Colchester 2016

Colchester 2016

The Yes to Europe Referendum Campaign

Scarcely have I been involved in a cause I am more passionate about than saying Yes to the European Union. This chapter explains how I became involved in pro-European politics both on a national and international level, first with the Yes to Europe campaign and then via the European citizens movement Stand Up for Europe and Alliance Europa; this involvement is still going on and now has over 120,000 likes on Facebook. The Yes to Europe Campaign from the remain side is a tale of dis-organisation, poor communication and transparency leading to a catastrophic defeat and then trying to organise some kind of fight back.

Signing Up Online for Britain Stronger in Europe

Getting involved with campaigning for Britain being in the EU was as simple as signing up for one of the remain campaigns online. Government money was given to several different institutions to set up their own campaigns. The two I were involved with were the cross party but Pro-EU Tory headed campaign Britain Stronger IN Europe and the Liberal Democrat INTogether campaign. Both the Tories and Labour were split on whether to leave the EU and MPs were free to campaign for what they thought was right with no whip (in a so called free vote). The only truly ProEU party at that time in the UK were the Liberal Democrats. I decided to sign up for Britain Stronger In Europe because it was the biggest campaign. I offered my services online and was issued contact details and given dates times of and places for events in Colchester. I also bought a campaign hoodie and received T-shirts from both campaigns.

Not Finding Anyone There Due to Pregnancy

When I turned up for the street stall outside the town hall in Colchester town centre the first week of campaigning in Colchester proper, the campaign as a whole had been running on TV for a number of months already. At this stage, remain were well ahead in the polls, but our campaign co-ordinator in Witham and Colchester’s wife was apparently pregnant and about to give birth to a baby so he was rarely if at all there. The first week, despite the event showing on the internet no-one turned up at the town hall at all. For whatever reason that seemed like terrible dis-organisation and lack of co-ordination, which made me think that he might have been a reluctant remainer rather than enthusiastic federalist like me.

On the Second Week Joining INTogether and Campaigning

Having reached the second week of campaigning the stall holder of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign in Colchester still hadn’t turned up even though his wife had supposed to have given birth, but some Lib Dems had turned up from another of the funded yes campaigns INTogether. So, over the top of my Britian Stonger in Europe hoodie I had purchased from the website I put on an INTogether T-shirt and did a bit of leafleting and campaigning for them. At the end of the day on the second week of campaigning, a driver of a taxi wound down his window and swore at us and a very aggressive member of a populist movement took a leaflet from our stall said he was going to beat us in the referendum threated to hit us and threatened what he called our right to exist. He then disappeared. This was rather harassing and distressing and whenever I think of the MP murdered on her street stall Jo Cox I think of him. He was a despicable man. The next day of campaigning the police said that English Defence League (EDL) were on their way down to give us some grief and placed a riot van to the right of us in order to assist for a while expecting some sort of trouble. Thankfully, they never turned up.

Ending Up Campaigning for Both Illegally.

It was actually illegal to campaign for both StrongerIN and INTogether at once, but considering the Lib Dems had taken over leadership of both sets of campaign leaflets and badges from the Tories and laid them all out on a decorators table with INTogether on the right and StrongerIN on the left this rule was never put into practise. When we ran out of one sort of leaflet as well, we had no problem leafleting from the other. Crap ideas die hard.

Leaflet Content StrongerIN

The StrongerIN leaflets were, in general better laid out and more appealing. They included aspects of the EU impact on jobs and the economy. The rather less appealing one was Boris Johnson’s father’s pet environmental projects one with a windmill on. That just didn’t really appeal alongside the terrible liberal democrat one scaremongering about possible police cuts.

Leaflet Content INTogether

The INTogether leaflets were not designed very well. They contained very tired content by that stage in the game about hospitals and firemen that we’d been hearing for the past 20 years and bore little relevance to the passionate and hard-fought debate leave were fighting about freedom, trust and patriotism. They really did make us come across as bureaucratic and played right into the opposition’s hands. The lack of general command between all 3 yes campaigns was pathetic I would liken it to Friedrich the Great’s Prussia fighting the Habsburgian alliance for control of Saxony. Terrible disorganisation and lack of co-ordination cost us in terms of clarity and communication and transparency of message. As I explained to the EU at the Stand Up conference in Munich.

Location of Street Stalls and Leafleting

The location of the streets stalls were different on different days and weeks. The first three weeks saw us campaigning outside the town hall with the liberal democrat council leader. We had secured that official pitch from the council and leave were not allowed to campaign there. Secondly, we moved down to the main train station and touted people for attention there and then we did Colchester Town station (the other station in Colchester) along with the bus station in St John’s Street. Towards the latter half of the campaign we started to leaflet in Lexden and the St John’s estate. A guy had come down from Edinburgh to help Essex University with student recruitment from Edinburgh University and spent a few hours campaigning with us and jolly efficient he was too. He was exceptional at leafleting. Afterwards, I was drafted in to help Jo a sixteen year old recruit deliver leaflets up at Prettygate and Shrub End Estate.

The Final Push

The final push saw us going out the streets leafleting the St John’s Estate and Creffield Road area four times in the last 24 hrs. Once in the morning and once in the evening each time from the StrongerIN command bunker at Richard Volkes’s House in Roman Road. His wife laid on tea and biscuits for us and a German student co-ordinated the targeting of our campaign based on some kind of computer model of people showing interest in our campaign on the internet. Eventually, I went out one last time before the big night to get rained on and very sore feet and I gave up half way through just outside my house with all my leaflets having been soaked through to the core.

Checking Votes

I was employed on behalf of Jo Hayes membership secretary of the local Lib Dem Party in Colchester  to check votes for the yes campaign at Charter Hall, Colchester Leisure world into the night of the 24th – 25th of June 2016. Everyone was tense, early indications suggested some wards were tight, but there leave co-ordinator looked rather pleased with himself. We had been a couple of points ahead in the polls just a day earlier in the final opinion poll, but indications were that there were more no votes than yeses. We got down to the business of the count and it was obvious there was no clear and intentional wrong doing but they were winning and I can say that in my judgement of the votes on the night in the ballot boxes, they won fairly in terms of the counting of the votes themselves. There were more no votes than yeses. Unless the ballot boxes were tampered with. There were more votes that registered voters, which I don’t think could be the case in England. I concede to them freely that the vote counting was carried out in a fair manner for Colchester. Indeed, this was the case with the votes I checked as a general rule, genuine odd mistakes aside.

The Results

Early gains

There was a big cheer early on when Gibraltar was the first to declare with David Dimbelby. Gibraltar was, of course, 90% remain. We narrowly won Newcastle and then lost Sunderland by some considerable margin. It was very touch and go for about four hours before it was clear about 3:30 that they’d won. We did win London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but lost in Wales. Indeed, we hammered them with nearly 80% of the vote in Lambeth as well that was one of our best results, but it wasn’t quite enough.

Losing in Colchester a key swing constituency

There were 11 key constituencies in which the battle was supposed to have been lost or won, two way marginal in other words, of which Colchester was one. Unfortunately, leave won nearly all of them, all but two I think. So, we really did get whipped in the key battlegrounds. That’s why we lost. We lost Colchester by about 5000 votes by 4am. Nick showed me the result on his Iphone secretly before the declaration.

Leave rubbing it in waving the Union Jack

The young guy co-ordinating the leave campaign with the young Tory MP for Colchester Will Quince waved his union Jack at the declaration and cheered for independence day.

Shaking their hands and agreeing to campaign for passports.

Because they were so euphoric but polite. I ended up feeling happy for them, but not quite knowing what to do about the deep sadness of losing such a disasterously  key vote. So, I ended up shaking their hands but vowing to stay and fight for my EU citizenship and passport. They had no right to change my nationality I felt very angry about that. I ended up having to walk back home a mile and a half at 4am and watched the rest of the vote until 6 on TV. Richard said he was going to carry on and fight with the European Movement in the UK, but my initial reaction and stance was Brexit friendly, but to retain full EU citizenship. I thought that was a fair deal. The reaction since of MEP Stuart Agnew of UKIP in particular and others regarding the passport issue I found most evil and snobby and the basic idea was to completely suppress and destroy British European Identity I feel that is unacceptable and has hardened my nature towards peace somewhat. I don’t mind being a Dixie with an EU passport. They just wanna burn my confederate flag. Basically, they were really snobby and wanted no concessions at all for which they had no mandate. Particularly, regarding passports because I’m an EU patriot. It’s like being told to have a sex change you don’t want or require and having to long to be the opposite sex for the rest of your life. It will never blow over with me. I loved a member of André Rieu’s ensemble and had a German countess as a second mum who’s dream it was for us all to be European.