Last week I listened to the song Werewolves of London quite a bit. Not just because it was Halloween, but because I was excited to be attending my first Leavers of London event on Thursday night. As a Leave voter in the capital I feel a bit like a werewolf. At home at night I smile with delight at the thought of that moment on June 24, 2016, 4.40am when David Dimbleby announced the results of the EU Referendum: ‘The British people have spoken. And the answer is: we’re out.’ Then in the morning I head out into the world and tuck the smile inside.
Because, after that happy morning, bumpy months followed. We Leave voters got used to being called racist, nativist, ignorant, stupid, and naive. So when Lucy Harris launched Leavers of London I was very pleased. The idea was to create an opportunity for London Leave voters to get together, talk, share personal experience, and do that smiling on the outside for a night. Also in her words to ‘represent the Leave vote in London in a positive light . . . reform the perception of Leave voters and build a positive case for the UK’s future outside of the EU’.
It took me a while to go along to a Leavers of London event – and I’m so pleased that I did. It took place on the top floor of a pub. The crowd inside looked as diverse as I had expected. A couple of gulps of beer and it was time to elbow into my first group. Everyone seemed to have come alone so we all did this elbowing and were immediately welcomed.
Who were these people and why did they vote Leave? Amongst others I met a guitar teacher, a legal secretary and someone who invests in power infrastructure in Africa. I didn’t get much further because everyone I met was so interesting. Why did they vote to leave?
Sovereignty and democracy. How do we justify government and the laws of this land if it is not ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’? For so many Leave voters this is simply it, and it’s hard to elaborate further.
Nationhood and community. Here is Lucy Harris herself writing about community ‘I often get asked by my more Remainery friends, “Why is community so important to you?” The simplest answer is that, if the state should fail you, all you have is the immediate people around you – those in your community with whom you have created lasting bonds – to help you through the hard times. That sense of community is invaluable, no amount of taxpayers’ money or EU funds could ever recreate that. People are important, relationships are important, they are Britain’s lifeline on which I prefer to rely.’
The people I spoke to echoed this desire to rebuild communities from bottom up; to focus a bit more locally and on each other; on our immediate neighbourhoods and local environments. To use David Goodhart’s words, these people were Somewheres.
A deep love of Europe. The surprise entrant into the discussion for me was this – not that I didn’t know it to be true – but that it was so completely to the fore. In my group everyone seemed to have a second language and to have lived part of their lives in another European country. What they expressed was their love of Europe. They talked about each country’s unique history. The incredible literature, art, architecture, and customs of each European nations. They worried that this is being threatened by the the giant bureaucracy of the EU and its inevitable tendency to tidy up and bring into line.
Also a sense of responsibility to the Commonwealth. Our historical ties to Africa, the Caribbean, Australasia and the Indian subcontinent.
I spoke to Labour Party members, UKIP members and Conservatives. We talked about the Stranglers, the miners’ strike and Ingmar Bergman. We had a great night.
The Leavers of London team have now launched Leavers of Britain. Join up to organise a similar event near you.
To inspire you, let me channel the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, at the 2018 Conservative Party Conference:
Let us say with Milton: Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth and kindling her undazed eyes at the full midday beam.
Ladies and gentlemen, sign up to Leavers of Britain. Let’s bring our happy smiles out into the midday sun.