bits yesterday; not only because I potentially secured another vote, but also because I put a person ahead of politics. It is something worth remembering.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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39 Comments

  • Peter Martin 4th Apr '22 - 9:24am

    I, as a former Leave voter, would consider voting Lib Dem under certain circumstances. The most likely would be on a tactical basis to keep out the Tory candidate.

    Having said this, my inclination to support any centrist avidly pro-EU politician is now much diminished. Years of being accused of being a closet Tory, fascist or Farage supporter, disliking Europe and European people (rather than the EU), being somehow intellectually deficient for daring to oppose EU austerity inducing neoliberalism, has taken its toll!

    This is an example of why I voted Leave: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m quite happy for the French people to decide how their successful EDF should be run. What has it to do with the EU? Why do the EU apparatchiks see the need to interfere?

    https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/eu-commission-wants-to-break-up-edf-its-ceo-says/

  • nigel hunter 4th Apr '22 - 10:16am

    Why are the East Europeans not happy anti European

  • Gordon Lishman 4th Apr '22 - 10:22am

    Michael is right that the key to winning votes is to talk with people.
    We continued to hold our core wards here through the coalition and through Brexit, although we lost some of the peripheral ones. I suggest that the key issue is simply achieving a relationship with voters which is wider than any one issue and is based on mutual respect for different opinions and a willingness to talk and engage even when either of you is wrong (in the other’s opinion). Brexit supporters (66% of those who voted) certainly knew our views, but our relationships with them were strong enough for our local record and mutual respect to bring us through.
    Of course, it takes time and a lot of work to get to that stage, but the key is for people and the party to achieve a relationship with families and communities which is strong enough to withstand other pressures. That goes beyond both one-off campaigns and a vast range of specific policies which don’t have much cumulative impact.

  • Andrew Tampion 4th Apr '22 - 12:14pm

    My suggestion is careful use of language. In my experience very few Brexit voters are anti European, but they don’t helieve in the EU or the European. Casual use of anti european to mean against the EU is unlikely to win votes.
    I also think that EU advocates need to accept that their side of the argument shares the responsibility for Brexit. First of all if we had had a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty it may well have been possible to avoid Brexit. Second the inability to accept the result of the referendum and the widely perceived attempt to subvert the result is a much bigger issue for most Brexit supporters.

  • James Fowler 4th Apr '22 - 2:31pm

    Hi Michal,

    What a super post and congratulations on bringing in another voter. I was really heartened to see your advocacy for ‘indirect persuasion’ e.g. listening. I’ve very seldom said much on the doorstep, preferring, as you say, to let others offer the contents of their thoughts. I suspect that often merely taking effort to call and presence is highly effective in the long term ‘gardening’ project that wins elections.

  • Chris Moore 4th Apr '22 - 3:41pm

    A very interesting piece, Michal. Thank you.

    However, the basic question is in my view flawed. There should be no intrinsic difficulty in persuading liberal-minded Eurosceptic voters to vote Lib Dem locally, NOR nationally.

    We know this, because we once had many Eurosceptic voters and members and even MPs. Many of our former strongholds were based on this type of liberal support.

    Most members were EU philes/ in favour of EU membership, but there was tolerance and understanding of those who for – good liberal reasons – were critical of the EU: i.e. distant, opaque and unrepresentative government.

    But the Party threw it away with its self-destroying inability to accept a Referendum result it didn’t like (and which it had committed to accepting before.) This made the party seriously disliked amongst Leave voters and “move on with life” Remainers. And rightly so.

    Peter Martin empasizes the Party’s folly in patronising Leave voters and failing to find common ground, of which there is much.

  • john oundle 5th Apr '22 - 12:45am

    Chris Moore

    ‘But the Party threw it away with its self-destroying inability to accept a Referendum result it didn’t like (and which it had committed to accepting before.) This made the party seriously disliked amongst Leave voters and “move on with life” Remainers. And rightly so.’

    Spot on, trust is important.

  • Trevor Andrews 5th Apr '22 - 8:20am

    Good luck Michal, I enjoyed the post. I am trying to do my bit by engaging with Labour and Conservative votes ( and Brexiters) in order to understand and persuade. It’s too easy just to banter with people who are already of my persuasion. Sadly there are some, particularly the “Great Britain Brexit Brigade” that when you offer independent credible facts or information against their case, just block you and don’t engage. Still it’s an education and will continue to try.

  • Brad Barrows 5th Apr '22 - 9:05am

    A similar issue in Scotland, where the SNP is the largest pro-EU party in a country that voted against leaving, is how do you persuade pro-independence voters to vote Liberal Democrat. It appears that the Scottish Liberal Democrats do not think it is worth trying as Alex Cole-Hamilton seems intent on trying to target soft Tory unionist voters by positioning the Scottish Liberal Demorats as ‘Tory Unionist lite’. So far, the Party has continued its slow but continual decline so these council elections will be a major test of ACH’s strategy.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Apr '22 - 9:42am

    @Martin is correct. This set of elections will not be about Brexit. The debate has largely moved on from the 2016 referendum result, which of course we “accepted” (as having happened) @Chris Moore, but which we never sanctified as the Brexit ultras wanted us to do. Maybe it was a tactical error to go all out for “Revoke”, but we would not have been remotely credible if we’d gone around saying we would not try to reverse or stop Brexit. It would have made us look like cynical opportunistic poll-chasers.

    In any case, as Martin says the issues that come up on the doorstep in the local election campaign have little if anything to do with Brexit. Even in staunch Remain Kingston, our campaign doesn’t make much of it. There’s no point. Our main battle is against our local opponents’ (mainly but not exclusively Tory) aggressive disinformation campaign about the Lib Dem run Council’s local plans.
    The North Shropshire by-election result shows that we can win once again in Leave voting areas, even in national Parliamentary elections. We do this by focusing on the government’s current failings, which is something that enthuses voters much more than angels-dancing-on-a-pinhead discussions about the 2016 Brexit referendum. We can let people’s lived realities speak for themselves about whether Brexit was a good idea going forward.

  • Chris Moore 5th Apr '22 - 10:13am

    Hello Martin, I had no idea our former MP for Rochdale was a Euro-sceptic! There were others too.

  • Chris Moore 5th Apr '22 - 10:17am

    Btw Our current policy of arguing for a close relationship with the EU is the right one.

    Customs’ Union re-entry at some point?

  • Brad Barrows 5th Apr '22 - 10:59am

    @Martin
    Yes, the Liberal Democrats need to be able to persuade pro-EU voters in Scotland that it is more likely that the UK will rejoin the EU than that Scotland will join the EU as an independent country. With both Labour and the Conservatives regarding the matter of the UK being out of the settled, but Scotland overwhelming pro-EU and 50/50 on independence, a plausible case can be made that Scottish independence followed by quite rapid EU membership is more likely, even if that is through steps such as EFTA and single market membership first. Of course, the Liberal Democrats may have more success appealing to the minority of Scottish voters who wish both continuing membership of the UK plus rejoining the EU.

  • Russell Simpson 5th Apr '22 - 12:00pm

    @Chris/John.
    I didn’t see Libdem canvassing for 2nd ref as being anti the 2016 result as the 2nd ref (May or Johnson deal v Remain) should have been in the original legislation (and would have been if Cameron etc thought about it for 5 minutes!) Sad as I was at leaving the EU my biggest gripe was the lack of democracy. There was no evidence that more than 48% of voters wanted either deal.

  • Zoe Hollowood 5th Apr '22 - 3:29pm

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing your experience! Hopeful and optimistic about what can be achieved by open conversation. Very heartening!

  • Chris Moore 5th Apr '22 - 5:55pm

    @Russell Simpson: maybe 2nd Ref should have been in the legislation, but it wasn’t. One of the reasons was that the Government and Remain campaigners were convinced they would win. Why would you need another Referendum if the result was going to go the way you wanted?

    Unfortunately, all the ingenious arguments and reasons why we LDs didn’t have to accept the result in 2016 were themselves not accepted by the vast majority of the electorate, including much of our previous bedrock support.

  • Andrew Tampion 6th Apr '22 - 7:04am

    Russell.
    So when it comes to consider rejoining the EU you advocate a two stage process. First a referendum to approve the principle: second a referendum to approve the deal agreed?

  • Richard Cripps 6th Apr '22 - 8:19am

    I am a retired, white, non-metropolitan, non-graduate who voted Remain. However it was rather wearing to be categorised (and in certain sections of the media, vilified) as a Brexiteer because of my demographic. My point is not to rehearse recent history but to applaud those who don’t make assumptions about how people vote, or might vote, because of what they look like. Great article!

  • Alex Macfie 6th Apr '22 - 8:55am

    Providing for a 2nd referendum on the deal in the original referendum legislation would have meant a legally binding referendum. Presumably triggering Article 50 and the 2nd referendum would have been done by Staturory Instrument. It would not have stopped a future Parliament from voting to declare the 2nd referendum clause null & void (either to stop Brexit altogether or to push through a Hard Brexit). It would be much easier in a system like in Switzerland where there is a provision for binding referendums and rules for what happens after a successful referendum.

    I don’t think it’s particularly “ingenious” to point out that the referendum was advisory, or that as Lib Dems were not in government at the time of the referendum and nor would we have enacted it in the form it was enacted if we had been, we are not bound by it. It’s just how our system works. We are arguably responsible for the referendum in the sense that our MPs voted for it, which was a tactical mistake and makes it difficult morally for us to criticise it. We avoided that trap when we voted against Johnson’s Brexit deal. This was the right call, as the next GE will be about the real-world consequences of Brexit, not about whether anyone “accepts” a stale referendum result. The only people banging on about the referendum now are the Brexit ultras.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Apr '22 - 9:00am

    As a minor party, it could be argued that our agenda is always rejected by the “vast majority of the electorate”. I don’t think there is any smoking-gun explanation for our failure in 2019GE, although lots of people with a specific agenda will claim their preferred explanation. It was a confluence of lots of factors. And whatever role our position on Brexit played in 2019GE, it will not be relevant in next month’s local elections.

  • My ward voted 66% Leave at the Referendum and in 2018 I was grateful to those said “I disagree with you on Europe but …” However, to keep things in perspective, I have to remember that there was a large number of people in the ward who voted for the first time and show every sign of not voting again.

  • Russell Simpson 6th Apr '22 - 12:46pm

    @Chris
    2nd ref not in the original legislation meant that voting Leave gives you the question of “what should our relationship with the EU be?”. Pre June 2016 there were at least 3 different options. It’s clear that the 48% had no say in what happened next and Johnson’s deal only won through the combination of fptp and Labour being led by an unelectable person. As an aside, being from NZ, let me tell people the way they made PR happen: When they did the legislation they considered the possibility of Yes winning and placed a mandatory referendum after the next 3 general elections, in case voters had changed their mind (as happens).
    @Andrew
    I think you miss the point? As I’ve said, Leaving required a 2nd Ref (or some other, preferably democratic, way to determine what happens next). Returning would not require a 2nd Ref as it would be clear what you were doing.

    It was not made clear to the voters in 2016 that Leave meant leaving SM/CU and we’d be going back to the 1950s in terms of our trading (and other) relationship with the EU

  • Thank you Michal. A large chunk of the electorate just want to be listened to, and it’s fair to say that there are many, many issues beyond Brexit that people care about, and most people, if given the chance, are happy to accept that people from different parties often care about the same things.

    Brad, I’m not sure where you get the idea that ACH is trying to position the LibDems as Tory-lite. I accept that’s what the SNP are using as an attack line against us, but the reality is that the SNP and Tories are in a symbiotic relationship, and it’s us (and Labour) who are pushing against the obsession with the constitution shared by the Tories and SNP. Alex has been very clear that we don’t like how the Tories are behaving. Trying to attract votes from people who are fed up with the Tories (and SNP) is a legitimate approach.

    As it is, polling continues to show that most Scots don’t want independence, and even those who like the idea of it don’t want it, or another referendum soon. The approach to getting the votes from ‘soft-Yes’ voters is as Michal suggests. Listen to them, talk about shared values and convince them that we’ll do a good job for them.

  • Andrew Tampion 6th Apr '22 - 4:58pm

    Russell. “Returning would not require a 2nd Ref as it would be clear what you were doing.”
    Really? What about fishing quota’s under the CFP? A matter of vital interest to many potential Liberal Democrat voters in the south west. I think the French and others will try to get as much of any quota share lost under Brexit as possible returned to them as a condition of re-entry. I worry that our negotiators might be willing to concede this in return for re-entry. There are no doubt other matters of importance to other groups of voters which would have to be resolved. For that reason I think there is a good case for a referendum to confirm the terms of re-admission.

  • Present arrangements are holding back the country and will get worse as more checks have to start in the Summer.

    The Leave Vote did not say to Leave the Single Market.

  • John 6th Apr ’22 – 10:05pm:
    The Leave Vote did not say to Leave the Single Market.

    The UK’s decision was to leave the EU in its entirety as stated at the time and accepted by both campaigns. Not everyone paid much attention to what was said – most people already knew how they would vote. After our decision to leave some remainer activists have attempted to rewrite history by pretending that a Leave vote only meant leaving the political part of the EU.

    The Leave proposition was encapsulated in three words: “Take Back Control”. It’s not possible to take control of our money, borders, laws, and trade while in the ‘single market’ – the EU Internal Market. We’d have to pay (Norway paid more per head), we’d have to accept ‘free movement’ from the EU, we’d have to obey three-quarters of all EU law (with no say), and we wouldn’t be able to operate an independent trade policy – absurd for the world’s fifth largest market.

    1. The government leaflet sent to every household mentioned the “single market” 20 times and exhorted us to vote remain to stay in it.

    ‘Government leaflet on the EU Referendum’:
    https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7579/

    If we move outside the single market we would have to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. Even the best Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will come with higher administrative costs and red tape in order to export into the single market.

  • 2. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated in parliament what each vote meant…

    Prime Minister’s Questions: 15 June 2016: Answer to Nigel Adams:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2170&v=9BjtP00IRPA

    ’In’ means we remain in a reformed EU; ‘Out’ means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, ‘Out’ means out of the European Union, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers — out of all those things…

    3. The remain campaign saw leaving the ‘single market’ as the “key issue”…

    ‘Brexit vote was about single market, says Cameron adviser’ [November 2016]:
    http://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-vote-was-about-single-market-says-cameron-adviser/

    “Leaving the European single market was “the instruction from the referendum,” according to one of David Cameron’s closest advisers.

    Ameet Gill, who served as the former prime minister’s director of strategy until earlier this year and campaigned for a Remain vote, said the Brexiteers’ commitment to leaving the free-trade bloc was the key issue of the campaign… […]

    Gill is particularly damning about the attempt to rewrite the history of the campaign by those who, like him, supported a vote to Remain.

  • Regarding a 2nd referendum..Even the arch ‘Leaver’ Farage stated £on three occasions) that a second referendum would be needed (twice in 2016 and again in 2018)..

    As an aside, having watched the problems of ‘Sovereign Britain’ unfold over the last few years, I’m unable to fathom how anyone still thinks ‘Leaving’ was a good idea..

  • Alex Macfie 7th Apr '22 - 10:53am

    I think we should call time on this pointless navel-gazing about what the Leave vote in the referendum did or did not mandate. It’s going to be of little interest to the vast majority of voters, who will be concerned primarily about how the Brexit that was implemented affects their lived realities. The next GE will be the first to be fought on the reality of Brexit, rather than the fantasies peddled by its proponents. So most ordinary voters will judge this government on the real-world consequences of its Brexit policy, not on how faithful it was to whatever mandate was bestowed by a referendum which by then will be 8 years old (I don’t think there’s going to be a snap election now). That’s how voters tend to think. Consider the Poll Tax. There can be no disputing that the Thatcher government had a mandate to implement it, as it was a flagship manifesto pledge in 1987. This didn’t make the policy popular when actually implemented.

  • Russell Simpson 7th Apr '22 - 11:35am

    @Jeff
    The fact that most people may have voted Leave assuming that would mean leaving the SM/CU does not mean that everyone voting Leave did. In fact, to increase the numbers of Leave voters many Leave campaigners made this point. It’s undeniable that the UK could have left the EU but remained in the EEA. The fact that there was no mandate for Johnson’s deal means that it’s harder to heal the divisions after. Remainers feel a bit like UKIPers after their excellent but unrewarded 2015 general election. What a pity the voters weren’t allowed their say.

  • Peter Martin 7th Apr '22 - 11:45am

    Most of the Brexit problems could be substantially alleviated if we were members of the Customs Union only, at least for a period of 5 -10 years. That would have been a sensible compromise for both Leavers and Remainers. However, hard Leavers and hard Remainers united to reject the idea!

    Of course those who mistakenly thought they’d probably win in 2016 poo-pooed the idea of a second referendum, whereas those who mistakenly thought they’d lose were much more in favour. Just as those who thought they’d win said leaving meant leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, whereas those on the other side said it wouldn’t!

  • Chris Moore 5th Apr ’22 – 10:17am:
    Customs’ Union re-entry at some point?

    The only non-EU member is Monaco. Large independent countries set their own trade policy. The UK is the world’s fifth largest market. We do the majority of our trade outside the EU – as much trade as the entire EU with some countries. The UK is pro free trade; the EU is now more protectionist.

    EU trade deals are relatively shallow as they are negotiated down to the lowest common denominator amongst 27 members with some objecting to the free import of citrus fruit, wine, etc. The UK can now negotiate more ambitious deals such as our new ‘gold standard’ agreements with Australia and New Zealand and enhanced deals with Switzerland and Singapore. Soon with Canada and the CPTPP.

    Outsourcing our trade policy to the EU would be like Sainsbury’s outsourcing its purchasing and pricing policy to Tesco. EU trade negotiators go into bat for EU members. What would happen?

    1. When negotiating new trade deals the EU would ‘sell’ tariff free access to the UK market without the UK getting any equivalent reciprocal access. Whiskey? NHS contracts? We’d have no say.

    2. UK ‘asks’ would have a low-priority and would be surrendered first. Financial services? The EU has little interest in service exports as most EU countries don’t do much. By contrast, the UK is the world’s second largest exporter of services (two-thirds delivered digitally).

    UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA):
    https://www.mti.gov.sg/Improving-Trade/Digital-Economy-Agreements/UKSDEA

  • 3. Turkey is in a partial customs union with the EU similar to that suggested for the UK. It has to grant tariff free access to most non-agricultural goods and apply much EU legislation without having any say. It still requires customs declarations to distinguish between goods that are in scope and those that are not. Unlike the EU, Turkey doesn’t benefit from reciprocal access to third countries – the so-called ‘Turkey Trap’. Such countries have little incentive to negotiate trade deals with Turkey when they already have tariff free access via their EU agreement.

    Such an arrangement would require the UK to apply the EU’s Common External Tariff and customs legislation. That would severely limit our trading position and preclude independent trade agreements.

    4. Trade defences, such as anti-dumping measures, would be determined by the EU without the UK having any say. On leaving the EU we dropped 66 of the EU measures as they weren’t in the UK’s interest. Would the EU investigate and apply anti-dumping measures for goods only made in the UK?

    5. The UK strongly supports preferential trade agreements with developing countries and is their largest European market. Protectionist EU members dislike these schemes. Their degradation would diminish the UK’s influence on world trade, counter-terrorism, anti-corruption, human rights, labour law, the environment and more.

    ‘Five main reasons why an EU Customs Union would be the worst choice of all’ [March 2019]:
    https://www.greghands.com/news/five-main-reasons-why-eu-customs-union-would-be-worst-choice-all

  • Andrew Tampion 9th Apr '22 - 7:09am

    Martin.
    Claims about what Mr Farage or Mr Hannan said about leaving the single market are not as clear ciut as many Remainers seem to believe. I refer you to this clip from the Sunday Politics in which Andrew Neil shows that some Remainer claims were very misleading:

  • Regarding ” The UK can now negotiate more ambitious deals such as our new ‘gold standard’ agreements with Australia and New Zealand”

    The government’s own figures (and they would hardly downplay them) shows the the agreement is expected to cut prices of Australian products in British shops by little more than a pound a year per household, and will be expected to add less than one tenth of one percent to the size of the UK economy over 15 years.. This deal is also linked to major Australian deforestation, economic damage to our own farming industry, etc..

    If that is what counts as ‘gold standard’ in post Brexit Britain I’d hate to see what a bad deal looks like..

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