‘The Brexit Party is wiping the floor with the lot of us’

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Rachel Johnson, the sister of Brexiteer MP Boris, announced she had joined the pro-Remain party Change UK in April.

The 53-year-old has run as their lead candidate for the South West England constituency in the European elections, and will find out if she defeated her pro-Brexit rivals on Sunday.

Here Ms Johnson, who is also a panellist on Sky News’ The Pledge, sheds a light on what her life has been like on the campaign trail.

In the end, all roads led to Bristol. Bristol was where it started.

It was where the Change UK posse of piratical MPs unveiled their “slate” of candidates to contest all 73 seats in the European election, despite the fact that they’d only been released into the wild for a couple of months, and had been a proper party for less than a fortnight (I went round saying, whenever anyone said the party was disorganised or dropped a ball, “But I’ve got yoghurt in my fridge older than Change UK!”).

Also, of course, these Euro elections were never supposed to happen.

I’d been in Somerset for Easter, so I had no idea that on the morning of the launch the Evening Standard had splashed with “Johnson To Stand Against Tories” and a sub-head, much smaller: “Not Boris, Sister Rachel backs Remain rivals.”

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A friend told me. “You were the billboard of the Standard.”

Change UK are running against Nigel Farage's Brexit Party
Image: Change UK are running against Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party

“Oh! Did you take a picture,” I asked Daisy.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, “I was far too busy thinking about myself.”

At the “reveal” – at a science museum in Bristol called We The Curious – I sat right behind the podium.

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Three candidates and three MPs spoke stirringly.

I tried out my various faces, aware that cameras would catch me rolling my eyes or picking my nose.

I hope I perfected a look of serious reflectiveness, as if inwardly weighing each spoken word on my mental scales.

That was Easter Tuesday. April 23rd. St George’s Day. There was exactly a month to go until the election, but our tails and polls were up. We were the new kids on the block. The Lib Dems had been stuck under 10% in the polls for a couple of years.

On Sunday 28 April I took the Great Western Railway service back to Bristol Temple Meads to campaign in the Watersheds with fellow candidates Liz Sewell, and Crispin Hunt.

We handed out leaflets, did some video stuff for social and snapped each other with our iPhones.

This took all day. I wasn’t sure what the point of leafleting was. I am still not sure what the point is, to be honest.

As far as I can tell, all the action in politics has migrated online.

The Brexit Party has cannibalised my timeline and spams me on Twitter.

Internally, all comms are carried out in WhatsApp channels.

All the “old school” politics, the shoe leather, leafleting, baby kissing, hustings (where rival candidates debate in front of a Question Time-style audience), knocking up, even dogs at polling stations are done to create photo opportunities for social media.

Still, I became a bit hooked.

If you got someone to take a leaflet, that was a win. If they stopped to chat, another win.

In the last month, I’ve been to Bath several times, Falmouth (hustings with Ann Widdecombe), Totnes, Plymouth, Taunton, Exmoor, but above all, Bristol, Bristol, Bristol.

From left: Change UK members Sarah Wollaston, Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen
Image: From left: Change UK members Sarah Wollaston, Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen

It was back to Bristol the South West slate plus Sarah Wollaston MP went on polling day, like salmon to our spawning ground, on 23 May.

There was an odd mood in the air.

If people declined to take a leaflet and said they’d voted, you knew it was not for Change UK.

A man came to the polling station on a bike and I chatted to him, then offered to look after it for him while he voted.

When he came out, he asked, “Are lots of people voting for you guys?”

“Probably not, to be honest,” I said.

“The Lib Dems had a bounce as neither Brexit nor Change UK contested the local elections, so people probably think that they might as well vote for them again or the Greens, as it worked last time.”

“So you’re telling me I’ve just wasted my vote?” The chap with the bike said.

“Not at all,” I reassured him.

“There are two metrics at play here. Not just the number of Remain MEPs elected, but also the total number of votes cast for Remain parties. Your vote is a good vote.”

The results are due in late Sunday night.

I’m not a betting man, but I think that there’s every chance that I won’t be in Bristol, or Brussels, or Strasbourg for the foreseeable future – but I will be back on The Pledge sine die (that’s Latin for without delay).

That Evening Standard headline was off, if you think about it. The Tories imploded. So did Labour during the course of the election. They were no rivals to anyone.

The opposition turned out to be the Brexit Party, trying to wipe the floor with the lot of us.

A month is a long, long time in politics.

:: Follow the results of the European elections live on Sky News and on the Sky News app as they are announced from 10pm on Sunday night

Rachel Johnson: The Brexit Party is wiping the floor with the lot of us

Rachel Johnson, the sister of Brexiteer MP Boris, announced she had joined the pro-Remain party Change UK in April. The 53-year-old has run as their lead candidate for the South West England constituency in the European elections, and will find out if she defeated her pro-Brexit rivals on Sunday.

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