I have been out knocking on doors and listening to voters in Leadgate, Medomsley, Ebchester, Low Westwood, Hamsterley and the Dene. These are former mining villages with a mixture of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
I always introduce myself as the Labour Candidate in the County Council elections and then say I'm just listening to people's concerns in the area. The variety of things I hear is great - here are a few local concerns:
- Speeding Traffic
- Hedge cutting
- Potholes in footpaths and roads
- Play areas for kids (for and occasionally against)
- Dog poo
- Anti social behaviour
And some wider issues:
- Disability benefit appeals; people are under real stress due to the way ATOS have handled the process.
- Unemployment, lack of job opportunities.
- Bedroom tax; even people who are unaffected think it is unfair.
I have also learned that most people are nice, and that many of the older generation expect to see candidates on the doorstep. The few voters who are anti-Labour are still very polite about it. You get a tiny minority of people who are just rude and there is no correlation between the price of the house you live in and how rude you are.
There are people from normal backgrounds who feel let down by Labour. I can reel off achievements like the national minimum wage and local measures to protect the vulnerable, but this does not change how people actually feel about the Labour Party.
People are also angry about being ignored by The Council. This anger is occasionally directed at the wrong person. There is currently no Labour Representation in the ward. Strangely the sitting councillors often blame The Council for any unfavourable decision or lack of action.
Voter apathy is a problem, not only for politicians but also for voters. Pensioners are not often targeted for cuts, and this is because almost all of them vote. After listening to people I ask, "do you usually vote?" The most challenging conversations are not with rude people or the few anti-Labour voters that I encounter, but the people who list loads of issues and then say that they don't bother to vote.
I have introduced myself to voters, answered questions about my priorities and about my background, but I have learned far more about the people of the local area than they have about me. Which is exactly the way it should be.