THIS is the moment in the electoral cycle when Members of Parliament start pounding the streets to explain to their constituents just what they have been up to for the last five years – and what they would like to do with another five years.
It is the moment when the trust between representative and elector is either renewed or severed.
So, like most MPs seeking re-election, I and my team have been on the doorstep – in Bentilee, Abbey Hulton, Boothen, Eaton Park and elsewhere – finding out what is energising and enraging the Stoke-on-Trent electorate.
First up is the cost of living. It is hugely welcome that the price of petrol, some utilities, and even food prices have begun to stabilise, but time and again local residents have told me just how hard it is to make ends meet.
Low wage work, insecure employment contracts, zero hours job offers, exploitative agency contractors, absence of trade unions, and the systematic undermining of pay through mass foreign hirings.
This is the new employment landscape which is making it more and more difficult to build a career, get a mortgage, save for the future, or have that sense of security which allows families to prosper.
Jobs are growing in Stoke-on-Trent, but it is the type of work which we need to improve. There are broader political answers to this – such as raising the minimum wage, offering tax breaks for companies to pay the living wage, clamping down on agency exploitation – but we also need to make sure we build up Stoke-on-Trent as a high-wage, high-skill city.
At the moment, too many families in the Potteries are having to rely on multiple jobs at low wages topped up by benefits. And we need policies on education, training, inward investment and regeneration to tackle that.
After the cost of living, the second big doorstep issue is the NHS. The challenges facing Royal Stoke University Hospital – among the most pressing in the country – are feeding through.
There are too many tales of cancelled operations, over-long waits, and delays to test results. Residents are universally appreciative of the humane and professional care they receive from the NHS, but there are real concerns about the impact of moving Stafford services into Stoke and continual pressures on GP surgeries.
The truth of the matter is this: We have an ageing population putting extra strain on the system and all the recent NHS reorganisations haven’t helped. We also need a bit more money in the system – which the Labour Party wants to come from a Mansion Tax on high-value properties.
Just as concerning for Stoke-on-Trent voters is the strain on council services. After years of cuts and austerity, the closure of swimming pools and care homes, the reduction to museum hours and community centres, residents are feeling frustrated. At the same time, more work needs to be done to explain the need for the new Central Business District and Smithfield development in Hanley.
The council’s ambition to consolidate their buildings on one site, save money, and promote the regeneration of the city centre needs greater clarity.
And then there are the usual issues that arise from everyday urban living: the bins left out on the road; the uncut hedges abutting the back garden; the noisy neighbours; controlled parking zones and speed-bumps; the poor response times from Kier; the wait for a decision on a new council property.
But what is perhaps equally interesting is what has not been raised on the knocker.
There are certainly pockets of anger about anti-social behaviour, but broader concerns about crime and disorder have not featured particularly heavily in our canvassing sessions. And this speaks to a wider trend across the country on falling crime rates.
Very few people have raised High Speed 2 and the controversy around the station being centred on Crewe. And when immigration as an issue has come up, it has been a debate about ensuring that public services get the resources they need to deal with any rising demand.
As a politician, it is good to debate all these issues – whether people intend to vote Labour or not. What is more of a struggle is dealing with the disenchanted and not interested: those who think that either nothing changes or we politicians are all the same.
But the only way I think you can counter that charge is to begin with a decent doorstep debate. And that’s what I will be doing up to and beyond May 7.
THIS is the moment in the electoral cycle when Members of Parliament start pounding the streets to explain to their constituents just what they have been up to for the...