Campaign diary: TSSA’s Manuel Cortes on the Labour doorstep

Manuel Cortes

Earlier this week, I was out canvassing in support of two fantastic comrades. Both are amazing women who juggle work with raising their kids. Rupa Huq took Ealing Central from the Tories in 2015, while Bonnie Craven is going all out to paint Sutton and Cheam red. Our TSSA union is backing these two excellent candidates because it’s vital we get more women into senior political roles.

Bonnie, who ran for the seat in 2017 and is now one of our own TSSA organisers, briefs us on the major issues in the constituency. There’s a lot of money in the area – she faces a ‘Bonnie and Goliath’ struggle to unseat Conservative grandee Paul Scully – and a lot of complacency. There is also in-work poverty, fear over the two nearest hospitals being ‘downgraded’ – Tory speak for “closing it when we’ve run it into the ground” – and a shocking story about primary school children raiding their classmates’ lunch boxes because they don’t get enough to eat at home.

On the wall of the Salvation Army Hall a sign says ‘You’re Welcome’. Inside, the number of buggies shows a real need for a warm space for local families. All the Sure Start centres except one were closed down by the Tories.

We greet local activists Marian, Gerry and Norm. I catch a clip of Jeremy Corbyn with leaked documents ripping apart the Tories’ claim that they haven’t discussed selling off our NHS to the Americans. Let’s face it, nobody believed them before, but now we have the proof that the health service is on the negotiating table. Only those who never use our NHS can afford to vote for the party that wants to auction it off to their cronies and Donald Trump.

Today we’re speaking to residents on the Benhill estate – several low rise blocks with grassy areas and a nice playground for kids. It’s a far cry from the concrete area surrounding the high-rise council flats where I grew up in Gibraltar. Bonnie, who earlier highlighted the amount of property in the constituency held by offshore trusts, says that developers are circling Benhill because of the green spaces.  

Marian speaks about her concerns for an frail elderly man, shunted from one care home to another. “This government has encouraged a very, very cruel attitude towards the most vulnerable among us,” she says, almost shaking with rage.

We meet a man on his way out. He sees my leaflet and stops to explain how his tiny business has struggled from competitors like Amazon. “They don’t pay enough tax and I barely have anything left after I’ve paid mine!” He’s coming back to Labour because of our pledge to make tax fairer.

The next door remains shut but a woman shouts down from a window.  She’s concerned about Brexit. She asks why we want to give people a confirmatory vote.

I tell her that with something this important, we need to be clear about the impact it would have on our economy, so another vote – without the Tory lies or the fib-flopping of the Fib Dems – is the right thing to do.  

Her neighbour, a schoolgirl, can’t wait to cast her first vote for Labour.  “I want to work in the NHS. I reckon most of the girls at my school will vote Labour too.” When I hear people speak with such passion and determination I’m always humbled. I think about her words and her dreams during the train journey over to West London.

Over in Ealing, we meet Rupa and her team. In the leafy streets around Acton Central, there are plenty of mums at home with young kids – including one who tells me she admires Rupa but also quite likes “that Jo Swinson”. Rupa appears and charms her.  

Another neighbour promises he’ll vote Labour “if they jail Blair and Straw”. Blimey, this wasn’t what I was expecting in a suburb of semi-detached houses and manicured gardens. I say that this is a matter for the International Criminal Court in The Hague and politely move on.  

I reckon we have stumbled upon a Labour stronghold where grassroots activism begins early on. The last house already has a handmade poster in the porch – it looks as if it was drawn by a kid – that says ‘Boll*cks to Boris’.

Next, I will be in Derby and Loughbourgh. Later, I’m heading to a dozen other target seats across Britain. And I will keep going until polling day. Like all activists out there, rain or shine, I’ll be relying on the comradeship among us as campaigners and the knowledge that there are still a lot of people we need to bring on board to get us over the line on December 12th.

Every day we see the Tories for who they really are: the even nastier party. The thought of kicking them out and making Britain a fairer place keeps me going. I hope it does for you too.

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