Yesterday Zak and I went to the People’s Vote march in London. We took the short route from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square, rather than walking all the way from Park Lane, so we could be back home for the dog. Zak was taking photos, so we joined the front of the march, and only had a sense of the numbers behind when an organiser said, ‘Clear the road please, there’s a million people coming.’
I voted leave, because of potential EU changes to the rules of provenance for antiques at sale. And because I interpreted the national interest as though it was 1580. I repent this bitterly, but it’s a day of rest, and I have promised to be brief and light.
On the train up to London we were squeezed in like toothpaste, holding intense statistical conversations. ‘A majority of the House of Lords are against it… 80% of Tory peers.’ There was a long train announcement but we couldn’t hear it. Everything was a metaphor. We were on a crowded train going somewhere. A form of words we could all agree on.
Many of my colleagues at work are from the EU, and I wondered how the vibe at work would be after this kick in the teeth of the vote. I thought I saw in some a look of unsurprise, a sort of recalibration. So you’re that sort of country after all. It was a horrible feeling. We’re not that sort of country and I’m determined we won’t be.
Zak and I had a coffee in Soho. The barista was called Angelo, and it was an auspicious name. On the way from Victoria, a policeman had mistaken me for a new-rightist in my black and denim, so I was keen to show European amity. As he gave me our vanilla lattes I said, ‘Grazi’ Angelo!’ in a splendid accent. Perhaps his name wasn’t Angelo. Then I had to go back in again to go to the lavatory. All very British embarrassment.
Outside, there was a party of protesters, led by a woman in a shawl. She reminded me of my aunt, and they were trying to think up a good chant. ‘Teresa May We Remain!’ she shouted, and they joined in, and I shouted it and Zak cringed. They went off down the road happily debating whether it was ‘Teresa May – We Remain’ or ‘Teresa, may we remain.’
And that was rather the point about yesterday’s protest, all the nice sensible people on the march, the people who see Europe as family. A family you might niggle with, but at bottom they’ve got your back. (Or as a friend said, ‘You think dealing with Europe is difficult; try dealing with China). In Trafalgar Square, I overheard a guy pointing to the statue of George IV as a meeting point, ‘the guy on the horse.’ ‘George IV,’ I said, and he said ‘Of Hanover’ and we grinned and felt pan-European.
Banners said ‘Down With This Sort of Thing’ and ‘Grumpy Old Gits Remain.’ A dachshund with a coat saying ‘Brexit is the Wurst.’ (I’m not really sure that dogs should be at protests, but there were quite a few of them and they seemed thoroughly happy.) The best of the more savage placards is a masterpiece, a photo of Nigel Farage with ‘Xenophobe, Racist, Twat.’ My own feeling, ‘Stop This Madness Now!’
One guy was actually carrying a stretched, painted canvas of a headless chicken. Heavy to carry, but he was in a proper old tradition, Banksy meets the Eighteenth Century.
For a march that was – on the face of it – asking for a vote on a range of options, including the famous agreement, it was overwhelmingly pro-EU. Seeing that swathe of blue and yellow coming down Whitehall, a dear relative of mine would undoubtedly reach for her water-cannon, if it wasn’t for the dogs. And I appreciate her reasons.
There were thirty or so Leave Means Leave protesters at Trafalgar Square, all in hi-viz like the maillots-jaunes in Paris. ‘What do we want? Brexit! When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘Traitors!’ We’d seen their spokesman on Channel 4 news the night before, and I was glad to be on the other side. They’re the tail of the wrong animal.
At work, the national chaos has made Brexit a safe, light subject. Brexit – always on the radio – ha ha ha! Governments, and the international sign for WTF. Soon we will have jokes about food queues. There nearly are. Aldi hasn’t had raisin-wheats and other niche cereals for several weeks. A colleague is laughing at a video on his phone. It’s about Brexit. He doesn’t know if I’ll find it funny: ‘It’s your country…’ Teresa May talking to herself as Gollum. Yes, I say, it’s very funny.
When we got back to Brighton, I was talking to a couple of guys outside. We were laughing about Operation Yellowhammer. The plan is that there is no plan. We’d all voted leave and we’d all vote remain if we were asked again: ‘So that’s three of us!’ I wonder how many of people who reply ‘just get on with it’ are in the same mind. Who will offer it tho? We chanted ‘What do we want? – People’s vote! – When do we want it – Now!’ outside No.10, but I’m not sure the Prime Minister was the real audience. Another placard said, ‘Missing Person: Jeremy Corbyn.’ Time for the wise men and women, probably the latter. It was good to see the CBI and the TUC speaking as one on Friday. As Ken Clarke said, this is one of the three greatest crises since the Seventeenth Century. But I’m an optimist. I always regret not putting a bet on Brexit not happening.
All photos (c) ZC Innes-Mulraine