The Case of the Mysteriously Empty Battle Bus

The anecdotes of one of the few students campaigning to leave the European Union

Jasmin Rafiq

Yet again I turn up to campaign for Vote Leave, feeling sleep deprived. Today, I am simply required to stand around, being a minor disturbance, and to welcome the Stronger In Battle Bus to the Durham Students’ Union. Luckily I happen to be very talented at disrupting the peace; if only it was an Olympic sport.

At first when the bus pulled up, it seemed as though there was a large crowd of Stronger In campaigners ready to plug their case for the EU. It was only when 95% of the crowd melted away that we realised that they were, in fact, one of Durham’s lacrosse teams. The total number of Stronger In campaigners was actually four, in comparison to our mixed bunch of Vote Leave campaigners, with students, locals and lecturers of all ages and political opinions, all brandishing red signs and howling about democracy.

A slight digression on the nature of campaigning; there is not a more glorious moment than being amongst a diverse group of people who are willing to give up spare time in order to express their political opinions, and engage with people who are undecided or against them. Similar to poems about unknown soldiers, there should be a hymn to the unknown political campaigner; you are, we are all, the life blood of a liberal democracy. The freedom to make an absolute idiot of yourself in a baggy t-shirt, holding massive signs and running around trying to invade photo opportunities is one of the greatest pleasures afforded to British citizens.

Digression over. A peek inside the bus does not reveal anybody ready to burst forth and argue their case. A chat with the driver reveals two things: that there is no one on the bus, and that he is, rather hilariously, voting to leave anyway.

There is some light-hearted conversation between our two sides. The arguments I tend to hear from pro-EU campaigners range from negative, doom-laden scaremongering, to entirely dismissive of every news story about what the EU is up to. The worst arguments I’ve heard involve something along the lines of “Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?!” (Never aimed at my male colleagues. In any case, I prefer large dogs to small children), Another is the patronising dismissals of all the aged locals as racist bigots who should all go and lie down in a darkened room, then check themselves into a nursing home and shut up about their political opinions because “it’s not their future”. To anyone expressing sentiments in this regard, I say look at the data.

A survey by YouGov for The Times investigated the age at which people become Eurosceptic. A breakdown of opinion by age reveals that 43-year-olds are exactly split over whether we should leave the EU; therefore, by consequence, the majority of everybody over the age of 43 backs a British exit, and the majority of those under 43 want to stay in. What I find particularly interesting about this result is that it has been nearly 43 years since the last referendum on whether Britain should join the EEC. Plenty of people that I have spoken to that can remember the last referendum wish that we had not joined in the first place. In general, those who can remember a time before the EEC/EU do not fear leaving without it, while those who have only experienced being part of the EU are hesitant to leave it.

I believe in this case, the saying “old is gold” is particularly apt. If the people who have lived through the pre-EEC years and the development of the EEC into the EU don’t like what they’re seeing, why should we vote for an ever-shifting ‘status quo’? In the period of 40 years, the EEC has changed from a common coal and steel market between France and Germany to an expansionist behemoth with powers over all sorts of aspects of everyday life. What beckons in the next 40 years?

Back to protesting the arrival of the Battle Bus. The four Stronger In campaigners swarm aboard, ready to convince the people of Durham to vote Remain, while being laughed at by an excitable class of primary school children who agree to wave Vote Leave signs at them. However they appear to change their minds and drive past the entire city. Free from the slow moving traffic, the bus completely disappears.

Quick checks around the city confirmed that the bus had indeed driven off and would not be seen again, so instead we camped in the market place at the centre of Durham, where we normally run street stalls every Saturday. The usual encouraging buzz arose from people passionately arguing their opinions on the European Union, and curious people ventured over to ask our reasons for voting out. A particular highlight was a Malaysian tourist who asked me to hold up my Vote Leave sign while he brandished a placard and his friend took a picture. Afterwards they assured me that they would also vote to leave the European Union if they were British citizens.

I have found that all sorts of unexpected people back our campaign. While reminding people to register to vote on the first day of Graduate Fashion Week, many trendy fashion graduates from East London gave full throated speeches on the virtues of leaving the EU, which was unexpected but welcome. People up and down the country are lending their time and energy to support the Leave campaign, the momentum is with us and in a few days’ time, I hope we vote to renew Britain’s democratic heritage for the 21st century.