Labour's winning (except with naked voters)

`Of the five electors who answered the door with nothing on, three said they would vote Tory'
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The Independent Culture
THE TELEPHONE rang. "Air hair lair," said a voice on the other end. Fortunately, having lived in Chelsea for so long, I understand Sloane. She meant "Oh, hello". She went on: "Is that Mrs Arnold? Jolly good. I am telephoning on behalf of the Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Party and was hoping we could count on your support for Mr Portillo on the 25th." "Why?" I said. "Because he is the best man for the job, he had a brilliant track record and as a former cabinet minister ... ." "Hang on", I said, "is he interested in local issues?" "Air, gosh yah", said Ms Sloane. So would he do something about the bloody great hole they'd dug in the pavement outside my front door five weeks ago, which was still there and was gradually filling up with rubbish, and the road works just beyond it, and the drunks coming out of the pub opposite who throw up and pee on our doorstep every night and ... ?

Ms Sloane gave a little shriek. "How absolutely beastly. You poor thing. If I were you I'd drop a line to the council about it. Because, to be perfectly honest, when Mr Portillo gets in he will probably be concerned with wider, national issues." That settled it.

I telephoned the campaign office of the Labour candidate, Robert Atkinson, and offered my canvassing services. Mr Atkinson fought the seat for Labour in 1997 and, considering the indelible blueness of the constituency, came a respectable second to Alan Clark. He's been a local councillor for 10 years and cares about issues like holes in the King's Road and little old ladies in Ladbroke Grove being evicted by wicked landlords. The campaign manager gave me a folder containing Vote Labour posters with double-sided sticky tape, leaflets saying The Choice is Clear above two pictures of the candidates - Mr Atkinson in a park, smiling broadly, full-face, clearly a man to trust, Mr Portillo in shadowy profile looking very shifty in front of some railings - and a list of the residents we were going to canvas on a housing estate near Battersea Bridge.

Each five-storey block, no lift, had four flats on each floor connected by a dark, narrow, stone staircase. Our brief was to ask people how they intended to vote and write either L, C, LD, or D (for don't know) next to their name. The don't knows would be followed up later.

Mr Connor on the ground floor invited us in for tea, talked about his recently deceased wife and said that yes, he would be voting Labour as he always had. Encouraged by this promising start we rang Mrs Bishop's bell on the next floor. "Who is it?" called a voice in fluent Sloane. "We're from the Labour Party," we said. The door opened as far as the safety chain would stretch. Mrs Bishop, a large woman wearing absolutely nothing but a plastic apron showing a picture of a large man also wearing absolutely nothing but a fig leaf on the front, looked at us. "I am afraid you are wasting your time," she said. "I am a Tory through and through. I may not think much of Michael Portillo, in fact I think he's a disgusting little squirt, but you can't change the habits of a lifetime." Her immediate neighbours - PK O'Malley and Princess Yum - were out, but Mr Dalgardo in Flat 14 talked to us through his letter-box. I lifted the flap on my side to hear him better and saw a pair of watery blue eyes staring out at me. Mr Dalgardo was either kneeling on the carpet or else is very, very short. He said irritably that he didn't know how he was going to vote but even if he did he wouldn't tell us - "It's supposed to be a secret ballot".

The record, after two hours, was: 27 Labour, 12 Conservative, 2 Liberals, 16 Don't Knows, 3 F Off Or I Will Call The Police, and 1 Sorry She Died Last Week. Half the people we talked to were having curry for supper, six were using Magic Tree room freshener and, of the five electors who answered the door with nothing on, three said they would be voting Tory. On this tally, things are looking good for Mr Atkinson. Come on, only another 9,000 votes and he's there.

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