“I’ve never marched before”

Like a million others I marched for a People’s Vote on 23 March. It was the second time in six months I’d taken to the streets of London and once again it was an uplifting moment I won’t forget. My Queen-themed placard (“Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?”) raised a few laughs and provided good photo fodder.

But I’m a politician so I guess people expect me to be marching, campaigning and putting myself out there.

At October’s march I was joined by a friend from university days (a Labour supporter actually but disillusioned with Corbyn – aren’t we all?) and lots of fellow Lib Dems. This time I reached out to another friend from uni days – Tim. “Will you come along the march?’ I asked. Now Tim is a lovely guy, a Dad and husband, but not particularly political. I didn’t think he’d come to London but I asked him anyway. To my surprise he said yes. ‘This Brexit mess has got me angry” he wrote in a short email. And with that we were set to meet up.

The sun was glimpsing through the clouds around Park Lane on that Saturday and there were thousands and thousands of people milling around. To get to Tim we had to walk the wrong way through throngs of people. Politely saying ‘Excuse me’ we battled through the masses – my Bohemian Rhapsody themed placard drawing smiles and requests for pics. Well I had to oblige didn’t I?

We found Tim. He was surrounded by flag waving and poster holding hordes – and off we went to join the march.

After an hour or so of barely moving but talking excitedly, pointing, waving and laughing Tim suddenly said, “I’m so pleased I came – but do you know this is the first time in my life I’ve marched for anything?!” 

Wow – this was a moment of surprise and delight. Tim, aged 54 and a half, was for the first time in his life making a stand and demonstrating for what he felt strongly about.  I felt joy, I felt pride, I felt that this indeed was a moment to savour.

It got me thinking – how many other Tims were in the million strong crowd? Well, I did meet a few other first-time marchers that day and have heard tales of more since. This is a pivotal moment in British life. We Brits aren’t great at taking to the streets – we like to have a moan but unlike our friends across the Channel in France we do so from the safety of our sofa.

When I lived in France as a student there were always demos going on – it was shall we say ‘de rigeur’.  On this island we do things differently, so when the British take to the streets in vast numbers (one in every 30 people in the UK were in London on 23 March) you have to sit up and take real notice.

That peaceful, amazing, intelligent march for a People’s Vote in its own way shook the foundations of politics. It said loud and clear ‘we have had enough, we are the reasonable majority who think you’ve got it wrong and we call for this wretched government to put it to the people!’

Looking back just 2 weeks ago it really has changed the mood – along with that petition to revoke Article 50 which has been signed by a whopping 6 million people.

And so we need to thank all the Tims out there for taking the time to say what they want – because in the end I’m convinced the Tims will win the day.

* Cllr Paul Hodgkinson has been a Liberal Democrat member for 25 years and is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Gloucestershire County Council.

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8 Comments

  • Peter Martin 4th Apr '19 - 2:31pm

    “I marched for a People’s Vote on 23 March.”

    Can I just clarify what is generally meant by a “People’s Vote”? That term wasn’t applied to the ’16 ballot.

    As I understand it, nearly everyone agrees that Mrs May’s “deal” is a very bad deal. So would a choice of a bad leave deal or leaving with no deal be a “People’s Vote” ?

    I think I know the answer to that. It wouldn’t be.

    How about a choice between a bad leave deal and remaining in the EU? Would that be a ‘People’s Vote’? Yes, it would be. There would be no chance of the Leave side winning because no-one with any sense, not even Nigel Farage, would vote for such a bad leave deal.

    So, am I correct in thinking the distinguishing feature of a ‘People’s Vote’ is one the Remain side have no chance of losing?

  • Andrew Melmoth 4th Apr '19 - 4:54pm

    – Peter Martin
    There is no form of Brexit which doesn’t at some stage go through the WA. You may wish to cripple the economy first by going through a ‘no deal’ phase but eventually we will have to normalise our trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world. No government will be able to survive long otherwise. That means doing a deal with the EU and the pre-condition for that will be signing the WA.

  • Peter Martin 4th Apr '19 - 8:09pm

    @ Andrew,

    You may or may not be right, but your comments don’t answer my question.

    Or maybe I should just take them as a ‘yes’?

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Apr '19 - 6:51am

    A People’s Vote is one where all the people on the register get to vote, not just MPs.
    It is pretty clear that of those people (not just MPs) who want another referendum, the overwhelming majority want Remain to be one of the options.
    I am very happy for Leavers to define the other option. Please ask us about this again only when you have agreed amongst yourselves Peter

  • Patricia Cunningham 5th Apr '19 - 8:10am

    I am 71 years old and marched for the first time in my life on the People’s March. It was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life, you may think what a sad life, but you needed to be there to understand the solidarity, friendship and commitment of the marchers. One woman I chatted to was in her eighties . She had caught the train in the south of England , travelled to London on her own to march. She had left her husband , who suffered from Parkinson’s at home she said he was with her in spirit. It is that level of commitment that I hope will prove to be successful in the argument for us to Remain.

  • Peter Martin 5th Apr '19 - 9:28am

    @ Andrew,

    Well OK, if you say so, but that still doesn’t explain why EUref16 isn’t described as a “Peoples’ Vote.”

    Why only two options on the ballot paper? If the law doesn’t allow it now, then it can be changed. You’ve heard of the STV and numbering choices in order of preference?

    As I was discussing with Katharine here:
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/norman-lamb-says-hes-considering-resigning-the-party-whip-60408.html#comment-495641

    There has to be No Deal as an option on the ballot paper for there to be any kind of resolution to this question. You obviously think this would be a disastrous choice. If so you need to make your case to the electorate and ask them to put it last.

  • Andrew Melmoth 5th Apr '19 - 11:27am

    – Peter Martin
    We are in this crisis because we had a referendum between an imperfect reality and a set of contradictory fantasies. If leavers had shouldered the responsibility that comes with winning and coalesced around a realistic plan we would already be out of the EU. But leavers, by and large, have been unwilling to admit Brexit means facing up to hard choices. ‘No deal’ is simply the latest iteration of fantasy Brexit.

    Suppose ‘no deal’ won in a referendum. Would that solve the problem of defining our relationship to the EU? What political actions would accord with that instruction? No-one thinks ‘no deal’ literally means we would not do any deals with the EU so we would be left in a completely incoherent position with no democratic mandate for the compromises to which the government would inevitably be forced. No deal is not a solution. It’s a refusal to grapple with the problem.

    To be clear, I don’t support a referendum of any sort. But if we do have a referendum then it must be between well-defined, realistic options that are deliverable by the government of the day.

  • >Can I just clarify what is generally meant by a “People’s Vote”?
    Agree Peter, this is important given what has happened todate since Cameron announced there would be a referendum.

    There is needs to be a debate on not only what the list of choices should be, but what is the voting mode, the default ie. maintain the status quo, threshold voting levels necessary for a choice to be declared the winner.

    Also given the 1975 referendum, we also need to be clear whether it must happen before the government takes action or afterwards – I suspect because of the reasoning behind the sequence of events behind the 1975 referendum, I expect the Government to have signed a ‘deal’ conditionally on the referendum result, so that it can not be subsequently changed.

    Finally, is Parliament going to put into law that it will be bound by the result…

    Personally, I think it needs at least three choices on the paper; obviously, a simple: Deal or Revoke choice will effectively lead to a rerun of the divisive 2016 referendum. Also by having multiple leave options on the paper, you split the campaign funding with each vying against the others, helping to rein in the worst excesses we saw in 2016.

    It is reasonable to debate whether there should be a single Revoke/Remain option or a choice.

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