Seven weeks and one day after the launch of the Brexit Party (BXP), 600+ activists registered to campaign in Peterborough (PBO) on Saturday 1 June 2019 and descended on the city, as well as many others who had not registered but turned up to help. Their mission was to help Mike Greene to be the first BXP MP elected so that 6 June 2019 becomes Democracy Day, in homage to the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive report on a campaign day in PBO, nor a scientific evaluation of the chances that BXP has to win that seat (PBO voted 60.9% in favour of Leave in the referendum, 38.3% for BXP in the EU election and BXP is now odds-on to win the by-election). I am just sharing some observations and photos with fellow puffins. I don’t intend to revisit the recent controversy on this site between kippers and faragists (a pity that it has become a contradiction in terms); I’ll quote AccieMad @ GP last Sunday:
“It’s not about UKIP, it’s about democracy. What happens in the future we don’t know but if he [Nigel Farage] hadn’t formed the BXP then all would have been lost. UKIP could not, even under him, win a national election. The BXP, I believe, can.”
Whether BXP is a trojan horse, a tool of the global establishment, a fire in the pan does not concern me, – this is in the here and now, this is a moment of hope that has to be seized upon. To-morrow is another day. And just as I’ve been saying to myself “thank God for DJT” since November 2016, I now add “and thank God for BXP”!
In my previous articles covering the protests at Westminster since the Autumn of 2018, I was trying to find some logic, some progression, Act I, Act II… then I gave up because of the twists and turns that TPTB applied to the Brexit process, it got messier and messier, nonsensical to the point of despair and I lost count. On Saturday though, it felt like we’re reaching the climax, the denouement, Act V.
I hope for an iconic photo taken at the count late on Thursday 6 June or early on Friday, similar to the Sunderland photo taken in the wee hours on Friday 24 June 2016 when the first indication of how the vote was going exploded on TV screens!
Two days before last month’s EU election, on 21 May, the BXP rally in London was a powerful harbinger of the verdict to come: Some 3 000 people attended the last pre-election rally before casting their vote in the Election That was Not Supposed to Happen. BXP topping the EU poll was a great victory (5.2 million voters, 29 seats), notwithstanding what the naysayers say, and the subsequent opinion polls, however flawed they are, show that the party is on a roll.
Success breeds success, the supporters of BXP feel in their bones that something momentous is within reach and just one last push might suffice. One more vote.
As Claire Fox, now BXP MEP Elect, wrote in the Daily Telegraph, Leave voters
“celebrated in June 2016, feeling that change was possible, then watched in horror as a historic decision, which had given them a taste of political agency after decades of managerialism, was ridiculed and undermined. Such treatment has infuriated and demoralised people. Yet the Brexit Party allows what could have festered into hostility to become a vehicle for future-oriented hope. This opportunity might just, to use the party slogan, “change politics for good”.
These voters are sick and tired of being called fascists and “village idiots”, they’re queuing to attend BXP rallies precisely to be counted, and cheer on those who are standing up to the politics of divisiveness and obfuscation and are offering hope. Claire Fox again, in an interview with Spiked since her election (sorry, but she is a commentator after all!):
“There was a huge amount of enthusiasm on the campaign trail but also relief that we were standing – there is a pressure-valve element to the Brexit Party even among Labour voters. But I also think it’s more than that — there is a sense that people want to start something new. People were very positive and optimistic.”
Nigel Farage (NF)’s timing has been impeccable. He used his radio shows and his encounters across the country to gauge the mood of the nation and to prepare his come-back, biding his time. BXP was founded on paper as long ago as November 2018, a vehicle in neutral gear, just in case (and a Leave Means Leave rally on 17 January showed clearly the mood of the audience and that something was afoot to channel it): at that time there was no talk of EU elections in the UK, only of a second referendum and possibly of a snap GE, but still only as abstract possibilities. Even before the launch of BXP, NF placed a £1,000 bet that it would finish in first place in the European election! Apart from such monetary gains for happy punters, the BXP victory in the EU elections was symbolic. In contrast the BXP victory in the PBO by-election will be historic and it will send shockwaves through the British political establishment.
I am trying to remember if after campaigning for NF in South Thanet in the GE of 2015, kippers felt as close to victory as brexiteers feel now. It seems the mobilisation of ordinary people, not just seasoned activists, is much greater and of course social media have been harnessed to great effect to spread out far and wide the message of fighting back. The groundwork took years and now things are falling into place, helped along by several circumstances.
A Grand Day Out!
Hundreds of people queued from 8.30 am to be gathered in the theatre and be inducted in how to campaign for BXP, then be formed into groups and given their streets to canvass. More activists arrived mid-morning and as they ran out of leaflets at the theatre, they swamped the BXP office to get materials for street campaigning! The campaign manager admitted there were more people than tasks to allocate! A street stall was set up at the angle of Broadway and Cathedral Square.
I quote here tom moncrieff @ GP, whose comment last Sunday was featured, as his reflections as a canvasser mirror mine as a leafleter:
“Yesterday I was out canvassing for the Brexit Party in Peterborough. Hundreds came to help from far and wide, many staying overnight at their own expense, lots like me spending £60 on petrol and parking. No other party or cause ever got that out of me before! Most had never done anything political before. I was surprised how young many Brexiteers are, and how diverse too. Brexit is modern Britain contrary to MSM caricatures.
Lots of laughter and good humour on the doorstep, a few doors slammed in our faces at the larger LiDem houses, but that was rare. And when we got a no, it was a respectful one. Couldn’t find a single open Labour voter all day and the only open Tories are older, deeply loyal and wavering, and are still furious with the party.
[…] I’m sure the Labour machine and bloc vote will be wheeled out for a Thursday but the Brexit Party is impressively organised and evangelical in favour. Change is coming and it will be change for good.”
I don’t think I have ever found myself in a city where I have never been before, but kept saying hello to people! They were people I had met on other political occasions, sometimes with different rosettes! I noticed that many of us were doing that, embracing campaign comrades, whether in the street or later in the theatre!
Local campaigners were assisted by people from London, Manchester, Lincoln, Nottingham etc. One woman even came from Belgium and brought a box of chocolates to the office staff! “People are coming from all over to ensure democracy is delivered!”, as Mike Greene put it. There were seasoned campaigners and some who had never even gone to a rally yet (others for whom PBO was their third BXP rally!). A number of them are still members of their own respective political parties: The campaigners I know are Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Green party members who have recognised that BXP is the “the only anti-EU game left in town” (h/t Martyn Parker @ GP), – the most productive way to express anger and effect Brexit! It’s not just Lord Heseltine and Alistair Campbell who vote outside their own party in the national interest! It may be odd to belong to a political party and then vote for another one, but that’s where we are in politics right now.
As MEP-elect Belinda de Lucy said the evening before on the radio: “No one is giving people a voice except for BXP right now and we are here to put pressure on the Government to say you’re not going to get away with fobbing us off. You’re not going to get away with any more chaos, any more delay… We’re watching you and we’re going to make sure you deliver a good and clean Brexit as soon as possible and we’re out on the 31st of October”.
This couple and their rosette-wearing dog are from Ashford, Kent. They stayed overnight in their camper-van parked near the BXP office. They were here about to do their third leaflet drop for Mike Greene!
James Delingpole (above) was in town. Fraser Myers of Spiked was around too.
Mike Greene, the BXP candidate, chatted and posed for photos with his potential constituents:
It was nice to have the opportunity to congratulate the MEPs-elect who came to PBO to campaign in the street with us: Belinda de Lucy, Michael Heaver, Martin Daubney, Claire Fox, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, Benyamin Habib and Lance Forman (and I probably did not see them all).
Some subjective remarks about our leafleting: it was very different from London, – good-humoured at all times. In PBO people politely said “no thank you” when they did not want a leaflet! However, most said things like “I’m with you already”. Some people were keen to stop by and vent their frustration with politics and the mess of non-Brexit. They were weary: “The country is in such a mess”, “Politicians have made such a mess. Will this really make a difference?”. Well, only one way to find out. If that is your last vote, make it count.
Only one guy spat out “racist” when he saw the logo on the leaflet I was handing out; thankfully he walked past me fast! One woman pushed her hair away so that I could see her Labour sticker and I withdrew my leaflet! A second incident was a Lib Dem telling one of us that he was not welcome as he was a racist. The joke was he was with David Kurten, who just rolled his eyes!
Other than that, the support for BXP was overwhelming.
In the morning pro-Remain Renew had a stall near the Cathedral. UKIP was in town leafletting, but they seemed to have only a small presence. So was Patrick O’Flynn and a couple of SDP campaigners. In the afternoon, Renew decamped, replaced by the solitary guy from “Common Sense” with his EU flag and bicycle, enjoining people to vote for him “to remain with our friends and colleagues in Europe”. We agreed to disagree amicably! Labour were canvassing in the estates, Corbyn was in town in the morning; so was Femi the Remain activist. Conservatives were nowhere to be seen (Boris Johnson was in town two days earlier). That was hardly competition.
After a couple of hours, everybody in sight was sporting a BXP sticker or holding a BXP leaflet – it was becoming difficult to avoid leafleting each other and asking the same people for support! It was very good-natured and we smiled all around!
For some, lunch was at the Wetherspoons pub on the way to the Broadway theatre (I spotted another Wetherspoon pub, near the BXP office!), an opportunity to rest a little and grab the Summer issue of the pub magazine. It still devotes several pages in the middle to Brexit, reproducing in this issue articles by Prof. Robert Tombs and Roger Bootle – Tim Martin always adds his comments to the articles published, he must have been able to turn a few Remain drinkers in the last three years!
The Afternoon Rally
At 2 pm, the theatre was packed full again, and not with all the same people as in the morning. Those who had heard Mike Greene and NF then did not all come back, as they were manning the street stall or were out canvassing. More people arrived in PBO at lunchtime. This overlap means there were overall about 1 000 activists in PBO on Saturday!
Mike Greene addressed the audience and presented his four pledges, as opposed to a manifesto. He explained that despite dictionaries defining a manifesto as a political promise, “we don’t want a manifesto because we believe it’s come to mean political broken promises. We don’t want to make theoretical promises, we want practical delivery.”
MEPs-elect June Mummery and Michael Heaver then said a few words, both very dynamic and rousing; no doubt they’ll wake up the proceedings in Brussels and Strasburg! The pièce de résistance as usual was NF: “I always knew if Brexit was not delivered on 29 March that there would be a voter backlash… We’ve taken the anger and frustration and have turned it into energy and hope for this country.”
Above, Richard Tice, back from canvassing. Claire Fox, more relaxed as MEP-elect than as just-announced candidate for BXP!
After more leafleting, several drinks rounded up the day while we swapped notes with other campaigners. Two canvassers said that they found the response incredible in a Labour area: Out of 200 doors opened to them, 90% were voting for BXP. Only 5 refused the BXP leaflet.
The UK map of the EU election is tiffany blue. Will the constituents of PBO put their brief but unfortunate dalliance with the red rosette firmly behind them and send a massive signal to politicians and their fellow-countrymen by putting BXP in Westminster? This would be the first act of the great Brexit political realignment or even, “the second tremor in the recent earthquake”, as Steve Bannon put it. He added that what happens in PBO is going to resonate everywhere – no pressure then!
We GPers watched the Trump rallies in the Autumn of 2016 and we knew then that something seemingly impossible was happening: the Deplorables were about to elect the most improbable President of the United States, but one who had galvanised them. It is clear that Team NF have drawn very good lessons from Trump 2016 and the 21 BXP rallies have helped mobilise and crystallise their electorate. As Tiredofeulies @ GP wrote last Sunday:
“The Brexit Party rallies are a phenomenon in recent British political history ….where a grass roots movement buoyed by no more than a desire for real change and a hope for a vision of a better future than the one being offered by the tired mainstream parties, is grabbing the imagination of people of all political persuasions and rewriting the rules in the process…”
The success of BXP also exemplifies the fact that it is not Left vs Right any more, but Leave vs Remain and Democrats vs Non-Democrats. People are campaigning for the BXP, and voting for it, to defend democracy – not just the act of voting but making sure that one’s vote actually counts for something. This goes beyond the EU question to the extent that a number of Remainers (the lukewarm type) have got involved in BXP.
Political manifestos have been in effect jettisoned by the political parties, which rankles with the electorate who set great store by them. Manifestos have a quasi-constitutional authority in the British political system (see the Salisbury convention whereby the House of Lords will not oppose government’s programme legislation promised in the manifesto on which it was elected). This is just another example of the constitutional vandalism that has beset British politics lately.
To put this article in the context of those I wrote about the Westminster protests, I am particularly proud that at least two MEPs have a direct link to the spontaneous, quiet but determined placard-holding outside the windows of the Palace of Westminster: Belinda de Lucy (MEP-elect for the South-East) was spotted there by somebody from Leave Means Leave, who then arranged for her to be interviewed by BXP. Claire Fox (MEP-elect for the North-West) was inspired to stand after conversations with some of the Labour and Conservative voters who had to resort to stand outside Parliament to express their despair. This vindicates these smalls acts of resistance, that I documented for GP, a fact confirmed by an MP who said in answer to “is what we do here useful at all?”: “Every little bit that the voters do counts. Please carry on!”
We’ve often wondered on GP when angry Leavers would take to the streets and why more people were not donning yellow vests in an echo to the French Gilets Jaunes. This is the miracle of the British spirit: a new political party has been formed and they have embraced it. NF is a political genius who has created from scratch the vehicle to effect Brexit, change politics, apply democratic pressure while avoiding violence and extremism! Anger channeled and transcended, at the ballot box, – the British way.
Good luck to BXP and to Mike Greene who said: “People say what will you call the party after you’ve got Brexit?… Brexit can come to mean democracy. Brexit can come to mean sovereignty. Brexit can come to mean independence. Brexit can come to mean national pride.”
A new chapter is about to start.
© Text and photos Sunshine & Showers 2019