Doorstepping apres interruptus

The first door I knock on after returning from an injury-enforced lay-off from canvassing was not an auspicious start, for no sooner than I had announced myself as someone from the Labour Party when the resident said “I’m not interested” and shut the door firmly in my face. Welcome back!

Fortunately it got better.

I did stints in Kursaal and Chalkwell wards today. Not especially long stints, for not only was the weather indifferent but I am still limping. However, it was good to be out again.

Unusually I did not have a single conversation about dog poo, parking, or fly-tipping. Instead it seemed to me that minds were definitely tuned to the coming General Election as national topics were discussed. The top three items today were the cost of living, the National Health Service, and the European Union.

I found one Tory, or perhaps more accurately one former Tory as this resident was definitely undecided who to plump for nowadays. Now, not finding a Tory in Kursaal is not especially unusual, but I expected to find some in a ward that is represented by three of the species.

I spied no Liberal Democrat or Green supporters either; it was all UKIP or Labour, with Labour winning by a ratio of three to one. I know that some when confronted by a Labour activist will either say what they think the activist wants to here or keep their allegiances secret – some. Finding no-one prepared to express a preference for either of the governing parties was quite a revelation. Green support is quite weak in my home borough, and they barely register at the best of times; so no surprises that I came across no-one declaring for them.

UKIP are gaining some traction, but I did find that those opting for them would at least chat, and some said they would look into the Labour offer for Southend-on-Sea.

Does this mean very much at all? Not really, because in truth despite my best endeavours it was still a fairly small sample. Nonetheless, I really sense a Conservative Party in trouble, at least in parts of the town. It also suggests that what we saw in the local elections six months could easily be repeated next May, that is even more Conservative losses in the council chamber.

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.

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