On Wednesday afternoon, I canvassed the streets of Westbourne on behalf of the Labour Party.
People jump to conclusions when you wander around wearing a very large, bright red rosette on your jacket – I would too if someone knocked on my door saying, ‘Hello, I’m canvassing for the Labour Party.’
What’s important is what happens after we’ve all jumped to our conclusions. Do you shut the door in my face? Or do we have a conversation and try to understand each other?
I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter. Over the years, I have voted for all of the ‘normal’ political parties – Green, Liberal Democrat, Labour – as well as abstaining altogether. I’m as fed up with Westminster politics as most people seem to be.
These were details that I could share with the people who answered the door to me on Wednesday, and that might have helped adjust their first glance conclusions, and brought us closer together.
That’s why we do politics: to bring our society closer together.
So why was I canvassing for Labour in Westbourne?
Because, as my Foiled co-writer Beth Granville memorably put it: ‘If the Tories get in again, don’t be someone who didn’t do anything to stop it happening.’
Labour are the party with the highest chance of overturning the Conservative majority in the constituency of Bournemouth West. So for Labour I canvassed.
The only reason I am alive today is because of the NHS. (This is probably true for most people reading this newsletter, but I’ll let that pass for a second.)
I have a chronic condition that means I have to take medication every day for the rest of my life, otherwise I’ll slowly slip into a coma and die. (Which, to be fair, is probably what some Tories would love to happen.)
It was an NHS GP who first noticed something was wrong. It was an NHS phlebotomist who drew my first blood sample and sent it away to be tested at an NHS laboratory. It was an NHS endocrinologist who analysed the results and gave me my diagnosis.
It is an NHS GP Practice who help me manage the condition with annual check-ups. It is the NHS who have given me thousands of pounds’ worth of medication over the past eleven years and who promise to make sure that I – and the million or more other people in this country with my condition – continue to get the treatment we need to stop us all slipping into a coma and dying.
And it is the NHS whose existence is threatened by the spectre of another five years of Conservative rule.
We were canvassing in the middle of the afternoon. Most people were at work.
The people we did speak to made up the healthy political stew you’d expect to find in most towns around the country.
A couple of Labour supporters. One Liberal Democrat who wished us luck and hoped that the vote wouldn’t split and let the Tories back in.
One man, dressed not unlike Nigel Farage and who enjoyed playing with model railways, told me he was voting for the Monster Raving Loony Party.
And of course the odd Conservative voter who answered – and then slammed – the door with cries of ‘no, no, no, no, no’.
But my most illuminating conversation was with a woman, in her forties, a second generation immigrant, who’d just finished her morning shift.
I stood in her garden, a boxing punchbag hanging over an astroturf lawn, and we chatted for five or ten minutes, sharing our stories and our politics.
Her parents were Labour voters; she’s always voted Conservative. Now she doesn’t know who to vote for and is leaning towards not voting at all. She told me that a lot of her friends are of the same mind.
The problem is that she’s fed up with all politicians – Conservative and Labour – but she reserves special ire for Diane Abbott. ‘You can’t teach stupid,’ she said of the much-maligned Shadow Home Secretary.
Still, she took a leaflet and we parted on companionable terms. I suppose the best Conservative is a non-voting Conservative.
I repeated our little conversation to the man in charge of the canvassing clipboard. He told me that Diane Abbott, herself the daughter of immigrants, has a degree from Cambridge so can’t be that stupid.
‘It’s hard enough for a black woman to get a degree from Cambridge today, let alone when she did it,’ he said.
Diane Abbott has been elected and re-elected eight times since she first entered the House of Parliament as Britain’s first black woman MP in 1987. In 2008, she won Spectator magazine’s Parliamentary Speech of the Year award.
It’s true, then: you can’t teach stupid. But I’m not sure people in glasshouses should be throwing stones.