I don’t do policy, but coming back from the swimming pool early in the morning a van plastered with Vote Leave stickers caught my eye, and the organizer standing next to it took up my suggestion that I could help with the final day of the campaign. Those of you who recall my inability to master my postal vote will marvel at my misplaced confidence in taking on a supposedly simple clerical task.
For 6 hours I sat in the corridor leading to the Polling Station collecting Poll Cards after people had voted. The idea is that each campaign ticks off the names of each of their voters and thus identifies those supporters who have not yet cast their vote, then goes round with a car, picks them up and takes them to vote. Anything to win a campaign. My task was to ask voters if they minded handing me their Poll Cards (with names and voting numbers) so that this identification job could be done.
Hence I sat next to a succession of Vote Remain supporters doing the same task for their side. The first Vote Remain lady was Anglo-Argentine, so we discussed Uruguayan beaches together while she taught me how to mark down the names, and outlined the regulations regarding our roles. She, her other Argentine lady friend and I chattered about Uruguay for quite a while. The next Vote Remain teller was civil but a little cooler, and to my mind was often canvassing voters as they went in, which irritated me. Another Vote Remain lady came with chocolate to sustain her colleague and offered me some despite our electoral differences. Finally, as the day wore on a replacement Vote Leave young man showed up, and we had long discussions in which he admitted he was in fact against the free movement of persons, but wanted the free movement only of those with firm job offers. He also, with superior knowledge gained from 3 months with the Remain campaign, said he doubted anyone would bother to chase non-voters because the turnout was so high, so my clerical efforts were very probably futile, a fact I had come to suspect.
Throughout the day there was a civil atmosphere, despite the occasional tension, mostly due to a personality difference with the second lady, who probably did not find me congenial, though she went out of her way to part from me on cordial terms.
The voters deserve a full chapter, but here is a brief sketch. Turnout was very high. The borough has many White British (as they would now be classified), with about 5% of them moving very slowly because of age, and perhaps as much as 1% with wheel chairs and carers. Mostly, although there were a number of young voters, that category looked as if they were dying out. A very few White British came with children, one man explaining to his 7 year old son the instructions for casting a vote, and the nature of the choice.
A separate category of White British were more mobile but rather bewildered working class men and women, who wanted help about where and how to vote. My impression is that they had not done so for many years. They found the process difficult, but wanted to make the effort. Seeing my Vote Leave badge several spoke to me on the way out, often with much emotion, expressing the feeling that they had been ignored, marginalised and taken for granted, and that their history, particularly of war time privation and sacrifice had been forgotten and was of no consequence. They all thought that Vote Leave would lose, and one already expected his vote would be tampered with. They spoke furtively, particularly about the sense of displacement, in an apologetic tone. I became convinced that the London vote was lost, and most probably the national vote as well, which polls put up to 4 points ahead for Remain.
I greeted various friends, of both Remain and Leave persuasions, and one unknown be-suited man cordially said to me “You are batting for the wrong side”. I had betrayed my class, and was siding with a rough sort of person.
Despite the usually well-to-do profile of the borough quite a number looked relatively poor. At a very rough estimate about 15% of the voters were obviously not European. Many of the women wore headscarves and a few of them full facial black coverings. Almost as if from central casting, one entered with 4 young children. Again, they seemed to be first time voters, civil and polite, mildly amazed at what they were doing.
There is nothing so instructive as meeting a wide selection of people, and hearing their stories. I wished I had recorded some of them. That includes the Remain tellers, who rehearsed their reasons for being of that persuasion, mostly seeking peace in Europe, internationalism and engagement with other countries. The dominant theme for Leave voters was a profound sense of loss.
The day was not without adventures. Dame Maggie Smith handed me her Poll Card, looking every inch her Violet Crawley character in Downton Abbey, though without any catty remarks. Sadly, I did not keep her card, thinking it unseemly. Later that afternoon another lady, who seemed vaguely familiar, came to sit next to me and rest a while and we got chatting. We must have spent 20 minutes covering English history, literature and culture till I finally told her she ought to go in and cast her vote. When she had done so she came out, handed me her card, flashed me a smile and said “I voted Communist”.
After 43 years the United Kingdom left the European Union and the Prime Minister tendered his resignation.
Dear Dame Diana Rigg, I am so very sorry I could not put a name to you until today, but I was in love with you in The Avengers, and next time you vote please come and sit with me again.