Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park in seasonal racing attire
Battersea Park is almost back to normal, or at least the new normal with a lot more tarmac than there was before but many are still angry about it.

A number of local residents affected are organising a public meeting do discuss possible responses to Formula E this Friday.

The meeting takes place at Ethelburga Community Centre at 60 Worfield Street at 7pm on Friday 10 July.

While the complaints leading up to and during the event were certainly noticed by the council and I wondered if the town hall press office’s silence indicated a shift in opinion was coming (the press office is essentially part of the leader’s office, so a good indication of what’s going on) that silence was broken last Friday.

The timing of the press release is important. It was already out-of-date, detailing an event that was a week old, but was released the the day after the Conservative group meeting (a private meeting of Conservative councillors to which the party organiser and chief activists are also invited) which might imply the decision to try for another four years has been taken.
If the council is to reverse that decision, then public pressure has to be applied now, and not just when the park is disrupted in years to come. Friday’s meeting may be the start of that.

I make no apology for, once again, asking people to vote for me. Putting yourself up for election is a fairly egotistical thing to do, as is having an eponymous blog. And although I’ve never introduced myself on the doorstep (my patter is to call “on behalf of the Conservatives” rather than putting a particular name forward) I have no shame in promoting myself as the best choice for Shaftesbury for the next four years.

But I’m actually not quite that egotistical. I think you should vote for some others as well.

Jane Ellison has been working hard for years and will make an excellent MP for Battersea and give it the voice it deserves.

And for the council Guy Senior has represented Shaftesbury for longer than me (since 1990) and worked hard to help keep Wandsworth providing value and excellent services. Finally, Jonathan Cook will make an superb addition to the team, he’s already been around, introducing himself to all and sundry and will make a great councillor.

Remember, ONE vote on the white paper for Jane ELLISON and THREE votes on the yellow paper for Jonathan COOK, James COUSINS and Guy SENIOR. We will all have the Conservative tree logo by our names.

I’m not sure if I will be blogging during the day, I hope to post a few bits and pieces from out and about, but I also know that it’s going to be an incredibly busy and long day – we shall see what it brings.

This time tomorrow I’ll be running around like mad working for a Conservative victory, locally and nationally.

And hopefully the result will reflect the months and years of hard work the Conservatives have put into Battersea and Wandsworth, both administratively running an excellent council and politically, campaigning to hold Putney and gain Battersea and Tooting. It’s been a hard campaign, but the response on the doorstep has been friendly and positive.

But for me the saddest part was finding some people who are not voting Labour. Quite an odd thing to say, perhaps, but let me explain.

I am from a Labour family, my father was a docker and my mother worked on a factory line. Perhaps I’m a class traitor, that’s for others to judge, but growing up in the 80s I saw my working class family doing better under the Conservatives. The horror stories of the 80s put about by Labour that I hear now bear no relevance to my life whatsoever. I’m not saying things were easy, but I could see how they were getting better, and I could see how the left were about holding things back rather than moving forward.

But while those formative years left me thinking that just following the traditional Labour line was wrong, I still had respect for the Labour party. It was my father’s party, my mother’s party. We disagreed, but we respected each other’s views.

So when I was knocking on doors in the Shaftesbury Estate and talking to elderly voters telling me they were not voting I was saddened. When we talked further I discovered that they had been lifelong Labour voters. Most could remember the war and Clement Attlee even if they hadn’t been old enough to vote for him. These were people who had the Labour movement in their blood.

But they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Gordon Brown.

And that, to me, is horrifying – Labour have let them down so badly they are breaking the habit of a lifetime and staying at home rather than voting. I can think of no greater condemnation of the prime minister and his government.

What’s worst is that lacking any alternative Labour now peddle fear, trying anything to stop someone else winning. It really is politics at its worst.

The Conservatives offer an alternative. It will be hard, and there are tough decisions to be made. But we want to involve everyone, we want to give everyone the opportunity to help make their neighbourhoods better, whether by hosting a street party, running a neighbourhood watch or starting a new school. We want to reward responsibility, but will hold those who fail to meet their responsibility to account. We want to foster our communities, helping businesses and individuals take pride in their areas and get along with their neighbours. And we will provide value, making sure that your money is spent efficiently and effectively.

Tomorrow is about whether you want start again with an ambitious vision, or want to listen to fear and let that be the foundation of five more years of Labour.

I’m choosing hope and voting Conservative.

I have been featuring some of the videos from the council campaign, but this is my favourite.

Because Wandsworth has always encouraged council house sales, empowering people to become homeowners rather than tenants, doesn’t mean we aren’t proud of our position as a social landlord. Wandsworth has been at the forefront of the campaign to retain council housing, rather than passing it over to housing associations – a campaign overwhelmingly supported by tenants. We also have one of the best records in the country on the decent homes standard.

And we are also one of the leading providers of new social housing through our Hidden Homes initiative.

The video is, I think, a powerful example of the difference an innovative Conservative council can make. By being flexible and inventive we are able to give people the opportunities that can help them change their lives.

Hopefully on Friday we’ll have a government that takes the same approach.

The council have published the final list of candidates for the Battersea parliamentary seat.

I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m a little disappointed, the field has narrowed, and we are now down to seven candidates, the major parties are there, obviously, with the Conservatives Jane Ellison challenging Labour’s Martin Linton for the seat. They are joined by the Liberal Democrat, Greens and UKIP along with two independents: Tom Fox, who opposes corruption and Hugh Salmon who seems to share a lot of Conservative policy (although I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time studying his policies).

We’ve lost two candidates though. The Jury Team candidate, it seems, didn’t manage to get a nomination together and, sadly, the Monster Raving Loony Party didn’t stick to his promise to stand. Why am I disappointed? Because I occasionally enjoy politics and some of these candidates can bring some colour to the race. Sadly, they won’t be bringing it to Battersea.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the nomination of a BNP candidate in Putney. Given that they had managed to nominate a candidate in West Hill, they could clearly get the signatures for a parliamentary nomination (both only require ten people) and the only question remaining was whether they could afford the deposit. It seems they could.

I’m still slightly puzzled by their choice of constituency, as I mentioned with their West Hill nomination, they predominantly take votes from Labour so Putney is a surprising choice given that that the Labour vote there isn’t that high. There isn’t even the argument that there is a media focus on the seat – since most will be looking towards Battersea and Tooting where there are likely to be changes.

Whatever their logic, I hope they get a record low in the polls.

Finally, Brown has blown the starting whistle.

Thank God. It has got to the stage where I’m not just dreaming about elections, but actually had a nightmare over the weekend that Brown bottled it again and delayed the election until June.

Frankly, I’m ready to have a bit of a break from politics and campaigning. We’ve been at it for years, and as much as I’m pleased we’re finally getting a chance to see the back of this appallingly bad government, I’m over the moon that there’s only a few more weeks of campaigning left.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when we started our general election campaign. I can barely remember selecting Jane as the candidate, it seems that long ago. But in terms of campaigning we’ve been pretty constant since at least 2007 with various elections and election scares. Late 2007, of course, saw huge speculation about a snap election because of the Brown bounce. (How he must kick himself now for bottling that chance.) Then in 2008 we had the Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections, in 2009 we were campaigning for the European Parliament elections and after that the speculation about another snap election kept us going pretty much up to this point.

Plenty of people will be using this opportunity to set out their stalls – stating why their particular party is the right one for Britain. I’m going to leave that to others because I suspect I’m in tune with the majority of people in the country in saying I’m just happy that Brown will soon be kicked out, and the politics can die down for a while.

The council goes into a mini-hibernation during party conference season, partly because so many councillors attend their conferences. This doesn’t, however, apply during the Liberal Democrat conference for the simple reason that there are no Liberal Democrats on Wandsworth council. We have been in the fortunate position of being a two party council and, despite some opportunistic campaigning, the Liberal Democrats have never made inroads in Wandsworth on a council or Parliamentary level.

And this week’s conference can’t have given them any confidence they will be seeing a breakthrough at the next election.

It seemed doomed from the start. Nick Clegg’s decision to use the phrase “savage cuts” was wrong. Lib Dems are regularly (and arguably rightly) pilloried as trying to be all things to all people. But suddenly we had a leader who seemed to relish being more macho than the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition in his approach to public spending. The problem with the word ‘savage’ is that it doesn’t imply much intelligence. From being leader of a party that straddled the centre he was now the leader proposing indiscriminate cuts.

It wasn’t helped when the sainted Vince Cable announced to delegates, and his colleagues, ideas for a property tax. His reputation was further tarnished by a number of interviews when he didn’t come across as the super-economist his publicity paints.

And (although it might just be that I’m over-sensitive as a Conservative) when it seemed they were as keen to give as much conference time to knocking the Tories as highlighting their own policies you begin to realise that their aspirations of becoming the second party in British politics, or Nick Clegg’s desire to be Prime Minister, are pipe-dreams rather than realistic ambitions.

But the biggest problem they faced this year is that they were never going to be any more than a side-show.

This year the game is between the Conservatives and the Labour Party. And it’s the Labour Party conference that is the main event. David Cameron only needs to put in a competent performance. If he avoids the pitfalls of making policy from the podium and unthinking posturing he will have had a successful conference. We need to continue setting out our stall and outlining what a Conservative Britain will look like, but fireworks aren’t needed.

The fireworks will come next week, as the beleaguered Prime Minister tries to do the impossible and re-assert his authority. The papers are running rumours about resignation on vague ‘health’ grounds and we’ve already had the traditional call for him to go from Charles Clarke and there are going to be plenty more mutterings about the PM’s position in Brighton. If Nick Clegg had a bad week, he can at least take comfort that Gordon Brown is almost certain to have an even worse conference.

It was a fairly good night for the Conservatives in London – three of London’s eight MEPs were returned as Conservatives.  Congratulations to Charles Tannock, Syed Kamall and Marina Yannakoudakis on their elections.

It’s also pleasing that the BNP did not win a seat here.  Though disturbing that they managed to take two seats in the north.  Personally, I’m most depressed about the seat they won in Yorkshire and Humber since that area also covers the part of Linconshire in which I was born.

The results in Wandsworth were very good for the Conservatives, where we got just over twice as many votes as the second place Labour party.  In fact, it generally followed my impression from the doorstep.  The Greens took third place, beating the Liberal Democrats into 4th.  The BNP came seventh – and polled much worse in Wandsworth than in London as a whole, in keeping with my feeling that Wandsworth is generally an inclusive borough.  They certainly have nothing like the level of support to even come close to seriously contesting a council seat.

Having said that, one BNP vote is one too many.  While some are quick to condemn any BNP voter, I do not believe most are motivated by racism (a characteristic the BNP do a lot to hide) but instead because they have concerns or frustrations the main parties have failed to address.  Certainly something the major parties in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber need to consider.

Parties getting more than 1,000 votes in Wandsworth were:

Party Wandsworth votes Wandsworth %age London votes London %age
Conservative 26,819 39.04% 479,037 27.36%
Labour 13,041 18.98% 372,590 21.28%
Green 9,050 13.17% 190,589 10.88%
Liberal Democrat 8,240 11.99% 240,156 13.72%
UKIP 4,441 6.46% 188,440 10.76%
Christian Party 1,598 2.33% 51,336 2.93%
BNP 1,588 2.31% 86,420 4.94%

You can get the full results for Wandsworth from the Wandsworth Council website and for London from the BBC News website

Yesterday I highlighted some of the things canvassing is not. Today I want to go through some of the things canvassing is, and my thoughts at the end of this particular campaign.  While the media will concentrate on Cabinet resignations and pressure on Brown, the life of a party activist is less glamorous and less dramatic; we knock on doors and talk to people.

Canvassing to identify support
At its simplest level canvassing is about identifying your supporters so you can encourage them to vote. If you imagine a constituency in which exactly half the population support the Conservatives and exactly half support the Labour party the winner would be decided by who was best at getting their supporters out to vote for them.

Canvassing as an opinion poll
But it also works as a simple opinion poll. Because we are continually canvassing on issues and support we can track changes. It isn’t as statistically valid as proper opinion research, we can’t select a ‘representative’ sample that reflects the country as a whole, but we do get an idea of the way things are going. If you canvass ten people and one has switched, that’s a 10% swing.

I will say from the outset that I don’t actually know any of the figures in Wandsworth or Battersea, I’m no longer involved at that level of political campaigning – I’m just an activist who goes where I’m told. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a feel from the doorstep.

The feel on the doorstep
And that doorstep feel is an important indicator. The 1992 general election was the first I was actively involved in, and many will remember that, when called, it was seen as being incredibly close. A few days before the actual election one of the older and wiser heads in the association I was involved in told me that we’d win nationally. Not because of the polls, but because “you can see people aren’t ready for Labour”. I wrote it off until some months later when Neil Kinnock, in a documentary interview, said he knew he was going to lose not because of any polling, but because when he met members of the public he could “see it in their eyes”.

Its important to remember that while opinion polls give broad projections, it’s the people who go and vote that decide the result of elections, not the people who answer pollsters.

These are my opinions based on my own experience and during this campaign almost all my canvassing has been in Wandsworth, most in Battersea and the largest part of that in my own ward. If someone tells you its totally different next door in Lambeth or Richmond, they may well be right.

It’s a real pleasure to be able to say that I’ve only canvassed a few BNP supporters, indeed I could count on the fingers of one hand the people who have told me they are voting for the BNP. In Wandsworth, at least, they are not a political force. Hopefully that is the case everywhere else in the country.

Minor parties
Again, these have not featured on the doorstep, which is totally at odds with the recent polls showing UKIP in third place ahead of Labour. They may well achieve that level of support, but it won’t be in Wandsworth.

By far the most popular of the smaller parties has been the Greens. Not a huge number of them, to be sure, but certainly more than any other party.

I’m also going to include the Liberal Democrats in this category, although I do so with some caution. Wandsworth has traditionally been a two party borough, there are no Lib Dems on the council, although there are some areas in the borough where the Lib Dems are active. It might be because I’ve not been in those areas that I’ve met so few intending to vote that way.

It’s safe to say Labour are not having a good time of it. And it shows on the doorstep.

Their vote is definitely soft. Many who rejected the Conservatives in favour of Blair’s Labour Party are returning to the Conservatives if they hadn’t already. But I think the real problem Labour face are their supporter who just won’t go out and vote. It was very much the problem we faced in 1997, people wouldn’t vote against us, but we couldn’t get them to vote for us either. Around three million people fewer people voted in 1997 than had in 1992. Less people voted Labour in 1997 than had voted Conservative in 1992. Blair won not just because Tories switched to him, but also because they stayed home in huge numbers.

Oddly, one of the ways I see this relates to ‘Myth 3’ from yesterday’s post. It means that people can tell us they aren’t voting for us, but give us good news as well: “I always voted Labour, but I’m not doing that again.”

I find it hard to believe this isn’t going to be Labour’s 1997. The electorate want to punish Labour, and will; the question is whether they will be satisfied by this election, or whether the anger will carry over into the general election when Brown or his successor calls it.

Who’s winning?
Easy one for me. The Conservatives. As a Conservative each successive election since 1997 has been nicer than the last, but the change has been much more marked over the past two years. People are pleased to see us and enthusiastic about voting for us again.

Of course, the electoral system for this election means it’s impossible to predict a result. The final scores depend as much on the spread of votes between minor parties as it does on the Conservatives’ lead. I wouldn’t put a bet on the numbers of seats. But I’d put a bet on Cameron being the leader with the biggest smile when the results come in on Sunday.

Robin Askwith will not be getting any casting enquiries on the back of this. While canvassing may be many things it would make a very bad film, even by the standard of the British film industry in the 70s.

But since it’s taken up so much of my time over the past few weeks – just as it will have for anyone who is really involved in politics – I thought I’d come clean over it. Today, a few words on what canvassing is, and more importantly, isn’t. Tomorrow, my reflection on what we’ve learnt on the doorstep in this campaign.

I’ve hesitated a lot about this post. Part of me wonders if being in a party isn’t a bit like the Magic Circle or the Masons. By talking about canvassing and revealing some of the secrets isn’t it just the same as saying “look, I want my tongue cut out, then buried at the low water mark by moonlight”? But of course the ‘secrets’ are known to every party, on the ground we all campaign in pretty much the same way. It’s actually the public who don’t always know how and why we campaign the way we do.

Myth 1: You’re here to spend an age trying to convert me
I almost feel cynical in saying that no main party will send a canvasser around to try and ‘convert’ you. Actually though, the clue is in the name, canvass means to question (someone) in order to ascertain their opinion on something. This becomes especially true during elections, when time is limited. In my ward of Shaftesbury, for example, there are over 11,000 electors living in something like 6,500 houses and flats, there just isn’t time to go to each house and try and persuade people of the merits of my party.

This is not to say you can’t ask a canvasser about party policy, but they aren’t there to try and force it down your throat. After all, even if we did spend 20 minutes persuading you to vote for us, what is there to stop another party coming round tomorrow and undoing all our hard work.

Myth 2: You only come round at election time
How I wish this were true! If it were I’d only have to canvass for four or so weeks a year. I obviously can’t speak for other parts of the country, or, indeed, for the other parties in Wandsworth, but we make an effort all year around to get out and speaking with people.

We have a regular programme of canvassing and surveying. It is certainly more relaxed outside of election periods, but it’s still there. And just like election canvassing it is still heavily focussed on your opinions, often taking more of a ‘street surgery’ style when we try and find out what you think about local and national issues as well as giving you an opportunity to raise problems or concerns that we might be able to tackle for you.

Of course, what may well be the case that we’ve not spoken to you outside of an election, but it’s a pretty fair bet we’ve knocked on your door at some stage and just not got you in. If that’s the case I can only apologise that we missed you before, but also congratulate you on having better things to do than wait in for Conservative canvassers.

Myth 3: You don’t want to hear bad news
This is a myth you probably didn’t even know existed, because if you’d even thought about it you’d have guessed that we get a lot of doors slammed in our faces. In fact, that’s pretty far from the truth (I’m not including 1997, which was a real exception to this rule) and the vast majority of people are polite. In fact, they are too polite.

An odd concept, you might think, but you find many people actually don’t like giving the ‘bad news’ that they will be voting for the other guys. Part of it is human nature, most people are pre-disposed to be positive towards our fellow man, and it’s actually quite hard to let people down, even the complete stranger on your doorstep asking about your vote.

Something a regular canvasser quickly learns are all the ways that people try and let you down gently. A common one is the phrase “yes, I’ll be voting.” A phrase which doesn’t actually mean “yes, I’ll be voting for you” even if it sounds similar. Also common are the “I’m too busy right now because…” which might be true, but even quicker would be “I’m too busy to talk right now, but I’m voting for…”

The fact is we know lots of people vote for the other parties. We have the most unpopular government ever, but 1 in 5 people still intend to vote Labour. The last time we had a deeply unpopular government, in 1997, there were still over 9,600,000 (out of 31 million) votes cast for the Conservatives.

So if you don’t support us, or just don’t want to say, just tell us – we won’t mind and won’t try and change your mind.