I normally love going out campaigning for the Labour Party. Door-knocking is a great way to take the political temperature, nosey around people’s houses and smash your FitBit. Not literally. But these Euro elections are proving to be as comfortable for Labour as Madonna’s performance at Eurovision.
Last weekend, I headed down to the South-West to support Labour’s only MEP in the region, Clare Moody. She’s a popular, experienced politician who has led the way on fighting Brexit. She did well at the hustings at Gloucester Cathedral which began with a prayer for our souls, which seemed appropriate given how Brexit is panning out.
But it was a different story on the doorstep in Bristol the next day. As we gathered to get a briefing from our coordinator, an angry man interrupted us, denouncing us. “You ought to be ASHAMED of yourselves for supporting something which is going to wreck this country.” I was quite flummoxed but a nice lady whispered “It’s fine, dear. We get this all the time. I’ll talk to him.”
She gently moved him away and tried to convince him in a soft, soothing voice that we respected the result but we might end up with a second referendum, but that our local candidate was definitely against Brexit. Funnily enough, he did not have a Damascene conversion.
This set the mood. Pretty much everyone I spoke to said they wanted to vote Labour but they couldn’t as they were ardent Remainers and felt a vote for us would be counted as pro-Brexit because our position was so confusing. We ploughed on regardless, explaining that this wasn’t a rerun of the EU referendum but about picking who they wanted to represent them in the European Parliament at this critical time.
We also reminded people about the grim reality of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage and the spectre of Ann Widdecombe being their MEP. It reminded me of when I first moved to London and had this hideous job selling dodgy timeshares on the phone. I tried to stick to the script with as much enthusiasm as I could muster but people just weren’t buying it.
"It reminded me of when I first moved to London and I had this hideous job selling dodgy timeshares"
I heard a cacophony of similar conversations all around me as we went from door to door. And this was in a rock-solid, safe Labour seat, which explains why the Lib Dems and Greens are surging (as well as the Brexit Party), according to polls today. They are taking support away from Labour. I know so many people who have always voted Labour who are torn about who to vote for tomorrow. I respect the Labour candidates in London, particularly Seb Dance, who has been unequivocal about a People’s Vote, and I will vote for them. But many others will not be as slavish.
I really feel for the many excellent Labour candidates working so hard out there. If they do lose, there’s one meagre thing in which they can take comfort — it was not their fault.
The fear Anne Frank felt is with us today
I loved and was heartbroken by the diary of Anne Frank. Her writing was clever, honest and historic. It inspired me to keep a diary, although mine was somewhat less profound — it was mainly my unsuccessful quest for a perm and a boyfriend.
I recently visited the house in which she hid in Amsterdam, now of course a museum and one of the city’s main tourist attractions. As you stand in the cramped dark rooms you cannot comprehend the horror of the Holocaust, only a historical heartbeat ago. Yet that memory is in danger of fading. A survey by ComRes for CNN on anti-Semitism across Europe found that in France, 20 per cent of adults aged 18 to 24 said they had never heard of the Holocaust.
In Austria, it was 12 per cent, and here in the UK we have a horrible resurgence of anti-Semitism. My visit was powerful but upsetting, especially in the current climate of racial and religious division and an ugly culture war fuelled by populism. It was a reminder that persecution doesn’t happen overnight — it starts with words of hate, marginalising a group, and can end in man-made hell.
Frank and her diary have become iconic but she was just a teenager who wanted to be a journalist and lead an interesting life — which she would have done but wasn’t allowed. As her schoolfriend said, she didn’t just die. She was murdered for being a Jewish girl. We must never forget.
Progress, but ladies are still waiting ...
I so enjoyed Emilia (at the Vaudeville Theatre until June 1), with the excellent Clare Perkins in the lead role. It’s like a feminist Hamilton, telling the imagined bio-drama of England’s first published female poet, Emilia Bassano, whose work was lost. It’s powerful, pacy, funny and never too worthy. The audience was full of women of all ages and backgrounds. Not your usual theatre crowd. Perhaps it’s the all-female, diverse cast? Or the cracking production? The only downside — punishing queues for the ladies’ loos. The struggle continues.