Reflections on the week – Gorton and the Greater Manchester Metro Mayorals
I have just returned home in Nottinghamshire after spending several days over in Greater Manchester (thanks again Keith and Mary for the accommodation!) It is Saturday evening as I start to write this.
I have been out canvassing in Gorton three times this week and the first things to say is that it has not been particularly nice canvassing weather for two of those three days. Yesterday was grey, drizzly and, later on, very wet – in fact we were rained off by 4pm, the canvass pages were just starting to wrinkle and if we had stayed out much longer the ink would have been running! Today started grey and then the sun kept coming out and going back in, BUT the northerly wind was biting, making it difficult to manipulate changing the canvass pages. And a couple of times I felt my brain had frozen too!
Today was our best day from the point of view of the responses we were getting and I felt buoyed up by the results. We did still find a few solid Labour voters but the thing that particularly struck me today was the willingness of people to listen to what we were saying. Maybe it was because it was Saturday and folk were more relaxed or maybe, just maybe, the Lib-Dem message is now getting through to the electors.
Indeed I had two occasions where the voters said they “normally don`t vote” but they carried on listening anyway. The first was a young lady who claimed to “know nothing” about politics (but she did admit to having voted remain last year) And the second was a guy who said he didn`t vote as politicians were “…all the same. They ask for your vote and then p**s off down to London and take no further notice of you”.
I felt able to claim quite genuinely that we were getting favourable results on the doorstep and if they would come out to vote as previous non-voters, that, in and of itself, could make Gorton a REAL “game-changer” in British politics. I said the same thing to several voters over all three days who had voted Labour before but were probably ready to change their votes.
One of my key reflections over these days is about how we approach people and how we think of people when we are out canvassing. This follows from the sort of conversations I have just been referring to. We are encouraged to put former Labour voters down as small “l” – soft Labour – if they show signs of being persuadable. I understand, of course, why the team wants us to “label” voters like this, so that they can target information flows to particular categories of voters and so on, but I did feel less than comfortable in labelling voters at all.
It really doesn`t befit us as Liberals to apply catch-all labels to any class of voter. It was clear from each of my conversations with these particular people that each person was different and had a different story to tell. They may well also wish to hear a more empathetic message from politicians generally than politicians have been prepared to propagate to their prospective voters. This is no “one size fits all” process in which we are involved
Anyway, I did my duty and used the labels where appropriate because I can recognise the tactical advantage of targeting this way. But, may I urge everyone going to Gorton to do door-stepping, that they should not “think” of the voters as labels, even if we need to translate what feedback we get, into these tactical boxes. I believe the key strength we have as Liberals is to be able to say to voters that we do actually see them as the individuals they are, each one unique and not just election fodder! This is no original thought on my part, it is something we have talked about since I first joined the Liberal Party back in 1964, but I have been particularly struck by its relevance today in the context of the Gorton by-election. If this is going to genuinely BE the game-changer we claim it may be, then we have a real duty actually to CHANGE the game, not just in the Party-political framework of the country but in the way we, as politicians, interact with the voters we seek to represent.
One final example of this from today`s canvassing. One youngish guy had voted several times for Gerald Kaufman as his “personal” representative in Parliament, citing the fact that his family had known the MP for over 40 years and Kaufman had helped both his mother and himself in different ways over the years. Strictly speaking, then, I had to “label” this voter as “soft Labour”. But, truly, he was an individual able to see that the political world was in turmoil at the moment and he was ready to find a new home. Let`s give him one – a political home where he feels comfortable.
BBC Hustings for Greater Manchester Metro Mayor
As I have indicated in earlier blogs, one of the key reasons I have re-joined the Party is to help my friend Jane Brophy in the Greater Manchester Metro Mayor contest to be fought on the same day as the Gorton by-election. So, another reason for me being in Manchester this week was to take part in the BBC hustings programme as an audience member which was recorded on Thursday night and which will be broadcast, I believe, on BBC 1 regional programmes this coming Tuesday evening at 10.45pm after the evening news.
I will not give the game away about the content of the programme, since I would much rather you watch it for yourselves (and, importantly, get your Greater Manchester friends and neighbours to watch it too – invite them round for a TV watching coffee party, especially if you have non-political friends!!) However, I will say that Jane Brophy acquitted herself very well and the programme will do her no harm at all and probably will boost her ratings!
The hustings started quietly for a good few minutes but things livened up as we went along and Andy Burnham came in for a lot of stick from pretty well all of the other candidates so Jane had little need to “put the boot” in and was able to present herself as the only credible competitor to Labour`s hegemony in the area.
The photograph is with Jane Brophy and her team after the TV hustings. Candidates aide Anna Fryer is behind the camera. If you are the gambling sort I would try and place your bets on Jane BEFORE the programme goes out on Tuesday as I believe you will get better odds than afterwards!
Keith P and I had to go into BetFred`s, just down the road from the Gorton HQ on Stockport Road, because Keith had backed the winner in last week`s Grand National (lucky fellow!), so we enquired about betting on our own candidates. We got 6 to 1 for Jackie Pearcey to win Gorton and 16 to 1 for Jane Brophy to win the mayorals and I think those odds will get much tighter as we get closer to 4th May.
They will certainly get much shorter odds if you get yourselves over to Gorton to help Jackie and/or get more active in the Greater Manchester mayoral race. We are on the cusp of change in British politics and these elections are critical to help create and develop that change in the right way. Spend some time in Gorton if you can over the next few weeks before and on polling day!
Joys of Spring
Just to round off this blog a quick comment about the pleasures of springtime other than canvassing!
Cherry blossom in full bloom at home; newly planted flowers to complement a “woodland” section of the garden; and a lonely cowslip arrived as a fresh seedling in one of the fields I am converting into woodland not far from home.
All very satisfying and contributing to the life-life balance I was talking about in my blog last week. These pictures just make me feel content with being in England in the spring!