Tis the season for knocking on doors and every years brings a new crop of stories. I remember people who were 50's and 60's telling me tales of canvassing in their youth. The 1929 election was etched very clearly in their minds. I recall old Mrs Lindley explaining why it was essential that the government build reservoirs! I shall return to the Party's 1929 canvassing guild and its policy advice particularly around Industrial Policy and Peace but in this posting I shall just retell a few incidents from the last few weeks.
Let us begin in a 1960's development full of detached properties. In his 'integral garage' a man in in 40's was working at his bench with a soldering iron. The canvas record showed that we had not spoken to him before but his wife was down as a supporter. I waived and began trying to engage him in conversation. Politely but firmly he indicated that now was not a convenient time. I left and on my way out I posted an 'out' leaflet through his letter box.
We continued on into the next cul de sac where there key issue appeared to be dog mess. I had a long conversation with an elderly lady about the fortunes of Southport FC ( after Saturday wonder goal against Halifax Town that particular lady should be happier-Southport's place in the Conference Premier Division is now secure). I have had quite a few chats with resident about football, there is a PhD thesis for someone on the role of football clubs in civic identity
As we emerged onto the main road a car drew up beside me. It was the man who had earlier been wielding the soldering iron. He had been driving around trying to find us. He apologies for the way he had spoken earlier to me and assured me of his support. It transpired that he thought I was a Jehovah's Witness
It was getting towards 'knocking off time'. A man arrived in an old van to his Victorian semi. For some reason Southport didn't build terraces housing and instead we have lots of two up two down semis from that period. He was in the building trade and self employed and in his late 50's. He began by telling me he was fed up with everyone-especially the government- 'giving in' to Muslim's'. He went on to make a series of unpleasant racist remarks. A this was destined not to be a rational conversation I politely asked him not to vote for us and went to move on. As I did so he said that he supported the British Army and that they should be allowed to 'sort things out'. He was supporting UKIP. At this point my colleague Fred Weavers rolled up in his motorbike leathers, pig tail swing and his helmet on the crook of his arm. I'm ex SBS said Fred. The man shrank away into his house.
Now the occasional racist rant is not, sadly, that unusual but there have been more that usual. One older lady in the same part of the ward announced herself in a mater of fact way as ' a racist' . No shame, no embarrassment and no unease. She too is voting UKIP.
I always try to listen to the reasons. Interestingly they are not all about nationalism and fear. One women who worked in a nursing home began telling me of all the Polish people she worked with. Because I paused to listen it became clear she had not issue with them. Indeed she counted them as he friends and admired their hard work and compassion. Her grouse-as a worker on the National Minimum Wage -was that she was paying taxes so that local people could receive benefits whilst others were prepared to travel half we across Europe to take up the jobs. There is no doubt that no matter what some folk would like to believe more stringent conditions on benefit claimants are very popular. I have several times pointed out the importance in a civilised society of providing financial support to those without jobs but it a hard case to argue when confronted with a low paid worker who resents others competing for their job.
When the count is over on 22nd of May another more important count will begin. It will be the count of those men and women who stand up for tolerance, who refuse to judge people by the colour of their skin or the place place that they come from, who recognise that this town and our country is immeasurably better off because of the contribution that has been made in every generation by people not born here.
I want to live in a place which welcomes the likes of Mo Farah, Lenny Henry, Claus Mosser and Julia Nueberger. In this generation we have to communicate a vision of society that includes rather than one which divides and excludes. There can be no ducking of the challenges produced by globalisation. The maldistribution of wealth which allows some to grow rich rapidly whilst the sleep is unacceptable. The fruits of economic growth need to be distributed much more equitably.
I met an elderly man who came here from Eire 50 years back. He knew all about the pain of exclusion and the cruel impact of discrimination. He told me his mother had taught him :' Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares'.