Greenpeace and the Brexit bus

By Leon Bailey-Green

Drew and I will be joined by campaign directors for a discussion on how charities can avoid ‘preaching to the converted’ at our next breakfast event.

Why did Greenpeace risk damaging its reputation, with half of the public, by taking a dig at the Vote Leave campaign? After the referendum result the charity rebranded the famous battle bus, taking aim at £350m figure used by the Leave campaign, calling it a ‘lie’, and urging the government to #comeclean.

Not only does this demonstrate the charity taking sides, thus feeding into my conspiracy that the third-sector is ‘hideously left-wing’, but it risks alienating those of us who voted Leave.

Now, Greenpeace and I disagree on many areas. Fracking for one, and two, I’m a climate change undecided, but I do commend the charity’s work on clean air and microbeads. Drew and I discussed the microbead ban here, and I feel we are complacent when it comes to cleaning up our air and the effect it is having on our health.

I accept that not every Greenpeace campaign will appeal to me, but rebranding the battle bus and accusing the Leave campaign as lying – and thus 17.4m voters stupid for falling for it – was a step too far. I can imagine the team at Greenpeace claiming they were attacking the campaign, and not the voters, but I’d beg to differ.

The publicity stunt is now the first thing which comes to mind when I think of Greenpeace.

When we talk of echo chambers in campaigning this example is worthy of a prize.

Presumably in the interest of fairness, they did say in a statement “The EU referendum campaign was full of exaggerations and lies on both sides”. It’s a shame they only saw fit to attack one side to get into the headlines.

A response by Drew Lindon

I love that your conspiracy (as you generously put it) was that the third sector isn’t just left-wing, but hideously so! We’ll have to tease out the difference between being a mere lefty and being hideously left-wing one of these days…

Yup, Greenpeace sure had your number. This stunt was super provocative. To be honest, that’s standard operating practice for Greenpeace – they are very adept and fearless about creating noise on their issues, which there is a place for in our public debate.

I hate to say it… but as much as I thought the original NHS claim by the Brexit campaigners was utter trash and the bus a horrible symbol of the degradation of our political discourse… you’re right. This publicity stunt is going to alienate a large proportion of the population, perhaps even just barely a majority… While I am assured that this would be memorable and encouraging to many Greenpeace supporters and people for whom the Brexit bus was a symbol of false promises, it really is not going to work for people outside of those groups.

I don’t think this is intended as a dig at people who voted for Brexit, as that would be transparently self-defeating and poorly targeted, given that the government is going to be the key target for influencing change. Whatever your impressions of this campaign of Greenpeace, they’ve been doing this a while and know their business!

The fact that Greenpeace have sourced quotes from leave voters shows to me that the intent is to demonstrate broader support for the issues that Brexit might pose for the environment. But particularly as this campaign took place immediately after such a rancorous referendum, I think the benefits of being topical as a campaign are likely to be outweighed by the fact that the Brexit bus became such a symbol of division. The problem is that you and I (and probably others as well) begin to focus on the campaign approach and image rather than the issues themselves. One of the potential pitfalls of picking such an iconic symbol to front your campaign!

That said, I’m willing to be corrected. Greenpeace (that’s right, all of you) would be very welcome at our December event or future gatherings, so I’ll look forward to speaking with member of their team about this campaign.

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