“There’s someone from the Labour Party at the door”

The Westborough team, part one: Cllrs Willis, Jones and Robinson - out this weekend

The Westborough team, part one: Cllrs Willis, Jones and Robinson – out this weekend

In the course of doorstep conversations one occasionally inquires of the resident what they think of the Labour Party. It is useful to know where our support is, as it is equally useful to find out why those who do not support us prefer the alternatives. Often these conversations involve a dissection of policy, but sometimes it can be quite superficial.

I have been campaigning under four leaders. Only Tony Blair appeared largely exempt from the argument the runs: ‘I cannot support the Labour Party because of your leader’. Alright, it sometime came up, but with nothing like the frequency that accompanied Ed Miliband’s tenure in charge.

Even Gordon Brown did not attract the sort of commentary that usually included: ‘I just cannot see him running the country’. Whatever, dear reader, your thoughts were of Gordon, he clearly was able to manage the job of Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn does attract about as much comment about his suitability for the role as Ed Miliband did. My snapshot is not large, but the pattern for Jeremy is largely the same as it was for Ed. If you are a confirmed Labour supporter then you will be kindly disposed to whoever holds the reins a per pro the Labour Party leadership. If you are usually lukewarm about the prospect of voting red then the current leadership is doing little to persuade you over.

I do detect a general approval of the change of mood that has been Jeremy’s tenure thus far. Whether this will help change the political landscape only time will tell. Jeremy will enthuse those on the left; there is a question mark over whether he can do likewise for the centre-ground, or even those normally to the right of centre. At the moment he seems unconcerned about everything right of Labour, looking to attract support from those generally inclined to sit on their hands.

In my modest way I try to encourage non-voters to become engaged in the democratic process, and I can state with some certainty that it is a big ask. Whilst a noble calling, and one which I can support, basing your election strategy on this is extremely ambitious to the point of being reckless. However, I realise that a mere humble councillor does not enthuse in the way that a major political performer does.

Labour’s strength is in its outreach to the community. We are the biggest party in the UK, in Southend-on-Sea too (we believe). We are out almost every week, and engaging with residents, trying to get a sense of what needs doing, and then actually trying to do it. For instance, I reckon we were out in three wards on Saturday, and possibly more since I cannot monitor all activity. Of course, we are neither Liberal Democrats nor in the Independent Group, and so cannot be all things to all men, attempting the impossible feat of pleasing everyone. Sometimes the conversations are robust, but mostly people are pleased to see representatives of the people’s party.

And we have a record in administration in Southend-on-Sea that we can point too, with some pride I feel.


The ex factor

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

I wonder what role our former leaders will play in the forthcoming General Election campaign. We have four still with us.

Michael Foot is quite old (96) and I do not expect to play a role beyond expressing his suffrage.

Neil Kinnock is still very much active and is brought out from to time as an elder statesman. I expect him to continue in this role.

Occasionally overlooked, Margaret Beckett is our only female leader, albeit in a temporary role for a few months following John Smith’s untimely death. She will be very much involved, defending her Derby South seat if nothing else.

Tony Blair’s role will be interesting. I expect he will keep a low profile although I imagine he will pop up once or twice. He is very active on the international stage and events abroad may see him get coverage (and this may be the real reason the Tories do not want him having a high profile EU role). Whether he is seen as electoral poison I guess depends on your standpoint. Although I was opposed to the Iraq War, I found myself broadly a fan. The changes to this country made under his stewardship are very impressive.

I do recall the jibes about whether he would appear on election literature in 2005 (he appeared on mine), and there was an unspoken recognition (or belief anyway) that the real agenda was ‘vote Blair, get Brown’ – quite surprising given the acrimony that our leader currently gets in the press.

Generally former leaders play cameo roles in discussion programmes and results round-ups, and little more. They are perceived as impinging on the presence that the current leader enjoys. That Tony Blair was undefeated and carried the magical middle England en masse may mean that he still has influence there.

One final thought occurs: David Cameron is in thrall to TB’s image and models himself on him. The real thing reminding voters that “DC ain’t no TB” might carry some potency.