“Are you nervous about the election result?” I ask Tonia Antoniazzi, as we sit in her campaign office in Gorseinon. We’ve just finished door-knocking for the day, and I’ve met more people called Morgan, Jones and Davis than I think I’ve ever encountered in my whole life. The volunteers have left and Tonia sits with me, reflecting on the consequences of December 12th for the people around her.
“It’s not me I’m worried about – it’s everybody else,” she replies. “I just think it’s so cruel to put your staff through this. To put all those people. I’m going to cry –” Tonia laughs but wipes away tears of anger as she speaks. “I just think it’s an evil, horrible thing to do… I’m thinking about my staff and about other people’s staff and what it’s putting them through just from a human side of it – the human element of this election.” Getting more fired up, she turns on the Tories: “And that’s what makes me even more angry about this – they don’t give a shit about this. They don’t care.”
Tonia refers to one of her team, who is a single mum with two children. She reflects on the possible situation for her family if Labour loses: “Where are you going to find a job in January? On those wages, in this area? Those jobs aren’t here.”
The Tories just cannot relate, she tells me passionately. “People like Boris, they don’t get it. They’re playing with politics, and they’ll just walk away, and they’ll be alright… They don’t give a shit.” There’s no comprehension of the human cost to this election – either in terms of her team or the community she represents.
The Conservatives don’t understand the pressures that normal people face. She refers to Jacob Rees-Mogg: “He’s sitting there making jokes about ‘nanny’ and I’m sitting there thinking, shit, I need to go home, I need to get back because I’ve got to do something with my son on Thursday night. I’m worried about that. I’m thinking, how dare you make jokes about nanny and your six kids and your privilege? I think, what about the parents who are working more than one or two jobs to be able to pay for the childcare because they’ve got to keep their job?
“It’s this whole thing about society they don’t get. And that is why I’m hell-bent to make sure they don’t get another privileged Tory in here who doesn’t understand what it feels like… I think it’s a bit shit for me and then you just look outside of your own bubble and see how hard it is for other people. Genuinely – that is what motivates me.”
Can she keep the Tories out of Gower though? It’s historically been a Labour constituency but in 2015 it turned blue for the first time ever, with a wafer-thin majority of just 27. Labour pulled this back in 2017 but only by a margin of 3,269. The year Labour lost, UKIP won nearly 5,000 votes, so a resurgence in Brexit support among Labour voters could do the trick for the Tories.
Brexit isn’t the number one issue on the door though, Tonia tells me. And people generally accept her position, even if they don’t like it: “Once they come to see me – as long as they know I’m genuine and I’m doing it in their interests, whether they agree with me or they don’t agree with me – they kind of understand where I’m coming from.” She has a wonderful way of talking about Brexit when it comes up on the door: “The Brexit spectrum is like this -” she said, spreading her arms wide in front of one Leave-voting resident. “And wherever I fall on that spectrum, I can’t please everybody”.
But it’s more about the NHS, funding for councils and services, and other local concerns: “Two big issues are the tidal lagoon and electrification – because it’s all about connectivity.” That word came up several times in the few hours I spent with Tonia: she reflects angrily on the dearth of opportunity for people in Gower and attributes it largely to the lack of infrastructure investment connecting the area to the rest of the country. “What’s coming here that’s going to give people hope for the future? Because there ain’t no tidal lagoon and there ain’t no electrification… The connectivity to Swansea and beyond is key for prosperity in Wales – and we’ve not got it.”
She does express some concern about the impact of Brexit on her chances, however. “You’ve got the real working-class areas, which are Labour voters – have always voted Labour – and want to leave the EU and are hell-bent on it… and I’ve lost them. To some people it’s just as black and white as we voted to Leave, therefore we should leave. Regardless of what the outcome is going to be. They see that that hardship will be worth it.”
Johnson has latched onto this with his ‘get Brexit done’ rhetoric, Tonia explains. And there’s no regard for the cost to ordinary people, no sense of the trauma his party metes out on communities like hers: “It’s so dangerous what he’s done… If you want to get Brexit done mate, put a proper programme motion in place that’s palatable to everybody – and actually work with everybody.”
The contest here will be close. Labour certainly can’t be complacent given that a number of its natural supporters could be persuaded by Johnson’s Brexit slogan. But Tonia is adamant that it is not the number one issue here. If people vote with more than just the EU on their minds on December 12th, this seat should stay Labour. Tonia is a fierce advocate for Gower. And she doesn’t care to hide her anger over how the Tories are playing politics with Brexit. As Tonia puts it: “General elections aren’t about one binary issue. This is bigger than Brexit. This is about everyone’s lives.”