Falling out of love with Labour

Liberal Democrat Ed Townsend gives his impressions of fighting Newport East

Elections draw out much of the worst in people who are normally quite personable. They also affect the depth of the argument and most certainly compromise the quality of writing that comes through our doors. Everything is reduced to short, terse sentences – written soundbites to satisfy the need to catch the eye as the leaflet passes from letterbox to recycling bin.

Doorstep conversations are of necessity on the populist end of the spectrum, with 30,000 or more homes on which to call. The doorstep chats touch most frequently on the debate winner, schools, health, Trident, jobs and, that perennial disclaimer, I’m not a racist but… You can guess what follows.

Few people seem to want to discuss the detail of how the biggest issue of all is to be tackled. The economy. It’s funny how the two old parties don’t want to tell us how they plan to deal with the £167 billion deficit. Plaid talk of major cuts to finance their plans on pensions but no word on the deficit. It may not be what we want to hear but political parties have to be honest, and we have to spell out exactly what we are going to do.

Vince Cable has demonstrated that we are the party of fiscal responsibility and fairer taxes. People appreciate his honesty about the difficult decisions that the country will have to face over the next few years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at our tax policies and concluded that they are progressive, they give people an incentive to work, and – despite what the other parties try to say – the numbers do add up.

Meanwhile Labour and the Conservatives hide behind vagueness, not even bothering to publish costings for their proposals in their manifestos. We, on the other hand, have identified savings of around £15 billion, keeping £10 billion to make a dent in the deficit, and putting £5 billion aside for our priorities.

Some of the savings are easy to identify. Scrapping Labour’s illiberal, ineffective and expensive ID card scheme will free up money straight away. Unfortunately, some decisions are much harder. Our policy to put a £400 cap on public sector pay rises was a difficult proposal to make, but it ensures that those on lower wages get reasonable pay increases while those at the top get a slightly smaller pay increase. Once people realise this, I think they will appreciate our honesty and our commitment to make financial savings in the fairest way possible.

Newport East is a constituency that has been represented by the Labour party since 1945. The world has changed dramatically since then, but people’s voting habits are much harder to change. But in Newport, and across Wales, people are falling out of love with Labour. In the European elections last year, Labour failed to top the poll in Wales for the first time in almost a century, and the indication is that this could repeat itself this year.

When I talk to disappointed Labour supporters, some say they will stay home rather than support another party, and some say that they will vote for UKIP or Plaid Cymru in a protest vote, as many did in the European elections. But more and more people in Newport are considering another option: the Liberal Democrats.

Our campaign has energised people who were disillusioned with politics and were eager for change. We’ve had more interest in the party in Newport than ever before, and every day people call up and offer their help and support. The campaign was going well, and we thought things were ticking along nicely… and then the prime ministerial debates happened.

Nick Clegg’s clear and honest discussion of our policies on television has brought support from all corners of the constituency. People from all ages and all backgrounds are keen to know more about the Clegg, about the party and about the Newport East campaign. Clegg’s leadership – together with Vince Cable’s strength on the economy – has given us a boost that we could never have imagined.

The combination of a strong local campaign and the positive UK-wide news coverage has meant that more and more people are talking about the Liberal Democrats. People are now discussing the party and the issues among themselves and are starting to make up their minds.

Of course, the polls are encouraging, but like the old cliché says: there is only one poll that counts. The real evidence will have to wait till polling day, but anecdotally we are hearing that many Labour supporters are starting to switch to the Lib Dems. The next few days will be incredibly hard work, but there is a great atmosphere in Newport and the response on the doorstep continues to get more and more positive.

This is the first of reports from candidates of all the parties from constituencies across Wales that we shall be carrying up to polling day. To read Glyn Davies’ campaign diary click here, for Jonathan Edwards’ click here, and for Nick Ainger’s click here.

Ed Townsend is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Newport East

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