In Gerrards Cross, in the rain, dusk falling, attempting to gauge the political mood of the town through the pristine fatuity of ‘vox pops’. You scour the street in desperate search of anyone who is aware an election is taking place and try to avoid the drongos. I approach one chap — besuited, late-middle-aged — and strike lucky.
He is aware that we are in the midst of a general election campaign. He explains to me: ‘I am absolutely pig sick of the lot of them. It’s an absolute disgrace! We voted to leave the EU three years ago and it still hasn’t been done. They’ve let us all down. The only thing that matters is let’s get out! Now!’
Thank you, sir. And what way will you be voting? ‘Well, I think I’ll give the Lib Dems a go this time.’
I was a bit under the weather and, as I say, it was raining, so I didn’t stop to enquire if he had recently undergone invasive surgery to remove the frontal and parietal lobes of his brain and have them replaced by a packet of cheese Doritos. Also, it’s not the done thing to query the patent idiocies spouted by members of the public during vox pops. You are meant to nod at the manifest sagacity of each reply. Nor are you supposed, as a journalist, to punch or kick members of the public, no matter how asinine they might be.
In the Northamptonshire town of Corby a few years back I accosted a little old lady. ‘What way are you going to vote on Thursday, madam?’ She thought for a moment and replied: ‘Well, I turn right out of my house and walk down Dovedale Road to the main road at the bottom, and they usually have a polling station in the school opposite.’ A good friend of mine had an even better story. A doctor by profession, he asked one of his nursing staff which way she had voted in the referendum. ‘Oooh, I don’t get involved in things like that,’ she replied, ‘but my son voted. He loves travelling — he goes all over the place, so he voted Leave.’
The man in Gerrards Cross — perhaps it was the eponymous Gerrard, because he was in a right bate — may be the last person in the United Kingdom still considering voting Liberal Democrat. Clearly he needs to be shown a video of the party’s grim, bumptious and arrogant leader, Jo Swinson, which should sort him out, lobotomy or otherwise. A recent poll showed that the more people see of Ms Swinson, the more they dislike her. When she did not really exist in the public mind as a functioning human being, a real person, but was instead just a kind of abstract idea to which someone had appended the letters joswinson, people rather liked her: she was just a wraith, a creature solely of the imagination. Faced with the reality of Jo Swinson, people wise up very quickly indeed. ‘Christ alive,’ they say to one another, staring in horror at the TV screen, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’
These include several of the Conservative MPs who got the hell out of the party and joined the Lib Dems over the issue of Brexit. Antoinette Sandbach and others have been appalled by Swinson’s insistence that if by some hideous mischance there were to be a Lib Dem government, Article 50 would be revoked immediately. And as a corollary, Swinson’s insistence that no matter how many referendums were to be held, her government would ignore them entirely and keep us in the European Union.
This is explicitly undemocratic, of course, and the fact that it is a redoubt into which she has crawled in order for the public to more easily distinguish between the Lib Dem position and that of Labour does not excuse it or make it more democratic. It is also a crass misreading of the general public. It may be — although personally I gravely doubt it — that a sufficient number of Leave voters have changed their minds over the past three years (and if they have, largely because they were bored into stupefaction). But that is only when asked the question in abstract. Almost all the Remainers I know think we should leave, if only to uphold the democratic vote. And those who don’t are, like Ms Sandbach, in favour of a ‘confirmatory referendum’. Nobody I’ve talked to thinks we should simply ignore the referendum entirely. What a dangerous precedent that would set.
This message seems to have struck home with the public. Four weeks ago the pollsters — and people like me, for that matter — were talking about a quite possibly huge Lib Dem upsurge, with the Swinson creature, still a figment of the imagination for many, poised to take an extra 40 or 50 new seats. But that was before the Revoke Article 50 policy was adopted and the Lib Dems were running at 20 per cent in the polls. Since mid-October, when the policy was announced, there has been a steep decline and the party is now on about 14 per cent. Some of that support has gone to Labour, now polling above 30 per cent for the first time in ages. So we might conclude that, morally speaking, the Revoke policy was disgusting — and that it has electorally backfired for that very reason. Good.
Meanwhile, I remain a little more optimistic about a Tory majority than I was six weeks ago. It may well be that the residual 4 per cent of the electorate still clinging on to Nigel Farage’s coat-tails may harm the Labour vote as much as the Tory vote. But it is an upside-down and extremely volatile election, with the Conservatives showing considerable success in blue-collar areas and Labour harvesting votes among the middle classes.
More to the point, another 13 per cent of the electorate are still undecided. Who are these people? What more, exactly, do you need to know?