It was after I spoke at the Brexit Party’s Durham rally that a burly gentleman came up to me and thrust a plastic card into my hand. “Do what you want with that. You can cut it up if you wish, but I’ll be having no need for it anymore. I’m finished with them.”
I looked down at what he had given me and recognised immediately it was a Conservative Party membership card. He then volunteered that he was now voting for the Brexit Party and had signed up online, paying his £25 as a supporter. I hung on to the card so I could take a photo and let people see this is no invented anecdote.
Since our European Parliament election campaign started in the North East with a street stall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I have found similar expressions of disgust, anger and the rejection of Britain’s two dominant parties to be a common occurrence. I have met no one willing to admit to being a Conservative. Not one person, and I have been in leafy prosperous suburbs as well as red brick terraced streets.
Nobody has sought to defend the Prime Minister as “resilient” or having the bad luck of being dealt a poor hand. No, the Prime Minister is viewed as someone who repeatedly breaks her promises – on every significant aspect of Brexit – and she is not being let off with any sympathy. There is a perfectly obvious reason for this – time and again I meet people who tell me they simply want out of the EU. Out. Period.
People of all ages pass our Brexit Party street stall and wink at me or give the thumbs-up to signal they are supporting the new party, but when they stop to speak they are straight to the point: they voted to Leave, they weren’t asked for a deal. They want us to leave now, deal or no deal.
And then there are the Remain voters who tell us they are voting Brexit Party because they want the vote respected. There are plenty of people who think like that turning up at every stall I have done – including some EU nationals who think Britain’s democracy is a beacon of hope to the world and should not be so easily cast aside.
One weakness that I admit to having feared has been put right for me; I thought the fact the Brexit Party is so new it has not had time to help organise postal votes for supporters would put us at a disadvantage – but I am being proved wrong. Time and again an elector will come up to our team and say “You’ve got our vote, we’ve voted already” or “I’ve posted my vote and you’ve got it”. The irony of all those people who have no doubt been encouraged to have a postal ballot by the Labour Party in the past now using the peace and quiet of their own home to give up on a party they have probably voted for all of their lives.
For, make no mistake, in the North East it is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party that is haemorrhaging votes like a beast at the slaughterhouse. Former Labour voters feel the party that once represented the working class and was necessary to protect their interests has taken them for granted too often and has now abandoned them. I know this because I am told it with the rapidity of a pneumatic drill wherever I ago. Labour, the party of these voters’ parents and grandparents, is now just an artefact of the past like so many of the chimneys that no longer ventilate a coal fire.
To be honest, it’s not just Labour’s unwillingness to deliver a real Brexit that has done it for Labour, it is Jeremy Corbyn too. I have campaigned in elections and referendums since 1979 but never before have I heard Labour supporters so critical of the party’s leader. In particular I have recognised how the North East is very proud of those who serve or have served in our forces; and to those who have, Corbyn is reviled.
Nor have I ever manned a stall, like I have in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar or South Shields, where so many people have come up asking for a window poster or a leaflet. We have had people offering to buy our publicity and a lovely lady opening her purse offering to donate (I had to politely decline as we have no facility for handling cash).
In short, and despite being on the winning side of many a political campaign, I have never experienced an election where I have been welcomed with such warmth and good wishes.
We keep hearing two things over and over again: firstly, that the result of the referendum must be respected by leaving the EU now; and secondly, the real hurt and anger felt by Leave voters who have been told so often that they were duped, ignorant and too stupid to know what they were doing. The condescending arrogance of Remainer politicians really has upset people and only made them more committed than ever before.
There is now less than a week left until the election and I have many more stalls to do, but if my social antennae and political judgement are at all sound, in the North East the Conservatives face oblivion and Labour is set to receive the most almighty hammering, the like of which will last longer than for just Brexit.
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