I’m lucky enough to live in a safe Labour constituency, Poplar and Limehouse. I’ve spent some time this election on what I call “comfort canvassing” in Tower Hamlets, to show appreciation to our voters, and give myself a boost. Living in a safe seat however, I feel my feet and enthusiasm are needed more elsewhere, so I’ve been touring the main swing seats in London. I’ve met many different people, petted a lot of cats, and learned that answering the door in underpants is a London-wide phenomenon.
It has really pleased me to see that most of the Labour MPs I’ve been fighting for have a really strong personal vote. People on the doorstep talk about ‘Jim’ or ‘Andy’ as if they were old friends, and are keen to let me know when they last had the MP at their house.
I have found that most people on the doorstep want to talk about local issues – what their MP has done for them, and what they promise to do in future. If someone is wavering, a mention of a local hospital their MP kept open, or a promise to deliver police officers will catch their attention. These have been the easiest conversations to have as our MPs are brilliant.
Tribal Labour voters are becoming a rare breed in swing seats. But, tribalism does still apply in my home constituency. I’ve had people open the door, point at my sticker and give me the thumbs up. An elderly lady once offered me her seat on the bus as I was sporting a large ‘Vote Labour’ badge. These voters are always excited to see canvassers, and are a much needed energy boost for the long campaign.
However, to my dismay, more and more people this time have been telling me that they’ve voted Labour for 50 years but won’t do so this time. It’s tough to talk to these people. My heart sinks. I don’t know what to say – they’ve always voted Labour so they know all the arguments. Often they will not say why – but when they do, it’s down to two factors overwhelmingly: Brexit and leadership.
My doorstep highlight this election came from a discussion about Brexit in Tooting. The door opened to reveal a lady holding a baby and a dog (doorstep jackpot). She told me that she had voted Tory all her life, but that she was upset about Brexit. When I explained that Roseanna voted against the bill, she vowed that she and her family would be voting Labour. Roseanna herself came up enthusiastically to thank the woman and her family, showing again how wonderful our MPs are.
However, some of my worst conversations have been on this as well. A few people have asked me to explain what Brexit means and to define the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit.
What is most upsetting is that Labour is losing people from both sides – Brexiters who are upset we campaigned for remain, and Remainers who will not forgive the fact that we voted for article 50. Being on the doorstep in swing seats make it very clear why many MPs felt they had to rebel against the three-line line whip.
I don’t think I can get away without discussing the leadership. This has not in fact come up on the doorstep as much as the media would have you think. Most people want to talk about their area and their local MP. However, Corbyn will come up several times during a session, as did Ed Milliband in 2015, and all the leaders before them. To avoid bias, I present four quotes from the doorstep, without comment, from the main four types of thinking:
“Your leader is rubbish. But I’ve voted Labour all my life and I won’t let him stop me”.
“I’ve voted Labour all my life but I can’t vote for that man. I know he’s not on the ballot paper, but if Labour loses badly, he’ll see what he’s done”.
“I love Corbyn, but the local MP doesn’t. I’m tempted not to vote to spite him, but of course I’m voting Labour”.
“Why isn’t Jeremy on your campaign leaflet? Are you embarrassed by him? I won’t vote for the MP if he won’t support our leader. I’m staying home”.
It’s a tough fight – but I’m not giving up yet. I’ve had a real sense that there is unity in fighting for our Labour MPs and countering damaging Tory policy. It’s easy to allow Twitter and the media to convince you that Labour is split irreparably, but I’ve found a united team on the doorstep. I feel worrying rumbles that this may be short lived but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
PS. Vote Labour
The Young Fabians are organising campaign days in the run up to general election. Find out more details and RSVP, here.