The Leaver – Emily Knight

Emily KnightEmily Knight is Vote Leave‘s Volunteer Co-ordinator for Newham, the London Borough where she has lived for eight years. She is also an executive officer of West Ham Conservative Association and runs the Westminster office of Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed and Vote Leave board member.

As we near the business end of the campaign there has been an enormous rise in the number of people signing up to volunteer. As I write this, there are 709 people who have gone to the trouble of pledging their support or ability to help with campaigning in Newham. That is an increase of nearly 200 in one week in just one borough. I am told this is being repeated across London and the entire country.

The system allows me to isolate sign-ups by date and location, and when I display the data of the last week’s sign-ups in map form, I see they are largely from the areas we had canvassed and delivered the week before. It is a click-bait style instant gratification for those of us who are busy pounding pavements under the radar. Just one weekend’s worth of campaigning has led to over 100 people taking the time to go online and register to help out. On Monday evening I dropped off 2,000 leaflets to a home in Custom House, and instantly recognised the man who answered the door as someone I had canvassed a few weeks prior.

The vast majority of our supporters have never been involved in party-political campaigning before. They are all so keen and enthused to get involved, and have no preconceptions or existing preferences. It is easy to teach them about canvassing and they tend to pick it up straight away. Henry signed up this week, and has already been out in both Manor Park and Silvertown. For the first time last night he got ‘stuck on the doorstep’ with a man who has already decided to vote remain. Henry seemed to be very much enjoying the good-natured debate they were having about future trade deals, but after 15 minutes I am dispatched to ‘rescue’ him.

Out knocking on doors in Britannia Village, we discover a real crystallisation of views since we last canvassed here about ten days ago. So many have now settled for leave, there are hardly any undecideds. We looked at each other with amazement as we flick through the returns we have so far. About 80 per cent for leave after an hour.

It is a warm evening so people are outside making the most of it. Tanya (name changed to protect voter’s anonymity) is weeding her front lawn, and has already used her postal vote for leave, as she works in electoral services in another borough so will be away on the 23rd. I ask about her son who also lives with her. “He’s pretty lazy, but I am going to drive him to the polling station myself, this is too important for him to stay in bed.”

Our team encountered yet another doorstep trend of the campaign that I haven’t seen mentioned in the press, but I have heard reports of throughout the country: shy leavers. Not a canvass session goes by when I do not encounter someone who claims to be undecided, then asks which way I am campaigning before ‘fessing up’ that they too are voting leave. This seems to be more prevalent among ethnic minority residents in my experience. Every new member of our canvassing teams gets excited by shy leavers “they said they didn’t know but when I told them I was for leave, they whispered and said they were too!”

Perhaps people have been swayed by the Remain camp’s dismissal of leave supporters as less-educated, less progressive and less outward-looking so they feel the need to hide their real intentions. We are all guilty of making assumptions about how people will vote based on how they look, where they live and what they do. I made such an assumption myself last night when a lady with wild hair, flowing shirt and zany glasses opened the door of a large townhouse. She looked like Emma Thompson’s Professor Trelawney in the Harry Potter films. She is a lawyer. I instantly presume she’ll be voting remain and begin the process of wishing her a pleasant evening before stopping to hear what she is saying. “…..and not just me, every lawyer I know is voting to leave.” “Really?” I ask. “Oh yes, especially the immigration lawyers whose clients are discriminated against by the levels of EU immigration.” Time and again, the myths that intelligent, well-educated professionals vote remain, is being confounded, and I am learning to stop judging people on the Remain camp’s out-dated view of what people think and who they will support.

The benefit Vote Leave has, is that while the air war is raging, we have huge numbers of people who have spent months and months silently, knocking on millions of doors in an incredible, organised, and extensive ground operation. It will really come into its own on polling day as I prepare to plan the biggest GOTV operation I have ever witnessed in Newham.

The Remainer – Andrew Marshall

Andrew MarshallAndrew Marshall has been a Conservative councillor in Camden since 1990, and served as Deputy Leader of the Council and group leader 2006-2010. He is London regional organiser of the Conservative Group for Europe and Deputy CEO of international communications consultancy Cognito.

I genuinely have no idea what the phrase “squeaky bum time” means, but I gather it’s here.  On Friday several of us had a fantastic leafleting session at Swiss Cottage tube station, handing out over 30 posters, and then I immediately saw the outlandish ORB poll.  In Swiss Cottage it didn’t feel like Leave was at 12 per cent, never mind the 12 per cent lead in London that that poll suggested.  Anyway, we all know it’s close.

We had around 100 people at the debate at St James, West Hampstead (now an excellent post office – the Sherriff Centre – as well as a wonderful church).  My young colleague from Stronger In, Hannah Phillips, and I were up against a local Conservative activist, Calvin Robinson, and John Mills, chair of Labour Leave and a major Labour donor.  John was the national agent for the Out campaign in 1975, and a former colleague on Camden Council for many years.  I must say he didn’t exactly seem to be on-message with Messrs Elliott and Cummings of Vote Leave.  He agreed that the £350 million figure was wholly wrong and should not be used.  He also accepted that the text of the Turkey poster (the visuals of which could have come from the BNP) was untrue and misleading, and he could not defend it.  In his view the Pound should be very much lower – well, we may see that soon enough.  He’s right to say that tariffs are now much reduced worldwide and somewhat – somewhat – less central than they once were, but he greatly underplays the importance of the Single Market for our services sector, and the vital role of confidence and certainty for our economy, and foreign direct investment in particular.

The questions were generally good natured, though one woman – apparently a Conservative Party member, sadly –  launched into a tirade about “remainiacs”, who apparently are “unpatriotic” and constitute “the enemy within”. She said we should “get out the country” in the event of a Leave result.  If there is a narrow Remain win, you can see just how bitter things will become, with “Dolchstoss” (stab-in-the-back) conspiracy theories.

I spent Saturday in Cambridge and Ely with a big ConservativesIn team led by Conservative Group for Europe chairman Neil Carmichael MP and Greg Hands MP.  Alistair Burt MP was also with us, as was a relaxed-looking Andrew Lansley.  We were on the marvellous and rather plush ConservativesIn battle bus, including a rather high-tech coffee machine.  A good investment by ConservativesIn.  The mood was pretty good in Cambridge, though as elsewhere with a big skew by age and (apparent) education.  The delightful Richard Balfe, now a Conservative peer, joined us – he’s heavily involved in Cambridge in Europe – and said he recalled John Mills as a right-winger from his Labour party days.

My colleague Havard Hughes in ConservativesIn has been frenetically pulling together activity, especially in Westminster and Brent as well as Camden.  As the risks of Leave become ever more real, not least to pensions and public services, more Conservative councillors and activists are coming out for In.  We’ve got ConservativesIn canvassing and leafleting daily in each borough – we’re in a race against time.  I’m especially thrilled that my two fellow ward councillors, with whom I’ve represented Swiss Cottage ward for ten years, are eager to put out a joint letter urging residents to vote Remain.  I may have to compromise a little in the language I’d have used, but Paris is worth a mass.

Since our association office is neutral, I’m having for the first time to get involved in the practicalities of getting a leaflet printed (and well aware this would be second nature to many activists in seats with no agent).  It’s amazing how you can now design and order online, with “chat” support from a sales rep as you do it.

I mentioned before my perception that international trade matters are something of a black hole for many politicians and media pundits.  Andrew Neil rather proved my point in his Farage interview on Friday, uncharacteristically fumbling around with his notes to mention what he called “most favoured arrangements” (he meant Most Favoured Nation, a core principle in the WTO, even if the phrase can appear somewhat misleading).  Was it like this in the days of Tariff Reform and Empire Free Trade?

We’re hard at work in Camden on our polling day plan.  We know that around here turnout of virtually every demographic helps us, and that Leave are desperate for a low poll.  We’ve several hundred volunteers but we need to be sure that if many more people turn up to help at some point on polling day we can use them efficiently.  Contrary to the impression I got a few weeks ago, I see some LSE research just out suggests that in a referendum a larger proportion of voters make their decision in the last week, even on polling day.  So all to play for; as I write these words, Cameron on the Marr Show is underlining the consequences of leaving the Single Market and rightly warning of the consequences of a “lost decade” withdrawing from Europe.

57 comments for: EU referendum campaign diaries: Week 3) Shy Leavers emerge, as do Remain councillors, as the big decision approaches

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