By William Mills
On Saturday 24 January I went out as a reporter with Labour’s parliamentary team in Hove as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Peter Kyle attempts to wrest the marginal seat off the Tories.
I arrived at their Church Road offices to find it bustling with activity and was given a pleasant ‘hello’ on arrival.
A group of activists had arrived from Croydon South to give a helping hand including their candidate Emily Benn, granddaughter of the late Tony Benn, a famous Labour MP.
Although working full time in a bank as well as being a local London councillor she still found time to come and help her friend Peter who she had known for five years. She won a music scholarship to Oxford and is good enough to play the violin in public recitals.
Asked why she wanted to be a politician Cllr Emily Benn said;
So other people can have the opportunity to play the violin.
We divided into teams, and mine consisted of Kyle, Benn, and full time organiser Kirsty Callaghan whose demanding role includes looking after the volunteer helpers.
Ms Callaghan explained how important it is to have a nice atmosphere and demonstrate how much you appreciate them. She has also developed a good system of checking the safety of her teams.
In dismal contrast Tory contender Graham Cox was accused of mistreatment of his volunteer helpers during his 2011 Council by election.
The Labour team delivered leaflets and knocked on doors as most political parties do. Labour got largely a good response. One of the first to answer told Peter Kyle how she normally voted Conservative but she was changing to Labour because; “he was sound on education.”
However another with a Union Jack doormat said, “he won’t vote Labour because they didn’t support small businesses.”
Emily Benn emphasised with one supporter who spoke of a “cost of living crisis.” Afterwards reflecting on housing costs in London, Cllr Benn said;
How do you get a mortgage as a freelance musician?
I also noticed no-one admitted to supporting UKIP. I would have thought there would have been some given that Hove Park is a big majority Tory held ward. It’s a shame if voters are too apprehensive to say for fear of being called a bigot or worse.
However when we were in a block of flats knocking on doors organiser Kirsty Callaghan told us not to congregate outside individual flats so residents won’t be disturbed by our noise, and if they did answer their door it would only be one to one.
It was a far cry from 2010 when I was out with another volunteer in Portslade helping the existing Tory MP Mike Weatherley.
I was horrified as my companion shouted through the letterbox that the woman had to come to the front door to answer his questions. He justified himself by saying he was an ex-surveyor for the Council and; “he knew how to deal with these people.”
I never went out canvassing for Weatherley again.
During our morning’s canvassing I asked both Kyle and Callaghan if we were only targeting Labour supporters or was this a general knock up? They both assured me it was the later, and if that’s so then Labour will win this Parliamentary seat hands down.
We ended our morning back at Labour’s offices where hot food had been thoughtfully laid on for us.
It is important to realise that the vast bulk of political canvassers of whichever party are volunteer helpers. It is their day out too.
Peter Kyle said;
It is really amazing to think that all these people who have turned out to help could be spending their Saturday morning doing a multitude of other things. But instead they have chosen to be here. I’m really grateful.
Maybe that’s why he is winning.
NB Editorial Note
Our political editor William Mills stood for the Conservatives in 2011 for Brighton & Hove City Council. He resigned his membership in January 2013. He has not joined any other political party preferring to be a non aligned journalist. He enjoys writing about his experiences. His ambition is to go out canvassing with all the different parties and see if he can guess the result correctly.