Sunday, 29 April 2012

Just some memories

I've never been a candidate. There is no false modesty about that. For a long time my number one objective in life to was to be a public representative of the Labour Party.

When I was younger I had no number of friends whose ambition in life was to play for St Mirren. Even as a wean however I realised such an achievement was likely to be beyond me. As I've got older, my friends in turn have often aspired to judicial office. I won't lie by saying I've never had a go but those charged with making such decisions are probably right to have knocked me back. You can't be both a player and a referee, even if you're not much of a player.

But I'd be a good candidate. I can do the stump speech. I'm reasonably clean and, in my own opinion, personable. I've got no dark secrets (as far as I know). To my eye at least, I've got a beautiful wife. She'd certainly stand by me if some scandal arose (again, at least, as far as I know).

But the Party, in its wisdom, has consistently decided on others, and, with a few exceptions, I wouldn't give them an argument.

But the advantage of never having been a candidate is that I have been able to say to others, in the aftermath of defeat and without any agenda that "it wasn't personal".

Rarely is defeat the responsibility of the candidate, at least in the context of their own constituency. (Whether they might have used their elevated position to protest against the Party's direction is another thing altogether). When it comes down to it, a national swing is a national swing.

When my great comrade Dennis Canavan saw off Labour in 1999, I was a not so secret supporter of his candidacy, despite Dennis himself warning me that it would be daft to get expelled over the matter. But I remember one particular public meeting which had the flavour of a revivalist event as various people stood up to abandon their former Party allegiance (not just Labour allegiance), and announce they would be voting for Dennis. One woman in particular I remember declaring that Dennis had helped her over her disabled child and that she was so happy that Dennis was no longer the Labour Candidate as it allowed her to vote for him.

So, by reference, sometimes it doesn't matter what your personal virtues are, you are damned by your Party.

And, on the other hand, I remember the first election in which I ever voted. In the 1977 District Council elections. I'm sorry if this proves to be a relatively long story but my Councillor was a woman called Elsie McFall who was a good, hard working, individual. She had two polling stations, the second of which she shared with another Labour Councillor, Andy Noble, who had a much more substantial majority. I, together with a number of other Young Socialists, was charged with covering this location.

And it rained.

The bulk of Elsie's vote was at the other end of the ward so we were left largely on our own by her, on the basis that Andy would "look after us". Only he didn't. From 8am until 1030 or thereabouts there was no sign of Councillor Noble. There was however the constant presence of one George Wills, the Tory candidate. Now, Mr Wills was everything councillor Noble was not. He was an active member of the local community; an elder in a local church and a small businessman with a reputation, even to me, of running a limousine hire business prepared to give anyone a chance of a job. From the moment the polling station opened, in the pouring rain, and in the absence of Councillor Noble, he shook the hand of every voter, a good number of whom knew him personally. The problem for him was that in that area they knew him as Mr Wills the Tory.

At about 9.30 Mrs Wills appeared with soup (Soup.....!) for her husband, and George, as he insisted we call him, with good humour, insisted that, "as we appeared to have been forgotten by our Party", soup was also found for the Labour canvassers.

And then, at 1030, Councillor Noble appeared. He was slightly unsteady on his feet and somewhat irritated by the weather under which he was expected to meet his constituents but nonetheless he did deign to do so for a full twenty minutes until he announced to no-one in particular, that it was time for lunch.

Now, I won't bore my older readers with a discourse on the licensing laws in 1977. Suffice to say, at about Three O'Clock Councillor Noble re-appeared, having lunched. He parked his car in the driveway to the polling station, got out, and observing that the weather was no better, proceeded to shake hands for a further ten minutes or so, during which time we managed to persuade him that his efforts were unnecessary, meaning in reality that they were doing more harm than good.

"Very well then" he announced, "I will go off and do some campaigning, but perhaps I will first have a wee sleep."

And with that he returned to his car, parked literally in the driveway of the polling station, and embraced the charms of Morpheus.

So, for the next two hours, every voter tramped up through the rain to be warmly shaken by the hand by George Wills and assured that it didn't matter if they were voting for him, what was important was that they were voting at all. And as they did so they required to walk past the Labour Candidate slumbering in his car, liberally covered in posters bearing his name.

At ten to five or so, the candidate awoke and announced he was off for "his tea", offering only qualified assurance of any possible return, as he might need to "prepare for the Count". And he was never seen again, even at the Count, where it was left to George Wills to thank the Police and the Returning Officers.

Now, you know the punchline here. At six o'clock we were meant to go and do a knock-up in Elsie McFall's ward but thanks to the usual chaos of polling day nobody appeared and we were instead sent to the furthest reaches of Councillor Noble's. Where we persuaded sixteen Labour voters to accept a lift to the polls.

And later that night when Elsie cried having lost by more than two hundred votes after years of hard work, Andy Noble got back with a majority of eleven. A narrowness of victory that might have worried him, had he been there.

In the aftermath of last years landslide, I have a number of friends who, having lost their seats, confess to feelings of personal rejection. I sympathise, but while I am not prepared to let them off the hook over Scottish Labour's direction since 1999, I also assure them that it is nothing personal. For it isn't.

Sometimes you are simply damned by your Party.

And, others shouldn't forget, sometimes you are only there because of it.

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