On Monday evening, as Rishi Sunak was being welcomed at Conservative HQ as the latest new party leader and Prime Minister, a group of Devon For Europe activists gathered in Exmouth to campaign for an immediate General Election. Outside East Devon MP Simon Jupp’s off-the-beaten-track office, in a very fresh sea breeze, we set up a ‘Democracymeter’ to take the political temperature of passers-by and see how people felt about the current state of affairs in Westminster.
Back in the days of the People’s Vote campaign, Exmouth was a town generally unreceptive to discussion that even lightly challenged Brexit, let alone sought to reverse it. Indeed, the town has had a Conservative MP for the last 186 years – probably the archetype of a safe seat. Today’s responses were far from a resounding endorsement of the government’s track record and demonstrated a lack of confidence in its ability to “deliver, deliver, deliver”. Significantly around half of those who stopped told us they had previously voted Conservative.
The second objective of the event was to deliver a letter to Mr Jupp’s office, highlighting how deeply the UK had changed since December 2019 and calling for an election. The economic and social impacts of the pandemic, our crippled trading relationship with the EU and underwhelming new deals beyond, and the recent impact of near collapse of the economy by Truss and Kwarteng’s reckless “mini budget” have all placed the public finances in another sphere from the one the 2019 Tory manifesto inhabited. The letter continued that today we acquired our third Prime Minister of 2022 selected by Tory MPs with a closer eye on their future election prospects than on dealing with a set of national crises. Devon For Europe calls for a General Election now. It is time for the people to have their say again and for political parties to refresh their manifestos to fit the very different circumstances we face now in Autumn 2022.
As we were beginning to wind up, a man came out of the pub opposite. He had previously declined to complete the Democracymeter, but now he approached to invite us into the pub. He said he disagreed with us politically but didn’t want us to be outside in the bitter wind.
“We’ve probably got more things we agree on than things we don’t.” we said, as we thanked him for the invitation.
He grinned, ruefully. “You’re probably right. Yes, you’re probably right.”
It was a hopeful sign that although divisions remain in this disunited kingdom and some protagonists still try to stoke a culture war, there is always room for kindness and acceptance across the political divide, particularly as hardship starts to bite.