As we step from Labour’s offices in Sheffield’s Trades and Labour club to the car park outside, I feel certain Paul Blomfield is leading me towards the silver Jaguar parked in the corner. A politician’s car if ever I saw one. I’m slightly blindsided when Sheffield’s newest Labour candidate flips the central locking on the much less ostentatious maroon Clio parked behind it. We’re making a short journey to Sharrow to meet environment secretary Ed Miliband, author of Labour’s recently launched manifesto.
As we park up, we’re joined by a small army of volunteers sporting red rosettes. There’s an air of giddiness about the younger members of the group. Part pure enthusiasm, part excitement at the imminent arrival of such a rock-star of politics. The team disperse through the nearby streets, knocking on doors to ask people’s allegiances, and seeing if anyone fancies a chat with a cabinet minister.
Ed’s running a little late, he’s been visiting a recycling centre near Scunthorpe and the traffic’s a nightmare. One of the younger campaigners jokes that an approaching, slightly tired looking Jag could belong to the minister, to which Paul quips, “No, I’m pretty sure he’s driving a Prius.”
Ed soon arrives, wearing a slightly weary smile and a suit that surely cost more than my education, and heads off with Paul in a door-knocking tag team. The army’s tactics are starting to become clear. They’re looking for wavering Labour voters whose fears they can calm, and Green supporters who Ed can convince to vote tactically. He offers his eco-credentials as assurance that they can vote for a winner without betraying their values, along with promises of electoral reform, to make conscience voting easier next time round.
Does he not find it odd asking people to vote for them, so they can more easily vote for someone else next time? “Obviously I want people to vote Labour, but the truth is if you want accountability of MPs it’s good to have a system where you have to get more than 50% of the vote.” Ed tells me, “We want people to be able to express their opinions, but then vote second or third for someone else, and frankly we’ve got to take this opportunity to reform our politics.”
Today’s other big message is that the Liberal Democrats, Labour’s only serious competition in Sheffield Central, “can’t win nationally.” Nick Clegg gave a crowd pleasing performance at the first round of leaders debates last night, surely cause for concern in such a hotly contested seat?
“The reason I’m here to support Paul is that this is one of the key seats where a vote for the Liberal Democrats could let in a Tory government.” Ed says, deftly dismissing the idea of a hung parliament, let alone an outright Lib Dem win. “I think Nick Clegg clearly had a good outing in the debate, but he didn’t come under much scrutiny because the Liberals tend not to. I think he’ll face more scrutiny in future debates, but on that key Labour-Tory choice, Gordon Brown won the debate.”
One thing Ed and Paul clearly have in common is an enthusiasm for the old fashioned pressing of flesh. While enthusiastic pledges of Labour votes have been a little thin on the ground, people are genuinely impressed that the pair have bothered to turn up in person to ask for them. It may be quicker and easier to reach a lot of people with a tweet, but it’ll never have the same impact. As Ed says before he heads off to his next meeting, “Getting out and meeting people, there’s no substitute for it.”
Originally from this week’s Forge Press. Well worth picking up a copy if you can, the election section’s really good, and you’ll find my guide to the Digital Economy Act in the Fuse pull out.