When fixed term parliaments were introduced there was no big splash. Only now are people beginning to realise that 5 years is a very long time. Harold Wilson said ‘a week is a long time in politics’ – and the 50 weeks we have left is a very long time in politics. An election seems long overdue. Cardiff North currently has a Conservative MP. Labour has to win here to get a Labour government.
I have been candidate for almost a year and have spoken to 1000s of people on the doorstep. These conversations give me, a strong understanding on the issues that will decide the election in Cardiff North.
There are far fewer tribal voters than there were. I spoke to one man recently in his 80s who had always voted Conservative. His wife recently died so he has now decided to vote Labour. ‘I always used to do what my wife told me he said’, so this time I’m voting Labour. Pleased as I am when people decide to vote Labour I couldn’t celebrate in the circumstances. An electorate more willing to switch means the campaign on the ground will count more than it has for a generation.
There are three clear challenges for us on the doorstep that sum up these changing political times. This is what I think they are and how we tackle them to win in 2015.
‘You’re all the same’ is something I hear too often. The expenses scandal has stuck. Disgruntled, often older voters tell me they are fed up with politics. Lasting damage has been done to the label ‘politician’. Having grown used to the kudos that comes with being a teacher in an inner-city comprehensive school the new label has taken some getting used to, though being a teacher does help to counter stereotypes. However people still care deeply about their schools, hospitals and local areas.
The only way to reverse this perception is by showing through our actions and campaigning that being a Labour candidate is about putting values into action. My campaign with our Assembly Member Julie Morgan to save local bus services generated huge public support.
Hard working local Labour councillors are vital people on the ground who show what Labour means. From arranging for roads to be fixed and securing funds to improve shopping areas they show what it means to be Labour and rooted in communities. This is even harder when council budgets are being slashed. Cameron has clearly been hoping that cuts to local government will be blamed on Labour councils or here in Wales on our Welsh Labour government. Other parties, including Conservatves can’t believe their luck in getting away with attacking Labour councils for unpalatable cuts whilst their counterparts in Westminster shuffle through the lobbies voting them in. And neither, I have to say, can I.
Persuading younger people to vote is the other disillusionment challenge. So many young voters tell me they ‘don’t really know much about politics’ and say it doesn’t really affect them. The first step is listening to their ambitions and hopes for the future. There is no better way to do this than face to face. The Educational Maintenance Allowance and £3000 grants for tuition fees are two practical ways that our Welsh Labour government shows we believe our future is worth the investment.
2. It’s the economy, stupid
The people I meet who are most angry are those who have always been in work, who often have two incomes and yet are finding the cost of living is just going up and up. Cardiff North has more public sector workers than elsewhere in the UK most of whom have had no pay rise in the last four years. Families, particularly those with younger children, have felt the squeeze and have also lost out on tax credits and the abolition of universal child benefit.
Our policy to freeze energy prices as a temporary measure in order to reform the energy market in the longer term has huge appeal. Privitisation was supposed to be good for the consumer and drive prices down. People want an economy that works for them.
3. Offering hope in a fairer future rather than blame
Teaching secondary school history for over 12 years I taught the rise to power of the Nazis more than a few times. I changed my approach to teaching it. Rather than being about what these Germans did, it was more about patterns of human behaviour not just in Germany. Throughout history when times are tough easy answers become more appealing.
One conversation from last week in Cardiff North which has very low levels of immigration sticks out for me. Donna raised the issue of immigration. She had already voted Labour in the Euro elections but she said her son had voted BNP because we had ‘opened the floodgates’. Her son in his 40s couldn’t find a job and this – she thought – was why. I think this tells us two things. Firstly when people talk about immigration they are saying – things aren’t fair for me. I’m working hard, my family is working hard but it’s not paying off. Farage makes the answer simple. It’s these people – see how they’re different from you. Having a rational debate about immigration controls becomes almost impossible in these circumstances.
The answer has to be hope. Saying how we would help young people get good jobs, get the economy moving by helping small business and get money in people’s pockets. For example the Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales has been a hugely successful programme in helping younger people into work. Ed Miliband’s promise to make work pay by giving employers tax cuts for paying the living wage is another example of how we could do this.
Donna said she was so fed up that once she had saved up she had decided she would be moving to Spain. People want to be proud of the community and country. We have to offer that hope and a fair deal.
The Tory response
It suits the Tories if working people blame other working people. The reality is different The botching of the sell-off Royal Mail is a scandal but money in the pockets of rich speculators does not provoke the same anger as money going to working people who have lost their jobs or have fallen ill. Shares were sold at £3.30 and sold weeks later for over £6 a share. This meant a whopping 750 million pounds (£10 for every person in the country) lost to the tax payer. One of these preferred investors – Fidelity Worldwide has donated nearly £975,000 to the Tories. No wonder they give tax cuts for millionaires. And yet people do not raise this as a big issue on the doorstep even thought they think it a scandal. The story is too far away from most people’s lives.
The Labour movement was built one by one. In the work place, in the high streets and in communities. This will always be our strength. Even more so in the age of social media. Meeting and talking with people face to face becomes even more important. Social media is a way of debating, engaging and promoting but meeting someone face to face changes the connection. You can look someone in the eye and more importantly they can look you in the eye. Do I trust her?
The Tories will outspend us every time. To convince those sceptical about politics we need our representatives rooted in the communities they wish to serve. Our policies have to mean a life fairer in ways that relate to voters concerns. And we have to convince them that only a government that governs in the interest of the many will deliver a better life for them and their families.
We have people to help us talk to people but we need more. We need conversations about hope and about having belief in our fellow human beings. We will only win one conversation at a time.