During the worst period of Labour Party history a politician that I admired described the Labour vote as analogous to an onion skin. You can peel off the outer lays very easily – however as you move towards the core it becomes more difficult and eventually impossible. The politician concerned was Shirley Williams who, to my regret, shortly afterwards defected to the SDP and ended up as a LibDem supporting the coalition. Her premise was correct, however, and gave us heart in a difficult time.
II fought my last general election as a candidate in 1983. The national campaign was a disaster and things were even worse on the doorstep. I can vividly remember canvassing a cheerful middle-aged woman in Sneinton, Nottingham. Once I’d announced myself as the Labour Candidate her mood changed. She proceeded to harangue me for a good five minutes: the Party was in the grip of the militant left; Michael Foot was a hopeless leader and had lost control; it has ceased to understand ordinary people. Since I agreed with much of what she said I found it difficult to respond beyond a parting-shot of: ‘thank you but one last question: which way will you vote?’ She responded ‘Labour – I always vote Labour’. We were down to that sort of tribal loyalty.
I can’t help but feel that we started this campaign on the back foot. However there been some effective presentations by the Labour leadership; the Tories, through their increasingly personal attacks on Ed Miliband have exposed their nasty streak. The outer layers of Labour support are coming back to the Party. We may not yet have convinced the floating voter of the case for a Labour Government, but we are looking increasingly credible and the electorate does not want the Tories to continue in office.