How groupthink polarized Brexit

LONDON — A new film about the U.K.’s 2016 EU referendum will air on Monday night. Watching the grueling, relentless campaign play out in Channel 4’s Brexit drama, as I did at a pre-screening in December, brings to life the reality of a political campaign. It also shows how bitter and divisive any second referendum could be. An out-of-control focus group scene captures perfectly the strength of feeling that existed then, let alone how it could be now.

As former deputy director of the Remain campaign, it also reminds me of the many things I wish we could have done differently: Successfully persuading more non-political national treasures to speak out; landing a relatable and tangible economic case against withdrawing from the EU; avoiding a popularity contest between Boris Johnson and David Cameron … I could go on.

But, as I relived the events of more than two years ago, one other question kept returning: Where are the women? As the only woman portrayed on the Remain side (and with just two featured for Leave), I found myself wondering what impact — if any — that had on our decisions, particularly as the majority of “undecided” voters we wanted to reach in 2016 were female.

With speculation growing around a possible second referendum, it’s worth reflecting on how well our campaigns — and those of our successors today — mirror the voting public they hope to persuade.

When we built the board of the Remain campaign, we were conscious that we wanted to be as reflective of society as possible.

One hundred years on from female suffrage, we often hear how far we’ve come.

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