Old bruises are still showing, but Labour has been making good progress

Nick Smith

I’ve spent most days in the last month knocking doors here in Blaenau Gwent, in various key seats in South Wales and up in Hartlepool, too. I’ve listened to hundreds of voters in both marginal seats and what used to be called the old Labour heartlands.

I’m glad we’ve moved on from the miserable election of 2019. Outside their own front doors, voters don’t hold back and part of the Labour gig is to take it on the chin. Boy did that happen at the last general election. 2019 was my worst ever doorstep experience – but 2021 has felt much better.

Over the years, I’ve been a Labour organiser at the grassroots, at Welsh Labour and at party headquarter levels. Getting the right mix between our national messaging and local organisation has always been a tricky balance to strike.

But many voters are warming to us again. I’ve seen plenty of smiles and been encouraged to “move on, we are Labour here, crack on getting some more support”. Keir Starmer has steadied the ship, people have a sense of his decency but want to know more about him. Mark Drakeford has impressed and, even from this distance, it’s clear that Anas Sarwar has put in a shift in Scotland. In Hartlepool for Paul Williams, I heard very strong support from health sector workers, where he clearly has a great reputation.

In the South Wales Valleys, our local campaigns around steelworker and mineworker pensions have gained traction – voters know we’re still on their side. The Welsh government’s more cautious management of the Covid-19 crisis and high vaccination rates have also proved popular.

Our Labour electoral machine is once again starting to turn over. In Wales, our MPs have rolled up to help in the key seats and we are learning to work as a team again. It’s been good to see the young organisers coming through. It seems that our messaging started to cut through in the last few weeks.

However, the pandemic has squeezed the life out of electoral politics, so understandably many people haven’t bent their heads into voting yet. They are pleased to have had their jab and are looking forward to a release from lockdown.

Old bruises are still showing – Brexit and our previous Labour leaderships, though antisemitism hasn’t come up on my rounds. Some voter groups, particularly older men, still need much persuading. There’s an emotional disconnection from some previously strong Labour supporters. All of us are worried about the economic consequences of Covid-19 and the impact on our towns and neighbourhoods.

Our messages around Tory sleaze and corruption are starting to take hold with voters, but I’m unsure if they’re travelling across the electorate yet. Over time, I think it’ll be government incompetence, the sort of stuff I see every week at the public accounts committee, which will come to the fore.

How do I think it’s going to land? In 2019, we had a miserable time and gained just 32% share of the vote, while the Conservatives got nearly 44%. What a thumping – talk about a punch to the solar plexus.

The polls this week have been contrary, but from the doors I expect us to have a bigger share of the vote this weekend when the dust has settled. Whilst there’s been good progress, lace up those canvassing shoes again, Labour foot soldiers, we still have a way to go. Onward, upwards…

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