After three years of Brexit, it’s easy to feel jaded, worn out and helpless. Whichever way you voted in the referendum of June 2016, I’ll bet my Grandma’s best black hat you didn’t think you were voting for the mess we’re all in now. It would be so easy to give up, to throw our hands in the air and join the many who are saying, ‘I want it all to go away. Just get on with it.’
I sympathise, I really do. I’m exhausted too, fed up, punch drunk, dulled with Brexit overload. Every day seems to get worse, as out poor divided worn-out nation trudges blindly to the cliff edge. So on Saturday – PutItToThePeopleMarch Day – when the alarm went off at the unbelievable time of 5 am, I expected to feel resentful, cross at myself for giving up a Saturday lie-in, and hopelessly inadequate at the gigantic task of turning the Brexit juggernaut around, a mere six days before 29 March.
Once on the coach from Malvern, though, the People’s Vote magic took over. It was like a combo of a long-awaited school outing, and going away on the best holiday you’ve ever had. The coach was packed with excited Malverners, sharing very early picnics, dropping flasks, swapping maps of the route, and joshing with our excellent driver Alan. People exchanged “What I Did at the Last March” stories, while a couple of pipers started up an impromptu rendering of Ode to Joy, the EU anthem. The positive vibes swelled and the bonhomie got louder and warmer. By the time we stopped to relieve our (mostly) elderly bladders in Oxford, we were as excited as five year olds going to the Panto. Even the prospect of walking miles just to get from the coach park in Bayswater to the beginning of the march didn’t dent our enthusiasm. We were swept up by People’s Vote fever; and it kept us going all that very long day.
By now, Dear Reader, you will have read and heard numerous accounts of the million-strong march and wonderful rallying speeches in Parliament Square. I won’t repeat the gist here. I just want to give you a flavour of my own experience, which perhaps will explain why I did indeed get up at five am that day, and why I’ll continue to campaign for a People’s Vote.
Here are a few of my highlights:
- Walking past a very elderly and tiny lady making her way with great determination, accompanied by solicitous friends. As I looked back to smile at her, I realised I had finally seen one of my lifelong heroes in the flesh. It was the great Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, Cabinet Minister under both Wilson and Callaghan, founder member of the SDP, and daughter of the renowned peace activist and author Vera Brittain.
- The cyclists who swept past us at the Crimean AWar Memorial, loudly playing Tragedy by the BeeGees and keeping ahead of the police, who don’t like loud noises except when they make them.
- Hearing an array of wonderful speakers of all political persuasions who really summed up the pro-European spirit: Anna Soubry, calm despite having to spend the night away from home avoiding death threats; Caroline Lucas, passionate; David Lammy, down-to-earth; Dominic Grieve, logical and grave; Nicola Sturgeon, who so many of us wish was our head of government; Sadiq Khan, tired but unremitting; Sandi Toksvig, ebullient; Tom Watson, a mere slip of a Deputy Labour Leader.
- Then there were the inspiring and eloquent young people representing the four home nations; the NHS panel led by the President of the BMA; Steve Coogan; and of course the mellow mature-man magnet herself, Mariella Frostrup.
- Finally, when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Lord Heseltine took to the stage. He deployed his mighty intellect and gift for public speaking to wonderful effect, reminding us how the roots of the EU were founded by his even greater predecessor Winston Churchill (who was benignly watching events from just over our shoulders). And left us in no doubt how horrified Margaret Thatcher would have been to see the danger to our country posed by leaving the Common Market.
To wrap up my account, here’s a clip you won’t have seen, just to give you the flavour of what it was like in that wonderful good-humoured crowd.