Out on the stump, everyone was united against Labour

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The Independent Online

When I agreed to stand as a candidate for the London Socialist Alliance, one of my worries was that the British left is not noted for its organisational skills. This is why it sounds daft when the police blame riots on "the organised left". Most demonstrators wish the police were as badly organised as they are. Then every protest would start with officers whining: "Oh no, the sergeant's locked the riot shields in the boot of his Panda car."

But nothing could compete with the magnificent hopelessness of Frank Dobson. Last week he claimed that Ken Livingstone would charge everyone who drove a car in London £300 a month. Which Millbank berk came up with this gloriously implausible figure? £17.35 might have been believable, but three hundred quid is obviously cobblers. Dobson might as well have continued: "And he'll charge £1,000 a day to anyone with a goldfish. He will. My brother-in-law told me. And seven grand for a tortoise, apparently. Straight up. It was on the Discovery Channel."

And they wonder why the turnout for elections is decreasing. The simplest way to reveal the basis for this trend is to campaign among pensioners. Old people have been responsible for the only hostility I've faced in the election for the Greater London Assembly. One typical exchange went exactly like this.

"Vote for you? I'm not voting for you after that 70p you gave us in our pension. What am I supposed to do with that?"

"No, that was Labour. We're standing against Labour. I agree with you, it's a disgrace."

"Too bloody right it's a disgrace. That's why I'm not voting for you."

"No, I'm nothing to do with Labour. I think pensioners should get a proper rise."

"Well don't tell me, tell your leader Tony Blair."

Old people have a fine record of neutralising the left. In the Eighties, a paper-seller could be put out of action for an hour by pensioners, who would stand next to you saying things like "Kick Thatcher out? You don't want to kick her out, you want to smother her in marmalade and stick her in a wasps' nest, that's what you want to do with her."

But now it's not just them. Every group I've met through this campaign has begun by spitting about how they've been let down by New Labour. One day I spent an afternoon campaigning outside a mosque, and went from there to speak at a gay pub. In some ways here were two opposite ends of society. You wouldn't want to mix them up, and kneel down in the mosque shouting: "Allah the Almighty, repeal section 28." Yet they sounded remarkably familiar, as they were both appalled at Labour's surrender to bigots. Although one worshipper at the mosque said: "I agree with you about New Labour. But for campaigning for non-Muslim ideas outside the mosque, you are going to the firehole."

Almost every teacher feels let down, and so does every student. One cool black student said he was voting for us because "You're for the people instead of for the rich." Then his mate reminded him he couldn't vote because he was only 17. Utterly indignant and without pausing, he said: "I can get round that, I've got connections, man."

At a meeting of firefighters, just one young lad wasn't joining in the chorus that New Labour has betrayed them. After 20 minutes without speaking he leaned meekly forward and said: "I don't think they're a disappointment. I knew they were going to be shit right from the start."

In some ways the most fascinating category of those disaffected with the Labour Party is the Labour Party. Dozens of party members have assured me that Labour is even worse than I imagine. Only one member staunchly defended her party's record, on the unconvincing grounds that we have to be patient. After five minutes, a cameraman who was filming this debate as part of a video diary went to change a battery. At which point the Labour member, a local councillor, said: "Now he's gone, I don't mind telling you I agree with nearly everything you've said. My husband has torn up his membership card."

There are several options for the disillusioned today. You can not vote at all. Or you can vote New Labour reluctantly, under the slogan: "I don't personally approve of selling arms to people who burn down villages, but opposing it openly could cost us votes in the marginal constituency of Norfolk South." Or you could vote for the London Socialist Alliance. I've no idea how many votes we'll get, but they'll all be enthusiastic votes rather than reluctant ones. And you don't have to believe the lies that the British left have a long-term aim to destroy democracy. Although if we were running today's elections, in polling stations across London would be heard the words: "Oh sod it, I thought you were bringing the pencils."