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York for Europe

Celebrating the European city of York

York for Europe campaigns ~ theory and practice.

st williams college and the minster
prepared for the ELPTW Leeds conference, 6th, 7th June 2024

York for Europe campaigns ~ theory and practice. prepared for the ELPTW Leeds conference, 6th, 7th June 2024

York for Europe mainly covers two constituencies. York Central is indeed firmly remain; York Outer was predominately Brexit.

But because York City attracts so many visitors, campaigning in the centre of town is invariably a mixed challenge. Some passers by are local; some national and international; some day trippers from neighbouring towns are less sympathetic to Remainers.

Campaigning style and purpose is something our group has given much thought to in recent years.

In the days since the Referendum reasons for campaigning have become more subtle. Here are a few of our reasons:

  • 1) To offset referendum triumphalism and anti-foreigner feelings.
  • 2) There are a lot of European nationals living in York – a public declaration of friendship.
  • 3) To publicise and keep alive the strong present and historic cultural and artistic links with Europe.
  • 4) To advertise York for Europe & the European Movement as a rallying point for like-minded individuals. Thereby attracting members for both organisations.
  • 5) To offer arguments for re-joining the EU.

By and large we manage to stay very non-party political.

York for Europe uses its website, https://www.yorkeuropean.uk, as its rallying-post, and to mix metaphors, its village pump. We display Brexit news, upcoming events and past glories. We average well over 40 hits per day, and frequently over 100. Happily we receive a good proportion from Europe, quite a number from the USA, and curiously always several from China. At least the world knows there are some good Europeans in the UK!

The rolling news service supplied by #BrexitCarnage is astounding.

So, how should we campaign in the streets? We want some people to change their minds!

And we know from experience that some Brexiters have obdurate views. How best to change them? We know from a perusal of social psychology that to change a belief, an individual may have to pass through a painful period of cognitive dissonance. They may be people with fragile egos, or who may not be too sure of themselves, making this process harder. They may find it very difficult to say they have been wrong, or admit they were lied to. It could be that some Brexiters fall into this category.

It is with this in mind that when ‘on the streets’ we never engage in arguments or long ‘debates’. This folly of Brexit is nowadays becoming evident. Our role now should be perhaps welcoming rather than challenging. We try to make it easy for one-time Brexiters to tuck in behind a happy throng.

Which to a large extent is why we have in recent times do what we do. Here are some examples:


Our rejoin stall on 23rd March 2024 at the fashionable Bishopthorpe Road had the inevitable Brexitometer, https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/23-3-24/23-3-24.html

It also had various leaflets provided by the EM such as Rejoin Erasmus and Face The Music; our stall-holders were garrulous and engaging. One Remainer travelled all the way from Lincolnshire “to be among friends”. We had no abuse, few dissenters, and many well-wishers – and some donations.


We have two active Twin Towns associated with York, Dijon and Münster. Our friends from the Dijon art organisation Ombradipeter, photographer Monique Serna and art director Vincenzo Cirillo, contacted us via our website and asked if we could arrange for them to come to York and take some creative, non-touristy, photographs. We arranged twelve venues with members of local York organisations, and they duly arrived. The Dijon art organisation paid for their travel; York for Europe put them up and fed them. This spring they invited four of us to Dijon to take part in the opening of Exposition “York vue par les cœurs” (York seen from our hearts) – the resulting exhibition is in Dijon and will go on to Paris.


lights see https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/vincmon/vincmon.html

We made the Dijon twinning committee aware of our invitation and worked with their full support. York for Europe are now planning where we mount the photos from their photoshoot from the various York venues, and we might even arrange a return match and go to Dijon for a similar creative photo spree.


https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/festimg.html We arranged space in a pop-up bar in York centre where live local bands and some Ukrainian singers performed. A video of these together with contributions from Dijon and Münster were placed into a YouTube video.


In 2022 we had a similar spectacular – a large mobile screen on the back of a lorry stood in St Helen’s square, in the middle of York and showed films of music from the twin towns along with live performances from local musicians.



The York Trail: York, as residents will never stop reminding you, is a historic city. Everybody knows about the Vikings and the Romans but there is lots of middle history – much of it originating from Europe that has given York its character. The trail points up the past and present presence of over twenty European countries in York. https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/trail-info.html


We addressed the matter of the names of Twinning Cities on York entry roadsigns. Surprisingly until relatively recently the roadsigns on all main roads coming into York made no mention of our twin towns. Now they do. York for Europe, along with Cllr Christian Vassie, worked with the council, submitted designs and raised over £2,000 in donations to finance this. Now when you come to York, take a look. https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/signspix.html


Poos in the Ouse. This single line of internally rhyming poetry summed up York’s manifestation of water industry deregulation. York for Europe supporters stood opposite York Station one Saturday morning and engaged with passers-by. We attracted attention as we were dressed up with fishing rods fishing plastic poos…. https://www.yorkeuropean.uk/poosouse.html


During the run-up to the election - from January this year - we have run a letter writing campaign to Councillors and Local MPs and prospective candidates have taken place over recent months – prompting supporters to write on an identified topic each month, for example: Erasmus, the European Movement report on small businesses, and the plight of musicians. Sample text has been supplied by e mail.



York Pride, held near the Racecourse, of June 1st 2024 was, as ever a most colourful event, and the sun shone. And the York for Europe stall was no exception. We had a continuous stream of visitors - lots of friendship, encouragement; joy that we still existed – more strongly than we have witnessed before: - real anger with political parties, their disinterest in Europe and the loss of freedoms caused by Brexit.

We also had a steady trickle of foreign nationals checking in; the young woman on the stall next to us had benefitted from the Erasmus scheme. Remember that freedom? Yes, we gave out scores of leaflets reminding us of Erasmus and the spiteful way it was dumped.

Our Brexitometer was also very popular - we ran out of coloured stickers and room on the board. We had only one visitor who said he voted Brexit; he then added that he now regretted doing so. No angry exchanges; no pointed fingers explaining "what you don't understand is..." It seems nearly everybody does now understand.


And just a few days ago York for Europe under the York University’s Festival of Ideas hosted a talk by an academic on the Eurovision 2023, focussing on how Liverpool and Ukraine worked together to make it an international success.


Generally, the above campaigns were cheap to mount and required relatively few supporters to prepare and present them. The music and photography events needed some fundraising. As well as fitting well with York’s ethos, they are well suited to a small group. We’ve done other stuff, and most of it is recorded on our website.

We still struggle to attract active members, but still try to shout out for Europe above our weight. We send to about 1,000 e mail addresses regularly. This prompts a few to appear at our events.

These are some of the things we keep in mind as we prepare for our next event:

  • 1) Volunteers – which we all are – are more likely to join in if they are doing something enjoyable.
  • 2) Our events attract a lot of visitors, saying in effect, thank goodness you are still going, we thought the European cause was lost.
  • 3) And rather than engage in pointless arguments with ego-vulnerable Brexiters, we think it is preferable to at least have them looking over their shoulders wistfully at happy engaged Europeans enjoying fellowship and purpose.

Don Lodge, Chair, York for Europe June 2024