I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours this afternoon campaigning in Dagenham & Rainham for my friend Simon Jones, who is seeking to oust Jon Cruddas. I was out with a team of eight canvassers (including Baroness Noakes) in a fairly nice part of the constituency on a new housing estate. I can report that none of us came across a single BNP voter, or if we did, they were keeping it to themselves.
I only encountered one Labour voter, but she said she wasn't sure who she was going to vote for because although she liked Gordon Brown, she thought Jon Cruddas was a useless constituency MP. There were quite a few 'undecideds' but the interesting thing was that they all seemed very engaged and without exception said they were going to watch the debate tonight. The good thing about the Conservatives I encountered was that they were enthusiastic Conservatives rather than passive ones. Two houses took posters, which always makes a canvasser feel good. The final lady I spoke to said she would vote for the Christian Party. I gently explained that David Cameron was a church goer and the candidate was a Catholic. "Good try," she laughed!
This is a constituency worth watching on election night. The punditerati believes Jon Cruddas is safe as houses. I don't. Simon Jones is one of the party's best campaigners and has been in situ for nearly four years. He is a local lad and knows the patch like the back of his hand. We know Cruddas is worried by the mud that he's throwing at Simon. The Labour switchers we encountered today were hard line. They reminded me of the people who switched from Labour to the Tories in the mid 1980s. They are disgusted with Labour, who clearly don't represent their aspirations any longer. And then of course there are the Labour switchers to the BNP. No one knows how many of those there will be, and most of them probably wouldn't admit it on the doorstep. But make no mistake, they are there. But we shouldn't over emphasise the popularity of the BNP here. They can't find enough candidates to fill the three vacancies in each seat, so the worry of them taking over the whole council on 7 May is perhaps not as great as it once was.
But the Labour campaign here is in real trouble. They have terrible, amateurish leaflets and literature. Much of it is risographed and looks awful. They don't seem to have the local activists you need to fight back against the BNP, and if rumour is to be believed, they are relying on a last weekend influx of huge numbers of UNITE members to pull it round. I suspect local people won't react well to that.