December 11, 2004

My brilliant career

I was reading a piece by Caryl Phillips in the Guardian today and he mentions canvassing for Labour in the general election of 1983:
I remember canvassing for the Labour party during the 1983 general election in the housing estate between Uxbridge Road and Goldhawk Road in Shepherds Bush. I pressed one doorbell, and a girl, who can hardly have been more than seven years old, answered the door. "Hello," I said, "Is your mother or father in?" The girl looked at me, and without turning around said, "Mum, there's a nigger at the door." But I'm a stubborn type of fellow. A few doors down the same block I tried again. An older man, in vest and carpet slippers, and with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, opened the door. "Will you be voting Labour in the forthcoming election?" He slowly looked me up and down. "Well," he said, "I was till I saw you." I went back to Labour headquarters and gently intimated to them that perhaps I wasn't their best canvassing tool.
Ah, the 1983 election. I remember it too. I remember two things in particular. One was the way in which the date on which the election was expected kept moving forward - from June 23, to June 16, to June 9. This only mattered to me because had it been on June 16 I would have been one of the youngest voters in the country. As it was, on the date finally chosen I was six days too young to vote.

In a marginal constituency - which Stevenage, with its overwhelmingly Labour council, should not have been - this might even have been a factor of some minor importance, keen as I was to vote for Labour, whose manifesto, its least successful since before the War, was the only one that I have ever liked. And indeed it seemed that way, as the other thing I remember was that two days before the vote, the local paper published a poll putting Labour neck-and-neck with the SDP and the Conservatives. (Or maybe with just one of them - I can't recall that well. But neck-and-neck for the lead, it certainly was.)

I therefore tore myself away from my A-Level revision, not that I ever did very much of it, in order to spend the next two days frantically canvassing for Labour votes across the housing estates of Stevenage. I didn't go to the count itself, which was just as well, as I needed my sleep to be properly rested for my exams.

It was also just as well because of the result. The fruit of my labours? The Conservatives won. It was neck-and-neck all right. The SDP were second, by around a thousand votes. Labour came third about ten thousand votes behind.


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