A morning on the doorstep in Tilbury

002I spent a lovely morning in Tilbury doing my bit for Polly Billington in her attempt to become the next Member of Parliament for Thurrock.

It was great to be a part of a large team, a happy team, a determined team. We must save the NHS from the Tories, we must not allow UKIP to fragment our country.

UKIP can’t stand for working people: they’re more Tory than the Tories, a party made up of Tory people, promoting Tory policies, bankrolled by Tory donors.

South Essex General Election candidates

Across south Essex the local councils are putting up notices of who is standing in both local and Parliamentary elections on May 7th.

Here follows the candidates for the Parliamentary elections.

Labour Conservative Liberal Democrat UKIP Green English Democrats
Basildon and Billericay Gavin Callaghan John Baron Martin Thompson George Konstantinidis
Brentwood and Ongar Liam Preston Eric Pickles David Kendall Michael McGough Reza Hossain Robin Tilbrook
Castle Point Joe Cooke Rebecca Harris Sereena Davey Jamie Huntman Dominic Ellis
Chelmsford Chris Vince Simon Burns Stephen Robinson Mark Gough Angela Thomson
Epping Forest Gareth Barrett Eleanor Laing Jon Whitehouse Andrew Smith Anna Widdup
Harlow Suzy Stride Robert Halfon Geoffrey Seeff Sam Stopplecamp Murray Sackwild Eddy Butler
Rayleigh and Wickford David Hough Mark Francois Mike Pitt John Hayter Sarah Yapp
Rochford and Southend East Ian Gilbert James Duddridge Peter Gwidzala Floyd Waterworth Simon Cross
South Basildon and East Thurrock Mike Le-Surf Stephen Metcalfe Geoff Williams Ian Luder
Southend West Julian Ware-Lane David Amess Paul Collins Brian Otridge Jon Fuller Jeremy Moss
Thurrock Polly Billington Jackie Doyle-Price Rhodri Jamieson-Ball Tim Aker

This is not a list of all candidates – there are a few independents and some parties only fielding the one candidate. Parties not in this list are: Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol, All People’s Party, YPP, TUSC, and Liberal Party.

It was tempting to show only those parties with a full slate, but my Green friends would doubtless have cried ‘foul’; and having include the Greens I felt obliged to include the English Democrats.

The last time I stood (local elections, 2012), the chair of the English Democrats (Robin Tilbrook) sued me for defamation (unsuccessfully); I wonder whether he will do so again? Perhaps if I mention that his Harlow candidate is a former member of the National Front and the BNP he will be tempted.

Basildon and Billericay has the least crowded ballot paper – a mere four candidates. Seven names will be shown on ballot papers in Harlow, South Basildon and East Thurrock, and Thurrock.

The real contest, for who will run the country for the next five years, is between Labour and the Conservatives. UKIP will be hoping to pinch enough Tory votes to see some success, the Greens are seemingly intent on helping the Tories by splitting Labour’s vote. I predict the English Democrats will lose every deposit.

The photographer’s finger

Me - Polly - finger

Me – Polly – finger

I am an all-weather activist, although rain usually finds me skulking about indoors. This weekend’s sunshine has been welcome though, I think sunny weather makes for sunnier conversations.

My day, yesterday, was split between South Ockendon and Westcliff-on-Sea. Both canvassing sessions were positive.

It is undoubtedly a gross generalisation, but whenever UKIP come up in conversation (a regular, but not dominant theme over a few hours) then it is clear that they rarely illicit indifference. There are those who are going to vote for them (and it is surprising how often their fans are our more senior citizens), outnumbered by those who, whilst not necessarily Labour, are determined to vote for anything but UKIP.

Bearing in mind the relatively small snapshot I am able to witness, it is also true that Liberal Democrats are thin on the ground (there may be reluctance to confess support for them), and the Conservatives are not found in large numbers either. Of course, where I am working does skew the results, and explains the regular blanks as regards to numbers of Green Party supporters unearthed.

What is important to stress to voters is that on May 7th every one of us will be choosing the Government for the next five years. Ballot papers will contain other parties, but ultimately it boils down to maintaining the current administration, or electing the alternative – it will either be Conservative or Labour that takes this country through to 2020.

To those who do not want to see David Cameron remain as Prime Minister have to be reminded that it is only Ed Miliband’s Labour Party that can stop him. Every cross marked for anything but Labour makes Cameron’s task of hanging that bit easier.

In Thurrock I feel that it is a three-horse race. It should be a shoe-in for Polly Billington, clearly the front-runner in terms of ability. The Conservative MP is not popular, but her task is being aided by those who are usually Labour but who are feeling inclined to protest by voting UKIP. Aside from the fact that UKIP is a more right-wing version of Conservatism, a UKIP vote from someone who will only benefit from a Labour Government is going to help the Conservative Party hang on to power.

Protest may seem an attractive proposition, until you realise that you are left with the outcome until 2020.

Last night I dreamt about Polly Billington

Ella Vine, Thurrock activist

Ella Vine, Thurrock activist

Scott Nelson, another Thurrock activist

Scott Nelson, another Thurrock activist

Being a politician is pretty close to a seven day a week role. This is largely, I confess, of my own doing – the amount of time and effort put into the role is at the discretion of the politician, and levels of commitment vary on all sides.

The by-product is that politics is very much on my mind for significant chunks of most days. This invariably invades my subconscious.

I have not been to Thurrock constituency recently (and it is something I have been meaning to do) but it is a place with a number of friends and comrades of my acquaintance. It is a Labour priority, and our best hope for Parliamentary representation in Essex come May. It is one of three key seats (with Harlow and South Basildon and East Thurrock) in my county, although I am hoping for some surprises amongst the other fifteen. In 1997 Labour won six seats in my here, and I am sure that we will once again see that level of representation in the not too distant future.

0.2% separated Labour from success in 2010 in Thurrock, and this in an awful electoral year for us. Since 1945 it has been Labour in all elections except 1987 and 2010, and whilst the boundaries have changed during this period it still is a red beacon in a generally Essex sea of blue.

UKIP have it in their sights. However, whilst they will look at May’s elections and think their chances are pretty good there are some things that suggest that 2014 may be their high tide mark in south west Essex. For starters, the most recent by-election in Thurrock saw a comprehensive Labour victory, attracting over half the votes cast. However, what will be intriguing over the coming months is the level of scrutiny UKIP will be subject to. At present they are the beneficiaries, in large measure, of a ‘damn the lot of you’ vote. Beyond their anti-immigration and anti-EU stance most voters would struggle to name any of their other policies. Being anti-everything is an easy role, the difficult thing is to set out a properly costed agenda for the country – which they must do if they really want a say in the UK’s future. This scrutiny will expose them for the very right-wing party they are, and whilst disgruntled Tories may dream of scrapping the NHS and lowering taxes for the extremely rich, this cannot be what working people want.

Jackie Doyle-Price is making all the right noises about fighting to retain her seat but privately she must know the game is up. I have no doubt she will fight hard all the way up to May 7th (I would in her shoes) but a Tory hold here would be a miracle, nothing less. UKIP will dent her vote, but a UKIP presence is academic anyway.

The local council (which is split over a couple of constituencies) is hung with Labour as the biggest party and leading a minority administration. I would hope that a majority Labour administration is just around the corner.

I really did dream about Polly Billington (although it was actually two nights ago) and she will be an excellent representative for Thurrock.

Eastern large urban areas

Six conurbations in the East of England are large enough to warrant two Members of Parliament. Since it is a loose rule of thumb that towns vote Labour, whilst the country goes for Tories, it is worth looking at the recent electoral history of these eleven seats. The East returns fifty-eight members to the Commons, of which just a pair, at present, are Labour. For a majority Labour Government to be elected next May some of this sea of blue must turn red.

2010 2005 2001 1997 1992 1987 1983
Basildon and Billericay** Con Con Con Con Con Con Con
South Basildon and East Thurrock++ Con Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Thurrock Con Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Lab
Central Suffolk and North Suffolk## Con Con Con Con
Ipswich Con Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Lab
Luton North Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Luton South Lab Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Norwich North Con Lab Lab Lab Con Con Con
Norwich South LD Lab Lab Lab Lab Lab Con
Rochford and Southend East Con Con Con Con Con Con Con
Southend West Con Con Con Con Con Con Con

** Billericay up to and including 2005
++ Basildon up to and including 2005
## Did not exist before 1997

Many of these seats have stretches of countryside, and do not truly deserve the appellation ‘urban’, but it serves well enough for this illustration. However, these are largely urban, and the six towns represented here (Basildon, Thurrock, Ipswich, Luton, Norwich and Southend-on-Sea) are significant in this region.

The most obvious conclusion is that that loose rule (urban equals Labour) does not apply in the East of England. Southend-on-Sea is the only town in this list not to have returned a Labour MP, and whilst Rochford and Southend East does include a couple of villages (or small towns), Southend West is a compact urban seat, albeit a largely wealthy one. Southend West also avoids the town centre wards, which surely would have changed its electoral history had they been included in the constituency.

No seat has been exclusive Labour territory. Norwich South has only been won once by the Tories since the start of the eighties and with Ipswich and Thurrock shares the distinction of returning Labour MP in five of the last seven General Elections.

South Basildon and East Thurrock continued the weathervane characteristic of its previous incarnation, although UKIP’s influence may change that. In fact, UKIP is rather the joker in the pack in many of these seats, and should they maintain their one in six vote share all the way to May we will see some very curious declarations.

The Labour challenge is to persuade, to identify its support, to engage, and to ensure they actually vote. If Ed Miliband is PM next May then expect some of these seats to return to Labour. Whilst we could win without increasing our representation in this region, unlike the Conservatives we do aspire to be a party of all of Great Britain, reaching into all parts. The south and east, therefore, whilst not critical for success, must be important in establishing credibility. The Conservative failure in the north should not be mirrored by a Labour failure away from its heartlands.