On the Saturday before the general election I travelled to Uxbridge and South Ruislip to canvass with my fellow Labour volunteers. The aim: to try and unseat Prime Minister Boris Johnson from his own constituency. Johnson has the smallest majority of a sitting Prime Minister for nearly 100 years and, as I learned when I joined the group, it would take slightly over a five percent swing in votes to unseat the PM and make history.
Labour candidate Ali Milani is Boris’s close rival. Ali Milani is working class, a British Muslim, local to the area and, at 25 years old, an impressively real contender to Johnson’s seat. With 5,000 votes to play for, Ali Milani offers a breath of fresh air to the keenly felt dissatisfaction in Uxbridge. Although Downing Street is 18 miles away, Boris has refused to show for local hustings in the run up to the election and has broken promises made during his stint as London and to his Uxbridge constituency, such as blocking the new runway at nearby Heathrow.
I have always voted Labour. I believe strongly in social care and the benefits of investing in education and affordable housing, and protecting the NHS. But in a general election that will determine who represents our values as we prepare to leave Europe, and where the UK will stand in the world after Brexit, I was motivated for the first time to go out and canvass for Labour.
To be honest, I was a little nervous. But the group of fellow volunteers were so much more than I could have hoped for. I met impassioned and energetic people who shared my hopes for a fairer, more caring country. And fighting for marginal seats is a great way to make friends. That’s what the Labour Party is: it’s us, the people.
During the day, I spoke to other Labour volunteers to hear what motivated them to hit the streets.
Deborah, 65, is a retired lawyer, Christine, 35 and Luca, 3
Another family effort. Deborah, 65, is a retired lawyer and Christine, 35, works in healthcare. They were joined by the youngest canvasser in our group – little Luca, aged 3.The family has fundraised for Labour in their own constituency of South Islington. “We wanted to go where we could make the biggest impact,“ Christine said, regarding their decision to come to Uxbridge. “It’s our fourth time canvassing and we are very motivated to make change.”
Frederick and Anne, both 22
From Copenhagen to Uxbridge? Danish students Frederick and Anne, both 22, are both members of the Danish eco-socialist coalition party Enhedslisten and travelled to the UK to help canvass.
Anne explained how the Danish people are unable to take Boris Johnson seriously. “I’m a socialist at home and I’m really surprised by anyone who would want Boris Johnson to be Prime Minister. I’ve also been emailing Ali and wanted to be a part of the campaign. We don’t do much canvassing in Denmark and it’s so cool to get to meet voters and hear their concerns.”
Frederick said: “I’ve had a great time. It really feels like you’re making a difference while making friends along the way.”
Cllr Richard Porthouse, 68, is a retired local councillor for South Tyneside. He travelled from Newcastle this morning to add his efforts to #unseatboris. “When I recently dressed up as a Santa for the kids, I remembered that 4.1 million children will be living in poverty this Christmas, because of lack of care and effort by the current government. I’m very impressed with Ali Milani and if taking the train down from Jarrow today has some significance in getting rid of Boris, then it would have been worth it.”
Cathy, 64 and Matilda, 27
This mother and daughter duo are seasoned canvassers. Cathy, 64, is a freelance arts editor and Matilda, 27, works for an education charity. They’ve hit the streets together in past elections. Cathy said, “I wanted to do something practical. I’d rather get out and talk to people. If there’s anything I can do to change the vote – I want to do it!”. Matilda explained how, for her, this is what it’s all about: “Labour has got something that the Tories don’t – people who go out in all weathers because they care. It’s the people power!”
Daniel, 28, is a senior content editor for the Conran group. Like me, he had never canvassed before this general election but has been hitting the streets hard during this campaign. He said: “This election is my first time canvassing. I’ve been between Chingford and Uxbridge where two great local candidates are fighting to unseat high profile Tories.”
Absolute BAME heroine Faiza Shaheen, born in East London and raised in Chingford, and a graduate from Oxford University, is now a serious challenger to former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith in the Chingford and Woodford Greenconstituency. Dan loves the energy and momentum behind the possibility of real change but also says that canvassing has shown him the importance of talking: “not only about local issues, but talking about politics more generally and more often.”
"Hope for Change"
This is certainly what I felt on my first day of door-knocking in a marginal constituency. It’s about listening to people’s concerns and views, opening up discussions and finding out what matters most to people. It’s also about fostering hope for change and reminding people that their voices are heard and that their vote does count.
While the Conservative party are receiving seven-figure donations for their campaign from billionaire backers, the Labour party is made up of hundreds of thousands of members pledging £4.30 a month (or £2.17 if you are 20-26, retired or unwaged) and who are volunteering and using conversation to change politics. Canvassing is a longstanding Labour tradition and still potently powerful even in the digital age. Canvassing is now paired with organisations such as Momentum, which can be credited with getting a younger generation of campaigners out making ‘videos by the many’ and engaging online communities, I believe Labour is truly the party of the people. There are multiple generations from up and down the country, willing to walk the streets in the cold and grey December, for real change in this country. If we win on December 12thit will not be thanks to huge donationsbut to the power of thesepeople