“The pakoras we ate together tasted of solidarity and spice” – one activist’s polling day diary from a key marginal

18th June, 2017 7:00 am

On June 8 at 11.30pm I arrived home after a day of campaigning. I started to say hello to Julie, my wife, and to describe an incredible day. I had to stop talking, however, as I was about to break down and cry. I was tired and emotional – and I really mean I was tired and emotional. My experiences had blown me away. I felt moved and nervous – but I had hope.

For the weeks leading up to the election I had campaigned a little. I had delivered leaflets and knocked on doors. I’d discussed politics at my cricket club, at work, with friends and family in person and on social media.

And election day started at 8am with my vote being cast for our outstanding Labour MP, Paul Blomfield.

After a coffee I headed to our local campaign office and was sent to a local council estate to knock on doors to encourage people to vote. Not many were in. We helped an elderly gentleman to the polling station with a lift. After two hours and 400 doors on our small group headed back to report on progress.

I then went to a meeting point to join a group of fellow Labour activists and head to Halifax to support Holly Lynch’s campaign to defend a wafer-thin majority of 428 votes.

We drove to Parkinson Street, the campaign HQ for Park Ward, Halifax. The local campaign team made us incredibly welcome. We shared a cup of tea – the premium fuel on election day.

An incredibly energetic Labour councillor called Jenny enthused about our help. Her warmth was matched by a dynamic office of local activists.

Soon we were sent out with local members to knock on doors. The community in Park Ward is multi-racial with a large number of Muslim families. The housing is a combination of old-fashioned terrace and modern new build. That’s the bricks and mortar, what was lovely throughout the day was the sense of the warm and friendly community.

Normally in my experience of door knocking I have had a friendly reception. People are mostly happy to to have a conversation. It’s seems a worthwhile activity.

At the end of the day in Park Ward I had been blown away. Not by the frequent rain showers but by the people.

There was a real sense of positivity. We were knocking on people’s doors who had been canvassed previously. What was moving was not that people had voted, or were promising to go and vote later, but their energy and enthusiasm.

The truth of my experience in Halifax was of a bright, open and friendly Muslim community. The response to my knocking on the door was an incredible warmth.

Across the ward the people I spoke to were actually joyful to be part of democracy. Children high-fived me as they stood next to their parents who were chatting to me on their doorsteps.

I was teased by the one young man telling me he had voted for UKIP. As I was about to start to ask why, I got a big smile, a pat on the back and a promise no-one would vote for UKIP.

At one house, a young man said he probably wouldn’t vote. I was beginning to say how important it was but I was interrupted by a neighbour who took over and promised me the young man would vote. Ten minutes later he was waving his polling card as he was walking down the road.

At 9.45pm we returned to an older resident. She had not voted as she struggled to walk. She was waiting with her coat on and was resolute in her desire to vote. Our lift took her to the polling station. That was our last conversation on the doorstep.

We returned to campaign HQ. The room was full and the talk was confident about Halifax retaining the seat for Labour.

As it’s Ramadan and it was sundown people were sitting together to break the fast. All day long many of the energetic campaigners in Halifax had been avoiding food and drink but they had insisted we drank tea, while feeding us biscuits and snacks. The pakoras we ate together tasted of solidarity and spice.

At 10pm I looked on Twitter and the exit poll was predicting the most remarkable election turnaround in my memory. I read it out to the room. Labour, which had been heading for a humiliating defeat just six weeks ago, was actually predicted to win seats. In that tiny office in Halifax I hugged people who had been strangers seven hours ago and were now friends. I smiled like the people who I had met on the doorstep. The day had been exhausting and uplifting.

At 7am the next morning my wife, Julie told me the result in Halifax. Holly Lynch had won for with an increased majority of 5,376.

The general election result saw Labour make significant gains in Yorkshire and throughout the UK. Inevitably, when political enthusiasts like me review the results, we look at seats where we have a connection. Close to my Sheffield home I was delighted to see the remarkable result for Jared O’Mara who defeated Nick Clegg in Hallam. In 2015 Oliver Coppard very nearly won for Labour in the leafy suburb of Sheffield with an energetic effort. Jared was able to build on the foundations laid down and to benefit from the groundswell of popular support for Jeremy Corbyn’s remarkable campaign.

I hail from Teesside where my dad, sister and brother still live. At the last election my sister got me involved in the election in Stockton South for a remarkable woman, Louise Baldock who fought a thorough, well organised and zestful campaign. Sadly in 2015 the Tories won. This time around local GP Paul Williams built on the groundwork and Labour gained the seat. I was delighted.

I moved to London after finishing my degree. I lived in various places. The result that caught my eye was Battersea. I knew the seat from playing hockey in the park and from friends who still live there. The result was an astounding gain for Labour with a 10 per cent swing from the Conservatives.

The general election campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn was energetic, hopeful, witty and thoughtful. This built on the bedrock in many constituencies of the 2015 election. Local Labour parties had built up contact lists of supporters that were used again

My hope is that June 8 is remembered as a stepping stone to a radical and transformative Labour government.

I hope as a party we all recognise one another’s common endeavour. If all parts of the Labour Party build on the remarkable events of that showery day in June then the movement will be unstoppable.

Richard Bulmer is a Labour member in Sheffield Central.

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