When I wrote about getting the election buzz last week I had forgotten that my least favourite part of the campaign was about to hit.
Of course, I say that in a relative sense (since I have seen far too many similar comments misconstrued recently). This isn’t a demoralised, disenchanted or defeatist activist rambling on, but someone who has done enough elections to recognise that he enjoys some parts far more than others!
Having spent the past few weeks (months, years) identifying our support through fairly extensivecanvassing much of our work now is about reminding them that the election is on Thursday (many people manage to forget) and how and where they can vote. I’m not sure I find it the least enjoyable part of the campaign. Perhaps because it’s the change from continual canvassing to something different or perhaps because it is difficult to do socially (you normally canvass in teams, but end up doing this alone). But whatever the reason, I’m still out there doing it because it is important, this time especially so because we have two elections on the same day and most people will have four votes to cast – one to choose their MP and three to choose their councillors.
In Shaftesbury I’d be flattered if you could cast your vote for me – I’ll be lurking fourth down on the yellow council ballot paper – but also for my colleagues, Jonathan Cook and Guy Senior for the council and Jane Ellison for parliament.
Less than a week to go until polling day now and my election buzz still is starting to kick in. I can only speculate on why it took so long, that it might be things like age (I’m now a family man and supposedly more mature) or that we’ve just been campaigning constantly for so long that it wasn’t really that different when the election was formally announced.
But it also occurred to me today I’ve just not seen any opposition activity.
Perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, but having been on the streets day in and day out for the past few weeks I rather expected I would have seen more. If they are out campaigning they are either doing it elsewhere, or in a very low key way – I’ve not had any leaflets from any other party and have only seen a couple of Labour activists in the ward, one delivering and one who was lost on Lavender Hill.
This is totally different to years gone by. While I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Liberal Democrats campaign in Battersea, the Labour and Conservative Parties had some real battles. In 2005 there was a regular competition to see which of us could muster the most people at Clapham Junction each Saturday. Dozens from either side would run street stalls and, I would imagine, depress trade for the local businesses as people avoided us.
Going further back to 1998 when I was first a council candidate we would regularly cross paths with the Labour candidates on the streets. And just as regularly have a drink with them in The Lavender at the end of the evening. Indeed, we would often all end up in Andersen’s (then the area’s only late night bar, which celebrated its monopoly by selling watery lager and never, ever, cleaning). It was a battle, but it was fun and the rivalry was friendly. Above all, it was personal, we knew each other because we were doing the same thing and got on together because of it – we disagreed about policy, but our motives were the same.
Maybe this time the other parties are campaigning differently, perhaps concentrating on the phones or targeting heavily, so we don’t see them. But I can’t help but feel that we’re losing something when campaigns become so impersonal we don’t even see our opponents.
Instead, I have to console myself with seeing the occasional tweet or dipping into blogs run by opposition activists and candidates. Although these invariably pretend everyone is supporting them (and become so banal and partisan as to be pointless) you can sometimes read between the lines: for example, Stuart King’s blog seems to spend an inordinate amount of time having a go at the Lib Dems, which leaves me wondering if Labour are worried about losing second place there. But generally, it seems we are campaigning in a vacuum here.
That’s not to say I’ve not enjoyed it. It has, so far, been a fun campaign. We’ve set a great pace and covered the ground. Then covered it again. And again. And, in some places, again. If we’ve not managed to see you over the past four weeks (or four years) it’s not because we’ve not tried – it’s because you have a great social life and you’re never in.
And as well as covering the ground, the response has been the friendliest I have ever known, though admittedly I’m using 1997 as my benchmark, and it’s hard to imagine a less friendly time than that to be a Conservative activist!
Now we are entering the final phase, with several days frenetic activity building up to election day next Thursday. Hopefully we’ll make all the hard work – and the friendly response – pay off.
On of the things that strikes me about it is how some of the themes, like community and responsibility also come out strongly in the national manifesto. Given that the two were drawn up independently (and I wouldn’t pretend that ours would have influenced the national one anyway) it’s interesting to see how basic Conservative principles have shaped both documents.
Over a week into the formal campaign. And still three weeks to go. Are people fed up yet?
So far it’s been a pleasant experience. I can’t help comparing to my first stint on the Battersea doorstep in 1997 which was, frankly, a depressing experience. As a Conservative campaigning has got better and better with each passing year.
Has it got worse for Labour? Clearly I’ve no idea, I’ve never knocked on a door as a Labour activist, but I can’t help imagining that it has. Our supporters are easier to find and far more motivated to vote than ever before. And while I’m finding Labour supporters (I’m not going to pretend they aren’t out there) I’m not finding enthusiastic Labour supporters.
Back in 1997 we had plenty of supporters, but as I discovered when I was going back to the same doors again and again and again on election day, while they were Conservative supporters they were not, for that election at least, going to be Conservative voters. It’s a simplistic view, but what gave Blair victory in 1997 weren’t the people switching from blue to red, or people voting tactically, but the Conservative voters who stayed at home, while Labour’s vote increased by 2 million between 1992 and 1997 the Tory vote plummeted by 4½ million.
I don’t think we’re on course for a 1997 landslide, the electoral system is too heavily stacked against us for that, but it will be interesting to see how the numbers pan out on the day. It’s a truism, but elections are won or lost on who can persuade their voters to get out and vote. And that’s why we’re out there (annoying some) every day and every night.
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.
One of the givens of any election campaign is that you need a decent portrait photo. After all, who is going to vote for anyone who doesn’t have a decent portrait photo? That would just be crazy.
And now that my 2010 one has finally appeared on a leaflet I thought I’d dig out the photos from previous elections. I could only find three – from 2002, 2006 and, of course, 2010. To be honest, while I know I have the 1998 photo somewhere I also know I have a real Tory boy look and, therefore, not much incentive to find it to republish it to the world. I’m fairly confident no-one has actually kept a 1998 leaflet and that’s definitely for the best.
And this set me thinking. What if I were to assign a Tory boy rating to myself over time, how would that graph look? Would there be any interesting or telling patterns revealed?
So that’s exactly what I did. Clearly Tory boyism is a subjective measure. But I’ve tried to assess it objectively, using measures like parting and hair neatness, fondness for ties and level of political ambition.
And I was astounded – my Tory boy rating seems to be inversely related to the Conservatives Party’s electoral fortunes and poll ratings. Now I know some may be eager to point out that correlation and causation are totally different things. But I have to ask, can I take the risk? Should this graph be what guides my next haircut? And should I be scheduling it for 6 May?
I doubt it has escaped anyone’s attention that 2010 is going to be an election year. In London we are faced with the prospect of a double header, with people electing their MPs and their councillors on the same day (since Brown seems to have inadvertently ruled out a March election in his interview with Andrew Marr).
Towards the end of last year Labour activists seems significantly buoyed by a series of polls that showed them only nine or ten points behind the Conservatives in polls. Frankly I was bemused that it caused such delight amongst Labour activists. Surely a nine point deficit is not a cause for celebration, after all, their margin of victory in 2005 was significantly less, just 3%. In 2001 when they had a 247 seat majority their margin of victory was 9%. In moral terms, if not electoral, a 9% deficit is not a cause for celebration. But as I’ve touched on before, the currently distribution of seats means that, on a uniform swing, the Conservatives need to win by more than 8% to be able to form a government.
While visiting family over Christmas I watched my team – Grimsby Town – lose and I realised why Labour are so happy with such a poor result. It’s a symptom of their abject lack of ambition for themselves and the country.
If you are a fan of a struggling football team (Grimsby have spent all season in the relegation zone, and only retained league status last season because other teams had hefty points deductions for going into administration) you will know the mentality. You go along to the game expecting defeat, but heartily support even the most minor sign of positive play on the pitch.
At Blundell Park we had about 80 minutes of misery before the last ten minutes when the players finally gave us something to cheer about – and cheer them on we did. We were hoping for a miracle that never came. But hope is what it was all about.
And such is the lot of the Labour supporter. They know they have lost the arguments and Brown’s administration has been nothing short of a disaster. But they support the Labour team, so they have to cheer when something gives them hope. They know the electoral maths are stacked against the Conservatives, so now it isn’t really about winning; it’s about clinging on.
Just as a Grimsby fan dreams of clinging onto league status rather than seeing a cup-winning hat-trick at Wembley, Labour are dreaming of somehow clinging onto power at the election. And how that happens is unimportant. If they have to rely on the electoral system, so be it. If they have to rely on tired old cliches, so be it. If they have to rely on some bizarre form of class envy, that’s all right too.
And it might just work for them. They have lowered expectations so much that, combined with the expenses scandals, people probably don’t expect to get that much from a government. It’s almost as if their campaign slogan is “Brown: he may be a comical incompetent, but he’s your comical incompetent. Vote Labour.”
To a degree the Conservatives have helped by talking about the problems Brown has created that the next government will have to fix. Sensible enough, they will face some tough decisions if they win power and it’s right to prepare the electorate for that. But it’s hard to motivate people to vote for you unless you are offering something positive, if it’s going to be bad whoever gets in you might as well stick with what you’ve got.
It is the nature of political parties to seek power. That is their raison d’être. However, it becomes a real problem when that is all they are doing – it would be a disaster for the country if Brown somehow manages to do just that.
My usual end of week wrap-up of bits and pieces I want to highlight or didn’t post about at the time.
Pre-summer council meeting
Wednesday saw the council had it’s last full meeting before the summer recess. Of course, the council doesn’t take a holiday in the same way that Parliament does, but there’s a break in meetings during August before starting again in September. And, like any large organisation, things get a little quieter because of holidays.
The July council meeting always seems to reflect a pre-summer lethargy. I’d always blamed the bad ventilation in the Council Chamber, which made it hot and stuffy in July. But following the collapse of the roof and our move to the Civic Suite I discovered that July is a flat meeting for other reasons.
The debates lacked spark (despite some excellent contributions on our side) and the meeting was other remarkably quickly for a full council.
Of course, there’s also a slight lull because everyone knows that a general election is coming and whatever there are going to be major spending cuts, but politics means that neither party can really address these. Hence the ridiculous language of “0% raises” from Gordon Brown and endless offers of cash that, mysteriously, end in 2010/11 (thus making the next guy seem like the scrooge).
This affects councils of every political complexion, not just Conservative, and while it might make for interesting politics, it’s not the way a country should be run.
I can’t not mention the debate, opened up by the BBC, on CCTV cameras. It is definitely an interesting one; but what I found fascinating (as well as a little reassuring given my feelings on civil liberties) was the common ground I had with Shami Chakrabarti on them when I did BBC Breakfast. It might be a strange alliance, but I think it was something of a victory for common sense. As is often the case, it’s not the sensationalist headline, but the detail behind it. It doesn’t really matter how many cameras any organisation has, it’s the controls behind them that counts.
Another bit from the last week I’m rather pleased with is the discussion started on this blog and continued here, here and elsewhere, about surgeries. Yes, it might seem a minor issue – over the course of the year it’s only 150 man-hours in Wandsworth – but it’s good to see that a blog can start a little debate which, I hope, might lead somewhere.
Meeting the police
This week also saw one of my more formal meetings with the police. While I seem to see them fairly often, one way or another, I do have a regular session with the Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Stewart Low so we can both catch up with what each side is doing.
Obviously a lot of the meeting is not for repeating here. However, one thing did come across clearly (and shows in the crime maps on this site) is that the recession is having an impact on crime. This is not just a Wandsworth phenomenon, it’s happening across London and the rest of the country.
Burglary is one of the crimes that really seems to be on the up. While the police are doing a great job there’s still a lot we can do to avoid becoming a victim of crime. The Met’s crime prevention pages and the Council’s Community Safety Division both suggest lots of ways you can make yourself safer.
I would imagine few people would be surprised if I were to say that this week has been dominated by the European elections.
As a consequence, this report is going to be short. First, I’m fairly shattered by a last week of campaigning that culminated in a 17 hour election day (I started at 5am). Second, it means there is little else to report on.
My sole ‘meeting’ of the week was at Shaftesbury Park school, where I serve as one of the council-appointed governors. It was actually two meetings, the first looking at the school’s budget and other operational issues and the second looking at the academic side of the school. One of the topics discissed was how Shaftesbury Park has a high proportion of students with special educational needs (something I think we need to understand the reasons behind) and what the school is doing to meet those needs.
But without a doubt the elections dominated my week. We are now in a limbo between elections and results, so I’ve no idea how it went. Turnout was definitely low but, while I’ve not seen official figures, anecdotally it seems Shaftesbury’s turnout was higher than many other parts of Wandsworth.
I also think the Conservatives did well, we were well received on the doorstep and the streets while campaigning. Certainly the early local election results outside of London seem to reflect that it was a bad day for Labour and a good day for us.
Obviously how that will impact on the national scene, and then back onto us, remains to be seen.
One thing of which I am sure is that it’s back to business as usual next week.