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.

An election sketch

At the risk of over-simplifying what has been going on, I have detected two strands to the recent campaigning, and this roughly mirrors the two simultaneous elections.

The first is on immigration and Europe, the second is on standing up for your local community. Once the ballots have been cast and counted it will be interesting to see whether voters differentiate between the two elections, and the two types of issues, when voting. I suspect that most will vote the same in both elections, which could lead to some candidates for local elections being punished for reasons beyond their control, and the same could be true for European candidates.

For instance, any stance on immigration should have little bearing when casting a vote in council elections – councillors have no say on this issue. I suspect that sending a message of dissatisfaction with national politicians will override any consideration about who is working hardest in your ward.

One could argue for a separation of elections – which would help alleviate the cross-over of issues. However, this would be expensive, and is also likely to see voter fatigued meaning whichever election came second would have trouble enervating enough to vote. As it is, I am worried about turnout.

In 2012 I was elected against a backdrop of only one in four voters in my ward actually troubling themselves enough to vote. Whilst Milton has some special circumstances that work against high turnout, it was still too low for my liking. You would think that turnout tomorrow should be an improvement on this, but I will be amazed if as many as a third actually bother. Does this matter? Well, it makes it easier for fringe and extremist candidates to prosper. What sort of mandate is it when less than one in ten registered voters have given you the thumbs up?

In the local elections the most overused word is ‘local’ itself. Of course, few actually go so far as to spell out what this means. For instance, the Milton Tory candidate describes himself as “the local choice”, yet lives the farthest from the ward of the five who are contesting this seat. You could describe this as dishonest, at the very least it is inaccurate. He also makes a number of other claims that would not stand much scrutiny. So what does he mean? He lives in the borough, but since all five candidates also do how does this make him THE local choice? It is a nonsense, designed to dupe people into thinking that he will be a better councillor than the other four.

Does it matter how local a local election candidate really is? I think not, it is more about what you stand for and what you want to do. Besides, you can have strong links to an area without actually living there. Yet, the local appellation is clearly treasured – almost all seem to strive for it. When everyone is using it, it becomes meaningless. I once had a conversation with someone who said she always voted for whoever lived closest to her. There is an impression that you have to live within the ward to really understand what is going on and to fight for your residents – yet I live about a mile from Milton, whereas the two Tory councillors live in the ward, and I have the consistently had the loudest and strongest voice for the ward.

As for immigration; it is difficult to win an argument positing the benefits of immigration at the moment. I am a fan of multiculturalism and like living in a global village, yet there is no denying that there are drawbacks. However, it is the emasculation of trade unions that have allowed employers to undermine wage structures that have caused more problems and resentment than anything else, and I fail to see how a party to the right of the Conservatives will do anything to fix this. A failure to build enough social housing in the last three decades has also brought many problems.

Europe? If being a Little Englander is more important than jobs, trade and prosperity then nothing I write will ever persuade you. You cannot turn the clock back, the Empire is gone, Britannia no longer rules the waves, and our prosperity relies on international links.

Outside the vacuum

“I’m voting UKIP, and you know why” – that was it, the entire conversation. A quick utterance, then a disappearance behind a closed door. I did not know why. It is possible I had spoken to this voter before, and they were referring to an earlier conversation. This encounter was the complete opposite of another. A young man leapt out of his white van: “excuse me, are you the Labour candidate” he asked before adding “you’ve got to stop UKIP, they are maniacs.” A few more exchanged pleasantries and then he was back in his van and off.

At another door I was confronted by someone exclaiming: “oh no, not a politician – you are all cheating on expenses”. Again, they were not inclined to discuss. They had their views and were not prepared to see their prejudices challenged in conversation. For the record, whatever people may make of my politics, I do not cheat on expenses – I have yet to claim any anyway. Few politicians do cheat, which is why I find people like Lord Hanningfield so infuriating. He is a serial cheat who is giving all politicians a bad name (and highlighting the absurdity of an unelected second chamber – he will return to the House of Lords after his suspension).

Two gentlemen stopped me on my rounds and we had a good debate. They were working class lads whose frustrations were leading them towards UKIP. At the end they said they appreciated that I was prepared to engage in debate and was honest, and said that they would have voted for me – pity I am not up for election this year. Debate is important and one of my fears is that there is an absence of debate across the borough – a small clutch of hustings excepted. It could be the many votes will be cast in a vacuum, many voters not seeing much, if anything, of the candidates. I could understand the decline in public meetings and doorstep engagement if this was being replaced by the new media. Find me a UKIP supporting blog in Southend-on-Sea, aside from the appalling Southend Patriot. If the blogosphere in Southend-on-Sea is anything to go by we are in for a Labour landslide. Much that I would hope that would happen, I strongly suspect it will not.

The local UKIP Chair may think I am a fool for trying to engage with everyone, I find this rather insults the voters.


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