Lessons From Vote Leave: Underestimate The Common Man At Your Peril

In the four years I've worked in London, I never once ventured any further than Heathrow Airport, that is, until I was brought on to work for Vote Leave campaign - the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.
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In the four years I've worked in London, I never once ventured any further than Heathrow Airport, that is, until I was brought on to work for Vote Leave campaign - the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

I spent four months travelling the UK with Boris Johnson, the former London Mayor, Michael Gove, and other high profile politicians to places that reminded me of my own hometown of Orange, Texas. Places like Grimsby and Stoke, all special in their own way but bear no resemblance to the glitzy metropolis of London.

I debated even working on the campaign, primarily because I thought, well, we would lose - that's what friends, former colleagues, and of course the so called experts said. Needless to say, I did it anyway. I did it because I thought it would be a good, noble fight and perhaps shed light on an array of problems that face the EU.

Within the Vote Leave office, I was very much the American outsider within a world of insiders, many of whom had worked together previously.

The first thing that hit me on the campaign trail around the country, was just how enthusiastic people were when they spotted the Vote Leave Battle Bus or caught a glimpse of Boris Johnson walking down a high street.

People would stop in the middle of the street, traffic backing up for blocks; shop owners invited us in, and activist marching behind us chatting "Let's Take Back Control". It was, in many ways, very un-British, where the average politician walks through Westminster completely unrecognised.

The British people, outside London, craved hope, and for their voices to be heard. For the first time in 30 years the common man had an opportunity to defy the intellects, experts, celebrities, foreign leaders and millennials - who have grown up only to know a one Europe.

It was simple question, to remain or leave. The leave campaign responded with simple answers and campaigned hard all across the UK with a strategy based around the two leaders. The remain side had nothing but fear and rarely got out amongst the common man to campaign. The more economic analysis that was thrown at them by the remain camp, the more they switched off.

There was pride in the hard-fought campaign, but right up until the votes were being counted, there was an expectation of defeat. But, we won.

Reflecting back now, it makes perfect sense. We had a charismatic, if ultimately flawed, leader in Boris who could so easily simplify the complex issues associated with the referendum.

There is a difference in what the US is about to understate with our forthcoming election and what the UK just did: Hypothetical vs Reality. The referendum had no new policies to announce; only a chance to regain sovereignty back from 27 other nations that dictate law and regulations over the citizens of a once mighty empire.

There are also frightening similarities, which is why I am writing this. What I have learned as part of the Leave campaign is that we face the very real prospect of the same thing happening in the US in that we underestimate our electorate, as the Remain campaign did.

I know the sentiment is felt in the US, with people feeling disenfranchised and tired of the same old rhetoric from our leaders. I am and I grew up in the same demographic of people that do not feel as if they have a voice.

In the US, the reality is we are voting for a single person, not a simple answer to a complex issue. My fear is the same electorate in the US is more passionate about standing up to the political elites rather than focusing on the reality of Trump's rhetoric.

What I have just witnessed in the UK is the equivalent of Texas voting to leave the United States - an unprecedented proposal to begin with, and even more unimaginable outcome.

For the United Kingdom has had their Independence Day and will now begin the daunting task of unwinding itself from an undemocratic bureaucracy that have been imposed on the hardworking common man for decades.

If a dramatic rethink of how our political elites in DC integrate with our deeply frustrated electorate, it is increasingly likely we will face the prospect of a Trump presidency. We must be careful what we wish for.

Mark Hamilton is a Senior Director at Sabi Strategy Group, an international campaign strategy consultancy based in London and Johannesburg. He formerly worked for Defense Secretary Robert Gates under the Bush and Obama Administrations.

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