By James Moules
FOR ANTI-Brexit campaigners, Old Bexley and Sidcup isn’t just any other by-election.
Until 2001, the south-east London seat was the constituency of former Prime Minister Edward Heath – who held the office when the UK entered the European Community in 1973.
Candidate Richard Hewison, leader of the Rejoin EU Party, said his party was fully aware of this significance when he put his name forward.
“It was very symbolic,” he said. “Obviously there are very logical reasons for standing in this by-election, but we definitely couldn’t resist in terms of that connection.”
The Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election was called following the death of incumbent Conservative MP James Brokenshire, who had represented the area since 2010.
While the seat voted around 60 per cent to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, Hewison believes frustration at scandals in the Tory government will be at the forefront of voters’ minds when they head to the polls.
“The reception we’ve got on the ground from talking to people around Old Bexley and Sidcup has been very interesting. There are a fascinating range of views coming out from people.
“Obviously I’m mainly talking about rejoining the EU and the problems of Brexit, but sleaze is the big story a lot of people are interested to talk about.”
During November 2021, Boris Johnson’s government has been rocked by numerous sleaze controversies – including lobbying scandals and MPs holding lucrative second jobs.
The scandals boiled over with the resignation of North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson on November 5, who was found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have broken lobbying rules.
But Hewison added that, to many small business owners in Old Bexley and Sidcup, Brexit is still a top-of-the-agenda issue.
“Their experience is varied. Some businesses are booming. The estate agencies and recruitment agencies seem to be doing very well.
“But a lot of other businesses are struggling, and I’ve heard some very sad stories here.”
He added: “Let’s be frank, the economic consequences that we’re seeing at the moment in terms of Brexit and London’s financial centre as a whole is something we want to see addressed in this by-election.
Rejoin EU is partnering with the Londependence Party, which calls for the capital’s independence from the UK, for this by-election in an attempt to combine the pro-European vote.
Hewison said that many younger voters in the constituency felt angry that they had no say in the Brexit vote five years ago.
“I’ve heard the same thing several times over – ‘I was 16 when this vote happened on my future, I was not given a say’.”
He expressed his desire to see more young people get involved in politics to campaign for these issues.
This is not the first time the Rejoin EU Party has faced the test of the electorate.
In May’s London Mayoral election, Hewison finished eighth out of twenty candidates, and the party also stood in the by-elections in Chesham & Amersham and Batley & Spen.
The Chesham & Amersham by-election notably saw the Liberal Democrats storm to victory in what is usually a Conservative safe seat.
Hewison said: “The feedback we had from Chesham & Amersham was that a lot of the people considering voting for us were actually Conservatives who, although they had been lifelong Conservatives, were also very pro-European.
“I think Edward Heath would vote for us in this particular election.”
Old Bexley and Sidcup is not the only by-election Rejoin EU is contesting in December.
Boris Johnson impersonator Drew Galdron will also stand for the party in the North Shropshire by-election on December 16.
“I am quite disturbed by the state of our mainstream politics,” Hewison added. “I would challenge anyone to take a step back and look at what our major political parties are offering at the moment.
“None of them seem to be addressing the real issues. We’ve just got these three word soundbites. Make Brexit Work? How? What does that mean?
“If I wanted to destroy the country, I think I’d do exactly what Boris Johnson is doing.”
The Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election will take place on December 2, 2021.
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