Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Labour in Sittingbourne and Sheppey

I wake up with a sense of anticipation, yet concern for how my day would unravel. It would be true to say my history in political interest has not really thrived, but since September, my interest in the topic has become one of extreme growth. After being unsuccessful with my plea to join the Liberal Democrats for the day, I contacted the Chairman of the Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour Party, Roger Truelove, with the aim of securing a day under the political wing.

Fortunately Roger is someone I have previously encountered during my lifetime, as he used to be my cricket coach for when I played district level, so the situation is one of comfort. I turn up to be greeted by Roger and the leader of the Labour Party, Angela Harrison who has recently replaced the long-serving Derek Wyatt following his decision to stand down after 13 years at the helm. After the introductions inside the Labour Hall, I am given a summary of the constituency, informed that there are 10,000 postal votes in the constituency, and the aim for the day was to deliver letters to 3000 of the 10,000 postal voters before the postal forms were released as a reminder that Labour are there for the community. Roger explains that “Labour is not just seen as a political party, but also as a social group”. He is right. The atmosphere amongst supporters seems generally frivolous.

The Labour office itself is stacked with letters, envelopes and other admin papers where the supporters worked tirelessly to prepare. I take a seat in the hope I can achieve some form of conversation, and it soon comes. To what I describe as a “lovely old man”, I come across Dennis Grover. At first sight, I see him as just a loyal Labour supporter doing his bit, however as conversation heats up I come to learn that he has been a member of the Labour party for 55 years, playing an active role in over 60 elections. My face at this time is one of admiration yet surprise. I admire his loyalty to the party but the surprise comes when he expresses his disappointment at being resorted to just delivering leaflets. Dennis is a very impressive person. I manage to sit him down at a table with me, where he just talks for half hour about his journey up the political ladder. He has taken up every post in the party except Treasurer, and when asked why, he replies “Because I cannot count!” Not only was he impressive but he was funny.

Shortly after and I am canvassing around the streets of Sittingbourne with Roger and Guy Nicholson, a Hackney Labour Councillor who had joined us for the day. With Roger running for Councillor of the area this year, we effectively had to persuade homeowners to vote for Angela and Roger. Guy, an enthusiastic man energetically goes from house to house, trying to get full support for Labour. Roger takes the time out to talk to housekeepers about issues, and the importance of voting Labour. I take the opportunity to follow both at separate times, at the same time writing down the reviews of the canvass, whether it is successful or not for the party. On our journey up London Road one man reveals he has no interest in local politics but admits he enjoys speaking to Roger so would vote Labour. As a finance man, he compliments Gordon Brown on his work on finance and describes him as having done “a brilliant job”.

A country estate was the next port of call, delivering newspaper leaflets. At which point Guy and I manage to engage in deep conversation regarding The USA and British Olympics Swimming Squads wanting to use the Hackney facilities. Also in discussion was the result of the first live television election debate to which we both agreed that Nick Clegg showed a positive performance in front of the millions of British citizens. Roger remains focused on the task of convincing the local public to vote for Labour in both national and local elections, however does get the time to reminisce over the time our lives previously crossed in the cricket world. To receive praise from my former coach, and a local councillor candidate is what I can only describe as an honour.

Half past two and my desire to do more is broken briefly as we stop off at Roger’s for a tuna and tomato sandwich. Shortly after, we depart for the Isle of Sheppey and an area called Rushenden, admittedly not the greatest place in the constituency but one Labour seem adamant on improving over the coming years. We travel to “The Gateway”, a youth centre in the middle of the Rushenden in preparation for meeting Meg Hillier, the Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch as well as junior government minister. Her intention is to support Angela along with discussing plans for developing the deprived areas of Rushenden, which revealed plans of the Rushenden Relief Road currently under construction believed to be costing £18 million. Meg is particularly keen on discussing ASBO issues, and that the main reason is truancy of school and bad styles of living. Angela highlights the lack of community leisure activities, and the idea that social workers refuse to listen to foster carers or outsiders so deception on the real treatment of youths entices them to bad behaviour.

Afterwards we depart “The Gateway” to a warm climate, yet with a slight breeze, weather typical of a coastal town. Before canvassing around Rushenden I make conversation with a local journalist. Not what I was expecting on a day but a bonus nonetheless. I manage to obtain a number for him, and ask him his history in the job and how he made his way as a journalist. Strangely enough he began at a bank. Canvassing around Rushenden is certainly an experience. Not one I recommend, but one to treasure. To see politicians like Meg and Roger doing what they know is an event to learn from.

After two hours of hard graft, and acceptance that the day had truly flown by, I find myself in a familiar position. The road in which I started the day. My road. Though, before entering my home and reflecting on the day’s events, my work with Labour is not yet finished as I deliver the final election letters to my neighbours and other Labour supporters.

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