On Thursday evening, with three hours until polls were due to close, I was still campaigning in Rochester and Strood, knocking on doors and asking members of the public to go to their polling station and vote for Ukip. It was already dark out, and I must have traversed thousands of steps to speak to people about our candidate - now our MP - Mark Reckless.
I love campaigning. It is the real “foot soldier” stuff that initially drew me to politics and keeps me here. Listening to people’s concerns about local hospitals and their offensive parking charges, as well as how Britain’s economic recovery hasn’t yet been felt by most people, provides much-needed insight into the lives of those who don’t concern themselves with Westminster-bubble stuff on a day-to-day basis.
Politicians are supposed to be representatives. But you wouldn’t believe how many people told me that despite the enormous ground campaign the Conservative Party were claiming to have, they hadn’t heard a peep from anyone over the entire, prolonged by-election campaign.
I must say I was received rather warmly on the doorsteps. People wanted selfies. They invited me in from the cold, but most importantly they really, desperately wanted to vent their frustrations and hear common-sense solutions to the problems they face in their every day lives. I was humbled to hear that most of them thought that Ukip’s platform was the one they most admired, sympathised with, and in some cases, rejoiced because of.
If you want the secret about how we won in Rochester… there it is. Listening to people, and not just because you have to, because you’re an MP, or MEP or a politico. But because you need to listen to people, to hear what they want, and build these concerns into sensible policy recommendations. No more so is this true of the collapsing Labour vote.
By now most readers of this column will have heard about Labour MP Emily Thornberry’s dreadful tweet, implying resentment of or mocking towards people who own white vans or hang the St George flag from their windows. This is indicative of the modern Labour Party. I’ve called it Ed Miliband’s Gillian Duffy moment – harking back to when Gordon Brown called a Labour voter concerned by mass migration a “bigoted woman”. But the more I think about it, the more I think it is actually worse.
Ms Thornberry not only owns a £3m mansion in trendy North London, but she claims that she’s “never seen anything like it” about the England flags and white van – implying that she rarely ever leaves the cosy constituency of Islington South, where the average income is more than double that of Rochester and Strood – except to grace the halls of the Palace of Westminster, where the basic income is nearly triple that of Rochester and Strood.
So is it any wonder that Ms Thornberry, Mr Miliband, and indeed Mr Cameron have no idea about the real lives of real people?
One man on the doorstep in Rochester told me he had voted Conservative for the past 60 years, but was voting for Ukip yesterday. A young, new voter, who should “typically” have been a Labour voter, told me he was heading out to vote Mr Reckless.
The bottom line is that for all the scandals - be it 'bigoted' people or MPs' expenses, our representatives are still not learning who their boss is, and still not listening. So let me remind them, in case Thursday night’s result wasn’t enough. In the words of Mark Reckless from his speech: “You remain my boss, don’t let me forget it”.
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