Westbury White Horse
Sometimes when hope fades there is joy in fighting for a cause that is just and noble, holding on even when things seem hopeless, but it’s hard to keep on keeping on when we see ignorance, prejudice, lies and half-truths deployed against everything we say and do, when all the forces of manipulation are arraigned against us. The BBC, both the national channels and the local, the local newspapers and the mainstream nationals eventually begin to grind you down, make you doubt yourself even though you know you are on the side of the angels. Worse are the encounters with plain ignorance: ‘food prices will soar’ is one I’ve met a couple of times, but ‘there are no plans for an EU army’ is the one that really winds me up.
Before I resigned from UKIP (they failed to heed my warnings about their direction of political travel and it’s poor consolation to be proved right) we did a whole series of stalls in local towns. In general we got a good reception as one would expect in an area which voted decisively to Leave, but one town – let’s call it Horsetun – was always difficult. At best we were hitting fifty fifty with our impromptu polls, sometimes worse than that, and we always got a hard core of Remainers who were quite happy to come to the stall and tell us that not only were we wrong to want to leave the EU, we were also betraying our country, our young people, our very humanity.
You could normally tell the LibDems, the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice’ brigade, like an army of Mrs May clones, ready to give the EU anything they asked for because then the EU would be nice to us. They were impervious to reason, logic or emotional pleas: as far as they were concerned nice people get treated nicely. ‘Well’, as Jordan Peterson would say ‘good luck with that, that’s not the way to bet.’
Cons tended to be politer but no less determined, deploying logic and reasoned argument based on the faulty premise that the EU is a democratic and peaceful organisation which is dedicated to world peace, apple pie and not invading Poland again. At least Cons listened. Not like Labour.
Labour used to employ one of two strategies. There was the determined and unpersuadable one – aggressive finger-prodding, loud, verging on the abusive but just within the bounds of robust discourse – and the abusive flyby. ‘I don’t talk to racists’ was a favourite over the shoulder shout as the Remainer swept past and away. There’s no counter to that, no chance to say ‘Madame, I’m not a racist. My grandparents were immigrants and I’ve got ethnic minority grandchildren’: if they won’t listen they can never hear truth which, I suppose, is the point. Oddly enough it was usually women who did that, young women of university student age. God knows what they are being taught. No wonder Cambridge votes Labour, what with all those student votes.
But things have changed, and for no discernible reason. The first couple of TBP stalls I’d helped at were more or less as before, Leave towns still supporting Leave with the minority Remainers acting in their normal predictable way. But Horsetun, suddenly, was different.
It was a simple table, a largish banner and a group of people handing out leaflets, with two TBP PPCs engaging with anyone who wanted to talk. It took me a while to notice the change. After about forty minutes I realised I’d had no hostility, no abuse, no catcalls. For the rest of the morning I paid more attention to how people were reacting to my ‘Excuse me Sir/Madame, would you like a free newspaper?’ The majority took them, and some of those were inveigled to vote via one of those bucket things where you put a ball in to signify your choice. The minority…
The minority said ‘no’ or shook their heads. Not rudely, not aggressively, most if them with no eye contact and heads down in a curiously muted way. It took me a while to twig what was going on. Those were Remainers and they were beginning to realise that they were losing the argument. Even in Horsetun, the town I’d always found as the least Brexit of any I’d canvassed, they were watching the antics in Parliament and had concluded that we can’t go on like this: for the sake of our country, for the sake of democracy, they were slowly coming to accept the majority decision.
The question in front of the buckets was ‘Who do you trust to deliver Brexit?’ The pictures were of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Johnson is the most popular Con PM for years. Nigel beat him over 4 to 1.
When Crete fell in WWII the report in the Times quoted G K Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse:
“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”
I get a new message from the buckets in Horsetun, the Chestertonian message trumpeted by The Times when Churchill spoke of “the end of the beginning”:
“The high tide!” King Alfred cried.
“The high tide and the turn!”
Let us not forget, though, that after Alfred’s great victory at Edington invading armies once again threatened his kingdom. In his ballad Chesterton likens the leader of the English to a small child sitting on White Horse Down, singing as he piles up stones into forts and towns and battlements that fall but are rebuilt again and again.
Here are the words that Chesterton put in the mouth of Alfred the Great, the man who set our islands on the path to the greatest empire the world had known, on the path that spread enlightenment, flickering and faulty but always upwards, around the whole globe:
I have a vision, and I know
The heathen shall return.
They shall not come with warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.
Now it is our turn to fight against the returned heathen, not with sword and spear and axe but with books and ink and free newspapers. We’re not there yet but the tide has turned. Eventually, no matter how the cowards and traitors flinch and sneer, we will win.
We are winning.
Photo by Bifford The Youngest