As the first full week of campaigning for the European Elections draws to a close, what have we Conservative candidates been up to? Well, a surprising amount – given that we did not start until we were in what would normally be the GOTV (Get Out The Vote) stage of the election.
Working with our national party the five Conservative candidates in the East Midlands have produced a leaflet for our region with local content and local messaging. Clearly there will not be enough time to get copies to every household, but we are doing our best. Local Conservative Associations are pitching in by going out delivering copies in their patch. If you live in the East Midlands, keep an eye open for one popping through your letterbox. That is, of course, on top of the national freepost leaflet which is going out to all voters.
We have also been knocking on doors. Inevitably we knock on far fewer doors than we deliver leaflets. It is more time-consuming and there are always fewer volunteers for canvassing than there are for delivering. Nevertheless we have managed several sessions, with – it must be admitted – mixed results. In some areas we have been met with what could best be described as apathy – although one of my colleagues termed it ‘voter fatigue’. Elsewhere there was outright hostility and undoubtedly many voters are very angry indeed. I’ve had more doors slammed in my face this week than any other week when I’ve been out canvassing – and that includes the 1997 election. One gentleman did not even allow me to say “good afternoon”. He took one look at my blue rosette, told me where to go and shut the door.
More positively, once we can get engaged in conversation with a voter, they are proving to be receptive to our message. It is, after all, true that it was the Conservatives who delivered on the promise to hold a referendum on the EU back in 2016. Since then, my East Midlands colleague Emma McClarkin and I have worked tirelessly to achieve Brexit and to explain the British position to colleagues, diplomats and business leaders from across the continent. Only the British government can deliver Brexit, and it will need MEPs in Brussels willing to support that ambition. And a vote at this election will not change the situation in Westminster, where the delays have originated. And above all we must not give Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party a boost that will take them closer to Downing Street. We have a good story to tell and when we can find someone willing to listen, they seem persuaded.
We have also been doing a good deal of media interviews and interaction. Emma McClarkin has been leading us there, but I have swept up when she has been unavailable. Two interviews stand out. The first was with Channel Four News who wanted to interview me in a café in Leicester. They chose the patio, which was rather chilly and explains why I am wrapped up in an overcoat. To be fair, we did talk about the European Elections, Brexit and EU policy. However, they seemed most interested in a book that I wrote some ten years ago.
The second came when a reporter and photographer from the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel came to Northamptonshire. Having interviewed me in another café (inside this time), they announced that they wanted to come out on the doorstep with me. The first door revealed a Labour voter who was going Brexit Party, the second a Green voter, the third a Conservative who was going to abstain, the fourth a young man who had just stepped out of the shower and was annoyed to find a canvasser and the fifth a Conservative voter going Brexit. It was not until the eighth doorstep that I found a Conservative voter who was going to vote Conservative.
“I’m glad that I have got my job, and not yours,” laughed the German reporter as he scribbled away in his notebook.
Bizarrely we have only just started campaigning, and yet are heading towards the finishing post at great speed. There is not really enough time to get a clear picture of the electorate, their hopes, fears and attitudes. The omens are not good for we Conservatives – and the opinion polls are downright depressing; but the opera is not over until the fat lady sings.
Onwards to the final week of campaigning in these most peculiar elections…
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