Paul’s Campaign Diary

Campaign Diary – Lewes

It was great to see Danny Sweeney at our leaflet drop at Lewes railway station yesterday morning. He’s the parliamentary candidate for Lewes constituency, a role I was privileged to hold back in 2001. I don’t think I’d leafleted Lewes station since those far off days of the first Blair term, before 9/11, Twitter, or Donald Trump. 

There are far fewer commuters than before Covid, a snapshot of our changing patterns of work and travel. We leafleted the queue waiting for the bus to Glyndboune: stage hands and sound engineers, I suspect, rather than opera singers. They get a helicopter.

I had an especially pleasing conversation with a voter who was a Green Party member but ‘lending’ her vote to Labour on 2 May. Like the leaflet says, it’s a two-horse race. 

Later in the day the office of police and crime commissioner hosted a briefing session for candidates. This is the same as the ‘access talks’ the civil service is currently running for shadow ministers. 

Three of the four candidates turned up, and heard presentations from senior police officers and managers. It was a reminder of the incredible complexity of policing in Sussex. 

Everything from safeguarding Gatwick, to policing Pride, to burglary in Bognor, to shoplifting in Shoreham. Sussex police do an amazing job, and for ten years or more with one hand tied behind their backs.

Paul’s Campaign Diary

A new start for a new town

If Peter Lamb, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Crawley, ever wants to swap a life in politics for something else, he would do worse than becoming a tour guide. On my visit to Crawley yesterday, he showed me around his town with a blend of pride, passion, and knowledge for the people and places.

I was struck by the statue ‘Family Group’ by Richard Browne on the old Co-op building in The Broadway. It symbolises the growth of Crawley after the war, and the connections between all of us as citizens. As Orwell said, we are a family – with the wrong members in control.

Crawley was designated a ‘new town’ by the Labour Government in 1947, following the New Towns Act the previous year. The idea of planned communities, with transport, homes, schools, shops, and entertainment all in perfect equilibrium, has its roots in the Co-operative ventures of Robert Owen and the great Victorian philanthropists. It requires enlightened local leadership, central government investment, and proud champions such as Peter.

I met some lovely people – a lady from Algeria, a chap from Romania, a few well-wishers, and a few who were not backwards in coming forwards with their views on geopolitics. We chatted with retailers and small business owners, with the same stories of antisocial behaviour, graffiti, drugs deals around the Band Stand, and robbery. One said they did see police on the streets, but most liked Labour’s idea of more neighbourhood police teams on foot patrol. It struck me that Crawley is a great town, with a strong community, but needs more coppers. The new town needs a new start.

Peter showed me the ‘hub’ in the high street, near the George Hotel. For the uninitiated, these are boxes with ‘police’ written on the side which have appeared in some Sussex town centres. They are empty and locked most of the time. If you seek a metaphor for Tory policy on policing, an empty box in your town centre might be it.

Later in the day, the news came through that Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, is not standing at the next election. That makes over 60 Tories who have decided to retire at this election. I reckon that number will hit 100 as the election looms. If you want to see an example of pitch-perfect, grown-up politics it is the Labour candidate Tom Rutland’s generous tribute to Loughton.

Change is coming. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

A regular roundup of Labours Campaign – Day 2

Friday 12 April

Yesterday I spent the morning in Hastings where the local council elections are in full swing. The indomitable James Thomas led the charge with me and his fellow council candidate Jeremy Hicks in tow. We chatted in the Crown pub, then up West Hill to another pub recently robbed, then into the Old Town to meet retailers and residents. James and Jeremy seem to know everyone. They are exactly the kind of community-minded local champions Hastings needs right now. 

James introduced me to a couple living behind a huge multi story car park. The car park is car park by day, but teenage party zone by night. Fights. Weed. Music. Shouting. Abuse. Every night, with little response from anyone. I saw in their faces the desperation caused by endless sleepless nights and ceaseless verbal abuse. In the end they’ve decided to hire private security to tackle the issue.

I’ve warned for months what happens if citizens’ trust in the criminal justice system is fractured. People will ‘go private’ and we end up with gun-toting security firms patrolling affluent communities like in the USA. Like people pulling out their own teeth because they can’t get a dentist, this is a bad thing.

At the station, we met Stephen Morgan MP, the shadow transport minister, who was in town to support Helena Dollimore. This was the day Labour announced a new policy for municipal bus services, so a photo at the bus station seemed appropriate. My ear worm for the rest of the day was ‘Bus Stop’ by the Hollies.

Utter chaos hit Southern Rail thereafter. We were thrown off the train at Worthing. I teamed up with another frustrated traveler who was area manager for Cex the electric goods retailer. In our taxi westwards we inevitably talked of the epidemic of retail crime and whether high streets have a future. 

At Bersted Green in Bognor I met up with a hardy band of Labour canvassers, braving the drizzle. We spoke with the retailers in the parade of shops. Yet again, they brought up looting and antisocial behaviour and their frustration with the police. A couple of kids wanted to know if I was famous, and were rather delighted when they googled me. Not famous, but all over the internet.

I was really pleased to meet the owners of Wok Master who said they’d had their polling cards but were unsure who to vote for. After our chat I have them down as Labour. Their food looked fantastic. Predictably they’d been robbed but their robbers’ crime is one of the nine out of ten crimes unsolved. 

Paul’s Campaign Diary

A regular round-up of Labour’s campaign 

Thursday 11 April 

Got home very late last night after a really interesting discussion at Wisborough Green Village Hall in West Sussex. We were joined by a former senior detective with many years service, who despaired of the state of policing. 

His main argument was that we have lost much of the detective and intelligence-gathering capability of the police through cuts and loss of experienced, seasoned coppers. 

I had a chat with the manager of the Tesco in Billingshurst about looting. It’s the same story everywhere. Organised theft, little or no police response, staff insulted and abused. Earlier in the day I’d witnessed a shoplifter walk out of a Tesco with a crate of Corona beers. He didn’t have a care in the world.

This was the day Rishi Sunak joined my Conservative opponent in a staged walkabout in Horsham to announce a screeching U-Turn. Under pressure from Usdaw, the Co-op, and Labour’s front bench, the Tories will now make assaulting a shop worker a specific offence. Good. But it’s a bit rich given they’ve been arguing against it for months. 

My Conservative opponent has aligned her stars firmly with the fate of the Prime Minister. Her public appearance with Sunak yesterday makes it clear to all: she is Sunak’s representative in Sussex. 

Now, it’s off to Hastings Old Town, and this evening to Bognor Regis at the other end of Sussex. All this travelling reminds me of two things: the creaking state of the railway, and the variegated beauty of our county of Sussex.