It Ain’t Half Hotwalls: Could Portsmouth Politics Be Less Divisive?

Screenshot Flick Drummond on Twitter.

Portsmouth Green Party member, Mike Wines, gives a personal account of Tory Minister Phillip Hammond’s recent visit to the Hotwalls Studios and the somewhat surreal fracas between Labour and Conservative activists, members and campaigners that followed.

I was quietly sitting at home before the election, pondering what to do that afternoon when it popped up on Facebook that Philip Hammond, incumbent Chancellor of the Exchequer, was going to be in Old Portsmouth at the Hot Walls at 2:45.

Now, being Green through and through, I disagree with everything he and the Tory party stand for both on points of principle and humanitarian grounds, but I thought it would be good to have my thoughts confirmed from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

I also thought it would be interesting to see how the Conservative party’s campaign machine operates given its corporate sponsorship, as the Greens are a party of and by the people and we generally rely on crowdfunding for our campaigns.

So, I popped on a public transport bus and headed down there, half expecting Mr Hammond to pass us on the Tory Battle Bus somewhere along the way.

Hopping off the bus, I walked to the expected venue for this grand event, musing over whether our Chancellor would, perhaps, give us all words of hope and encouragement about the Strong And Stable future our country might expect post-Brexit from a Strong and Stable Conservative Government. Glancing up, I was surprised to see Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond (for she was still known as such then) walk past me with her little entourage.  Apparently, Mr H was running 45 minutes late, which is only to be expected from such an important person during this vital time for the country.

As I followed, I saw a gathering outside one of the Hotwalls Studios that had a definite blue hue to it. I wandered on. A small group was gathered on a bench under a tree close by, and one of the members threw me a knowing grin that seemed to say, You’re not a Tory, and as I’m not, I headed over.

It turned out to be a rather earnest group of Labour supporting students. They all seemed keen and eager to “make a statement” and do what they could to disrupt events.

I looked around. There were the blues huddled together, preening their rosettes and trying to iron their posters.  There were the reds huddled together, working out how to be annoying to the blues and perhaps discussing obscure political philosophies and doctrines.

I went to get a coffee and a rather tasty cheese straw.  By the way, try the café down there, well worth it.

Time passed. The local Council leader turned up, which required the blues to engage in a bit of extra preening with a touch of fawning.  The reds got so deep into discussing doctrines I was beginning to wonder if they were making terms up just to catch each other out.

And all the time we were waiting I could see both packs trying to act casual as they eyed each other up.  What are they going to do?  How can we screw this up for that rich lot?  A couple of community police were standing by, occasionally muttering into their walkie talkies. Not far away, a couple of what I assume to be security guys or Tory advance party suits were keeping a wary eye.

The local media turned up.  It was unclear if they had any more clue than the rest of us what was going on but at one point their correspondent wandered over to the non-Blue area, where I and the reds were gathered, and chatted with us.  The MP spotted this and casually wandered over in an “Oh hello, you’re from the BBC aren’t you” kind of way.  Chitchat ensued until said correspondent got the point and moved away from us.

Apparently, the reason for the Chancellor’s visit to this specific location was to visit one of the Hotwalls Studios involved with military veterans and their rehabilitation.  Flick Drummond was very concerned about their welfare and was involved in several projects to do not only with them but the problems of drug addiction and homelessness in Portsmouth.  She could meet and talk to the Chancellor every day but felt it would be good for all her “lovely supporters” to meet him too.

Eventually, about an hour later than planned, the Chancellor arrived in the middle of a convoy of 3 rather large black vehicles, 1 BMW and 2 Land Rovers.  The crowds gathered.  The Blues cheered and held up their Flick Drummond Tory Posters.  The Reds booed and shouted and tried to get their posters in front of the Blue ones.  The Blues objected.  They tussled.  I finished my coffee and let them get on with it.

The Chancellor was greeted by the MP (I didn’t see if she curtseyed or not) and then he was escorted through the masses to the designated studio. Well, I say masses but it was pretty much 20 Tories, 10 non Tories and a handful of confused passers-by.  The doors were shut, the security guards positioned themselves by the door and all outside waited.  Oh, and apart from an elite few, including the current leader of the council, Donna Jones, no one else was actually allowed in the studio.

After about half an hour, presumably so the Chancellor could catch his breath, grab a coffee, maybe sneak a fag out of the public gaze, they re-emerged and he was shuffled back to the shiny black BMW.  Chants about the public debt etc echoed around the Hot Walls but he had a smiley, dumb head on and was soon in the sanctum of the car and whisked off.

The Blues and Reds conversed for a while before the Blues realised the rosettes had to be returned to their keeper for future use and the Reds realised they had a lecture to go to.

I wandered home, pondering on the afternoon’s events. I was left with a strong desire to tell the main political parties of this country to grow up.

What had been the purpose of today’s circus?

Why is it so hard to just tell the people exactly and honestly what your party stands for? To let other parties do the same?  Trust in your message.  Yes, the others are twats.  Yes, they talk bullshit a lot of the time.  You’re bound to think that, you don’t agree with them.  But chanting stuff at another party’s flash in the pan photo shoot? Is that opposition? And getting snotty with them, and trying to get your poster in front of theirs in a tussle for a photo, is that leadership?

Perhaps, like John Lennon, you may say I’m a dreamer. But I wonder if more people might engage in politics – and whether that politics might be less toxic, less divisive – if we took a different approach?

Tell people what you believe in and stand for.

Trust them to make up their own minds.

Leave your egos at the door.

Just a thought.

Main image: screenshot of Flick Drummond’s Twitter account.

  • John Kelly

    I agree entirely – the cafe is great. Other than that I think this is quite an unfair characterisation of the event.

    I too had the afternoon free and walked down there to catch Hammond’s visit and your description of events don’t match with my recollections. Your description of “earnest group of Labour supporting students” is inaccurate as there was a range of ages and most of them looked pretty cheery to me. The mention of any “tussle” is over-egging what was just some friendly cross party banter. Also, while I’d say it’s true that political supporters who go to theses events are driven by idealism more than the average person, your comment about “perhaps discussing obscure political philosophies and doctrines” was a little facile.

    Back to the event.
    I’m not sure what you’ve have expected to happen in the situation. We were in the middle of a general election and there was a fair chance it could have been been covered on local TV. I’d say it was a perfect opportunity for labour activists to try to hold the conservatives to account for an uncosted manifesto.

    What had been the purpose of today’s circus? I’d agree it was uninspiring, though i’m not sure what the alternative is to kissing babies and shaking hands. It’s good that politicians come and meet the public from time to time – whatever their motives. It was also a good advert for the hotwalls which has been a great success in re-enlivening that area of Southsea.

  • southseagreenhouse

    It’s a great pity that politicians local and national cant just drop into places without all the fuss and treat people equally -politics would be a whole lot better then and we would all have more respect for all of them as well as each other!