Sunday, 14 May 2017

Pounding the pavements before the poll

General Election time. 

When the notion of “foot soldier” truly comes into its own. It’s the time when we of the Labour Party infantry tramp from door to door around the Luton South constituency trying to persuade voters to re-elect our Labour Member in the last Parliament, Gavin Shuker. With, I’m glad to say, the presence and hard work of the candidate, not above being a foot soldier himself.

Preparing to go door-knocking in Luton South
with the candidate third from left
Far more conspicuously absent from these canvassing parties are the people who spent a small sum to join the party and elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It’s as if they felt that having achieved that aim, they need do no more, their work was done and they could now sit back and watch the triumphal entry of their man into 10 Downing Street. Their approach does have one benefit at least: they don’t have to suffer the ignominy of hearing what ordinary Labour voters – in many cases, former Labour voters – think of their choice.

One of the more colourful summaries was given me by the man who told me, “we need a Prime Minister with balls. Theresa May has them. Corbyn doesn’t.”

A more strictly political view was that of the man who said he couldn’t “begin to imagine putting Corbyn up against world leaders”. I could see his point: sending Corbyn to bat for us against Putin, say, seems a bit like calling on the boy scouts to defend the nation against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. What would he do? Suggest Vladimir join him to settle our differences over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, perhaps down at the allotment? He’d probably take the polonium Vladimir was pressing on him as a new kind of artificial sweetener.

But my problem was that I couldn’t see how we’d be any better off with the admittedly more forceful Theresa May fighting our corner out there. If all that force, all that drive, all that determination is only used to get us to the front of the queue to lick Donald Trump’s boots, I think I’d prefer the tea and cake approach.

As it happens, I don’t imagine this voter would have backed us this time anyway. He wants a hard Brexit. He’s in the business of selling planes to European clients and is frustrated with all the bureaucracy the European Union puts in his way. I didn’t ask him how he thought the bureaucracy would be any less when he’s selling from outside to an EU nation still bound, from outside. It seemed unfair to point out so obvious a flaw to someone so fervently persuaded of his stance.

In any case, it’s our job to be invariably polite to the voters, and it seems discourteous to make people aware of the incoherence of their arguments.

I’ve yet to meet a voter who has decided to back us because Corbyn is leader. However, this morning we did meet a Corbyn fan whose admiration for our leader has convinced her to not back us. “Shuker’s too right wing,” she maintained, “and he opposed Corbyn, who I’m really keen on, so I can’t vote for him.”

Again, one doesn’t want to point out obvious inconsistencies, so we didn’t tell her that it would be hard for Corbyn to become Prime Minister if people didn’t elect MPs from his party.

As it happens, her position seemed of a piece with the left-leaning Americans who refused to back Hillary against Trump, and so got Trump, or the French supporters of Mélenchon who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Macron against Le Pen, boosting her chances. It’s a hard-left attitude which likes to sit on its hands if it can’t get exactly what it wants, and thereby helps the hard right in its unremitting pursuit of autocratic power.

Well, I shall be going out canvassing again in the remaining weeks of the campaign. To be honest, I position myself to the left of Gavin Shuker and don’t see eye to eye with him on all questions. But I want him re-elected because no disagreement on detail undermines our broad agreement on principles, and above all because I find him honest, hard-working and committed to serving the interests of his constituents.

If that’s not sufficient for some of our Corbynites, I can’t help feeling that says a lot more about them than it does about him.


Catherine Prichard said...

I don't think it would have hurt to sympathise with the anti Shuker Corbyn supporter but to ask her, for Corbyn and everyone else's sake, to hold her nose and put her cross by the Labour candidate...

David Beeson said...

It wouldn't have hurt at all, and I think the team member who met her made precisely that request. She - the fellow-canvasser - came away shaken by the adamant refusal of the voter to consider that possibility.

That was only one voter, of course, and she may represent no trend at all. It only struck me as significant in the light of friends of mine in France who sat on their hands in the second round of the presidential election rather than vote Macron. With their noses held, at a pinch.