At around 11.00pm on Thursday evening, before Newcastle and Sunderland changed despair into hope, David Dimbleby was interviewing Iain Duncan-Smith on the BBCs Referendum Night programme. Dimbleby asked IDS how he and the Vote Leave team would react to the constitutional crisis which would follow if England voted for Brexit but Remain won due to the votes of Scotland. IDS was clear. "We are a United Kingdom and we will accept that result. The votes of all British people have equal value."
24 hours earlier, late on Wednesday night, I believed that we were going to lose. I knew in the event of Remain winning that there would be anger, dismay and demands for another vote. I wanted to blog but knew that in the early hours of Friday morning, following a hard day on the doorsteps and a stressful night with no sleep, I would not be in a good emotional place to write.
I therefore wrote the following blogpost in advance (along with another more optimistic version just in case we won). Some of you might understandable think I have written this retrospectively to help with my narrative, but I can prove that not to be the case; I sent a draft copy to one of my local MPs and one of my Chairmen for their comment.
We now know the outcome and to my delight my second "be gracious in victory" blog was published on Friday. I assumed these words would never see the light of day. Why should they? Sadly, the media firestorm from those who support Remain, the petitions calling on the government to ignore the democratic will of the people, the demands of David Lammy for Parliament to pretend the vote had never taken place, and the positioning of the 'establishment' to hold a second referendum, have made me change my mind.
When I wrote this post it was meant to trey and stop disappointed Brexit campaigners for making a fool of themselves and damaging their case. The words are just as true for the other side.
"So we have lost.
For me, and I suspect most of my readers, this will be not just bitterly disappointing, but the end of a dream.
My personal journey began in the early 1980s. At that time it was tough being a Eurosceptic in the Conservative Party. At Party Conference the platform was flanked by a Union Flag on one side and the European flag on the other; hostility to Europe was a minority interest, and a young man wearing a “Set Britain Free from the EEC” lapel badge was an unwelcome guest.
There will be a temptation from Brexiteers to cry foul. Please don’t. Yes, the fight was unequal. Yes, the Remain campaign had the backing of the Government, the Establishment, the business community, the international community, and even Bob Geldoff and the Pope! In comparison, we were a rag-bag army of true believers; libertarians, Tories, UKIPers and several very odd people who wear a suit on a Saturday. It was optimistic to believe that our David could ever slay that Goliath, but we were right to try.
Yes, the fight was not fair nor balanced, and it was bloody. The £9,000,000 spent on government propaganda was a blow. The warnings of war, terrorism and economic Armageddon were alarmist. The accusations that we were all “Little Englanders” were very hurtful and also untrue. The finger pointing and blame over the tragic murder of Jo Cox was (quite frankly) obscene.
This was a fight between the little people and the Establishment. At the end of the day, they may have been unfair, they may have been underhand, but nothing they did was illegal.
In 30 years as an Agent I have helped over 2,000 Conservative candidates over the finishing line. When I act as Agent or Campaign Manager I use every tool at my disposal to help my team win. I never break the law, but I’m sure there are hundreds of defeated opposition candidates who think I have acted unfairly. From using my contacts to attract hundreds of activists, to swamping seats with literature (printed in house at a fraction of the cost), to using our database to target key voters. None of this is illegal, but it creates enormous bad will from those who lose. In doing this I am congratulated by friends, colleagues, and candidates for my ruthless efficiency. This is just what the Remain side did - they used every tool at their disposal, just as any campaign team must do,.
The people of Britain do not tolerate bad losers. In 1997 the MP for Winchester, Gerry Malone, lost his seat by 2 votes. It transpired that over 30 Conservative Party votes were not counted due to an error by a Presiding Officer who didn’t stamp the ballot papers with the “official perforation” which was required at the time. The Presiding Officer admitted his error. Had these votes been counted Gerry Malone would have held his seat. Understandably he went to an Election Court which upheld his complaint and ordered the election to be re-run. Despite a solid and proven case the Conservative narrative of “fair-play” was overwhelmed by the LibDem narrative of “bad loser”. The LibDems held the seat by a majority of 21,556!
Those who want us to enter “Neverendum”, or are seeking technical reasons to run the vote again, need to accept the reality that we lost. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, but the people have spoken. We will do no favours to our cause by playing the victim card and demand that we vote again.
We fought like tigers but, quite simply, we didn’t make the case for change."