Two members of the Pagefield team, James Barge and Josh Lambkin, give their view of the election campaign from the doorstep.
James Barge campaigning with Labour – Harrow West
My disagreement with the current state of the Labour Party has discouraged me from taking to the doorsteps during this election, but Gareth Thomas of Harrow West – a friend from my time in the party – recently managed to stir my loyalist tendencies and get me door knocking. Harrow West is a classic marginal. Labour held the seat with a majority of 2,208 in 2015, but has never having enjoyed anything above 6,156 since it took the seat in 1997. The effort on the ground is clear, with large numbers of volunteers from across London and beyond. On my outings there was a fair balance between local CLP members, Corbynistas and party members from elsewhere on the spectrum.
Taking to the doorsteps after the publication of the manifestos it was clear that the Conservatives’ social care policy had cut through – particularly in the leafier parts and not just for those who feel it may be an imminent concern. Interestingly, for those considering where they placed their cross, Brexit wasn’t the first issue being raised. Focus was more on why there had to be an election, the two party leaders and local issues like school funding and police cuts. Only one substantive conversation on Brexit and single market access took place with an SME owner.
For Labour voters who hadn’t quite warmed to Corbyn the sight of one activist in our group in a ‘Corbyn-mania’ t-shirt didn’t stop them saying that, whilst they would support Gareth, they didn’t like the leader. It was also clear that they had heard a lot from the Labour party and comparatively little from the Conservatives at a local level. The Lib Dem surge was far from evident with only one voter saying they were switching from red to orange. It appeared the Labour vote was holding up, buoyed by an excellent ground campaign. There may have been some shy Tories who felt their voting history and / or concerns prohibited them being honest, but not as many as I thought I’d encounter. In one week, we’ll find out just how shy they are.
Josh Lambkin campaigning with the Conservatives – Croydon Central and Putney
At the start of the campaign, the prevailing feeling within amongst Tory grassroots was one of cautious excitement. Activists and supporters were buoyed by the 20 point lead in the polls but determined not to let complacency creep in. But the publication of the Conservative manifesto marked a turning point in this sentiment; hitting the campaign trail after manifesto week revealed a deep sense of unease amongst the party faithful and frustration from the punters.
The Tory proposal to fund the costs of social care by using asset wealth – labelled the “dementia tax” by its opponents – has proved to be a headache on the doorstep. Those at the younger end of the party (like me) have found this idea quite appealing – a welcome first step towards tackling intergenerational inequality – but for many of the more longstanding activists it was a step too far.
Clearly the “dementia tax” label is cutting through to the voters. For those considering a shift to the Conservatives, it confirms the “nasty party” image. For the more loyal supporters, it is a frustrating and quite unnecessary assault on their interests. Furthermore, the arguments needed to defend the policy are too nuanced for such a febrile election campaign, something which Theresa May discovered only too late.
The Prime Minister’s decision to row-back on the policy only days later turned the blunder into a crisis. Such indecision has undermined Theresa May’s key selling point and voters I have spoken to are starting to see cracks emerge in the “strong and stable” visage. Recent polls reflect this but the silver lining for CCHQ is that fears over a Corbyn government are now at least more realistic and Tory turnout may therefore increase.
Nevertheless, despite a very difficult campaign, there are still reasons to be optimistic. The supposed Lib Dem fightback does not appear to be materialising (at least not on the doorsteps of South West London), the canvass returns remain strong and Theresa May still enjoys a double-digit lead in leadership ratings.