By Julian Ware-Lane
It goes like this: You knock on a door, someone answers, you get through your introductory spiel right up to the bit where you mention you are a Labour activist, and ka-boom. You are assailed verbally, possibly physically, a long list of the Government’s ills are laid before you, and then the door is shut / the dog is set upon you / you are chased down the garden path.
Isn’t this how it is meant to be for us activists every weekend?
Well, no. In fact my experience is quite the reverse. People want to talk to someone from the Labour Party, someone purporting to represent the Government. Yes, people are worried about the economy, but they appreciate that the Government has to do something. Doing nothing is not something that anyone has told me they want their Government to adopt in response to the worldwide crisis.
I am not claiming that everyone is supportive, and there are many for whom Gordon is a problem. I find that talking about our record over the last twelve years is usually well-received. Iraq goes down badly, but as I opposed the war I can get around this difficulty, and, besides, the troops are scheduled to be coming home in July.
We have a proud record. I shan’t list our achievements here, but they are obvious (my personal favourite is the minimum wage which I consider to be our stand-out achievement).
Of course, it helps if you have a useless local Tory council and a London Mayor who wants to build an airport in your estuary.
Whatever the Government has done in the previous week is usually woven into the conversation. These are usually good initiatives, especially when connected with education or health. What makes life difficult is when some sleaze announces itself. Polls are never mentioned.
There is a much reported disconnect between electorate and politicians. The solution that seems to work for me is to get out there, have that conversation, and don’t pick the soft option of only speaking to our identified supporters (the law of diminishing returns kicks in here in any case). Don’t tell lies, don’t pretend that everything Labour does is wonderful, and don’t worry if you know nothing about a topic, just admit it and promise to do some research and get back to them.
The biggest mistake that Labour could do right now is to believe that they are right and the electorate are wrong. This is what led to three disastrous General Elections defeats for the blue rosette brigade. Elections are a form of conversation, and this requires listening as well as talking.