The Remainer – Andrew Marshall
Andrew 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’m afraid I find it difficult to add anything to the thousands of words written about the appalling killing of Jo Cox MP. I pray for her soul and my deepest condolences go to her family and friends. I didn’t know her, but she seems to have exemplified much that is noble about public service and the calling of politics. As to the aftermath, clearly there needs to be urgent work to understand the likely scale of the risk from violent right-wing extremism. I doubt whether MPs will want a level of personal protection that would impede close interaction with the public, and am suspicious of the value of instant polling on this. Finally there’s no doubt that social media can be very unedifying at such moments, whether it’s a Labour MP describing Graham Brady as “disgusting” for speaking at a Leave meeting on Saturday, or the torrent of abuse around the publication of Jo Cox’s final message (with her family’s consent).
I’m supposed to be shepherding a Bulgarian MEP and a gaggle (collective noun?) of Danish Young Liberals who are coming to help us in Camden on Monday. I’ve no idea what party the Bulgarian is from. Our Liberal Democrats locally are excited to have fellow travellers here – I did point out that Venstre (despite meaning “Left”) is actually Denmark’s main centre-right party (ie one party to the right of the woman in Borgen). Their delegation leader emailed me to say they were “half way between David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats”. You may view that space as wide or narrow, but it sounds pleasant.
We’re grinding on in my patch, we ran about 20 street sessions yesterday, and we’ve been delivering a letter from my fellow ward councillor Roger Freeman and myself urging our residents to vote Remain. There are several hundred Remain posters up in our ward now, there must be thousands across Camden. We don’t see much from Leave at all – I know it’s different elsewhere. Most encouragingly, there are Labour Remain posters going up in council estates. Despite what is said, I suspect that the tone of the Leave campaign on immigration will have solidified ethnic minority voters for Remain (and what damage the Conservative Leavers may have done to our reputation with BME communities).
I have no idea who will win, but I don’t think it’s lost yet. We are looking over the edge of the cliff, and that concentrates the minds of the undecideds and mobilises many. It’ll be fascinating to see how the distribution of the results compares with 1975: are we, like America, now in the grip of the “Big Sort”, where people increasingly live in areas with like-minded voters.
Voters have learnt a fair bit in the campaign, though sadly not much about the way the EU works. From my conversations, I see a growing realisation that Brexit would bring a recession, and some understanding that the hit on public services from lower tax revenues could be very severe. Most importantly, people have grasped that Leave has no plan for how we would trade with the EU and the rest of the world. On migration, it has taken a while for my side to make the positive case for free movement in the EU, as we as a party did in the 1980s – and the line about controlling borders isn’t really much of an answer on free movement.
The lack of reasoned discussion of foreign policy, not least from MPs, shows how we’ve shrunk as a country, and I see no evidence that Leave’s “globalist” approach would be any different. One phrase whose resonance with the public surprised me was “fifth largest economy”, despite being generally thrown in as a non-sequitur. We’re under 4 per cent of world GDP and under 1 per cent of world population; we could do with thinking about things from that perspective a bit more.
I suspect that a Leave vote would mean the end of the modern Conservative Party which came into existence in the 1960s – Michael Fraser’s Conservative party if you like. Even if Thatcherism and then Major/Cameron brought different ideological tones, and even if the mass membership collapsed from the 1990s, there has been a continuity about the Conservative coalition over that period that would now be lost. I’m not quite sure what would take its place, but probably a narrower, more nationalist party that would be less attractive to liberal-minded voters. The party would be much rooted in the world of commerce and the professions.
The latest Farage poster on immigrants was particularly inflammatory – he may be in a different party, but a vote for Leave would be seen – as Marina Hyde wrote brilliantly – in part as his victory. Johnson and Gove might discover that playing with fire would leave them with a post-Brexit party perhaps rather more in Farage’s image than theirs. The drift of Germany’s AfD to the nationalist right shows how quickly parties can morph in an age without mass membership and sense of deference and established values.
Finally, let me just say to those who go on about the fact that the EU and Europe aren’t the same thing – you’re absolutely right. You’re also pedants, and most of the time, most people, in this country and around the world, are going to use the terms interchangeably. Sorry. I’m sure your predecessors had something to say about the Holy Roman Empire.
The Leaver – Emily Knight
Emily 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.
This week has been our last week on the doorsteps engaged in canvassing, as we move forward to the Get Out The Vote stage of the campaign. Since the polls have swung, and consistently so, in our favour, there has been a marked change in mood among our volunteers, despite my lectures on complacency. Everyone has always been jolly and upbeat, but there is a real spring in their step now, fortified by changing attitudes on the doorstep.
Over the weekend, we ventured over to Beckton in East Ham, which is leafy and suburban. It doesn’t feel like the rest of east London with its parks and cul-de-sacs. We have a number of good activists in Beckton who have kept it carpeted with leaflets, but it is also ripe for canvassing. So ripe in fact that in four hours on Saturday, we only found three remain voters. In one street east of Beckton Park we discovered that holy grail of canvassing – a full house – everyone answers the door, every one of them for leave.
One such leaver was Vera, who is 99 and a half years old. I ignored all my rules with Vera and stayed chatting to her for 20 minutes, ignoring the ringing phone in my pocket from a team member ‘rescuing’ me. She said she didn’t get to talk to many people nowadays, which is a shame as she had so much to say. Her house is pristine and she does everything for herself. She has already voted for leave by post, but I didn’t consider that 20 minutes wasted. Vera voted leave because she feels duped by the previous referendum “not that you’ll remember, but we voted to become part of a trading union, not this.”
On Wednesday night, in another area of Beckton, a Ghanaian man is the latest to be added to my tally of shy leavers. He peers at me suspiciously until I explain I am campaigning for leave. I tend to find that, as I look like I could be in my 20s, people presume I am a remain activist. It’s always amusing to exceed expectations in that respect. He raises immigration as his primary concern – in particular the way in which non-EU citizens are discriminated against. There are a lot of Commonwealth citizens in Newham, and they seem to be particularly concerned to change our immigration policy. The present system of discriminating against applicants based on country of origin seems wrong to them, as it should. Commonwealth citizens are not just planning to vote leave, they are joining our teams too. Wednesday’s team featured Theo from South Africa, Henry from Ghana, Anwar from India. Plus with William from Hong Kong, Tim who boasts Kenyan heritage and being half-Dutch myself, we like to think we are the embodiment of the outward-looking, global approach that we advocate.
My plan to report back from Thursday’s session in Canning Town didn’t see fruition. News broke that Jo Cox MP had been brutally killed in her constituency. All campaigning was immediately suspended, although I was in no state to canvass anyway. It is hard to put into words how horrifying Jo’s killing is. It is not just an attack on democracy and on all of us. She wasn’t just a figurehead, a representative, a politician. Those sorts of labels make it easy to dehumanise MPs. She was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, senselessly slaughtered whilst doing her job. I spent the rest of Thursday wondering how I could make my own boss and the constituency staff safer, over and above the new safety measures we brought in a few months ago after a welcome push from Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. Kind messages from constituents have started to pour in and those who usually leave nasty messages on Facebook have gone quiet. The level of bile and hatred levelled at MPs of all parties every day by people who simply hold a different view is appalling and it is worsening. Disagreement seems to have become a justification for abuse. My hope is that people try to engage with each other and their elected representatives with consideration even when they have differing views.
It is now Saturday morning and we start to think about the coming week, and polling day’s rapid approach. An enormous palette of leaflets, badges, posters and tellers’ pads have arrived in the reception of my building (my concierge is rapidly losing patience). Volunteers are once again stepping up to do their bit, by helping this week, on the day itself and at the count. For the first time as a Conservative in Newham, I am considering a dawn raid, as we have a vast number of pledges to knock up.
Regardless of the result of Thursday’s vote, it has been a pleasure to work with such a positive group of people, the vast majority of whom are new to politics. It is going to be strange going back to normal party-based campaigning (although we have a by-election in Forest Gate so there’ll be no break), and I really hope the Conservative Party takes stock of what can be learnt from this campaign. For me, it has hammered home the importance of ground campaigning and maintaining a happy activist base. Witnessing the incredible network of supporters, volunteers and local organisers Vote Leave has managed to build and get working together in such a short timeframe, ably supported by a bespoke canvassing system, there is no excuse for the Party, who I hope will consider what lessons it can learn from both sides of the campaign.