I couldn’t believe it. Was this what 30 years of (mostly) radical political activity came down to? Delivering leaflets on behalf of David Cameron! Oh sure, the leaflet said ‘Labour In’ and even had a nice picture of Jeremy Corbyn on the back with the most underwhelming message in support of continued EU membership that one could imagine. But I took heart from this. This wasn’t about how great the EU was. No this was about pragmatics, and the simple realisation that for a variety of reasons, leaving the EU would not only be bad for the economy but for the cultural direction of the UK.
Thus far, the whole campaign was characterised by the Conservative Party tearing itself apart – ‘Blue-on-Blue’ the media called it, but it was more ‘Blonde-on-Brown’. Yes, Boris Johnson had stabbed his friend David Cameron in the back when he announced his intention to campaign for a leave vote. Earlier this year, one could not have got a cigarette paper between them on this most vital of questions, now….
This act of treachery filled me with rage. ‘How could you do it Johnson, you over-ambitious asshole?’ Every time I saw Cameron’s face a wave of empathy rushed over me.
‘Don’t worry Dave, stay strong, you, me and Jeremy will halt the rise of the blonde assassin and his racist ‘spiv’ associate’.
How were these feelings possible?
I thought I hated David Cameron.
This was my self-justification for delivering pro-EU propaganda to local households on the London-Essex border. It made a change from the stuff I used to deliver. Here I was ready to defend the status quo at the drop of a hat. I was agitating for the establishment, yet I felt clean and unaffected. How nice to play the grown-up and confront these dangerous radicals, of both left and right, on their half-baked plans and their wistful fantasies.
Oh how I pitied them, despised them even.
However, my main concern as I walked up and down people’s front gardens, was what to say if someone challenged me. Should I argue at all, or come out with some witticism or clever putdown? Might that only provoke or alienate? Thirty years of actively studying politics and economics on a daily basis, seemed meaningless if this wisdom was not transferable to a pithy anecdote, or some clever phrase. The very idea of communicating in such a false way made me feel sick. I comforted myself that I really would have made a poor politician. After all, I still read books for Christ’s sake!
It was then when I saw her grey head walking up and down front gardens, zig-zagging towards me. She too was delivering leaflets and I knew instantly that she was working for Vote Leave. My bile rose up in my throat, I would have to say something – a golden nugget to get under her skin. What if she actually had some political understanding, and a longer discussion was required? This would require an entirely different approach. I rehearsed a thousand different arguments in the 20 or so seconds it took for us to virtually collide outside someone’s garden gate, and when this fateful moment occurred all I could manage was:
She looked at me momentarily, shook her head to free a pair of earphones which I had not noticed.
‘I said you guys want us to lose our employment rights so Boris can inaugurate a form of neoliberalism which would make Maggie look like a socialist. You really think we can leave the single market without consequences? All of business and expert opinion is lined up against you.’
Ah, that felt good.
‘We can trade with other nations.’
‘Trade with other nations!! If it was that easy, nobody would want to be in the EU in the first place. Nobody likes the EU, including Cameron and Corbyn!’ I spluttered.
‘It’s all this migration,’ she returned. ‘We can’t control our own borders.’
‘No one can control their own borders, we all have equal access to each others’ borders, that’s the whole point!’
‘But there are too many coming here, and we can’t cope.’
‘Can’t cope, do you not realise that migrants make a net contribution to the economy?’ Ever since Thatcher’s day, the idea has been to make the UK a low-wage flexible labour market. The whole thing has been set up for migration, the Brexit free-market Tories don’t even understand the logic of their own argument! How dare they blame the migrants for low wages – for shame!’
She stepped back a bit. It was working, she was an amateur, and she had not even mentioned wages.
Then she said it, her final rally…
‘Uncontrolled migration is a drain on public services, particularly the NHS. We need to take…’
‘NHS!!’ I shouted, slightly frightened by the level of my own volume. I stole a quick glance around the neighbourhood so as to ensure we were not causing a disturbance.
‘Let me tell you about the NHS!’ Last year my father almost lost the sight in his left eye. The doctor who saved his sight was from Greece. She was wonderfully attentive to my father’s needs to such an extent that he did not want to see any other doctor. It was as if she was a pagan Greek Goddess to our family. Even when we were at home eating dinner, the conversation would turn to Dr Frangoli. We would stop eating, and once I noticed a little tear dropping from my father’s left eye. He was so grateful, awestruck by this woman. ‘I don’t want any other doctor touching my eye,’ he said, ‘I trust only her.’ If that was not enough, most of the aftercare service was carried out by other migrants from the EU, as well as other countries. For days we sat in that hospital praising these people to high heaven. They appeared like angels to us. I even joked with them, saying, ‘Thanks for leaving your country and tending to our needs.’ How many Greeks have lost their eyesight whilst Dr Frangoli was helping my father? Eh? How many?! Migrants are not a drain on the NHS, they ARE the bloody NHS! Without them we would be screwed, how can you be so disrespectful?!’
I stopped and caught my breath. God I felt like crying!
I noticed my companion had shuffled back, she had clearly had enough.
‘I see,’ she said. And almost as an act of contrition, she whispered, ‘Well I guess your father will be voting for Remain then?’
‘Oh no, he’ll be voting for your lot.’
We stared at each other for a couple of seconds before she took her leave and recommenced delivering her leaflets. I stood there listening to my heart thumping. I was quite worn out, and just wanted to go home. I observed her mechanically zig-zagging up and down the remaining front gardens, but the swagger had left her gait.
I looked at the crumpled leaflet in my hand. It had become sodden with sweat. How had it come down to this? Without any enthusiasm whatsoever, I too continued with my leafleting.
‘Better get these delivered for Cameron,’ I reasoned.