How can you Help?

Elections are bruising. As a candidate, they lift you up and they can dump you just as fast.

Today’s been a good day with a previously unknown supporter driving to Consett to pick up some posters – fired up to support a political party for the first time. No sooner had he left than the phone rang with someone just ringing to apologise because illness had prevented them from getting out to vote in the council elections just gone.

You never know how much goodwill there is out there.

So just to test it, how many readers would be happy to put out a 100 or so leaflets for candidate Owen Temple in the next week or two? Or put up a poster? It’s in the cause of getting a genuinely local candidate (remember Owen was the only one living in the constituency a month ago) elected  to fight for local people. It’s also a chance to back a candidate for the only major party which is promising to give the British People a chance to decide on whether the Brexit they get offered is the Brexit they voted on last July. And yes, I will be asking you to pay for for the privilege because our policy is for everyone who is a taxpayer to pay just a little more (a penny on the rate of income tax) to enable the properly funded NHS we all want to see.

So if that sounds good to you, contact me through this website and I’ll arrange for you to get some leaflets, or a poster, or anything else you’re willing to do to help get the MP you really want.

Tory candidate should come clean on where she lives

I received a copy of the Conservatives pre-election leaflet claiming to introduce your “local candidate” for the North West Durham Constituency. “Charlotte ….. of Shotley Bridge” it claims.

Coyly it mentions that she is a councillor in a unitary authority. It doesn’t say which one. In fact it’s Wokingham in Berkshire, 285 miles from Willington at the southern end of North West Durham constituency. Some would say the gap between Wokingham and Willington is wider than that.

Many people won’t mind where their party’s candidate comes from. They vote for the party and not the person. That’s fine by me.

Others won’t mind because they are just interested in the quality of the candidate. That’s fine by me, too. But many of those same people will make a judgement if they think that candidate is deliberately deceiving them in any way.

The Conservative candidate should be open with the voters. She lives in Wokingham as her register of interest on the borough council shows. You can read it here: Declaration of interests Apparently she is also renting a house in Shotley Bridge for the six months of the campaign. That’s fine, but hardly qualifies for the title, “Charlotte ….. of Shotley Bridge”.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s the standard expected in the court of public opinion.

Countdown Zero – It’s in your hands

Most of you will have voted by the time you read this. Many of you voted days ago. Thank you for that, whichever way you voted.

If you haven’t yet voted I ask two things of you:

  1. Please go out and do it. Democracy, even in the imperfect form we experience, is precious
  2. Vote for what you want, not against what you fear

And then we just have to await the verdict of the voters of North West Durham.

Countdown 1 – Leafletted out

At last my house can start to return to normal. I was determined that by the end of today not a single leaflet would be left in my home – they would all be shoved through letterboxes, because an election leaflet has no value once people have voted.

Of course, you never know what value a leaflet has even as you shove it through a letterbox. Four out of ten will be picked up (or left) by people who are not going to vote. Others will remain unread simply because the header betrays a political persuasion different from that of the recipient. The likelihood is, then, that only three out of ten will be read at all. So why do we do it?

It’s simple, really. With 44,900 houses in the constituency, knocking every door is an impossibility. A leaflet through the door, even one binned quickly, is a reminder that you and your party are out and about. That’s essential if you want to be taken seriously. And while you are out on the streets there are always opportunities to talk to some people and be seen by others.

Those leaflets that do hang around for a bit longer are vital tools in letting people know your policies and the way you tick. It’s the main way of injecting some local flavour into a political scene that is increasingly dominated by national politicians on TV and radio. They can even be a talking point. A number of people have told me about seeing my leaflets at a friend’s house, a parent’s house, or even in a house they were working on.

Now all my last batch of leaflets is out, 29,000 in eleven days. That’s a truly magnificent effort by a dedicated and enthusiastic team, every one a volunteer; and every day bar one I’ve been out there with them collecting a genuine County Durham tan. It’s been a pleasure, and means that I have visited and chatted to people in a very wide range of communities, a number of which I’ve logged on this blog.

I may even suffer from withdrawal symptons, but not for a few days. I’m leafletted out!

Countdown 2 – First time voters

I’ve met a number of first time voters today – or potential first time voters since not all of them are intending to vote.

The issues vary as they do for us all – Jobs, tax, chances for children and whether there’s any point. Can we be trusted?

At one house I’d already had a chat and moved on when I was called back. Would I talk to his young son about why he should vote?

It turned out that the son was fully intending to vote, but not sure whether it should be Lib Dem or Labour. Obviously I’d prefer it was Lib Dem, but the main point I made was about the importance of voting – and his generation in particular. If the young stay away the decision of who should be the next MP for North West Durham will be in the hands only of the older generation because they mostly will vote.

It’s important to recognise, too, that not all “first time voters” will be aged 18 – 23. I got the following message from a 32 year old who has never previously voted. It made my day. Not just because she’s going to vote Lib Dem, though I’m pleased about that. Not just because she reckoned our leaflets were “head and shoulders above the rest”.

What really pleased me is that she’s going to vote, and that she’s going to vote because she’s understood what The Liberal Democrats are standing for in this election. Her words speak for themselves:

I am 32 and although I have been of voting age for nearly half my life, I have never voted. In past elections, I never saw the point – as they were ‘all as bad as each other’ in my opinion. But after seeing Nick Clegg on TV and actually feeling like he could make a change I decided I would actually read the leaflets that came through my door this year. Yours stands out above the rest, and for the first time ever, I will be casting my vote on Thursday for the Liberal Democrats.

I am a mother of 2, and have worked full time since they were 3 and 6 years old (now 13 and 10). I started work on a 20 hour week. This made me £10 a week better off working than on benefits, and although many would have turned that down and lived their life scrounging on benefits, I saw a future and wanted my children to have good work ethics. I hated taking handouts. Separated from their father and receiving no child support, I have worked hard to give them a better life and taught them that you work for what you get in life. Your party sees the hard work people on lower wages put in and I sincerely hope that common sense prevails on Thursday.

Countdown 3 – Real friends

The North West Durham Lib Dem team have been working overtime. So much so that, although we had printed all the leaflets we thought we’d be able to deliver before Polling Day, last night there was a need to print a further 4,000. It was in the safe hands of one of our team.

At 1.15 in the morning I got a text and then a phone call to say that he was having problems with the printer and had only been able to print one side. We would have to face up to the problem in the morning.

Imagine my surprise, then, to get a phone call in the morning saying that the leaflets were all done – and he’d finished around 3.15 in the morning!

Many people seem to think that political parties are well-heeled machines financed by the Unions or rich backers like Lord Ashcroft. That’s too simple. Up and down the land there are groups of highly motivated people like the Liberal Democrats in North West Durham. We raise all that we spend locally, from our own members and supporters, and we work hard together to achieve our goal of replacing the out of touch Labour Party and delivering genuinely responsive government, national and local. We’re the stronger for that, because in the teamwork we develop the skills and cohesion that we’ll need to run the county after, we hope, winning the seat in this General Election.

No-one ever joined the Liberal Democrats in the expection of an easy ride or personal gain – other parties have looked a better bet for those with purely personal ambitions. I doubt, though, whether other parties experience the same warmth in team relationships, or confidence in shared goals. I believe the Labour Party did at one time; I very much doubt if it does now.

Countdown 4 – Australia fair

Out and about today I met a gentleman who clearly originated from Australia.

“Have you got a chance here?” he asked. “I want to vote Conservative but I don’t want to waste my vote.”

I explained, quite fairly I think, that the Conservatives have no chance of winning North West Durham. The next MP will either be the Labour candidate or me, the Lib Dem candidate.

After some further discussion, and clear surprise that he was actually meeting the candidate himself, he put to me a question no-one else has put. “How will you ensure that the pound gets back to an acceptable level against the Australian dollar?”

That was easy. “Make Vince Cable Chancellor of the Exchequer,” I replied.

“I think I agree with you on that,” he said and we parted with a handshake.

That may not sound like much of a political exchange, but actually it summarises the election in North West Durham in a nutshell. There are only two parties in it here – and probably for the first time people nationally recognise the Liberal Democrats as serious challengers led by politicians of real stature. It would be yet another travesty of the first past the post political system if votes thrown away on fringe candidates (including, in NW Durham, the Conservatives) led to a Labour MP being elected for NW Durham on less than half of the vote.

Countdown 5 – straws in the wind

There was certainly a wind in Consett this morning – and a cold one at that – but I came away feeling really warmed again.

Lots of people blanked us – which is to be expected and may mean any number of things – but lots of others came up to wish us luck or to tell us that they had already voted for us. That’s often forgotten, just what a large percentage of the ballots cast will be postal votes, and over 5000 votes are already at the Civic Centre. There were a good many saying that they had always voted Labour before, but not this time.

I know that the people who choose to talk to us are a self-selected group, and presumably the people who talked to the Labour Party team were similarly self-selected – apart from the lady who told me that she’d accepted one of their carrier bags, but was going to use it as a poop scoop.

The warm experience was repeated this afternoon. Most people pay no attention to you when you’re leafletting, so it’s a pleasant surprise to have them come to the window and give you a thumbs up which happened a couple of times, and another who saw me came to the door to shake me by the hand.

I know that there’s still a mountain to climb by Thursday night. There’s a tradition here of voting Labour, and some seem to se it as a duty to do so. I guess that’s why quite a few people have given their encouragement very quietly today – just a muttered “good luck” as they hurried past. It’s still a bit uncomfortable for many people to “come out” and say they are voting Liberal Democrat. As word spreads, however, of all those previously solid Labour voters who are backing us this time, others will pick up on the idea that there’s a real possibility of change. And since many of them are deeply unhappy with the way things are, the hunger for change will take over.

Whether habit or hope rules on Thursday is in the voters hands. I’m pleased about that, and looking forward to an exciting Thursday night.

Countdown 6 – Guilty!

I found today really hard, because I’d asked other people to go out and do the hard miles on the pavements whilst I organised the final push for the latter stages of the campaign. It’s necessary, but much less fun than being out there with the team (even if it does have the advantage of being able to stop and have a brew whenever you want).

So I felt guilty when they came back and reported their anecdotes from the rounds, mostly positive, but also enormously encouraged that whilst they were out there I was making contact with many of the other people who are supporting this campaign and building a result. A quiet day at the office in one sense. But the growing team makes that both necessary and possible. And the feeling of guilt is unnecessary, but real.

Countdown 7 – Burning the candle at both ends

The days get longer in this election campaign – literally as we move through spring towards summer, but also just trying to keep on top of things, especially emails.

 Mostly a bit of research, together with the manifesto, provides a reasonably ready response to most questions, but sometimes they are just too precise, or too narrow, for me to answer. If only they’d ask me about Income Tax!

Tonight I got such a question, and it set me thinking what a fantastically difficult job the three leaders have in their televised debates. They can get some very technical and difficult questions, but they don’t have the option I can use; “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll try to find out and get back to you”.

No doubt tomorrow’s papers will be dissecting the debate and coming up with a winner. I liked Nick Robinson’s comment that the winner was the voter – and we’ll all be winners if the interest generated produces a higher turnout on May 6th.

In the less rarified atmosphere of North West Durham, however, the battle goes on without the aid of instant polls, the worm and expert analysis. Searching questions about policy are few and far between. A friendly smile and a comment on the weather is likely to be the extent of the political dialogue, and the days are long rather than intellectually demanding. It’s 1.25 a.m. and time to sign off!