Getting back on the doorstep is just the first step in reconnecting with voters. We are making up for lost time. Labour campaigners and candidates are back on the doorstep – and I’m so happy to say I am one of them. The conditions may be a bit different due to delayed elections and, of course, the continuing Covid restrictions on meeting people. But we are back doing what we enjoy most.
I was out leafletting for Labour in south London recently. Young and old were united by a desire to return Sadiq Khan to City Hall and deliver the first-time election of Marina Ahmad to the Lambeth and Southwark London assembly seat.
Over the last year, our work, health and family concerns have been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. As you would expect, this sombre subject came up time and again on the doorstep. Britain is fortunately now making great progress with the vaccine, but in 2020 it suffered one of the highest excess death rates in Europe. Londoners raised this and many other issues when we spoke to them, such as housing, obtaining sufficient notice of local consultations on low-traffic neighbourhoods and Labour Party unity.
It was great to hear their concerns, questions and hopes for the future after a year in which we have still been taking part in politics – but normally via a laptop, on Zoom and over a cup of coffee around the kitchen table. Now we return to the traditional means, almost. We are back with our party friends and trade union comrades. Ever mindful of social distancing, these are not completely typical sessions, but campaigning is still a chance to display the activism and passion for which the party is known.
We also had the Doorstep App for company. A few of us have had issues with the app on our devices, so we decided to team up with friends who were able to get the app working. No problem there – after all, it is by the strength of our common endeavour that we achieve more than we achieve alone.
We met hundreds of enthusiastic supporters but also a few former Labour voters. They were open-minded about how to cast their ballot, though seemed unsure. Our job was to persuade them to come back to Labour. Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, and enter a new phase in Britain’s history, it is time to find common ground and to end internal divisions so that we have a chance of getting a better result than predicted for the May elections.
Where credit is due, as with the vaccine rollout, Keir Starmer has not been afraid to offer it, but the sobering statistics of the last 12 months show how the government has mishandled the pandemic. Failures in sourcing personal protective equipment, the timing of lockdowns and in public communication have taken a terrible toll on the country. People of colour, and residents of poorer towns and villages, have been among those hardest hit.
It may be a long haul, after four general election defeats, but what my time on the doorstep tells me is that Labour is making up lost time. My first session on the doorstep since lockdown was lifted represented just two hours in a countless number that will be devoted to the cause by tens of thousands of Labour councillors, activists and trade unionists around the country. It is worth repeating that the road back to Downing Street runs through town halls and council chambers.
Keir was right when he pointed out earlier this month that the next general election could come as soon as in the next two years – and that Labour is preparing on that basis. We know Boris Johnson intends to scrap the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and wants to restore the government’s discretion to seek a national vote when it chooses.
Labour’s commitment to overhaul public services and get Britain working again will resonate with voters left weary, and poorer, after more than a decade of Tory austerity. So, let’s get out on the doorstep over the next month and use the polls in May to make the case for equality, decency and investing in our schools, hospitals and communities. Let’s make up for lost time and win these elections.