Chuka Umunna is a well-known figure at Westminster, but has yet to make his mark in the pubs of Pimlico. Only one person referred to him during these conversations, held in the Pride of Pimlico and the Gallery: “He’s a turncoat. A man not to be trusted. He says one thing and does something else.”
Umunna resigned from the Labour Party in February, helped set up the Independent Group, which became Change UK, but then joined the Liberal Democrats and is now their candidate in Cities of London and Westminster, which includes Pimlico.
The disobliging comment on him was made by a Conservative voter who lives in Dolphin Square, served for 17 years in the army and has since worked for 30 years for a Japanese bank.
The same speaker provided the only reference to Mark Field, who has just stepped down after serving since 2001 as the constituency’s MP: “I think he did the right thing stepping down after his shenanigans at the Mansion House. He looked slightly deranged.”
It can be difficult to attract the wider public’s attention. Nickie Aiken, the Conservative candidate for the seat, who has served since 2017 as the Leader of Westminster City Council, was not mentioned at all. Nor was Gordon Nardell, her Labour opponent.
During a walk down Lupus Street, bounded on one side by the 19th-century stucco of Thomas Cubitt and on the other by the post-war Churchill Gardens estate by Powell and Moya, no election posters caught the eye, except one for the Greens.
In the two pubs, the Greens were not mentioned at all, and Jo Swinson only twice, and then not by name. A woman from Eastbourne said: “This young girl from the Lib Dems, she’s too young.”
An Irishman said of Swinson: “That Lib Dem, she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.”
This speaker, now retired, arrived in London from Longford, in the Irish Republic, at the age of 17: “I came over for a wedding and I got married myself.
“I worked in the gas all my life, saving lives. There were no f—ing foreigners around then. The Paddies had to do everything. I worked all my life, I worked my bollocks off, I never got time to get f—ing sick, not when you had to put the rent on the table.”
ConHome: “Who will you vote for in the election?”
The Irishman: “I’ve always voted Labour but the moment I saw Jeremy Corbyn I said no.
“I stopped voting for Labour when they sold off all the gold. The next thing you know they’ll be selling us down the river. They nearly bankrupted the country. You’ve got to vote for the Conservatives.”
One of his friends stood up for Labour, called Boris Johnson a liar and said the Conservatives were not going to build social housing. But during several hours of talk, nobody sprang to Corbyn’s defence.
A 29-year-old Heathrow baggage handler who was having a day out in central London with two of his friends said: “The only reason I’d say I’m Conservative is that I hate Jeremy Corbyn. He’s the only person in the world trying to run a country he despises.”
The baggage handler turned out to be one of Johnson’s constituents, and although he began by dismissing all politicians as “sell-outs” and “traitors”, he went on to say: “I don’t mind Boris Johnson. I think he’s one of the better ones. Whoever the media tends to badmouth tends to be one of the more genuine ones. They’re going against what the Establishment says.
“Johnson’s the first person who sounds like he’s actually going to go through with the Brexit thing. The other two [David Cameron and Theresa May] bottled it. They wanted to appease Europe.”
ConHome: “Will you vote for Johnson?”
The baggage handler: “I did want to. I just didn’t register.”
One of his friends: “I’m not European. I’m not f—ing British. I’m an Englishman.”
The baggage handler [teasing him]: “You’re not allowed to say that word any more.”
The friend: “Someone needs to sort out the BBC. They should be ashamed of themselves. They need to be disbanded.”
His other friend: “We’re not racist. We just care about our country.”
Donald Trump was the only other politician to be mentioned frequently, spontaneously and with approval. A visitor from the United States said of him: “He got elected because the career politicians failed the public.”
A 30-year-old Yorkshireman who works in Dolphin Square said: “All the security guys from the American embassy were living in Dolphin Square, and every single one of them said Trump’s going to win.
“The same with Brexit. In Pimlico, I never met anyone who voted Remain.
“I hope the Conservatives win this election with a strong majority. If they had got one in 2017 we wouldn’t still be waiting to get out of the EU.
“Corbyn, he’s a nutter, you can’t vote for him. My dad was a miner. Nobody that I know back up north is voting Labour. Everyone I know in my extended family back up in Doncaster and Sheffield is voting Conservative. It just needs to happen.
“It’s the first time I’ve been nervous about an election. It’s not a straight election, it’s a Brexit election. A second referendum, so to speak. If the Conservatives don’t win, you’re going to end up with Labour and the SNP, and that’s the end of the United Kingdom.
“Whatever you see on the BBC or Channel 4, the exact opposite will happen.”
A white Rhodesian woman aged 62 said she had lost her job as a carer because of the tightening up of the immigration rules which also caused severe trouble for the Windrush generation from the Caribbean: “Theresa May did untold damage as Home Secretary.
“They’ve forgotten us [the Rhodesians], and they’ve forgotten that we fought for them, and they’ve forgotten that we trained the pilots.
“And they keep referring to us as South African, which makes me very angry. And I’m very angry that I had to write these English and maths exams at the age of 62, as if I was 16 years old. And I lost my job.
“I am angry as a Rhodesian because of what we stood for, the British Empire. You can’t just write history off because it suits you.”
Part of the charm of asking people about politics in pubs is that you never know what is going to come up, often hear things which would not get past a news editor, and find yourself with a corrective to published opinion.
A Pole from Manchester paid tribute to Gerald Kaufman, an MP for that city from 1970 until his death in 2017: “The one chap that I always trust, he came to everyone’s house, is Gerald Kaufman.”
A derisive distrust of the political class is often expressed in the saloon bar, but exceptions for individual politicians are often made too. And at present, Johnson is widely seen as an exception, who unlike the great mass of politicians, can actually be trusted to see Brexit through.