I have an hour. I have a choice. Write a few lines for my long neglected blog, or write up the minutes of our constituency AGM. Guess who won? OK, there were a lot of other choices I could make, but these two hit the top of the pile. So what has driven me back to the blog?
To be honest, a couple of words from Ed Miliband. Something about fighting against disillusionment and despair. It follows on from my reading of Marcus Roberts Fabian discussion, but in truth it follows on from a few weeks of recognising those stirrings on the doorstep. When all the think tanks, talkers and traitors have finished discussing where Labour is at just now, there needs to be some room left for those of us who do knock on doors. Those who listen on the doorstep and try and answer those tough questions we all get. If punters tell me they don’t like the look of Ed I ask when they met him, and talk about the great team he is building, the sincerity and thoughtfulness.
Week after week, whatever the doorstep I am on, we meet the same people. Good solid working class folk, self employed drivers, plasterers, care workers and women who stay at home. Many of them haven’t voted for years. They don’t like to be told they have a ‘cost of living crisis’. Yorkshire folk are too proud for that. They are nor just disillusioned, they are sick of the lot of us. All politicians are the same. So do we mark them down as non-voters? Pencil them in as possible UKIP supporters? Or spend lots of time talking to them about what they think is wrong. I realise as a result that after 30 or more years of door knocking I still don’t find all the facts at my fingertips as soon as immigration, Farage or Europe get a mention. Who can google ‘Labour policies’ and find the comprehensive manifesto for the working person?
So is this the start of the fight back Ed? Is this going to bring the sunshine Emma Burnell has been looking for? Will John Mann recognise some of those bold policy offers he has suggested this weekend? If so, then I have one fundamental question. How can we tackle the despair about politicians unless we show how we will change politics itself?
Yes, as others have pointed out, we can offer ways of tackling the impact of the worst forms of immigration, the exploitative people trafficking that undermines wages. Yes we can show we can take on the big boys, the energy companies and those who exploit consumers. We could even offer a return to real belief in public service as a means of providing the essentials. John Mann has been sharing those ideas on twitter. But any offer from politicians has to come with a new look at the mechanics of politics for it to be taken seriously.
Real faith and hope will only rise with a belief that politics itself will be different under Labour. I don’t claim to have the all the answers. Yes I would like to see a devolved House of Lords as part of a radical offer. Yes I want to see real northern devolution. I don’t think giving power over my money to some joint bureaucracy in Leeds (yes rural Holmfirth is now officially part of Leeds City) is the whole answer. Yes I want a real commitment to gender balance as part of any representative Government. We have some commitments we can shout about – like the one to prevent MPs having second jobs and to votes as 16. After Scotland we promised a discussion about our constitution. Let’s call it a real conversation about how politics can work better. Then let’s lead the debate, with a few radical offers, plenty of options and no dismissing ideas before they have had a chance to be shared.
When good friends and trusted commentators tell us Labour is beyond hope then we all despair. Votes aren’t just going to UKIP. They are left behind in the busy lives of those who no longer care, or transferred to Greens who show concern. Our fragile lead could so easily crumble. I have heard some welcome words whispered in the last few days. But they needs to turn into action. Marcus Roberts has the analysis to help make it happen. Fact sheets at the finger tips of every faithful door knocker setting out what we can do. Web sites that work for those who want to know. Recognition that disillusionment needs more time on the doorstep, more direct follow up from men and women who form part of your able team Ed. It needs to offer hope of a different future, but hope of a different politics too.