Rachel Johnson’s diary: On the campaign trail
PUBLISHED: 12:30 10 May 2019
Rachel Johnson writes about being a candidate for Change UK in the European elections.
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As I write, the bruised and beaten main parties are still licking their wounds and the Liberal Democrats are claiming that 'three-party politics' are back. Hold on! Having thrown my modest lot in with the superstars of Remain (to my mind Chuka, Soubs et al, as Ken Clarke and Jo Johnson have yet to 'come across'), I am hoping that exciting, dynamic, facts-based, non-partis pris Change UK - only two weeks older than the Royal Baby! - will cut through on Brexit where the Lib Dems have failed.
But there are many slips between cup and lip, almost too many to enumerate here. Will the elections be held on May 23? What will the results be, once all the votes are in, on May 26 (the idea of an angry, bird-flipping rabble of sceptics being elected fills me with shame)? Will the MEPs even take their seats?
On the stump, I admit the name change from Tiggers to Change UK has caused some slight confusion, but reaction to the new kids on the block seems completely contingent on two factors: age, age, age, and location, location, location.
In Totnes market I was enveloped in a group hug, not just literally but actually. I was drooling over some spelt pasties when a couple of women approached holding the largest stuffed toy I'd ever seen - and it had fluffy fingers on each end. "Hello," I said, brightly, thrusting a leaflet towards them. They engulfed me in the soft toy and told me they were there to promote body acceptance and the point of the huge, plush hug was to help me explore ways I could be more comfortable in my skin.
"We are inclusive of size, shape, age, disability, gender, colour and sexuality," they said, with beatific smiles on their glowing young faces. As I enjoyed the tender moment, a pirate strode past (I also have a photo of him talking to fellow candidate, Crispin Hunt, who will be known to many readers of this paper as the Longpigs pop star).
"Who are you?" I asked the pirate of the south west, all bushy beard and turquoise swagger coat. "I am you and you are me," he said. "Yes, but what's your name?" I said, sensing a possible vote for the Change UK team. "Elijah," he said, combing his beard with his fingers. I digested this. "But what do your parents call you?" I asked. There was a pause. "Dylan," he said, and slunk towards a stall selling wallets and other sundry accessories made out of reclaimed tyres.
Plymouth was a write-off for Change UK. A very cross, older lady saw me with Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, who described Brexit thus: it's like a patient who's operation has been scheduled. But the surgeon is off, there are no instruments, and they are told they don't need it anyway. But they decide to go ahead with the op anyway because it has been booked. Genius.
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"You're from that lot who left their own parties and didn't even have by-elections," the cross woman from 'Plym' snarled. "You can have your leaflets back then."
It's very different talking to people as voters. I am more polite, I think. I try to listen harder to what they're saying, rather than trying to work out what the story is. You learn a lot. But the oddest things trigger. I tweeted a picture of my tea of home-baked scones, indicating my preference for the sequencing of cream/jam, and it was as if the Second World War had broken out in the south west. "You've just lost the Cornish vote!" people cried. Some sent me images of Anusol ointment saying, "The only cream that should go on the bottom."
Emily Maitlis, from Newsnight, and Alice Thomson, from the Times, came to tea on Saturday, to help finish them. After dissecting the defenestration of Gavin Williamson and the local election results and the state of two-party politics, we moved onto the truly controversial issue of the moment. Bathed in golden sunshine in the garden in Somerset (see my Insta for some of the Kodak moments mentioned in this piece) I dug the spoon into the buttery crust of the Rodda's tray, and asked the two power blondes, "Cream first, or jam first?"
"Cream of course," they chorused, "And lay it on thick!"
I am addicted to podcasts, especially the Spectator's 'Coffee House Shots', which I had on as I zoomed down the A303. Fraser Nelson has a very hypnotic voice and I was just nodding off past the Sparkford roundabout when luckily he said, "Change UK is a disgraceful shambles". That jolted me awake and I remained alert for the rest of the drive.
We may be living through a shitshow, but the upside is: as a result of all this ordure, ordure, we are living through a golden age of political journalism and broadcasting.
Rachel Johnson is a Change UK candidate for the European parliament in the south west
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter