Then came the big one. Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
You know the result, but don’t believe the tales about who won it. We worked for three different organisations in as many months. No-one from HQ came to help. Our escape from the EU was enabled by the little people, the trudging band of heroes who went out over and over again, cajoled and talked and pleaded, who delivered as many leaflets as possible from the flood of stuff coming from people who had no idea of how hard it was to get them to their target audience. And when it was all over we’d won and no-one noticed that we, the little people, were the ones who did it, not the squabbling idiots at HQ, not the balding iconoclast with his group of fantasists who were sitting miles behind the lines and living in a world that those of us trudging the streets knew nothing about, not the big political beasts who popped up on the TV. Along the pavement, open the letterbox, post the leaflet, along the pavement, up the drive, open the letterbox, post the leaflet. Sometimes you’d meet a voter who wanted to talk, who listened and nodded when you made the point about sovereignty, sometimes you met abuse, hysterical denunciations.
Along the pavement… It’s the winning that counts.
With Brexit over, things went bang, We had leaders who made our impossible situation worse by every duff decision. They were hounded by a hostile press, mocked and pilloried, and lied about and ended up by behaving like complete dorks. I voted for three different leaders and got it wrong every time. At the County Council, we hung together, just, and ended our tour of duty with everyone still on board, close to a record for the class of 2013. “Well done,” said nobody. You don’t really think you’ll get thanks, do you?
We went down fighting. I’d discovered that councillors were attending the annual County Council Network Conference at a cost to the taxpayer of over £600 each at a four-star hotel for the weekend – over £600 per head while there were people on my estates who would have been grateful for five quid a week. We tried to get the local press, the Beeb, and our leaders interested in letting the voters know what was going on. We lost. I tracked down an academic from Oxford who gave me a briefing on why my town needed more money because of the demographics of the great 1960s overspill from London. Raised the matter with the CCG. Not interested. Found that Surrey had got more cash from central government by simply asking for it, and asked the Conservative group at a full council meeting to do the same. The local reporter didn’t even bother to take a note.
Then came the County Council election. We were wiped out. After working harder than the other parties, after all that effort, we didn’t even come close. You don’t really think there’s gratitude in politics, do you? Our group split, standing and failing under various flags with the chaos at the centre of UKIP ensuring that those of us who didn’t change party were openly mocked on the doorstep. “I’d have voted for you if you weren’t UKIP” was one comment. After all the blunders made by the Labour party, the antisemitism, their disdain for the average English voter, they still beat us all ends up. So did the LibDems, the LibDems, the cliché Party! The Cons emerged triumphant even after tugging their forelocks to Osborne’s austerity regime and meekly enforcing every cut he ordered. After that, it was over and we drifted off, some to other parties, some back to their sensible private lives.
Was it all worth it, the halitosis from talking too much, the weight gain from snatching fast food after meetings, the insomnia from worrying about how we could defend our people? After all, we lost, in the end we lost.
So, knowing all that, do you still want to be a politician?
I’ve walked through my poly-tunnels as the May sun rose, past thousands of plants climbing up their canes, all made by these hands. That was good. Being a little politician was better. In the 70s we used to fly back from Cyprus to train in the UK. Best was night flying, eight miles above a sleeping UK in a mighty Vulcan, crystal sky above, and the scattered luminous towns and villages below. The Americans, never short of a slogan, used to say ‘sleep safe, your air force is awake;. That’s what it felt like, being awake and defending our people. That was good. Being a lowly councillor was better.
All jobs have a high point, a moment to cherish. Mine, oddly enough, came after the wipe-out. A very senior Suffolk Conservative – leader, borough/county councillor, mayor, you name it – confessed to one of our members that “I voted for Julian because you vote for the man, not the label.” I cherish that endorsement.
After all the betrayals by those who should have known better, the petty squabbles within the local groups, the failures by a leadership that had forgotten its duty, HQ’s unforced errors in policy that turned the party I joined into a pariah, if I had the chance to do it again, would I take it?
Like a shot. Sometimes you win.