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Led By Donkeys A battle of ideas

"The real job to do for us is making sure that the people who campaigned for and advocated for Brexit own its impact."

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Oliver Knowles works alongside his colleagues to run Led by Donkeys, an anti-Brexit campaign group working to hold politicians accountable by plastering their own words across billboards and artistic displays since January 2019.

Oliver spoke to us ahead of his visit to Sheffield for Festival of Debate in May, following the publication of new book Led by Donkeys: How Four Friends with a Ladder Took on Brexit.

What does Led by Donkeys do?

The whole project was born from frustration with Brexit. We really felt that the politicians were getting away with a huge amount, promising that all the problems we face in the UK will somehow be solved by us leaving the European Union. It's a kind of nostalgia that harks back to a time that never really existed.

So what we did with the project was to haul [politicians'] words back off the internet, back off their Twitter feeds, back off their performances in the House of Commons, and put them back into the public domain, where we give people - voters - an opportunity to reappraise those words against the reality of Brexit as they see it unfolding.

Our crowdfunder is the biggest political crowdfunder in UK history. We've raised over £1.2 million. That's people just giving five quid, ten quid, fifty quid to make more and more of this happen. There is an ongoing role for Led by Donkeys in the kinds of tricks that we pull off: billboards, the big artworks. We've cut stuff, ploughed fields, done big drawings, we've painted grass fields. We've done all sorts of different things.

You're visiting Sheffield soon as part of Festival of Debate. What will you be doing?

Last year, we published a book and the book has given us access to book festivals and ideas festivals and our publisher has been putting us in touch with different people. We've been invited to speak at Festival of Debate and so there will be a couple of us coming up to chat and do an interview with questions from the audience. We're excited about it. These festivals are a great place to share the idea that sits behind Led by Donkeys, which is the power of activism. It's the spirit of getting up off your backside and going and doing something.

We're going to spend some time through the first few months of 2020 talking to people about where they're at politically and how they see the political landscape now that Brexit has happened. Coming up to Sheffield and participating in Festival of Debate is part of that discussion, but we really want to take a read on people about what their attitude is for future projects and how we can use the Led by Donkeys platform to work on other political issues.

What can your supporters do to make a difference?

It's still an emotional time. People who didn't want to leave the European Union are still licking their wounds. Brexit won't be easy and the Tory party and the Brexit advocates will blame everybody else for things that go wrong.

The real job to do for us is making sure that the people who campaigned for and advocated for Brexit own its impact. Beyond that, there is a bigger task at hand, which is how we continue to build a United Kingdom that is progressive and welcoming. I don't think that we should leave the battlefield. There is a battle of ideas to win and that task is bigger than ever now - but we must win it.

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