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On the doors in Stoke Central

nintchdbpict000285332230Hoping for another sunny, balmy Saturday was too much to ask for. As Labour’s canvassing teams went door-to-door in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election last week, it was under clear skies and dry weather. Those same teams today went out in biting cold and a snow so desultory it couldn’t be arsed to leave even a light sprinkling. Still, neither work as meteorological metaphors for the reception we found on the doors.

Understandably, a lot of people want to know how it’s going. The bookies more or less have Labour and UKIP level pegging, and despite almost two years of UKIP decline at the polls there are people in the media happy to talk the purples up. Typical of this was Polly Toynbee’s latest missive, which reckoned Labour is hanging on by its finger tips. Perhaps had she done some politics rather than just write about it and joined activists door knocking she would have found a different story. For sure, while canvass returns are rightly staying under wraps there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Having spoken to folks who’ve been out many more times than me, the talk of a UKIP surge is just that: talk. While, obviously, Labour is finding UKIP voters there is no evidence of a mass transfer away from either ourselves or traditional Tory voters. Our support is holding up, and so are the Conservatives.

For my part, I’ve been out on three sessions and can look forward to a couple more next Saturday and then all day polling day. My doorstep adventures took me to neighbourhoods where Labour doesn’t have the sitting councillors. The district our team was in this morning has always been a bit tricky – detached and semi-detached housing built in the 1980s, no real community focal point, a history of returning councillors from all the main parties and none. And so my expectations weren’t great and, indeed, our returns weren’t fantastic. But what we did find was Labour were staying Labour, that don’t knows and previous againsts were generally warm and friendly, and that Conservative and UKIP voters weren’t afraid of identifying themselves as such. The law of averages indicates that among the don’t knows and won’t says are people who aren’t supporting Labour under any circumstances, but the phenomena of shy Tories and shy kippers isn’t likely to be as pronounced here as it might be in other parts of the country. As one of my comrades reminded me earlier, when the BNP were a going concern in Stoke, their support were not afraid of telling you who they were voting for at election time. If you’re not embarrassed about declaring for full-bodied fascism, would you be shy to endorse fascism-lite?

As I said, last week we were out in areas that have traditionally been problematic for Labour, and the returns were very encouraging. If anything, there was a small but discernible swing to us. For some voters will undoubtedly be voting Labour to ensure Nuttall is sent packing.

Campaign-wise, everything’s going fine. If Labour somehow loses the by-election, it won’t be because of strategy and activity. Each day sees new people pile in to Garth Street’s GMB offices. Each day teams of leafleters and canvassers pour onto the streets. Each day the contact rate on our database ticks up – never before has the local party had as clear a picture of where its support lies and where opponents’ votes are concentrated, all of which are boons for targeted leafleting and social media messaging before polling day.

What can be said of the other campaigns? While there are claims the Tories have written Stoke Central off, the local association deserves its due for at least trying. Never before have I been out canvassing anywhere and bumped into a Tory door knocking team, but that has happened twice now. Today it was three posh women looking bewildered and wondering how anyone could possibly cope with one garage. They might not be mobilising nationally, but they are drawing in their people – one of them told me she’d driven for an hour-and-a-half to be here today. As noted previously, the local Tories are an ambitious lot and if they can turn in a creditable performance here – perhaps even knocking UKIP back down to third – then that will be a feather or two in their caps. The LibDems are banging out typically dishonest leaflets (sans the bar charts, alas) but don’t seem to be mounting much of a campaign, but we’ll be expending a post on them very soon. The Greens are also missing in action – the disgrace to have befallen their de facto local leader has probably contributed to their dismal profile.

From a campaign point of view, UKIP’s is proving to be very poor indeed. For reasons known only to himself, and to the bemusement of locals, Paul Nuttall has assumed the countenance and trappings of a country gent. If he is aping Nigel Farage and his sartorial choices, the penny is yet to drop that what might be appropriate for Thanet isn’t necessarily so for Stoke-on-Trent. Still, as the honourable member for Lichfield reminds us, looking stupid is no bar to public life. Politically, Nuttall’s unforced error over his house (which he has now moved from) was compounded this week by additional stupidities. On Radio 4 and on the local 6 Towns Radio, he was asked and couldn’t name the six towns that make up the city. Small beer for outsiders, but this is the most basic of basic knowledge of anyone who’s living in Stoke. He’s been forced on the defensive again about his lies. Apparently the whopper about him “being there” at Hillsborough is really true, guv, and people who don’t believe him are “total scum”. And yesterday in a hustings organised for young voters by one of the local sixth form colleges, Nuttall didn’t turn up and sent a lackey from the London Assembly to fill in for him – he was apparently in the capital doing some meejah. Overall, their campaign is turning out to be a shambles. UKIP may boast about having 500 activists out on the streets last weekend, but all we see are the same old faces traipsing around with their dirty macs and well used Sainsbury’s bags-for-life.

But because UKIP are running a poor campaign is no counsel for complacency. The general tone of political debate pouring out of the broadcast media and jumping off the pages of the press does their job for them. Nuttall and his coterie of toerags and losers don’t need a super slick campaign because they’re swimming with the stream. Every Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, and Sun sold in Stoke-on-Trent Central does a more effective job of making UKIP’s case than UKIP itself. This by-election is an opportunity, perhaps the only opportunity we’ll get of stopping this crap in its tracks before it inflicts even more damage. If you haven’t already, come to Stoke, come to Garth Street, and be part of the moment the labour movement said “enough!”.

12 Comments

  1. Timmy says:

    Indeeed. The only way we can lose is by choosing a sexist twat as candidate. Ohhh….

  2. I have been up to Stoke Central and will be coming up again this week. I can endorse the view that the campaign is well run and that Polly Toynbee is not a good advisor on Stoke. I advised a campaign group thinking of inviting her up not to do so, and it seems she has not been invited.

    But you are right to argue against complacency. The fact is that Labour lost the council at the last local election and the days when Stoke turned in 60 out of 60 Labour councilors are gone. This seat had the lowest turnout in the country last time, and not turning out is the big threat. All colleagues who can get to the GMB offices in Hanley should do so.

    The figures for Labour’s vote are also not great, it was down to below 40% last time and this is no longer a seat that can be banked on. There has to be a sustained effort right through to close of polls. And why, I wonder, are there no Labour posters on Lamposts? Is that a deliberate decision? No one walking through the area having arrived at the railway station would have any idea an election was taking place.

    The campaign leaders need to make sure people know an election is happening by making every lamppost bear the candidates name.

    Its going to be a media circus in the end, so lets make every effort to ensure the story has a happy ending – for Labour.

    Trevor FIsher.

    1. James Martin says:

      And just why did we lose control of the council after so many decades Trevor, Phil B-C has been asked this a number of times but is a shy lad and won’t tell us?

      1. with a by election in the offing I am not doing anything but focus on winning. There is a history to be investigated, but side tracking from the main event is a game which only benefits the opposition. Stick to the task in hand.

        Careless talk costs votes and the hard left does it all the time
        Trevor Fisher

    2. Gary Elsby says:

      No one is allowed to put political posters up on public spaces including lampposts in Stoke.
      There was a time we lit it up like a Christmas tree but then came the BNP and it looked like Berlin 1933.
      So now we don’t do it.
      Nutall knocked on my door and he’s leafletted equally as much as any campaign has ever seen.
      Personal letter from Theresa May and one or two from the Labour candidate.
      Nutall has been nailed on local radio being unable to name the six towns of the City.
      I asked the Labour bod who knocked me up to name just one.
      Guess what?
      Nutall is forced out of his home in Stoke (looks very bad) and he’s nailed on being at Hillsborough.
      Overall, Nutall is coming over as an ordinary bloke who is bullied and accused of lying.
      There is sympathy with his predicament as far as I can see.

  3. James Martin says:

    There was an interesting article in the FT last weekend by Matthew Engel (‘Are we witnessing the strange, lingering death of Labour England?’) that is worth the read – https://www.ft.com/content/bcfe0106-edee-11e6-930f-061b01e23655 – (if you are not registered for the FT site you will need to do so but it is free). Here are the opening few paragraphs:

    “Even before I left home, Chris Lee, the Labour party’s press officer in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency, made it clear that the Financial Times would not be allowed to interview their candidate in this month’s by-election. Nor could I accompany their canvassers on the streets.

    “On arrival, the restrictions were tightened. I could not talk to any other Labour members either. Asked if it was OK to speak to anyone at all in Stoke-on-Trent, Lee seemed to think it over before concluding that might be a problem: Labour no longer even controls the council in what was once its most secure city in England.

    “Nor can it control its own affairs: Lee’s commands fell apart in minutes. He had been most helpful, though. Reporting an election, one can be lulled into misreading a situation by spin and charm. Lee had revealed that Labour’s operation in Stoke was in tune with its mood nationally: fearful, tetchy, inept.”

    Traditional hostility from the MSM? Quite possibly, although the FT traditionally is the more truthful of the capitalist press for the simple reasons of knowing about investment decisions and the state of the economy underneath political propaganda, but if we really have a frankly bizarre situation where the local press officer is trying to ban journalists from talking to not only our candidate, but also laughably even any Labour Party members, then we are in a very bad place indeed.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      The Labour Party has been dead in Scotland for years. The headstone has got moss growing all over it. You can barely read the inscription, something about Better Together with the Tory Party.

      1. Craig Stephen says:

        In Scotland there was a ready-made “left” alternative for the working -class areas. The SNP offered an anti-austerity agenda, however light on substance that actually might be. UKIP offers nothing but fear and hate. The SNP wants to save the NHS, albeit a Scottish version. UKIP want it privatised, as part of its neoliberal Thatcherite programme. Very different situations which is why Labour in England and Wales can avoid the meltdown in Scotland.

  4. Rob Green says:

    The problem in Stoke is that the local party selected a pro-EU, anti-Corbyn candidate in a show of bone-headed defiance reminiscent of the Scottish Labour Party just before it committed suicide. If Labour keeps the seat it will be because of the whipping to vote for triggering Article 50.

    How to Make Labour 2020-Ready

    It’s three years until the 2020 election and a lot can and will happen in that time. Internationally, Pyongyang might no longer exist. Iran might be largely glass and Trump might be about to launch a thermonuclear missile at Beijng. Alternatively his proto-fascist government may already have collapsed under the weight of its own idiocy and a determined resistance to it. Domestically this government might have already disintegrated, a new more confrontational fascist formation might have replaced UKIP, Corbyn might already be toast or even by some quirk prime minister. That said it is still necessary for Labour to plot a course to power on the basis of all things being equal because, as they say, if you fail to plan you plan to fail.

    At the moment it is not looking good for Labour. The Tories appear united whilst it is floundering. That can be turned around but only if Jeremy Corbyn follows through with his anti-austerity, left wing, socialist project on a principled basis. True unity can only be forged on the back of principles not rotten stitch ups and compromises. Sometimes a step forward needs to be accompanied by two back in order for the initial step forward to be translated into something truly significant. Time to take the New Labour remnants in the PLP head on. We need a clear out of the neo-liberals and if the local CLPs won’t de-select them then we must put up independent socialist candidates pledged to help form a Corbyn Labour government should the numbers be there. These seats will be lost otherwise as workers will not turn out to vote for neo-liberals anymore or indeed Labour candidates that they know in advance will refuse to form a Labour government under Corbyn but would rather go into Coalition with Tories, Lib Dems and others in order to prop up the bankers’ regime of austerity.

    But there needs to be an over-arching principled framework for this fight back and that can only be provided by Socialist Brexit. Labour needs to put forward a radical vision and programme for a socialist post-Brexit Britain and a New European Settlement that can take on both the neo-liberal Soft Brexit alliance and any Far Right Brexit formation that arises. Without this Labour will almost certainly be dragged into the Soft Brexit Unpopular Front with the Lib Dems and pro-EU Tories and to certain defeat and the end of the Labour Party as an electoral force as happened in Scotland where the right wing literally preferred party-suicide to a left wing or socialist renewal.

    So, come on Labour. Where is that programme for a regime of full-employment, a National Bank with a monopoly of credit, a sustainable and democratic economic plans, workers’ democracy to replace fat cat executives imposed by the Old School Tie Network, the socialisation of the mega-profits of the giant corporations and super rich and for a New European Settlement that does not treat workers like migrating cattle chasing each others’ tails across the Continent in search of ever crappier wages and ever more meagre welfare or tether them like donkeys in abandoned sink estates, sink schools and sink communities with barely enough education and training to compete for even the lowliest local job?
    Britain voted Brexit in the final analysis because British capitalism has failed completely and dramatically. It cannot compete in Britain let alone the ESM and with the rest of the world. Monopolised, stagnant, bankrupt and with a thoroughly debased currency it has plunging productivity stats thanks to a Real Estate Bubble that is sucking up all `investment’ to the complete detriment to a real economy. This means that if Brexit is to mean anything it has to mean socialism.

  5. Tony says:

    I have been once and I urge everybody who has not yet done so to get along and help out.

  6. Hazel Malcolm-Walker says:

    Polly Toynbee is extremely right wing – and she isn’t a very good journalist!
    I still haven’t got over her on Question time asking Jeremy that he was going to resign if he wasn’t up to the job – before he was elected the first time!
    Her raison d’etre has been to force him out ever since, and she can’t forgive the rank and file of the Labour party for not ditching him.

  7. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Apart from a bad candidate Labour’s problem in Stoke is arithmetical.
    Labour will not win over any UKIP voters. Defections from Labour to UKIP are lost for good and when Labour loses a vote to UKIP it counts as two.
    Let me explain. If for argument there is at present 50 votes for Labour and UKIP has 40. If in the next week 6 Labour voters switch to UKIP then Labour has 44 and UKIP has 46.
    I think this is what will happen.

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