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Led By Donkeys Festival of Debate Presents Led By Donkeys: The four men behind the billboards

British political campaign group Led By Donkeys will join Festival of Debate April 25. Amy Mullen-Brown looks into their history and goals. 

A Led by Donkeys billboard quoting Boris Johnson saying leaving the EU will cause uncertainty
Paul Harrop

Created in December 2018 as an anti-Brexit group, Led By Donkeys continue to criticise the actions of Boris Johnson's government. The four founders have been calling out the "thermonuclear hypocrisy" that we see from our government. They started with billboards featuring past tweets by pro-Brexit politicians, or quotes that contradict their actions.

The four young dads got together to create their first huge campaign in a London pub, The Bird Cage. It was initially run as a guerrilla operation, in which Led By Donkeys posters were plastered over existing adverts with a ladder from B&Q and a bucket of wallpaper paste. Ben, one of the group members is quoted as saying: “Nobody at Greenpeace knew we were doing this. Ollie and I worked there but we would do the campaigns at night and go to work the next day, no one knew it was us.”

A crowdfunded campaign dramatically expanded their reach; they purchased advertising space on hundreds of billboards across the UK soon after.

Ben said, in the same interview, “One of our objectives from the start was to hold the Brexiters to account. It was a Brexiters accountability project that felt like the media wasn’t doing a good enough job at holding these people accountable.”

The name Led By Donkeys came from James, one of the group members. They were buzzing around on a WhatsApp group pondering on what to call themselves when ‘lions led by donkeys’ was suggested. They found this to be a bit long and they felt the phrase ‘led by donkeys’ seemed to sum up the Brexit situation really well at that point, so they went with that.

Later, the group made even bigger statements, including projecting messages on iconic places such as the Houses of Parliament and the White Cliffs of Dover, carving giant messages on beaches and fields, and directing crowds to showcase huge flags at pro-European Union marches. These acts have been shared and viewed by millions on social media platforms over the years and have made lasting statements.

They also helped to create the National Covid Memorial Wall and worked alongside Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. They first approached the group to help deliver a projection on Parliament and after that wanted to develop and install a memorial wall in a central place where people could go and record their loss.

In an interview, LBD said: “There is no grand plan or system that steers us, but we’re all very motivated to elevate the voices of those who are not being heard in important discussions. We hear a lot from our political leaders who often have no experience of the problems they are trying to solve and make judgements based on ideological considerations. Personal testimony, told in honest and heart-felt language delivered at the right time and place can be a powerful way to cut through the political hyperbole.”

Led By Donkeys started off with no plan other than to post a few billboards highlighting the Brexit chaos and hypocrisy from our leaders. They now have huge platforms with 132k Instagram followers and thousands of views on their YouTube channel where they make parody videos, mocking those in power.

As one comment in support of this latest YouTube video reads: “Not just technically brilliant, but so very well written. Moving words, this is another masterpiece, not of parody, but of investigative journalism. Thank you LBD.”

Learn more

See Led By Donkeys at the Festival of Debate on April 25 in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the Sheffield University Students' Union. Join the team for an in-person discussion hosted by the redoubtable Sara Hill, where you can see examples of their work and hear more stories including what inspired them and where to go next.

This event will be BSL Interpreted. Book your tickets here.

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