Memories of an Election Campaign

It’s time to confess. I’m not very efficient when I go canvassing. I don’t like asking people how they will vote. Instead I like to chat for about 10 minutes. When someone offers me a coffee, instead of saying “No, must go to another 25 houses ” , I reply “Thanks very much” and sit down for an extra quarter of an hour. It’s slow and maybe inefficient, but I do learn a lot. This is what I have found:

Still the Most Important Local Issue: Lack of Facilities in our town. Residents especially want more places for younger teenagers. I spent a long time on the doorsteps listening to people’s views on this – particularly to one man near the Chase who thinks that the District Council has been far too slow to do things. He was very unhappy that we still don’t have a public swimming pool.

I also met a lot of people who had suffered from graffiti, vandalism or general nuisance. Nearly every one of them – however angry they were about it – said we need more places for young people to go to. One exception was someone who had had their wall pushed over at 5 a.m., so the people involved probably weren’t that young.

So the lesson to be learned here is that our councils have to stop wasting months and years thinking about the problem and actually begin doing things. A good starting point, which I have suggested, is to build all-weather sports pitch at the old Park School site in Rawreth Lane. The land is there, I think the County Council have the money, and it shouldn’t affect existing residents.

Of course, we need other facilities as well – another doctor’s surgery, and more school places. Did you know that, because of the housebuilding, the County Council expects to have a shortage of 40 secondary school places in Rayleigh in 4 years time? So it seems that 40 Rayleigh pupils will have to go to secondary school in Castle Point or Hockley.

Increasingly Important Issue : Homes for our grown-up children. We seem to have more and more grown-up children staying in the family home because they can’t afford to buy in Rayleigh. (Somebody told me that his son has just managed to buy somewhere here and the mortgage was over £1110 per month.)

The answer is probably flats. I’ve nothing against flats – our family used to live in one. But too many flats are either ugly, have poor soundproofing, have no communal garden or no parking. The council has to do better – for example Cllr Ron Oatham and myself recently got the District Council to refuse permission for some particularly ugly flats off Rawreth Lane that even the County Adviser said were “dreadful”.

However it doesn’t set a good example when Rochford Conservative Club applies for permission to convert part of their building into 3 flats without car parking or a communal garden!

Biggest factor in the General Election: Definitely Mr Blair. People have generally lost their respect for him, and they want him out. As one Conservative voter near Hullbridge Road put it “I’m voting for you locally, but I’m voting Tory because I want to give Blair a kick”. (Of course he could give equally give Mr Blair “a kick” by voting for our Sid Cumberland in the General Election)

This is very tough on ordinary Labour candidates. But I think Labour will do very badly in Essex until they get a new leader.

Biggest National Talking Point : Immigration. It’s something that people want to talk about. But it doesn’t seem to be affecting which party they will vote for. It seems that voters just want to let us all know that they are concerned about this issue.

Most Popular National Policy: Local Income Tax. Yes, I know it’s a Lib Dem policy, and it sounds like I’m biased, but it’s true. A lot of people know about it, and they like the idea. In fact it’s so popular that I expect Labour or the Conservatives to pinch it fairly soon.

Most Popular Politician: Charles Kennedy, by a landslide. There are some staunch Conservatives who can’t stand him. But generally Charles is very popular – even with people who normally hold politicians in contempt. I met one lady near Bull Lane who proudly told me she had never voted in her life. Then she went on, in a very sympathetic tone, to say “Your Charles Kennedy – what a time he’s had – the Pope’s Funeral, Camilla’s Wedding, his wife has a baby and then he has to launch the manifesto. Poor soul!” Will Charlie Kennedy’s honesty and my persuasion get her to vote this time? I don’t know, but my fingers are crossed.

What about the other party leaders? Well, I’ve already written about Mr Blair. Mr Howard doesn’t do much better – I’ve not met anyone yet who says that they’re switching to the Conservatives because they like him.

Well that’s about it, the electioneering is almost over – and thanks for all the coffee.