On Friday night I was at the launch of Manchester Young Labour at the Town Hall. The turnout was encouraging – even a few young members who’d joined up in the last fortnight – but the talk inevitably focused on MPs’ expenses, with an on-form Andy Burnham getting questions on little else.
One member said she’d had to have long and agonising heart-to-hearts with her dad, a lifelong Labour supporter who was so disgusted by the expenses revelations that he wasn’t sure he would ever vote again at all.
“Really?” I thought. “I know the media are obsessed with who spent what and on what, but is it really going to damage our core vote? After they’ve come through so much with us – when they’re the ones who must truly know, now, if anyone does, the damage that would be done if the Tories got their way and started trying to cut their way out of the recession – surely it would take more than this to lose them?
I was so wrong. I was completely wrong. I’m bowled over by my own wrongness. I’ve heard it from everyone who’s been doorstepping in the last fortnight but I didn’t realise just how bad it was until 10 o’ clock
this morning yesterday morning when I got a text from my mom saying ‘Grandad isn’t voting Labour anymore’.
Anyone who’s read this blog more than twice, or been in my presence after a few drinks, will have been treated to the stories about my Labour Grandad. About how my earliest political memories are of him telling me about what Mrs. Thatcher was doing to the country. About how I joined the Labour Party while he was away on holiday with my Nan and proudly bounded up to show him my membership card as soon as he got back. About how he came campaigning for me when I was a local candidate in York (yeah, I know, his time would have been better spent in his greenhouse, but we enjoyed ourselves).
It’s stories like this that leave me open to accusation of unquestioning support for Labour, and I’ve been accused of that once already this week. It’s not true – anyone who’s read this blog more than twice, or been in my presence after a few drinks, knows this issues on which I disagree with the Labour government and how strongly I do so. It’s just that in recent weeks I’ve been convinced that presenting a united front would be more appealing to voters than the kind of Lord of the Flies scene we saw yesterday in the Commons.
Well, fuck that. I was wronger than wrong. My Grandad feels disgusted and betrayed that the MP he’s been putting his faith in since 2001 seems to have been ‘sitting up all night with a calculator to work out how much of our money he can squeeze’ – and I’m sure there are many more like him, in my Grandad’s constituency and many others.
I’ve had that awful ‘phone call with my Grandad and he’s read me the letter he’s sending to his MP in which he tells him that enough is enough, that he’s never going to vote again. I’ve talked him down from that extreme and he’s promised to vote Labour in the European elections – the BNP are targeting the West Midlands as well as the Northwest. That gives me a year – or less, as it may be – to convince him to vote Labour again in the next General Election.
I hate to say it, but a few judicious deselections would probably do it; and like those Party members who wrote to the NEC in the last few days, I’m not sure the action that the Party and the Prime Minister plan to take is going to cut it, when it comes to MPs who never broke the rules got away with the absolute bloody maximum they knew they could within them.
I’m signing the letter, for what it’s worth – its original signatories are encouraging more to join in; but it’s going to take a lot more than that.
That’s why I’m setting up Project Grandad. I’m going to find as many reasons as I can over the next year – or so – for my Grandad, and core voters like him, to vote Labour again at the next General Election instead of staying at home, and I’m going to try and address the concerns that might stop them. Makes me feel like I’m doing something anyway. I’ll let you all know when I need your help 🙂