Social volatility and the shrinking time horizons of political life: the case of the Remain campaign’s war book

There’s an interesting account in Tim Shipman’s Brexit book of how the Remain campaign constructed their war book. This contained the core message of the campaign, anticipated their opponent’s strategies and distilled the findings of their research. It was written over a number of months by the two lead strategists, condensing the outcomes of activity undertaken over a few months prior to this. It then guided their activity over many more months.

What struck me about this was the time horizons involved: around six months of work guiding around six months of action, if I’m remembering the dates correctly. Given the volatility of social life during this time, itself amplified by both campaigns, can it be assumed that enough will remain stable for the assumed time horizon of the war book to be viable? If strategy is a direction finder, helping us respond to changing conditions by selecting which direction to go in and which techniques to adopt to get there, working with an ossified strategy can be fatally undermining.

Could this be part of what went wrong for the Remain campaign? Does the increasing volatility of contemporary politics necessitate more agile forms of political strategy? Do these conditions make the intuition driven campaigning of someone like Donald Trump much more viable than it would otherwise be? Intuition is a powerful response to unpredictable circumstances, ensuring you always have a response to fall back on even if events entirely repudiate whatever expectations you’d formed.

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