A little over a week ago (blimey, was it only a week?!) I was standing in the belting sun outside Birstall library, acting as the teller for the Workers Party. I loitered around like Billy No Mates from just after 7am, awkwardly asking people for their voter numbers as they left the building after voting in the now historic Batley and Spen by election.
Standing as I was, a few feet away from the spot where Jo Cox was killed, and with time to think between voters, it occurred to me that it hadn’t taken long for the street to seem so normal, so busy about its business, in the place where such a shocking event occurred. I guess time moves on, people move on and go about their life. It seemed such a monumental thing to be doing, standing there for a rival party, running against her own sister, and I worried that recent propaganda may be making people feel as they passed that I was a terrible imposter on their turf.
A few days before, the worst ever photoshop had appeared of George holding his daughter with a gun balanced on two fingers. It was clearly faked and I laughed when I first saw it, and because it was so badly done I thought it was a joke. What soon hit me was that this was no joke, and had been put out to instil the kinds of feeling in the locals that I was fearing as I stood there, telling. More images emerged, each as badly put together as the last, but there seemed to be an almighty amount of people on social media believing these pictures to be real, or at least, pretending to.
The roar of social media during this election had shocked me. Yes, there was division. At least online there was. But the online account of proceedings in Batley was so far removed from what was actually happening on the ground that it took a while to hit me; this is what the media do. This is what propogandists do. This is how society works. A line is picked, and the line must be followed. A decision is made, somewhere, anywhere… and that it is not deviated from, no matter what, and the populace will be brainwashed thus. They will be shown so much propaganda that they will disbelieve what their eyes and ears tell them is actually happening, until everything is so mushy it’s impossible to separate truth from reality.
The media onslaught of George was shocking. It was clear that an attitude was being forced onto anyone watching. I could imagine my mum back in Wales watching the news and thinking.. bloody hell.. what’s she gone and got herself involved in now? Some of the reactions I had from the public made it clear that a lot of this propaganda had worked. The only thing that made me feel better were the reactions from the people on whom this had clearly not worked, and were supportive in what we were trying to achieve as a party by being there.
George and Gayatri turned up around lunchtime with three bodyguards. That made me realise that what we were doing was in fact as risky as I’d thought. When out canvassing we saw Kim Leadbeater with her campaign buddies, but I didn’t see anyone who looked like a bodyguard, which surprised me. I would have thought that in the circumstances that all candidates would have that sort of thing laid on. One of their guys told one of our guys that they’d been having a crappy response, and they conversed like friends on the same trail. No division. Another day, we turned up on an estate and saw Ed Milliband out with a crew, so we waved, told them good luck, they smiled, we left and went to a different estate. No division.
During the Saturday before the election, the place was crawling with endless police as it had been told that the far right-wing groups were coming to town to campaign. We stayed the hell out of Batley that day, and campaigned in other parts of the constituency.But one of our team, headed back to the HQ in Heckmondwike to get some water, and ended up having to lock herself in and call the police, as around a dozen right wing campaigners tried to get into our HQ and shouted through the windows at her, scaring her to death. The division of the following week locally was clearly more to do with the fear about the right wing groups than anything to do with us, but the media continued their onslaught, ignoring the abuse we got later from Labour campaigners, ignoring our broken PA system, ignoring the posters being taken down, ignoring everything that would split their narrative and prove that we were playing a fair game everywhere we went, and all felt as sensitive about the occasion and the situation as I did that day I sat next to Jo Cox’s murder scene and thought about her all day long, admiring the roses and the lavender planted there and hoping that they were in here honour. As it was a Thursday, the garden volunteers were there, doing a brilliant job of making it look nice for Birstall in Bloom. They were kind and friendly, we chatted. No division, just a bonding over flowers.
During polling afternoon I had the company of a couple of tellers from the tory party. Nice elderly chaps, who were too nice to be tories I thought, helped me to pass the time, and were both masters at getting polling numbers. They had both been doing this for a long time. One had been a councillor. At one point, a woman walked into the polling station with a big black bag that said “Postal Votes” on it. I remarked to my tory teller chum that it seemed weird. Very weird he agreed. He mentioned something about a four o’ clock deadline for postal votes. I don’t know what the rules are, but I do know that when I ran for the Senedd, the agent meetings were very clear about the strict ways in which postal votes were treated and transported. Around fifteen minutes later, the lady came back out, carrying the same bag. I joked to my buddy.. hey – looks like a switch to me. He didn’t take my intended joke. He thought I was deadly serious, and agreed. And then again commented on what a weird scenario it was. I’ve never been a teller before, so I don’t know, but it got me thinking about how easily a vote can be rigged.
We had spent weeks with voter lists, with all their information on, addresses, voter numbers…. We had called at nearly every single door. Many people told us they wouldn’t be voting. How easy would it be to rock up to a polling station and give a name, the name of someone you’re pretty sure isn’t going to vote, and vote on their behalf? A few wigs and a reliance on the returning officer seeing hundreds of people and you could pull a lot of votes if you had enough people doing it. It would be really, really easy to do. How do we know this doesn’t happen? If you had the kind of budget that a big party has, where money is no object and you could pay actors or suchlike to do the dirty work, and then you could hide those outgoings, then you could easily win an election when there are 40 odd polling stations. Is this a thing? How would we know?
George is calling for ID at polling stations and a lot of the “left” are against him in this. Why is that? Yes, the working class are less likely to have photo ID, not drivers, no passport or whatever, but if they made it compulsory to show ID, then cards would be released free, surely? The old arguments about ID cards are long obsolete, seeing as your phone and Alexa follow your every move. What’s wrong with ID cards? It’s not a human-rights issue as much as potential voter fraud is. All those bin bags of votes turning up in Batley on the middle of the night took me straight back to the memory of the lady, unaccompanied, strolling around with a bag full of postal votes like it was just her make up and laptop. No security, no checking… nothing.
Are the powers that be scared of voter ID because they saw the plan of fake votes at polling stations before I did? Is that what’s been happening for all these years? Is democracy actually even a thing? Judging by the media controlled outcome of Batley and Spen, the lack of conservative candidate on the campaign, the fake stories about division, the egg incident, the extremist incident, the poster incident, the PA incident, the BBC and channel four incidents, it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole thing has always been fixed, or at least, for a very long time.
Money is where it’s at. Labour paid some bloke to come over from France and tell Kim what to say to the tune of God only knows how much a day. They still only got a third more votes that a new party on a four-week campaign where we relied on volunteers and George’s local buddies.
Hopefully, and with all my heart, I’m hoping that the people are seeing through it all. It looks like that may well be the case. I liked Batley. It’s a great place. The people are lovely. The constituency is very different from one end to the next, but I hope they all get what they need with their new MP. I suspect however, that they won’t. And the system has ensured that the spotlight is not going to come off them for a very long time yet.