As usual we were out door-knocking tonight, this time in Hillfields, the oldest council estate in Britain. It was built in 1919, as "Homes for Heroes" returning from the First World War. Nice spacious houses, mostly populated by very nice Labour voters. Last night we were out on the Speedwell estate, and the night before on the St Anne's estate in Brislington. Quite similar areas, and no, we're not just concentrating on our 'core vote', it's just a coincidence we did those three estates over the past few days. So what's the verdict from the doorstep?
Firstly, there is absolutely no sign at all of any shift from Labour to the Conservatives (and this is true in other, less traditionally Labour parts of the constituency too). Cameron goes down incredibly badly in this neck of the woods, with the common refrain being "he's not interested in people like us". These are the sort of voters who might perhaps have been won over by the Thatcher/ Tebbit brand of Conservatism; they've bought their council houses, they think there's too much immigration, and there's a degree of resentment against people who haven't worked hard or put aside savings, but receive benefits 'paid for by our taxes'. But Cameron doesn't do it for them, at all. Some are swayed by the idea of "Time for Change", but when you push it home and say that means "Time for Tories" they recoil.
There's not much sign of support for the Lib Dems either, though to be fair Nick Clegg's name did come up on the doorstep a few times tonight. After last night's debate he'll be able to capitalise on being the "Change" candidate, but once the buzz settles down, will people really see him as prime ministerial material? I still think he's a lightweight, and basically a Tory 'wet' who is too pro-European to be in the Tory party. And no interest in, or grasp of, economic issues. And needs putting on the spot about Lib Dems policies on a whole range of other things too. I think he may do well, in a particularly sanctimonious way, in the next debate, on foreign affairs. Down a drink for every time he mentions Iraq and you'll get absolutely bladdered. But give Gordon half a chance and he will absolutely hammer him on the third one, on the economy. (That's if Gordon wants to, of course, there may be good tactical reasons for not doing so.)
What worries me the most - and not because I think they have a hope in hell of winning, but just because of the sheer principle of it, the absolute horror of them gaining a foothold in east Bristol - is support for the BNP. The Government came up with a list, a while ago, of 100 wards across the country which could perhaps be labelled as typical 'disaffected white working class', vulnerable to the BNP, and some funding for community cohesion projects there. Six of those wards were in Bristol, and four of those six were in my constituency: Hillfields, St George East, St George West and Brislington East.
And this is being borne out by what I'm hearing on the doorstep. It's all about fairness: people who have worked hard, lived a fairly modest, decent life, never looked to the state for much help. Their resentment is not just about immigration, though that certainly comes up, almost every time, but also about people on their estates who don't work and 'get given everything', and MPs who can claim for duckhouses and cleaning the moat. Myths and stereotypes abound, from asylum seekers loading up supermarket trolleys with luxury items, paid for with vouchers (on £35 a week?) to young girls on the bus boasting about how they're going to get pregnant to get a council house.
But I've been having very long conversations with people, while the rest of my team get on with the canvassing, and you know what? These voters might want to make me work for their vote, but they're still Labour at heart; they just want to make sure I'm listening. I had one woman who insisted she wasn't going to vote Labour, bent my ear for a good twenty minutes or more about immigration, and then followed me up the garden path saying "well are you going to give me a poster then? can't have those ****** Tories back in!"