Be­cause ev­ery­thing is im­pos­si­ble… un­til we make it hap­pen

ALAS­TAIR CAMP­BELL on why the time for ac­tion has only just be­gun

The New European - - Agenda - Mitch Benn

Well it was cer­tainly dif­fer­ent to the last time we marched in Lon­don, a few months ago. Not sim­ply the num­bers, which had swelled by a fac­tor of five or six, so that a friend I was go­ing to see at the end did not get to Par­lia­ment Square un­til four hours af­ter the front had set off, and by which time I was in the pub try­ing to catch the end of Manch­ester City’s 5-0 de­mo­li­tion of Burn­ley. (Ir­rel­e­vant Brexit ref­er­ence alert – the sec­ond goal was al­most as big a cheat as the Big Fat Lie on the Big Red Bus: a foul in the build-up, a dive by Leroy Sane, an off­side and the ball out of play be­fore be­ing crossed.) How­ever, win some, lose some and, as my non-foot­ball-un­der­stand­ing part­ner Fiona texted, “at least it was Peo­ple’s Vote 5 Brexit 0 on the march”.

Maybe not 5-0, but it cer­tainly felt like a mo­ment. The Brexit elite sought to present the whole thing as a metropoli­tan elite/ es­tab­lish­ment plot to thwart the will of the peo­ple. Nice spin guys. But not very ef­fec­tive. Be­cause the Brexit elite and the govern­ment are the es­tab­lish­ment. There were peo­ple on the march of all ages and back­grounds, all colours, from all re­gions and all four na­tions of the UK.

The June march was, to be frank, all a bit Waitrose. Very mid­dle class. Very mid­dle Eng­land. Very mid­dle aged. This was much more broad-based. That was re­flected not just in the far greater vol­ume of coaches com­ing from as far afield as west­ern Corn­wall, west­ern Wales and through the night from In­ver­ness. But also in the far greater pro­por­tion of young peo­ple, which is why we took the de­ci­sion for the march to be led not by politi­cians but by stu­dents and other young peo­ple. Some were not old enough to vote in 2016. Oth­ers ad­mit­ted they had not voted be­cause they never thought Re­main would lose. But some – enough to re­alise this too was dif­fer­ent to last time – ad­mit­ted they had voted Leave and wished they hadn’t.

That was what led our com­père Mariella Frostrup to ad-lib a wel­come to Leavers who felt let down by what had hap­pened since the ref­er­en­dum. As she ticked me off back­stage for “oc­ca­sion­ally com­ing over as a tad on the ag­gres­sive side”, she said if there was ever go­ing to be unity in the coun­try again, our side had to start the process.

So it felt like a move­ment. Whereas a few weeks ago it was hard to get the rich and the fa­mous to dig into their pock­ets to help fund it, this time it was easy to get more than 30 of them to fund a coach from their ar­eas. Whereas last time it was a bit of a strug­gle to put to­gether a re­ally good mix of speak­ers, fa­mous and not-so-- fa­mous, this time we were hav­ing to turn them away. “Can I speak?” was the text to lift the heart be­fore the sum­mer, and sink it now, as a re­fusal some­times of­fends.

That sense of it be­ing a move­ment was height­ened when MPS of five par­ties stood to­gether and ex­pressed their sup­port for a Peo­ple’s Vote, and MPS of two par­ties – Labour’s Phil Wil­son and the Con­ser­va­tive Sarah Wol­las­ton – stood to­gether to say they sim­ply were not pre­pared to lie down and ac­cept some­thing that they know will make their con­stituents poorer.

With Lon­don mayor Sadiq Khan speak­ing, Scot­land’s first min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon send­ing in by video a very well­judged mes­sage that put the na­tional in­ter­est ahead of a purely na­tion­al­ist stance, and with celebri­ties as var­ied as Gary Lineker and Deb­o­rah Meaden, Delia Smith and Olly Alexan­der all in­volved, Phil Wil­son was never go­ing to take the head­lines out­side his na­tive Durham.

But his mes­sage was im­por­tant, not least be­cause if we do not win the sup­port of the vast ma­jor­ity of Labour MPS for a Peo­ple’s Vote, we are un­likely to get one, no mat­ter how chaotic and sham­bolic – yes, it can get worse folks – the ne­go­ti­a­tions and the Tory in­fight­ing be­comes. Wil­son, a miner’s son and as life­long Labour and work­ing class back­ground as they come, said he did not come into pol­i­tics to make the peo­ple of Sedge­field poorer. And urged col­leagues who might be tempted to sup­port Theresa May in vot­ing for what­ever deal she man­ages to cob­ble to­gether to un­der­stand that Brexit is now a moral is­sue. It was time for “lead­er­ship not fol­low­ship”.

The sense of a vac­uum in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, and the frus­tra­tion of mil­lions feel­ing that the main party lead­ers are not speak­ing for them, was with­out doubt one of the rea­sons for the big­ger than ex­pected turnout. The prime min­is­ter ap­pears to be run­ning out of friends and ad­mir­ers, and lacks the ba­sic skills for a ne­go­ti­a­tion as dif­fi­cult and com­plex as this (though heaven help us if the idea of David ‘no de­tail’ Davis as an in­terim stand in get off the ground). There was none of the “where’s Jeremy Cor­byn?” chant­ing of last time. But given he has prob­a­bly been to more protest ral­lies than any other MP in the coun­try, it does seem strange that the Labour lead­er­ship’s ap­proach to the march on the big­gest is­sue of our time was not merely to stay away but es­sen­tially to ig­nore it. May has dis­missed the Peo­ple’s Vote as a “politi­cians’ cam­paign”. If only. If only we could get more MPS of all sides to sup­port the per­fectly demo­cratic no­tion that an is­sue as im­por­tant as this should be tested against the will of the peo­ple, given the chasm be­tween what peo­ple voted on, and both the no-deal de­sired by the Brex­trem­ists, and the unloved and un­work­able Che­quers mush, (May’s plan cur­rently polling among Bri­tish vot­ers be­hind Saudi Ara­bia and Don­ald Trump).

That is why the rally ended with a call to ac­tion – for the pub­lic to write to their MPS, and visit their MPS, so they know that the peo­ple will not be side­lined, si­lenced, or ex­cluded from this process. MPS do re­spond to pres­sure. As Michel Barnier some­what un­kindly said of the prime min­is­ter, she says no – un­til she says yes.

Both be­fore and af­ter the rally, I was struck by how many peo­ple, again a sign of frus­tra­tion, were stop­ping me and ask­ing “what more can I do?” The an­swer is you do what­ever you can. What I did for the last few weeks was to drop pretty much ev­ery­thing else to help the Peo­ple’s Vote team make the event a suc­cess.

OK, eas­ier for me as I know them all al­ready, like work­ing with them, have ac­cess to the me­dia, have good num­bers in

my phone and a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence of cam­paign­ing. I’m think­ing of set­ting up “what can I do?” surg­eries so that we can use bet­ter the many of­fers of help and sup­port we get. Some peo­ple have money – and many thanks to Ju­lian Dunker­ton and Peter Coates for help­ing fund a me­dia ad cam­paign which def­i­nitely drove up num­bers. Oth­ers have time, ideas, net­works. We need to use them.

But my favourite “what can I do?” out­comes con­cerned the films made for the event. I have been work­ing with a film­maker called Mark Lu­cas for al­most 30 years, mainly on elec­tion broad­casts and char­ity videos. His “what can I do?” ac­tion was to put to­gether some ter­rific films for the event, in­clud­ing the one which kicked it off and the one which closed it – “ev­ery­thing is im­pos­si­ble un­til we make it hap­pen”. If you haven’t seen them yet you should. And if you don’t get a shiver down your spine when the mu­sic stops and nar­ra­tor Brian Cox says the words “un­til we make it hap­pen...” you ei­ther don’t have a spine down which a tin­gle can travel. Or you are Ja­cob Rees-mogg.

Cox also had his own beyond-the-call “what can I do?” mo­ment. When we asked the Scot­tish ac­tor to nar­rate the clos­ing film, he did not hes­i­tate. But he was in

New York work­ing so we had to get him to a stu­dio in Brook­lyn the next day. We sent over the words. He recorded the voice-over. Then rather sheep­ishly he said “lis­ten, I don’t know if this is any good but I woke up in the mid­dle of the night and wrote some­thing. Can I read it to you?” So he did. And we were blown away. That won­der­ful voice helps of course and you can see it on­line for the full ef­fect.

But the words are su­perb too. Here they are.

“Lies were told, promises made that can­not and will not be hon­oured. The lack of con­sid­er­a­tion of our in­dus­trial and busi­ness en­ter­prises, of re­la­tion­ships that have blos­somed and flour­ished for over 40 years un­der our Euro­pean al­liance. The dam­age is in­cal­cu­la­ble.

“The dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on our aca­demic life, our univer­si­ties, the waste in­curred by aban­doned joint Euro­pean projects, projects for ex­am­ple in the arena of life sciences, ded­i­cated to the bet­ter­ment of the health of all na­tions.

“In 1940 with the threat of fas­cism knock­ing on the door of our is­land, Win­ston Churchill pro­posed that the peo­ple of

France and the peo­ple of the United King­dom be united by joint cit­i­zen­ship. Then in 1963, two years be­fore he died he wrote: ‘the fu­ture of Europe if Bri­tain were to be ex­cluded is black in­deed’. Never have those words been as pre­scient as to­day.

“The rise of neo-con­ser­vatism, mir­rored both in the east and west, fos­tered by the nar­cis­sis­tic thought­less id­iocy of the Amer­i­can POTUS com­bined by the sheer vi­cious thug­gery of the poi­soner of Moscow.

“Now more than ever has there been a time where a united not di­vided Europe should hold and keep a bal­ance of po­lit­i­cal san­ity in our world.

“The op­por­tunis­tic clowns of Brexit – Gove, John­son, the lit­tle Eng­lan­der Farage and the feu­dal­ist Rees-mogg – have shown not an iota of Churchill’s vi­sion and wis­dom. The global po­lit­i­cal cli­mate of 2018 is now so rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to that of 2016. A Peo­ple’s Vote is vi­tal in or­der that they be given the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect and re­view how the ref­er­en­dum of 2016 has been al­tered by the so­cial po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic na­ture of our lives to­day in 2018.”

And here, fi­nally, is the script of the film that had sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand tin­gles go­ing down sev­eral hun­dred spines.

“So many of the things we value… So many of the great steps for­ward we have taken… seemed im­pos­si­ble, un­til they hap­pened. The NHS was called a pipedream. The es­tab­lish­ment voted against it 21 times. The fight went on. Un­til a fi­nal vote made it hap­pen.

“Peace in North­ern Ire­land was a moon­shot. It could never be. Un­til some brave lead­ers took a chance on peace. And peo­ple north and south voted for progress.

“Votes for women, civil part­ner­ships, de­vo­lu­tion for Scot­land and Wales, the move­ments against fas­cism and apartheid – of­ten op­posed by the pow­er­ful… but made real by the peo­ple.

“We came, and stood in the rain to­gether. Marched to­gether. Sang to­gether.

“And now we fight again. For our fam­i­lies. For our com­mu­ni­ties. For our chil­dren.

“It is time for a Peo­ple’s Vote on the Brexit deal. Be­cause ev­ery­thing is im­pos­si­ble… un­til we make it hap­pen.”

If that doesn’t in­spire you, noth­ing will. So ask the ques­tion “what can I do?” Then do it.

Well, that was a thing. I took part in the Peo­ple’s Vote March for the Fu­ture in Lon­don on Satur­day and, a quick men­tal num­ber-crunch con­firms, there’s a rea­son­able sta­tis­ti­cal prob­a­bil­ity that you did too.

I’ve seen the jaw-drop­ping aerial shots (we spent much of the day wav­ing at news he­li­copters) and my own video di­ary of the event is al­ready up on Youtube and else­where, but some­thing that none of the cov­er­age con­veys is the mount­ing sense of ex­cite­ment and dis­be­lief which passed through the crowd as each up­dated es­ti­mate of the at­ten­dance fig­ures be­came known.

Even be­fore we moved off, as­sem­bled but im­mo­bile in Park Lane, re­ports broke that at least half a mil­lion peo­ple were tak­ing part; soon af­ter we set off some were quot­ing 570,000; this was soon re­vised to 600,000, then 670,000, and by the end of the day most rep­utable sources seemed to have set­tled on a fi­nal tally of some­thing like 700,000 marchers. The next day, some peo­ple were cit­ing over a mil­lion but I’ve no idea what they were bas­ing that on. Suf­fice to say that the pre­vi­ous march, back in June, at­tracted a lot of peo­ple; this march at­tracted a hell of a lot of peo­ple.

It’s not re­ally pos­si­ble, of course, to get much of a sense of the size of a protest when you your­self are in the mid­dle of it, but right from the get-go there were in­di­ca­tors that this march was an ex­po­nen­tially big­ger deal than its pre­de­ces­sor.

For a start, there’s the fact that it be­gan in Park Lane; June’s march had its start­ing line at Water­loo Place, a good mile closer to Par­lia­ment Square (the com­mon des­ti­na­tion of both marches). Once we fi­nally got mov­ing, it took us over an hour to cover the dis­tance from this march’s start­ing point to the pre­vi­ous one’s.

There was also the fact that on this oc­ca­sion, I never even made it to Par­lia­ment Square. Back in June, I strolled into the square and sat down right at the front by the stage; this time around, by the time I made it to the home stretch on White­hall, it was 3.30pm (half an hour af­ter the rally and speeches were sched­uled to end) and peo­ple were be­ing turned away from the al­ready over­crowded square. The protest was far too big for its al­lot­ted space.

My hope for this march was that we’d maybe dou­ble the size of June’s turnout. We seem to have at least quadru­pled it.

While the mas­sive at­ten­dance was a huge vin­di­ca­tion of the march’s goals and aims, the fact that I didn’t make it into the square in time for the rally meant that I missed what was sup­posed to be my ‘big mo­ment’; the video for my Fi­nal Deal Vote song was shown on the big screen be­fore the speeches be­gan.

I’m told it went down well; at the time, I was oth­er­wise en­gaged, hav­ing been left in more or less sole charge of the huge, street’s width-wide Peo­ple’s Vote ban­ner which was sup­posed to be car­ried at the front of the march, but which was quickly over­taken by more or less ev­ery­one, given the dif­fi­culty in keep­ing it both taut and mo­bile.

When I’d ar­rived in Park Lane at around noon, I’d been in­vited to stand be­hind the ban­ner along with var­i­ous peo­ple of far higher box of­fice and po­lit­i­cal clout than me while the as­sem­bled press took pho­tos. You may have seen some of these shots; in amongst the likes of Ed­die Iz­zard, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Alas­tair Camp­bell, Mariella Frostrup, Richard Ba­con, Sarah Wol­las­ton and Deb­o­rah Meaden there’s a bloke with a beard and glasses and a ‘What The Hell Am I Do­ing Here?’ look on his face. That’s me.

Un­for­tu­nately, once the ban­ner and its starry ret­inue set off, its progress was so glacial that the de­ci­sion was swiftly taken to spirit the A-lis­ters away to Par­lia­ment Square as they all had speeches to de­liver and would never get there on time oth­er­wise. So it was that the job of steer­ing the ban­ner fell to me and a re­doubtable stew­ard named Bash.

I fi­nally lost sight of the ban­ner in White­hall, be­cause I’d dis­cov­ered that not only had my 78-year-old mum turned up unan­nounced from Liver­pool, but she was just ahead of us by the Trafal­gar Stu­dios theatre. I left the ban­ner in Bash’s ca­pa­ble hands and went off in search of her. “I just couldn’t stay away,” ex­plained my mum. “I couldn’t not be here.”

And I’ve been think­ing about those words as the enor­mity of the protest has sunk in. That’s what it was for all of us. We couldn’t stay away. We couldn’t not be there.

So now what?

Well, as I’ve been point­ing out, the size of June’s de­mon­stra­tion planted the idea of a fi­nal deal vote firmly in the pub­lic dis­course, and it’s been grow­ing in cred­i­bil­ity ever since. And the morn­ing af­ter this march, there was a re­port in the Sun­day Times that civil ser­vants are, pri­vately, gam­ing out just what or­gan­is­ing such a vote would in­volve.

Some­thing which I haven’t seen since the march is the cho­rus of sneer­ing tweets and op-eds from the usual

Brex­i­teer sus­pects who dis­missed June’s protest as some sort of dilet­tante, mid­dle­class jolly. They’re not even try­ing to dis­miss this one. They’ve all gone a bit quiet.

Things are chang­ing. Be­cause we are mak­ing them change.

Ev­ery­one who made it on Satur­day, thank you. Ev­ery­one who couldn’t; don’t worry, there will be ways to con­trib­ute, ways to help out, ways to keep mak­ing things change.

Re­sist. It’s work­ing.

Photo: John Kee­ble/ Getty Images

THE MOOD IS CHANG­ING: Cam­paign­ers hold plac­ards and march to de­mand a Peo­ple’s Vote against Brexit last week­end

Photo: Getty Images

THE FORCE IS WITH US: Mitch, cen­tre left hold­ing cam­era, with Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry, Alas­tair Camp­bell and Delia Smith, among other fa­mous faces at last week­end’s march

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.