Friday, April 23, 2010

My Labour Party membership comes of age

Three years ago I wrote about my LP membership history, in this election it comes of age.

I do have some interesting memories of my first year of campaigning. My first general election in 1992 was spent leafletting, I was not confident enough to knock on doors because I didn't feel I could answer any detailed policy questions that voters might ask me - that is so sweet. Nobody ever asks detailed policy questions, I would have been fine, but I was very anxious not to let the side down.

I turned up on the first evening (having established where the campaign centre was in my ward) straight from work in my work uniform - a navy blue skirt and jacket, white blouse and floppy navy blue bow tie. Having proved to be an effective leafletter who could also read a map, I was encouraged to return again. (I had a lot of experience delivering charity envelopes for our local church, school, brownies and guides when I was young, Sunny Smiles, do you remember them? I was an ace Sunny Smiles collector). I went every single evening throughout the election campaign. I must have been the best dressed leafletter in Stockton.

I recall delivering leaflets in Hartburn village. It is a fairly well-to-do place, cottages with roses round the doors and some larger properties (although nothing compared to where I was to be found campaigning next!). I went up one path, of a detached house, in a cul-de-sac, to push a leaflet through, and the door opened. A man stood there with a rifle, broken over his arm. "Get off my land or I will shoot you" he shouted, I did not have to be told twice. Looking back, I didn't even report him to the police! That was the arrogance of the Tories back in 1992.

I also remember delivering leaflets in Blue Hall in Stockton North in 1994 in the Euro's. A sink estate, drowning under anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, criminal damage, graffiti, unchained alsations in most gardens. After 7 hours of leafletting in fear of being bitten or abused, attacked on all sides by unruly adults and their children, I sat on the kerb, desperately foot-sore, burst into tears and refused to deliver any more. They demolished the whole lot a few years later and built a new estate, I like to think the local councillors listened to my entreaties that day and took note.

(Just spent ages trying to delete a random full stop, only to realise it was a biscuit crumb on the screen, ha!)

My friend Kath took me out for my first canvassing experience later in 1992 in the true blue village of Hutton Rudby in North Yorkshire. Only a few miles away from where we lived, it might as well have been on another planet. It was a ward byelection in the district of Hambleton as I recall. Labour probably got about 10 votes to the Tories 700, (no doubt a psephologist could look it up for me). Kath was keen to support our LP comrades as they had worked in Stockton South in the General Election and we wanted to repay the compliment. We wandered around this fabulous village, delighting the residents who thought we were an adorable anachronism, "Oh my dear, the Labour Party, how positively marvellous to have you here." Of course they all voted Conservative, to a (wo)man but they were delighted that we had made the effort.

Kath got cross with me because I was helpfully handing people the milk from their doorstep and asking them what they fed their roses with, admiring the wallpaper in the porch and generally treating it like a Sunday afternoon stroll, which of course to all intent and purpose it was. I am afraid I was not very effective at the start of my door-knocking career.

We retired each Sunday (for we went at least three times to this vitally important marginal election!)to the pub on the village green for our Sunday lunch.

It was as gentle an introduction to canvassing as one could ever wish for and ensured that I was not scared off. I have canvassed in towns and cities and villages and indeed countries across Britain in the subsequent 18 years but my heart will always hold a soft spot for Hutton Rudby in the summer sunshine.

A few years later I heard Tony Benn talking about daring to canvass Number 10 Downing Street in the 1945 election and being invited to address the staff by the butler, and all the time he was speaking I was transported back to that similar experience.

It was bitterly disappointing for Labour Party supporters that we did not win in 1992, I recall crying all day in work on April 10th, sobbing over my accounts ledgers, in despair about the future lives of the people of the Jewels estate in Thornaby who were utterly downtrodden with deepest poverty. I remember Tory supporting colleagues coming into my office to marvel at me, snigger and wonder what all the fuss was about. They were laughing on the other side of their faces within months as sterling crashed, mortgage rates rose to 15% and their spouses were being laid off from work even as repossession rates rose. But that is a story for another day. Beware the Conservative Party.

Happy 18th Birthday to my LP membership - and elections, I love them, bring it on!

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