Timeframe and geography made for an interesting itinerary. Day 1 allowed an afternoon in Stoke Central. No1 Piccadilly on the corner of a busy little market place and busy inside too, Lisa, Stuart et al beavering away with maps and briefings for the steady stream of Kippers from all corners of the country come to offer their services, mingling with MEPs and other well-known faces, fortified by the UKIP café next-door complete with black, purple and yellow-betied patron, the atmosphere friendly, positive, purposeful.
Out canvassing postal voters in a council estate with an old hand from Hampshire, the afternoon drizzle an opportunity to sport our UKIP umbrella, as expected most people not yet home, neck and neck with Labour, one Tory noted, one or two we might perhaps have turned but too late, most postal voters don’t hang around – a day after the drop and you’re too late. That wasn’t the aim, true, but what’s the priority – identifying postal supporters for the next time or winning this one? So much deprivation, so much neglect of good people by the government and city council of those who need help – the blocked drain, the cut-off gas fire through no fault of the occupier, the old soldier on his own with myriad medical problems and no mobility, yet still so much loyalty to Labour. Oh for some policies to bring them over! It’s no good talking about supporting working people,we’ve got to offer more to prove it – pretty elementary. Then out onto the M6 and into the northern night.
Day 2 and the Copeland office matched the difference between the great city of Stoke and little Egremont, where you can still park in the high street. There were Nick and John and a very few localsbut the same bonhomie and determination. Off to the eastern side of Whitehaven, its council houses solid grey compared to the red brick of the Midlands, we split down to the two of us, a dedicated enthusiast from Antrim and me against the light rain on and off all day, two excellent leaflets to deliver well designed to withstand the wet, not much opportunity to speak, little evidence of an election going on, my friend having to watch his blood-sugar levels as the afternoon wore on, at one stage starting to get dizzy and disorientated – one wonders sometimes if the generals on their parliamentary salaries appreciate what their soldiers do for them. Fortified with tea and cake we sallied forth again till it was dark, concerned there might have been some duplication with Stuart and Carol from Bedford, who we never met, but thanks to their text it transpired there wasn’t. The Ulsterman and I enjoyed our steak that night.
Those leaflets – brilliant. Especially the We Love the NHS complete with big red heart. Best I’ve ever seen, should have come out earlier. Particularly relevant in Copeland, where downgrading of Whitehaven hospital is a major issue.
Day 3 with the Lake District in daylight and the Bolton Conference to come! No point replicating Brian and Gareth’s excellent pieces, many great speeches but I’d like to add Bill’s to Gareth’s star list, not that oratory is everything. After halving of the programme time was short, but one still wishes the opportunity could have been taken for a little feedback from such a large gathering of members – who actually decides our policy lines and how?
Dinner that night most enjoyable, HO staff doing a great job. Very moving to see Paul welcomed to our midst as leader, but I wish at a relaxed occasion like that he could talk to us quietly as friends rather than as though we were just another public meeting. We need to be taken into his confidence and inspired, not just get the repetitive message yet again. A bit moreon the how rather than the what, a bit more on talking the troops up.
And then the return to Stoke on Day 4 in flag-flying convoy.The city centre and UKIP office even busier today, foreign TV crews about, Welsh AMs, volunteers everywhere. And the same personalised NHS leaflet – there was me thinking it was only for Fiona. Counting the postal drop, this would be the sixth leaflet drop in Stoke. As we’d been told more than once on the doorstep on Wednesday, this was too much for some. In Copeland they’d had next to nothing.
The first outing proved abortive. The two of us found the area soon enough but it wasn’t residential, so a complete waste of valuable time. Some input by the local branch or even a quick google earth might have obviated that, but too easy to criticise our incredibly busy staff. Then the big one – another huge slice of eastern Stoke, almost solidly council estate. Off one went with yet another veteran, an original UKIPperup from Bristol, dropped off by a volunteer driver from Norfolk. It was dry but these roads seemed to go on for ever and you had to be careful you remembered where you’d been, but we were heartened to see more posters for Paul than the opposition, with Tories nowhere but then Stoke has been the proverbial Labour heartland. Again the stop for emergency intake of glucose, then the encounter with four Labour activists, a local and three from London. A civilised but meaningful discussion ensued, including Paul’s Hillsborough affair, but at least we had something in common – my friend and one of them both had Venezuelan wives. Funny old world.
Another volunteer driver came out to collect us, off to the station for my colleague’s return to Bristol. But still another three inches of leaflets for me and dark again, and the job had to be finished. With the M6closed it would be a long night home for this volunteer.
My thanks to all, but especially to Jim, Raymond, David and Peter for their help and company.Good luck to you all.