Parliamentary candidate breaks foot whilst canvassing!!!!

Modelling the latest must-have accessory!

Modelling the latest must-have accessory!

I am asked what it is like going out and knocking on strangers’ doors. I always reply that it is great fun and the best bit about being a political activist.

Of course there are drawbacks; I am always cautious of dogs. As a child I suffered from cynophobia – fear of dogs – something that I am not entirely over. I encounter many, of course, and I have to say that the overwhelming majority of dog owners are very considerate. I like walking dogs that I know and trust, and I am only really troubled by large or aggressive dogs. I have twice been bitten whilst politicking; both times on Canvey Island, and both within a week of each other in the run up to the 2010 General Election. The first occasion the very small dog only managed to sink its teeth into trouser fabric before being chased off by its embarrassed owner. The second was when delivering an out card; the silent dog managed to draw blood from my right middle finger.

I nearly had heart failure when chased out of a front garden by an alsation (again on Canvey Island!) I also got chased out of a garden in Rayleigh – although that was probably my fear rather than the dog’s fault. I did once get trapped by a couple of dogs in Pitsea when leafleting for Angela Smith and had to be rescued by a passing motorist. These dogs were left to roam in their front garden, and leapt the wall as I approached – quite where the owners were and why that did not have control of their dogs are unanswered questions.

I have had numerous cuts from letterboxes – I cannot be the only campaigner who prefers those wall-mounted letterboxes, which are both discreet and allow leaflets to be delivered without injury to either hands or the material being delivered.

I can only recall two truly aggressive residents, and both were in Milton ward. I am usually unfazed by people – in twenty-eight years as a football referee I had to deal with the occasional aggressive individual. As a referee you have the full majesty of the Football Association behind you, as a politician retreat is the best option.

Last Sunday I was canvassing in Princes Street (Southend-on-Sea, in Milton ward). Despite giving much of my time over to my Parliamentary campaign in Southend West I still have responsibilities in the ward I represent on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, which I am determined not to neglect. Anyway I turned my ankle on someone’s concreted drive, I failed to spot a slight slope. As I reported this was very painful. As I can work from home I took this option for the first four days of last week.. By Friday I decided I had to get to the office (I am not very good at hanging around indoors for any length of time). Driving was alright provided I did not have to brake hard, and I managed to park close enough (using the visitiors’ car park) to make it reasonably short hobble to my desk. A long day in the office was a mistake, and by the time I limped back to my car I was quite uncomfortable. Despite several minutes with my foot immersed in icy water when I got home it did not look great.

Hence to A&E at Southend University Hospital and the x-ray that confirmed that it was not just bruising; I had broken a bone in my foot. I am now wearing a velcro cast, and have an appointment with the Fracture Clinic on Tuesday. I cannot drive and am condemned to being largely housebound for four to five weeks, unless I can find people willing to chauffeur me about.

I must mention my A&E experience. The staff were very good, and I was seen far faster than I had anticipated. It was almost disappointing – so quick were they that I made little headway with the Lenin biography that accompanied my visit.

Campaigning does not stop, but it certainly pauses as far as I am concerned. Drat!

Labour aghast at road damage payouts – and promise to work for better roads in future

My latest press release:

Reg Copley and JUlian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

Reg Copley and Julian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

When it was revealed recently that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had paid out over £300,000 in compensation because of defects with its poorly maintained road, Reg Copley (Labour’s spokesperson for St Laurence ward) was aghast.This large amount was paid out during the last five full years of the previous Conservative administration.

“This compensation, presumably paid out to recompense for the damage to vehicles caused by Tory neglect of our roads, is money that ultimately comes from the pockets of tax-payers,” says Reg. “One wonders what else this money could have been used for,” he added.

“I suspect that this only reflects the most serious cases – one can imagine many not bothering to claim. As it is it amounts to more than £1000 per week on average, every week of the year.”

Labour’s spokesperson for Transport, Public Protection and Waste, Clr Julian Ware-Lane, has frequently highlighted the poor state of Southend’s roads, a real nuisance for motorists, cyclist, and pedestrians.

Julian said: “This is more financial waste from a Conservative controlled council, at a time when budgets are under pressure. I will work with the new administration to promote the needs of road users.”

Another busy weekend on the doorstep

Kevin, Sylvia, Tony, Michelle, Linda and Julian - part of the team out yesterday

Kevin, Sylvia, Tony, Michelle, Linda and Julian – part of the team out yesterday

One rarely encounters anything approaching abuse when canvassing, although it does happen. Like yesterday, when one of our older female activists was told to “p*ss off” by some oaf – I hope the ignoramus was proud of the profanity he directed towards someone who was giving up their time to try to find out what we could do for him.

Other than that we had a very productive weekend. Of course you will get residents who for one reason or another do not want to engage, but most seemed please we called.

I did have an interesting chat with one young man: “So, have you made up your mind how you are going to vote next year?” “UKIP”. “Oh, why? What policy of theirs particularly attracts you?” This inquiry was met with silence. I then felt it prudent to move the conversation onto other topics, but it is quite a revelation how many UKIP supporters there are out there who cannot give even the simplest reason for doing so. I had expected either ‘Europe’ or ‘immigration’ as the response but did not get even that.

As we move inexorably towards next May’s twin set of elections it will be interesting to see whether Labour will continue to grow its support in the borough, or whether the Conservative support discovers some enthusiasm. At the moment you meet very few contented Conservatives, and my sense is not just that they have sat on their hands but that they have sought solace elsewhere – including switching to Labour.

The under-assistant Westborough promotion man

Sylvia, Linda, Kevin and Lydia - the rest of yesterday's Westborough team

Sylvia, Linda, Kevin and Lydia – the rest of yesterday’s Westborough team

When not painting Milton red I like to help comrades elsewhere. Recently I have taken to my ward of birth to assist there. It was a pleasure to be out with the team yesterday.

Out, always out, and sometimes about

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane, Ami Willis, Cllr Kevin Robinson - part of the team in Milton today

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane, Ami Willis, Cllr Kevin Robinson – part of the team in Milton today

A casual conversation that somehow lasts half an hour with a couple of residents that is somewhat typical. The chatter includes the news that the lady tripped on an uneven pavement and spent some time at A&E, and experience that she was very positive about. Her husband then appears and starts to complain about the local hospital, which just goes to show that our experiences are unique and different even with the same household. Another resident, a teacher this time, who had very little positive to say about the Government’s education policy. One resident showed an interest in joining the Labour Party, another had no time to converse.

The ignored hit back

I guess I am old fashioned in many ways. I still see politics as the old fashioned battle between Labour and Conservative, left and right, workers and bosses. Of course I realise that we are seeing an increasing pluralism, but this is still not recognised by an electoral system designed for contests between Whigs and Tories.

UKIP have thrown a spanner into the works. Whatever their pretentions to the blue collar vote they were born from the right-wing Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party, the awkward squad that gave John Major many a headache post 1992.

UKIP fought the recent elections on two issues essentially: Europe and immigration. These two issues have captured the zeitgeist, and UKIP’s success comes from the somewhat woolly responses from the red and blue camps. Simply put, David Cameron’s Conservatives have got to make their mind up about Europe (the promised referendum neatly avoids having to answer the question for now), and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, which strikes me as pro-EU, must produce a clear and cogent set of reasons for this position.

I doubt many would challenge the idea that the EU is in sore need of reform. Labour, whilst arguing that we are better off in, must describe what changes to the EU it would strive for. My current shopping list of changes would include making the EU more democratic, sorting out those unaudited accounts, and scrapping the Common Agricultural Policy.

As for immigration, this is a knotty problem. Whilst the benefits of immigration may seem obvious to metropolitan elites, to those whose wages are being driven down by cheap migrant labour, or who have to endure some pretty awful and un-neighbourly behaviour, or who see migrants seemingly avoiding work yet still able to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle, these arguments fall on deaf ears. I do not think that much has gone wrong, but when the wealth gap is growing and the economy is struggling migrants are easy targets. It is no surprise that the frustrated seek to vent their frustrations.

UKIP have had it easy. Not only is it easy to shout from the side-lines, falling turnout makes those especially animated enough to vote appear a lot louder. They may have a set of unworkable policies that will make everyone’s lot more miserable, but I doubt many have troubled themselves to find out what these are. They have, to their supporters’ eyes, the more attractive headlines – why bother with detail?

UKIP have been assisted by a media sensing a story, and by a lack of engagement in many areas by local parties. Dwindling party membership has made the challenge of reaching into communities a lot harder, but the major parties have also been guilty of being too selective in who they speak to. The ignored have hit back.

You cannot dismiss everyone who is worried by immigration or Europe as xenophobic. You cannot mark every dissenting voice from your own orthodoxy as ‘against’, ignore them and hope they forget to vote. You have to engage, and you have to persuade.

Polling day – a few thoughts

ContrastAndCompareWith minutes left to polls close I thought I would share a few thoughts.

First, compare and contrast the two reminder cards (and as far as I could tell it was only Labour and the Conservatives who has these).

Labour reminds the voter about the times the polling stations open and close, and includes a few pledges. The Conservative affair mentions a referendum which neither a councillor nor an MEP can deliver – in other words it is misleading.

I spent three hours, from 7am, at a polling station. It seemed to me that voting was slow. I have little idea what happened later, but I will be interested in the turnout figure.

I saw no Conservative activists at all today. I heard that some were about, but compared to previous years they were very few and far between. It looks like the Tories are in for a bad night – time will tell.

One polling station in Milton, the one at Avenue Baptist Church in Milton Road, was in a slightly different place this year, and the entrance was a short distance from where it had been in recent years. I heard that some voters could not find it, and I am extremely concerned about this. Why wasn’t I warned about this? (I sit on the committee that deals with polling stations and nothing was mentioned via that medium either). If I had been told it could have included this on our literature. Although I do not suggest huge numbers were disenfranchised by this, if the victory margin is small there will be justifiable cause for grievance by the second placed candidate.

I also heard there were issues with a polling station for Westborough ward.

My impressions in Milton are that we worked the hardest, and for the longest. The Tory campaign began after the New Year and was reasonably active, although some way behind ours. The Independent did some work too, although produced only the one leaflet which contained very little in the way of a program for the ward, The Liberal Democrats and UKIP have done nothing in Milton.

As for the European elections, I am loathe to criticise my own party, but where the Hell is my freepost Labour Euro leaflet? If a rabble like the English Democrats can organise one then we should.


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