Rachel Johnson at the launch of the Change UK’s European Election launch and why she’s standing
‘Oo-er, we picked a busy old news day for the launch,’ said Matt Hooberman, one of the six Change UK European election candidates for the South West – me among them – at our launch on Tuesday.
Trump’s state visit had been nailed into the diary. The death toll for the Sri Lankan Easter Sunday massacre had risen to 300. Theresa May was in last-ditch talks with the Labour Party to try to heave her deal over line. Greta Thunberg was everywhere.
But democracy never stops or it ceases to be a democracy, and this is why I found myself pedal-to-the-metal from Exmoor to Bristol for the campaign launch.
I sat behind Chuka, Anna Soubry and Gavin Esler, who all made excellent speeches, and then Chris Leslie took the Q&A. One of the first questions was, ‘Why did you have the launch in Bristol?’
I was secretly hoping that it was to lend oomph to the slate in the South West region but Chris said ‘why not?’ and I had to stop myself catcalling, ‘Because we wanted to give Brenda from Bristol another unwanted opportunity to exercise her democratic right, of course.’
The press officer Stuart Macnaughtan has given me a stern lecture after he caught me chatting briefly to Sebastian Payne of the FT.
‘But Sebby’s a mate,’ I said.
‘Nobody is your friend now you are a candidate,’ he replied, and put me into immediate purdah, which of course I am breaking now – but only because this is The New European and copy is expected by the editor, and I didn’t know until the Easter weekend that I had been placed first on the list for the South West for the Tiggers (sorry, it’s just catchier, which is why everyone chuckled – see what I did there? – when Heidi, who is our H, just like in Line of Duty, told the launch that she was a ‘Tigger Mum’).
As I was entering an underground car park to try to get to the launch in Millennium Square in time I took a call on my mobile from Joe Murphy of the Evening Standard. I knew – because the party dynamo Chris Leslie MP had warned me – that the Standard, and only that paper, were getting an exclusive heads up on the European elections slate for their issue on Tuesday. So I took the call as I waited to enter and then saw the red warning sign that said ‘Car Park Full Delays Expected’.
I had to get out of the car and make the queuing traffic on the ramp behind me reverse. And as I reversed I multi-tasked to the Standard and told Joe I couldn’t accept to see Brexit ‘rubbing out my children’s prospects and chances of living and travelling and working in Europe’.
I went on, ‘these are chances that the politicians who decided to campaign to Leave have enjoyed themselves. It is simply not fair – and sometimes one has to stand up and be counted. A vote to leave the EU is so important, so life-changing for the next two generations that I am impelled to stand up and be counted for what I believe in, which is that we are far better in Europe’.
Then of course Joe asked me if I’d told Boris and I was able to tell him honestly that I had, but not what his reaction was.
I am self-aware enough to understand the reason why it’s a story, but this is not a protest vote against Nigel Farage, or Boris, or Gove – it’s a vote for change and against Brexit. Meanwhile I’m not going to tear chunks out of any of the candidates who are on the side of the People’s Vote argument either, as this party is determined to be a cross-party rainbow alliance for those who think we are better in than out.
My father came for a cream tea on Easter Monday (I live next door to him on his hill farm in Somerset) and said: ‘What if the party asks you to be spokesman on environment or defence or education or transport?’
I choked on my tea.
My husband answered confidently for me. ‘She doesn’t know anything about any of those things, Stanley, but you must admit she does bake a very good scone.’
‘Very important in the West Country,’ I added.
‘So long as you work out which goes on first in Devon, cream or jam, and first in Cornwall,’ my father said, ‘Because I’m sure they’re different.’
If I can get that right I’m sure it will all go swimmingly.
Have just seen the front page splash of the Evening Standard… ‘JOHNSON TO STAND AGAINST THE TORIES (not Boris – sister Rachel backs Remain rivals)’
And also, Seb Payne’s tweet for the FT, saying the South West is going to be where all the action is for the European elections. But according to the latest poll numbers Tiggers will win no seats. People keep asking me how I’m feeling. Honest answer? Frit, of course.