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UK Bus Tour, Part IV: Leeds – Stirling, May 22nd – 29th

Day 1: Leeds – York
 

Day 1 of the fourth part of the Bus Tour. For the first time during the Bus Tour, the bus is full, stuffed with 12 participants from 8 different countries: Slovenia (as always), Italy, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Spain – and even from Great Britain! Some of us are notorious Y Vote campaigners and have met before on various occasions, but most of us are new to AEGEE. Anyway, seems to be a really nice and active group, so let’s start!

We check out of the hotel in the morning and go into the center of Leeds, where we have an appointment with some EuropeDirect people. After a nice chat with a police officer, who wanted to know why we are parking the bus in the middle of the pedestrian’s area in the city center, we get out to prepare our street action. The bus is dressed with European flags, we write our slogans on the campaign balloons, distribute the materials (post cards, beer mats, buttons, badges, bracelets etc.) and spread, away from the bus, to use the 90 minutes we have and speak to as many people as possible.

It is not easy to engage people in conversation. Many pretend not to notice us, even though we block their way and they have to evade us. Others respond, in different ways: „No, I never vote“, „Sorry, I will be out of the country“, or „Thank you, but I am not interested“ are common answers. Most of the time, we don’t get further than our first phrase „Did you hear about the European elections? Please remember to vote!“, and after one hour, it starts to get frustrating. Rarely is there any positive reaction, but at least there are also some young people that seem interested and are even quite well informed. What works well is giving balloons to little children with a reminder written on it for their parents. When we meet again at the bus, which we had to remove in the meantime, we share our experiences and agree that we will have to reconsider our methods.

On we go to not-far-away York, where we are having a meeting with Diana Wallis, member of the European Parliament, and placed first on the Liberal Democrats’ list for Yorkshire and the Humber. In the Hilton conference room, where all of us look slightly out of place, we sit and ask questions to Mrs. Wallis and her companion Mr. Arnold, who is second on the LibDem’s list for the EP elections. She clearly points out how difficult the situation is for European politicians in the UK. There is no real budget for her campaign, there is a lack of support from national politicians even in her own party, there is a tremendous lack of information among the population, people don’t understand how voting works and fail to register before the elections, which is obligatory. As an additional big problem, a great part of the British media are in the hands of anti-European conservatives who refuse to promote anything related to Europe, let alone the elections. So the impact she can make is limited, and comes from the work of a few committed people.

After lunch, we have an interview with Rebecca Taylor, a young EP candidate, placed third on the LibDemlist. Sitting in a park in York amidst playing children, she eagerly explains her situation and her campaign, basically confirming the insights we had earlier on with Diana Wallis. Doubtful to be elected, she is working full time and does not have much time to promote her own candidature. Consequently, her plans for the next EP term are not too elaborate, and without any disrespectful attitude towards her commitment and capability, it seems symptomatic for the situation of the EP elections in the UK that the third place on the list was given to her, and not to a more experienced and autonomous politician.

Later in the afternoon, we meet up with Kate, one of the rare native British AEGEE members, and have a short sightseeing in York, before we check in at the hostel and enjoy the evening together. Before leaving for dinner and party, we have a short meeting to discuss our methodology for the upcoming days, as the street action in Leeds could have been more effective. But it surely was a very interesting and enjoyable first day of the last part of the Bus Tour, and we are getting along very well as a group, so we are looking forward to the days to come!

 

Thomas, AEGEE-Köln

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