Saturday 24 April – the strange absence of the footsoldiers
On Friday we packed off to Carlisle to help out John Stevenson, who is fighting to win Carlisle off Labour – we call it mutual assistance. We canvassed a lot of houses, but it was only a small chunk of what seemed like a huge estate. Being Tories, we benefit from top flight canvass board managers, in this case Lady Caroline Henley, who was as effective as she was efficient. But she mentioned one thing that I had noticed in Hexham. She said that though Labour had put some leaflets out – mainly by post – she hadn’t noticed any other teams or groups from other political parties. My perception is that Labour has seen a gradual hemorrhage of its foot soldiers. My theory, backed by admittedly weak evidence, is that the Iraq War along with the abolition of the 10 pence tax band, were the final straws. The Lib Dems aren’t doing too well there either, though they never had the sheer numbers that the big parties have had.
This was brought home graphically recently when I went with Guy and other team members to a former mining village in our patch. We knocked on one door, where we got a really warm reception from a former miner. Nothing strange in that, Labour voters tend to be incredibly friendly to their opponents. Unlike some middle class Lib Dems, but that’s another story. This miner had lived in that house all his adult life - his mine had gone, but his home had not. He told Guy: “I’ve lived here 48 years, and I can honestly say you are the first politician to knock on my door”. I assumed he meant the first Tory politician, but no – absolutely no party had tried to canvass his support before, at least not at his home. I suspect that miner and his wife have gone from S to P or even C in 10 minutes.
Now I am not going to name the village, since I feel we better nuture it rather than our opponents, but I am still a bit shocked by it. Now it’s not good that we Tories haven’t been there, but given Thatcher and the NUM it is kind of understandable, and yes it’s a massive constituency, size wise, so in any prioritisation this village isn’t going to be well placed for us. But where is Labour? If no one looks after their voters, or starts taking them for granted, then no wonder there is so much disillusionment, expenses or no expenses.
In previous elections I recall we were constantly playing slightly amusing cat and mouse games with our opponents’ teams. Not this time, we’re largely on our own. On Saturday we did come across a small Lib Dem bunch in Hexham and one of the Independents supporters (of Dr. Ford) blowing up balloons in Ponteland, but their numbers aren’t there. We had several teams out, in Hexham, Prudhoe, Corbridge, and here’s one of our two Ponteland teams: