First published on the Times Redbox
This Sunday I ventured to the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency with a car full of people. I was keen to do my bit to help Gareth Snell, a friend from my Labour Students days, and Labour’s campaign more generally.
In these heartbreaking times it is important to remember there is no factionalism in doorknocking and despite the feeling that Labour is dying in front of our eyes, most Labour activists like each other and love this party.
Keen to head out, my team joined up with a Momentum carpool from northeast London and headed to the doors.
“Apathetic” would not be an unfair way to describe a significant part of the electorate. This, after all, is the seat with the lowest turnout in the 2015 general election. Jeremy Corbyn’s “non-voter” strategy has a little more work to do in the Potteries.
However, three things were obvious:
One, there is still a pro-Brexit, loyal Labour vote. The first woman I met was a pensioner who voted to Leave but was still voting Labour. Others said the same. For one person the referendum seemed a life time away. This was not uniformly the case and one person, annoyed that I was the fourth canvasser she had seen in as many days, said: “I am only doing this for the NHS – you lot better sort yourself out, and fast.” One of my Momentum comrades was excited when a voter bellowed down the road that the Tories were sending the country to the dogs and a revolution was needed. I smiled but the feeling for both of us was temporary as it turned out we both had very different ideas of what this meant to the voter — his point was more white power than workers power. We moved on.
Two, that Paul Nuttall is being chased out of town by his own loud mouth. The Hillsborough comments, especially when added to lies about living at the address he is registered to in Stoke, having a PhD and being a professional footballer, cast doubt that he was the no-nonsense successor to Nigel Farage. Unpleasant and untrustworthy.
Finally, I met a real Red Tory. In fact, two. Both women. Traditional Conservative voters who were annoyed that the Tories were not trying, scared by the prospect that Nuttall might put Stoke on the map in all the wrong ways. Each was planning to vote Labour to stop Ukip. I could not believe my ears. But I remember Labour voters doing the opposite in the Newark by-election to achieve the very same. A similar demographic — women with young kids.
While these were small in number, it is always worth remembering that winning switchers from the Tories is so important. It has been said that if Labour win Copeland it would be Theresa May what won it. Red Tory women might do the same for Labour in Stoke Central.
At present, Lucy Powell holds the record for being elected on the lowest turnout since the Second World War – in 2012 she won the Manchester Central by-election with 18.2 per cent of voters going to the polls. This Thursday I expect my old student activist buddy to inherit a mantle from both Tristram Hunt and Powell on the very same day.
Richard Angell is director of Progress, the Labour campaign group