Now, it's the turn of Chris Kealey, Labour's candidate in my local constituency of Hinckley and Bosworth at the last two General Elections.
by Chris Kealey
Two years ago I stood to represent the borough I grew up in. This summer I gladly did it again, fighting to be the MP which Hinckley and Bosworth needs and deserves.
Between the two General Elections in 2015 and 2017 it seemed the world had changed a lot: the Brexit referendum, Trump, Macron, new leaders of all the major UK political parties… Leicester City winning the league! And closer to home, I became a dad.
It made me think hard about politics. Was it worth it? What more could change?
I think I’ve seen a difference for the better.
Who’s there? Politician. Groan.
A well-known sociologist argues that Brits talk about the weather because it’s something we can all agree on. It’s neutral. It’s inoffensive. We find common ground about it easily and we build our conversation from there.
Politics is the opposite. Most people hate to talk about it. It has labels. It appears to need knowledge of obscure things. For some it’s about disagreement and discord. It is seen as a game, separate to real life. Just noise.
Also, those who do politics are weird. Let’s face it. Political campaigning must be one of the strangest hobbies ever.
Imagine spending your evenings and weekends knocking on other people’s doors to ask them for their personal views? Picture yourself fronting up regularly on a market stall to answer questions or heckles from strangers? Or how about offering yourself repeatedly to others to scrutinise your life, your beliefs, ideas and values?
It’s gruelling. It’s can be thankless. But this is the gauntlet we set (most of) the people who want to represent us.
Something has changed
In 2015 while campaigning I heard three things almost every day:
“Politicians are all the same.”
“I’m not interested in politics.”
“Labour can’t win here…”
This year it was different. I heard those statements far less. In fact, hardly ever.
The weather had changed.
Perhaps it was the impact of every vote counting a year ago in the EU referendum? Maybe it was two manifestoes from Labour and Conservatives which offered genuinely and starkly different views on how to lead the country? Did a snap election focus minds? Or bluntly, did folk care more because they saw more at stake for their family, friends and work place?
Not the same
Hundreds more people took time to get in touch this time than two years ago. Social media buzzed constantly. More people came to my open meetings. Constituents wanted to know more about what I stood for, who I was, and crucially what I would do if they gave me their vote.
This went, I hope, some way to challenge the first statement. I showed that all politicians are not the same. I tried to debunk this in every meeting.
Yes, in Bosworth, four white men stood to be the MP this time (not very diverse…) but each held different values and brought different experiences and viewpoints. I was proud to campaign again on being the local, positive, credible choice. I felt I had a greater chance this time to get my message across and people wanted to find it out for themselves. That was welcome and new.
For love or in hate
Secondly, this year’s elections also put paid perhaps to those saying “I’m not interested in politics.”
Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, social media, the economy and other factors seemed to have opened up the conversation – out of love or in hate for some or all of those things. I was contacted by dozens of first-time voters, young and old, and a good number who were rethinking old allegiances.
That’s not politicians' spin. It’s the truth. I’ll happily note as many folk got in touch to disagree with me and vent, as agree.
But that is good. More wanted to have their say or test their view.
I think politics felt more immediate this year, more relevant, and more connected to our everyday lives – the choice and cost of food on supermarket shelves (future Brexit trade deals), school places, police numbers and pay freezes in the NHS (national taxation and the deficit) or the state of traffic through the town (jobs, investment and infrastructure).
People were interested in issues that mattered, not political games.
And to the third thing: Labour can’t win here.
Well, we didn’t win in Hinckley and Bosworth this time. So it holds true for now. But Labour increased its vote (a swing of 6.6%) and came second to the Conservatives. We grew our membership again and we enthused thousands through our local, positive approach. Lots of plusses.
Time and again, people said they were sick of game-playing and tit-for-tat politics. They liked our campaign because we stuck to issues.
We now need to keep it up, earn more people’s trust, and continue to challenge the three statements I listed above.
I am sure the weather will remain the number one thing that Brits like to talk about.
But perhaps 2017 has allowed politics to creep onto more people’s horizons? It has become more everyday.
It is my hope that politics has become a little less weird, less other, more relevant and inclusive.
But we will have to work at it together.
That’s how we can truly hold to account decision-makers and those who act in our name.