So, part of the reason I've not been blogging since my return is that I've plunged (ho, ho) straight into the murky waters of the St George West by-election campaign. The final line-up will be revealed after nominations close tomorrow, but Labour's candidate is Kevin Herniman, an all-round diamond geezer (as we don't say in Bristol). Kevin grew up in St. George, on Clouds Hill Road where his mum and dad still live. Having been out on the campaign trail with him over the last few days, I don't think I've come across anyone he doesn't already know; he either went to Summerhill or Speedwell school with them (or their daughter or their dad), or used to deliver groceries to them when he was an errand boy at the corner shop in Hudds Hill Road, or (in the case of the garage along Church Road) did some building work for them many, many years ago. And he's full of anecdotes; for example, that the building opposite Summerhill School, which looks like a small church, actually used to be a college for housewives. Kevin's a firefighter and has been based at Speedwell firestation for the past 31 years. (Which is where I should produce the pic of me perched on a fire engine with him, wearing a fireman's helmet, but I don't have it at home. And there have probably been enough ridiculous photos of me for one week).
We were joined on the campaign trail yesterday by Hazel Blears, who ended up tap-dancing down Seneca Street with 89 year old Labour stalwart, Gwen Watson. Wish I'd had my camcorder with me... Hazel then joined us for the launch of our 'Flat Fare' campaign. First Bus have told me they'd be willing to consider trialling lower fares on one or two routes, and we're calling for them to give it a go on the A420 Showcase Bus Route, at £1 each way. (It's an extortionate £4.20 return into the city centre at the moment). We spoke to one young mother who works part-time in Broadmead, for just over the minimum wage; that's a big chunk out of her weekly wages. As I keep saying over and over again in the child poverty debate, it's these things that make the difference between people choosing welfare or work. With Cabot Circus opening soon - lots more shopping and 4000 more jobs - and the Christmas rush just around the corner, congestion can only get worse - so we want to encourage more people to use the buses. Got good coverage in the BEP today, but it's not on their website. Why?
Have also met a couple of people out on the campaign trail who have never voted before. One was a guy in his late fifties, who said he didn't understand politics. The other was a young woman who I'd met previously at the Single Parent Action Network; she's come out of a difficult relationship and is finally regaining her self-esteem and beginning to be ambitious for the future. I chatted to both of them for a while, explaining what difference voting could make, and I think I won them over (to the importance of voting, if not the importance of voting Labour). That's why getting out on the doorstep and meeting voters really matters.
As for the other candidates, first out of the blocks was Colin 'the Cat' Bretherton for the Tories (so-called because he's already used up all his nine lives standing nine times in other seats). The big question is, just why did the "lunatic" Tories decide to ditch the guy who almost won the seat for them in 2007? And is he going to stand as an Independent?
The first Tory leaflet I've seen illustrates the (non-existent) 'threat to St George's Park' with a picture of a rather shady looking unshaven character loitering in the park after dark... who on closer inspection, turns out to be their candidate. I suggest he takes some lessons from his Conservative comrade, Charlotte, who was pictured looking rather glam in a designer frock in Tatler this month. Not that I'm suggesting he hangs round St George's Park after dark in a designer frock, you understand.
Lib Dems are running their usual guy*, and their usual trick of putting out leaflets saying 'only the Lib Dems can beat Labour here' (yup, that's why they came third last time, nearly 400 votes behind Labour and the Tories). Their latest leaflet - and they started whacking them out within days of John Deasy's death - also criticises the Tory leaflet for 'no solutions and no action - just a catalogue of what they think people want to hear'. (My italics... need I say more?)
*We assume they're running their usual guy because he's all over the leaflets, but they haven't declared his candidacy yet - presumably so that those leaflets don't have to be counted in the election expenses.
So that's it. Obviously difficult times for Labour to be fighting a by-election, but we've got by far and away the best candidate; it's a joy to be going out campaigning with him. And judging from the leaflets so far, we're the only ones who are talking about the real issues in the ward. Of course we're going to be pointing out to the voters that the Lib Dems bottled the chance to run the council, which rather raises the question of what is the point of electing a Lib Dem in the first place? But we're going to run a positive campaign. The by-election is on October 9th. I promise not to go on about it too much.