In this week’s Rachel Johnson’s Diary she talks about running as in the European elections as a member of Change UK and the rise of the party.
I’ve been to only one party since I became a candidate for the European elections. I would like to point out this a personal record for me for a three-week period of political purdah. (I used to list my hobbies in Who’s Who as “tennis, parties, Exmoor, skiing” which I thought sounded too unserious. Have dropped skiing from the list for the 2020 edition).
It was at Daunt’s Marylebone (aka “the party Daunts”). It was more magnificent than I expected, given how many launches I’ve attended at this lovely bookshop, which has a clever galleried space at the back where celebrants can mill with their glasses of red or white Majestic.
Most like to make speeches Mussolini-style from the balcony down to a sea of beaming upturned faces, but for Lady Antonia Fraser’s party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her first book, Mary Queen of Scots (1969, Weidenfeld & Nicolson), a pair of wicker thrones sat the end of the room, and between them a side-table with a blowsy creamy-green arrangement of rhododendrons bloomed.
Sir Roy Strong gave the eulogy, if that’s the right word, in the absence of the publisher, to whose memory we were asked to “raise our glasses”. I raised mine lustily. George Weidenfeld published my first book, a collection of undergraduate essays called The Oxford Myth, which attracted a full house of bracing reviews at the time (1987), and old copies of which Francis Wheen claims to be stockpiling “in case Boris Johnson ever makes it to Downing Street” (my brother wrote a punchy essay on student politics which remains the last word on the subject).
Sir Roy, toying with his Companion of Honour which he was wearing draped around his neck, told stories about Antonia’s brilliance and beauty. Jonathan Aitken was there in competitive regalia – in his case, a vicar’s dog collar.
Strong described meeting Antonia – also CH, and DBE – for the first time at a Lord Weidenfeld dinner, and how another guest had gone around the table and checked the name-cards.
“Cecil Beaton took his seat but after he’d done so he turned his plate upside-down,” said Sir Roy, “as that is what you have to do if you decide you have been mal placé.” Fancy! I plead guilty to shuffling place-cards but I don’t think I would ever dare to turn my plate upside down and mutiny until I was moved nearer towards the salt.
As he spoke I was eyeing a man in a leather jacket curiously. I am watching Chernobyl – five stars! – and it looked awfully like the star of Chernobyl, Jared Harris. After the speeches I bearded him. It was Jared Harris! He lives in the US. Why was he at a party for Mary Queen of Scots? “My mother is married to the Rev Aitken,” he said. A happy half-hour followed.
As I write this (on a stopping train from Bristol to Taunton) I am still campaigning to be elected as the Change UK MEP for the south west. At BBC Bristol, I did two televised hustings back to back, having started the day with a BBC Wiltshire hustings at 7.45am. I am on the wrong train. Instead of the fast 31-minute direct service, I am on a stopping one through Weston and Bridgwater. It is now at a stop called Worle. Like my entire family, I cannot resist a pun. So I snapped a picture of the sign and uploaded it on my Instagram page, and added the location to the post.
“I’ve been everywhere else in the south west in the last three weeks so I thought I’d give this a…” I wrote.
The above entry (wrong train to the right destination) is not an extended metaphor, by the way, about having jumped ship to Change UK. I think it is remarkable that the start-up party is fighting the election at all, and even though the polls are low, spirits are high. In public, the media has piled into the agreed narrative that the party is not cutting through. In private, journalists say they wish us well.
In theory, a start-up party that is not part of the problem (the referendum and the coalition), which is campaigning unequivocally for ‘revoke’ if we reach the cliff-edge, and thus refuses to foist a no-deal Brexit on top of austerity, has much to commend it to millions, whatever happens next week at the count.
I think the newest kids on the block have a song to sing and Chuka and Heidi and Anna and Sarah are belting it out loud and clear. I am not one for predictions but if Change UK gets two MEPs I will be absolutely delighted. This is the last time I can say these words, so here goes…. Vote Change UK on May 23!