This morning I had a taste of Britain at its best when I joined about 100 Brexiteers on a leg of the ‘March to Leave’ from Sunderland in the North East of England down to London.
The march has come in for a lot of stick from spiteful Remainer types who have derided everything from the small numbers involved (just a hardcore of 50 marchers, joined each morning by about another 50 day marchers) to the apparently shocking scandal that Nigel Farage hasn’t walked the whole way and that the core marchers were charged a £50 registration fee to participate.
So I thought I’d pop along for a six-mile stretch of the 250-mile journey to show a bit of solidarity, soak up the atmosphere and to discover whether it really has been, as the Remainer propagandists have insisted, a damp squib.
First, the numbers. Once you understand the logistics of a long-distance march like this, it makes perfect sense that the numbers aren’t any bigger. In order to avoid disrupting traffic — and losing the hearts and minds of all towns and villages they pass — the marchers are kept on a very tight rein by the marshals (ex-military, I’m guessing) and their police escorts. You can’t straggle, you have to move in a tight bunch and keep an even pace so that when, say, you have to cross a busy road you don’t cause vast traffic jams.
Also, the marchers need somewhere to stay at night — in the same hotel, so that their transport can collect them all from one place for each morning’s 9am start. So that hardcore of 50 doesn’t seem a shamingly small number. It’s just a matter of practicality, decency, and common sense.
Second, that ‘£50 rip off’ canard. Actually, for those who could get it — those 50 core marcher vacancies filled up very quickly — this was an amazingly good deal: it got you free accommodation, dinner, and breakfast — plus lunchtime sandwiches — for the entire two week journey.
Third, Farage. He did the 20 mile opening leg from Sunderland south in the teeth of a gale and in rain that left everyone drenched and frozen. Obviously it would have been nice to have seen him on my leg of the route, but instead I got the pleasure of the company of Wetherspoons owner and Brexit campaigner Tim Martin. There’s a ‘celebrity’ Brexiteer on each leg of the route but I really wouldn’t expect such people to do the whole 250 miles. Not because they’re not up to it (Farage, apparently, walks like a demon — presumably so he can get to the pub at the end quicker) but because they’ve got multi-million pound pub chains to run or political careers to maintain.
So who are the people actually on this march?
The kind of people I love. One of my fellow marchers sums it up well at the Going Postal blog:
A crowd of characters, a rabble of the righteous, a waffle of weirdos. There was not a single ‘normal’ person to be seen. No sheep, no slaves, no subjects, only freed minds and friends.
Typical of the people I met — which is to say, typical of nothing at all — was the Cambridge archaeology graduate who had been very left wing at university and had remained left wing until, in his mid-twenties, he had gone out to northern Iraq to examine some Assyrian inscriptions. While he was there, Islamic State were kidnapping and murdering Yazidis and Shias and Christians just 20 miles away.
My friend came away from his experience realising he wasn’t a leftie after all, and that he’d just been brainwashed. He also realised how much democracy mattered and why Brexit was so important in regaining Britain’s sovereignty and self-respect.
Yes, I’d say the majority of the marchers were middle aged or older. But then, so were many of the coach parties which came up for the pro-EU march in London last weekend, and I’m not sure that this tells us anything about anything other than that older people tend to have more time available to go on marches.
I’ll tell you what surprised and pleased me most about the march: there was remarkably little talk about politics.
Sure, there were some stirring speeches at the beginning by march organiser Richard Tice and Tim Martin. And yes, there was naturally talk, from the day marchers especially, about the parliament’s latest efforts to frustrate Brexit — plus questions about what’s going to happen next and whether we’re ever likely to get Brexit.
But as the morning wore on, so the political chatter subsided. When walking long distances people, quite sensibly, have got far better things to do than bore on about Brexit. Walks are an occasion for bonding, exchanging life histories, reminiscences, observations, idle chat. And the people on this march totally got this.
It’s possible, I suppose, that if you gathered 100 or so Remainers together they would have ambled along just as amiably. But — call me biased: I am — I’m not convinced that you would have got nearly the same broad social mix (Remainers tend to be townies, university educated, prosperous) nor such interesting conversations. Brexiteers, by definition, are rebels against the status quo; they have a stronger appetite for risk; they are also much more sceptical of current socio-political values — such as the cult of “diversity”, the language of political correctness, and SJW culture.
They are, you might say, the embodiment of real Britain: they think and talk and act how normal people always used to think, talk, and act, before the tyranny of woke began creeping across the land.
Oh, one more thing which you perhaps wouldn’t expect. There was very little anger. Even when Tim Martin warned me that if Brexit didn’t happen there would be a revolution, he did so in his mild, relaxed drawl while sprawling bucolically on the grass.
If I’d been a fake news reporter — for the New York Times or the BBC, say — and I’d wanted to describe the march without actually turning up, I would have populated the event with red-faced codgers, positively seething with barely suppressed rage at their utter stitch up by the Westminster elite.
But no, people were just enjoying the countryside, the walk, and one another’s company.
This is the Britain we Brexiteers are fighting for. And it’s why we won’t stop until we get it.