Since I was first elected as a Labour councillor in 1997 I’ve had thousands of conversations with voters on the doorsteps of Lambeth and beyond.
In the build-up to this week’s local elections, many residents have focused these conversations on local priorities; bin collections, housing, planning applications, air pollution, potholes, school places. Others have relished the opportunity to make their feelings known on wider issues such as Brexit, military action in Syria and the leadership of the national parties.
Whilst it is always advisable for local politicians to steer these kinds of conversations back to the issues that they can actually influence and control, it has given me, and thousands of others involved in local politics, insight into the political landscape before us. My view of this landscape is one that bears little to no resemblance of that perceived by Local Government Chronicle editor Nick Golding in his article questioning Corbyn’s impact on the forthcoming local elections. This was an article I thought smacked of being written from behind a desk as opposed to street level politics informed by door knocking and campaigning.
Indeed, it all feels a little like déjà vu. Twelve months ago Corbyn was being criticised and lambasted as a liability to his party’s chances in the general election. But the conversations I was having on the doorstep as an election agent in Vauxhall made me sceptical of the almost universally critical commentary of Jeremy Corbyn that was taking place in some circles. Instead, I felt the energy and excitement building around the bold and ambitious vision he had for the country. Partly inspired by the excitement I felt around Corbyn, I was very happy to donate some of my own money to help the Labour campaign under his leadership.
Fast forward 12 months and that energy and excitement hasn’t waned. People are still tired of austerity. People are still in desperate need of affordable homes. People still want to see adequately funded public services. And Jeremy Corbyn is still offering a vision for a country, and capital, that these people want to live in. This sentiment seems to be having cut through with a recent poll indicating Labour could produce its best showing for more than 40 years.
Of course, it hasn’t been plain sailing. The issues around antisemitism in the party cannot and should not be ignored. The handling of these difficulties may have swayed some people away from voting for a party involved in such headlines. But, at the same time, there is a risk of inflating the impact of this issue on the voting public’s decision making. Similar to last year’s election, the press frenzy around certain elements of Corbyn’s past or the nuances of his policy platform failed to influence those who still decided to vote for change and back Labour. Put simply, the issues that Corbyn is talking about and pledging to change are those which drive people to the polls. In particular, the vision Jeremy and Sadiq Khan share around solving the housing crisis has given us real ammunition on the doorstep in Waterloo.
There are also those who have alluded to wider divisions in the party as something that is harming the party’s campaigning efforts on the ground. Again, this is not a picture that I am recognising at a local level. Whilst in Westminster bubbles it’s the talk of the town, those on the doorstep simply aren’t interested in paying credence to political tit-for-tat. This is testament to the incredible grassroots profile that Corbyn has cultivated for himself over the last few years. The Labour party in London is pulling together and a micro-example of this is seeing councillors and members from my borough both campaigning very hard in Lambeth and also crossing the border into Wandsworth to help build on the inspirational campaign fought by our parliamentary candidate Marsha de Cordova last year that brought her into the Commons.
So, I am sorry LGC - the reality is that Jeremy is helping thousands of local Labour candidates by being a leader that the voting public see as honest, measured and fair. Jeremy defied the odds at last year’s general election and I expect it to happen again in London on Thursday.
Kevin Craig, chief executive and founder of the communications consultancy PLMR, is a Labour candidate for Lambeth LBC’s Bishops ward, having been a councillor 1997-2006 and 2014-