Anonymous staffer: The inside story of the People’s Vote campaign crisis

A People's Vote worker gives an inside perspective on a tumultuous week for the organisation.

I am a staff member who works for the People’s Vote campaign. Like many of us, I am in my 20’s. This is my first job in politics.

I got involved in this campaign, because I genuinely believe it is the only democratic solution to the Brexit crisis. I – and 40 other colleagues – just want to get back to work.

I have never written an anonymous article before, and don’t ever intend to do so again. The only reason I am now, is for fear of legal action from Roland Rudd.

You may have read lots of things about the People’s Vote campaign over the last couple of days. It almost certainly appears confusing and convoluted, and I imagine infuriating.

But this is the actual story of how Roland Rudd – the outgoing Chair of Open Britain – and Patrick Heneghan (the apparent new acting Chief Executive of the People’s Vote campaign) have put a wrecking ball through an incredibly successful campaign. They’ve done this right at the start of a pivotal General Election campaign.

It’s also the story of how 40 staff have been in constant fear for their jobs, felt intimidated by security staff, threatened by legal action and how a multi-millionaire’s actions mean I might not be able to pay my rent at the end of the month. 

A week ago, things were going well. We had spent the summer making the case for a People’s Vote across the UK, as part of our ‘Let Us Be Heard’ events, culminating in a million people on the streets of London on October 19th. We were ready for a General Election, and tantalisingly close to a majority in Parliament.

Then, on Sunday 27th October, at around 10pm, all PV staff received the same email from Roland Rudd. It said that James McGrory and Tom Baldwin (our Director and Director of Communications, respectively), had been fired, with immediate effect. Patrick Heneghan would be the ‘acting Chief Executive of the People’s Vote campaign’. No reason was given, except citing ‘internal issues’ within the campaign. No groups were consulted, no one saw this coming.

We were to report to our office at 9am on Monday morning to listen to Rudd and Heneghan explain what had happened.

The whatsapp groups lit up. None of us slept much, wondering if we had jobs to go to in the morning. We got to the office early, ready to ask questions. This is where it all gets silly.

15 minutes before the meeting started, we get an email from Roland, putting off the meeting till tomorrow. We then turned on the TV to find out that he had decided to make an appearance on Sky News, rather than face a hurt and upset staff team. This would be a running theme.

It then transpires that both Roland and Patrick are in the building, but downstairs, refusing to meet staff. Patrick is sent up to explain that Roland isn’t coming. We leave. 

Tuesday comes round, and another day of uncertainty. We finally get a meeting with Roland and Patrick, but they move the venue at the last minute and put security guards on the door.

We ask the questions you would expect – why have you fired two senior staff, without giving a reason? Why now at a crucial time? Who did you consult? What does this mean for us? It’s safe to say the answers are not forthcoming. 

We hold a vote of No Confidence in both Roland and Patrick. The votes are 40-3, the 3 including Patrick himself. We walkout at the disgraceful treatment of all of our staff. 

Later on Tuesday, we all receive a threat: turn up to work tomorrow for Patrick Heneghan and Roland Rudd tomorrow, or be dismissed. At time of writing on Wednesday, we’re still waiting for their response, as we did not do so.

There currently is no People’s Vote campaign. All of our work – including our massive General Election plan, has ground to a halt. An incredibly effective campaign has simply stopped at a time of national crisis.

We did not pick this fight, it was forced upon us. All of the staff have a simple wish – for all of us to collectively get back to work, so we can deliver a People’s Vote parliament that this country needs. 

We hope Roland Rudd and Patrick Heneghan will listen. 

Editor: Roland Rudd has been contacted for a response.

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15 Responses to “Anonymous staffer: The inside story of the People’s Vote campaign crisis”

  1. Terry

    Looks tantalizingly like fake news

  2. Frances

    It’s insanity that this is happening now. We are weeks away from a crucial vote, between Johnson’s Brexit and the alternative. This ego playing and showboating is risking all of that… why can’t all the staff and Patrick, James, Tom, Roland all come together to fight for the common goal? If Corbyn can team up with Jo Swinson or the SNP then you can put your differences aside. Compromise, let everyone play a role, and let’s stop Boris.

  3. Gary

    Must be anonymous’ first job of ANY kind. If you want to strike then procedures have to be followed, sounds like they weren’t. From that I deduce he won’t have a job anymore.

    That assumes, of course, that the writer is who he claims to be and is sincere.

    The writer ALSO makes several assumptions. He assumes we will gloss over the fact that we don’t know the reasons for the sackings and assume that they were unjustified. He assumes that this is newsworthy over and above the everyday problems faced by ordinary employees elsewhere too.

    I find the story both difficult to believe as a sincere account and also find myself astounded by the lack of detail, like some click bait article.

    Maybe The People’s Vote ARE done for but I doubt many will notice, regardless of how they feel about Brexit…

  4. Julian Wells

    I sympathise with the staff, whose goodwill and enthusiasm have been abused.

    But this sort of management behaviour no more than one would expect in what is in reality a millionaire-funded astroturfing exercise—and it *is* astroturfing, despite the undoubted massive support for the cause in question.

    If you think it isn’t, ask yourself the following questions.

    How do I join?
    Where are the local meetings?
    How can I influence policy?
    How is the leadership accountable to supporters?

    The answer to the last question is of course now obvious: they are accountable to absolutely no one and nothing apart from their own bank accounts.

    One recalls Tony Benn’s five questions (https://www.thenation.com/article/tony-benn-and-five-essential-questions-democracy/):

    “What power have you got?”
    “Where did you get it from?”
    “In whose interests do you use it?”
    “To whom are you accountable?”
    “How do we get rid of you?”

  5. Mike Edwards

    The entire campaign was based on a falsehood, seeking to overturn a perfectly clear referendum result in 2016. Best to pack your bags and get an honest job.

  6. Chester Draws

    But this sort of management behaviour no more than one would expect in what is in reality a millionaire-funded astroturfing exercise—and it *is* astroturfing, despite the undoubted massive support for the cause in question.

    No, no, no. It’s not astro-turfing if the Left do it. Only if the RIght do it. Then we hear endless complaints about “millionaire funded” organisations.

    When does the Left point out, for example, that millionaires fund Extinction Rebellion, Greta’s travels, Sierra Club etc?

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  8. Cole

    Well Chester – what we do know is that the majority of the money for the Brexit campaign came from just FIVE zillionaires.

    Of course Brexit is an elite con designed to help the already wealthy. That’s why its fronted by hard right politicians, may of them apparently Old Etonians.

  9. Teresa Wilson

    Julian,
    You join by finding your local PV group online and contacting them. They’ll tell you when and where the next meeting is. It will probably be in the backroom of a pub somewhere. Whoever the group leaders are will be signed up for regular conference calls along with their counterparts in other similar groups. They will probably also attend meetings for grassroots campaigners at intervals. I know, I belong to one.

  10. Julia (Cicely)

    I posted a comment yesterday as a PV volunteer about not having had any explanation about the events at main office. I wish to retract that comment as I received an email from Patrick Heneghan. The content of it doesn’t satisfy at all especially the part about the sections of Best for Britain’s tactical voting website that advocates LIb Dems in some marginal labour seats.

  11. Ageing Leftie

    Isn’t there a more simple explanation to all this?
    Roland Rudd (brother of Amber) is a Tory. At the beginning of the campaign, it was very broad-based and had (still has) supporters of all political Parties.
    But we now face an election between those same Parties. Hard decisions about personal loyalties are being made.
    The Lib Dems, formerly the standard bearers for the Peoples Vote, for reasons best known to Jo Swinson, have downgraded the PV policy in favour of revoking Article 50 as if they expect to be in government to do it.
    The Labour Party is now very openly standing for election on the promise of holding a Peoples Vote within 6 months of a (perfectly possible)Labour victory. The whole political balance of power within the campaign has changed. Tories are downright uncomfortable to be in a movement that should really be pushing a Labour vote if they were honest. Lib Dems are uncomfortable as they remember their own enthusiasm for a second Referendum and now they are being blindsided by their own leadership’s switch.
    As the campaign is , understandably, run on an emergency, ad hoc, basis, it suffers drastically when leading lights from the Tory and Lib Dem Parties try to pull out or stymie further activity. To many staff , it must look like blatant sabotage, an attempt to silence the movement, because, in reality, they have been rubbishing the Labour Party for years and now can’t cope with the fact that it is that very Labour Party which is the PV campaigns best hope!
    I do not speak from the sidelines. I have attended several of the huge London mobilisations and have come away energised and hopeful for the future. And I have single-handedly leafletted hundreds of doors in my small south-eastern town.
    But all of us now have to choose. There is only one Party(Labour) which is totally committed to a Peoples Vote AND is in a good position to win the election. Unless we live in a constituency in which the Lib Dems might have a better chance than Labour (are there some in the West Country like that?) we should vote Labour. And do so without trying to refuse by hiding behind the Corbyn is a secret “Marxist, Brexiter, anti-semite ” etc (Add your own Tory smear if I have missed one out).

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