GAVIN ESLER: We must reclaim the People's Vote campaign

PUBLISHED: 12:33 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:41 28 November 2019

A protester holds a placard of Boris Johnson with the words

A protester holds a placard of Boris Johnson with the words "Brex Orcist" outside Downing Street. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

2019 John Keeble

With the People's Vote campaign still mired in infighting and controversy, prominent supporter and broadcaster GAVIN ESLER writes an open letter to fellow campaigners.

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Steven Bray founder of SODEM (Stand of Defiance European Movement) holding placards during the protest outside the Houses of Parliament Picture: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images via ZUMA WireSteven Bray founder of SODEM (Stand of Defiance European Movement) holding placards during the protest outside the Houses of Parliament Picture: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Dear Campaigner,

I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done for our campaign, but I am writing to tell you it is in trouble. Google "People's Vote" and you will see what I mean.

We came together because we care about democracy and a final say, but the headlines recently have been about boardroom splits and coups and sackings. What used to be ours because it was 'grassroots' and 'bottom-up' is being taken away by 'corporate' and 'top-down'.

That's why I am writing this letter before it is too late. Just over a month ago, one million of us came to London to take part in one of the biggest marches in modern times. A week later - unforgivably in the week a general election was called - an email was sent that caused chaos and anxiety amongst People's Vote staff.

It was from Roland Rudd, brother of former cabinet minister Amber, and founder of financial public relations firm Finsbury.

It began by acknowledging "the campaign has made huge strides forward in the last year coming from a fringe issue to the largest political campaign in the country". But it then said the two people who had helped make the campaign a success were to be sacked "with immediate effect". A replacement CEO was appointed, who later stepped down following serious allegations by young female members of staff.

Rudd sent this email in his capacity as chairman of Open Britain Ltd, which legally manages all data, intellectual property and some finances relating to the People's Vote campaign. But five organisations actually generate the data and funds, backed up by hundreds of thousands of volunteers, including you.

As a result, more than 40 People's Vote staff walked out. As a grassroots campaigner I am sure you would have supported them in standing up for those young women appalled at the person summarily appointed as their new boss, and for the sacked pair who made our cause stronger and gave us a realistic chance of defeating Johnson and Farage and avoiding a devastating Brexit.

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The media reported it as a "boardroom coup" and a statement given to the Observer by a source close to Rudd echoed this: "Roland owns all the data, has paid all the staff and his decision will not be reversed."

But the People's Vote campaign is not like the Brexit Party - a limited company at the whim of one individual. A democratic movement is not owned by one individual. It is owned - it must be owned - by the people.

Rudd has since stepped down as chairman of Open Britain, but according to some commentators, he appears to have tightened his grip on the campaign.

In August this year he founded a company called Baybridge 2019 Ltd. As the only member of Open Britain Ltd, it presumably pulls the strings from behind the scenes, deciding who stays and who goes on the board.

In the last couple of weeks, Baybridge 2019 Ltd changed its name to PV Campaign Ltd. Who actually now controls PV Campaigns is unclear.

Our campaign is now losing relevance. People are not talking about us as they used to.

The in-fighting means we are no longer considered a threat by those who are dragging us out of the EU, despite the majority of British people who want to stay.

Yet it's not too late. The People's Vote campaign can become the people's
voice once more. There is a solution,
and the solution is you. It's time for a change.

It's time politely to tell Roland Rudd what he needs to do. It's time for him to go.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Esler

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The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

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