Campaign committee rooms: Not without their inspiration!
You might be like me, one of those people who has always had political views in line with Labour, but happy to watch from a distance. In January, I finally nailed my colours to the mast and joined the party. Listening to lots of people that work in either health care or education, I decided that enough was enough and that I could not, in good conscience, sit on the sidelines anymore and had to get involved in one way or another. I was expecting to 'learn the ropes' a little bit for a few months, make some new friends, and start to carve out some kind of niche where I could help, potentially around social media or events. Imagine my surprise then when a certain someone called a snap election and the whole ethos of the party changed suddenly in the most wonderful way. I remember Corbyn being asked in a television interview a few months prior whether he would be ready for an election if one was called, and he replied that he was with confidence. This proved to be spot on as the Labour Party machine leaped into action with a costed manifesto, catchy slogan, and a message of hope.
My concern was that as I had just joined the party, I wouldn't be able to really use any of my natural organisation and planning skills (I am an event management practitioner and academic by trade) due to still learning everything. However, I thought this would be fine for this election and I still made the effort to get out door knocking and generally supporting where I could. I was then very excited to be asked to use my skills to coordinate a committee room in Southampton Itchen, in support of Simon Letts. I was a little nervous about jumping into the deep end but trusted that I would not have been given anything that I couldn't do and was eager to learn and to do more.
So on the morning of the 8th, I turn up at the base and was quickly shown the ropes. I got my head into gear and was able to grasp things reasonably quickly and accurately. My role was to coordinate all of the volunteers coming into the office that day and then get them out into the wards with folders to door knock and encourage people to vote. I was expecting a lot of down time, management of a few volunteers, and to be swallowed up into the great election machine so that I couldn't really enjoy it. However I don't think I could have been more wrong and figured this out fairly quickly as the first volunteer came through the door promptly at 9am. By 10am the room was clearing buzzing with keen and like-minded people wanting to make a difference.
Logistically I was told that everything we did in that office ran very smoothly that day and no folders were unaccounted for at the end of the day, and with well over half of all the street and roads being covered. However, that isn't what this blog is about...
I found myself absolutely speechless by the enthusiasm of most of the volunteers that came in from all walks of life. Despite being quite active in the party since January, I only recognised a few faces through the day and the lesson I take from that is more about the sheer number of people that decided they wanted to do something, anything, that they could in order to get Labour every last vote that was possible to protect our NHS and give our children the best possible future. They didn't just appear from within the constituency boundaries, but from as far away as Stockbridge (Winchester/ Salisbury area) and the Isle of Wight. Several of them saying 'we just wanted to make a difference but couldn't where we lived', before rushing out into the pouring rain in an area that they didn’t know, to go and convince people that they didn't know, to vote for a candidate that they had very likely never met.....What good sports!
Organising such wonderful volunteers through the day was definitely a wonderful challenge to have. Despite some moments being utterly crazy, one moment that is particularly worthy of note, was the arrival of all of the Unite and Bakers Union fairly early in the morning. Their passion and energy was so inspiring that it nearly had me running out the door with them, folders at the ready! This great team made light work of a good portion of streets in quick time and braved the poor weather through much of the day.
Then there were the young voters, who are suddenly being talked about so much. We had one girl helping us for a few hours who wasn't even old enough to vote but that appeared completely engaged with the process and completely committed to the cause. There was the 18 year old girl who spent most of the day with us, and even stayed when her Dad had to rush off home, before returning in the evening for the final push! These people made me wish I had taken a stand in politics years ago, and I just hope that they do indeed get the country that they want someday, as it would be a sight to see.
I do think that it’s worth noting very clearly the great atmosphere and sheer good will that was on offer. It was moving when people turned up, clearly tired, overworked within their day jobs or juggling family care, but simply saying 'I only have an hour but wanted to play my part'. I just think about how much easier it would have been for these people to stay at home or not brave the traffic, but they wanted to do whatever they could.
We finished the committee office just after 9pm. I felt a bit guilty sending people out in the rain at half 8 in the evening, but everyone wanted to do every last thing they could to get Simon into parliament and to not look back wondering. As it turned out every vote clearly did matter. I managed to stay up until gone 5am when the results were announced, and as happy as I was for Alan, I was disappointed for Simon, and the key people that had spent so much time supporting him. The strange, amazing feeling that I had not experienced previously though was that I actually felt part of it in some small way. It was clear that Labour had very effectively attacked the Itchen seat. Although I felt disappointment, I would have felt even worse had I not been involved at all!
So why am I writing this.... simply because I wanted to shout from the rooftops about the types of incredible personalities that we had that day, working to do everything they could to build a better future for everyone, not just the privileged few. There were no volunteer politics, no long discussion on whether you were pro or anti Corbyn, and certainly no negative vibes. I can't think of a better use for a rainy day, and am very grateful to have played my part.
One might say that our little committee room was living proof of Labour's vision for Britain. There was a place for everyone, passion and determination were in no short supply and there was a real appetite for change, with everyone in the room choosing HOPE!