GETTING trapped in a lift in a high-rise block on my campaign launch day was perhaps not the most auspicious start to my re-election campaign.
Thanks to the fire brigade, we were freed after 45 minutes. However, as I know from my high-rise flats campaign and from speaking to residents, these kinds of problems are not uncommon.
To help improve living conditions – especially in council homes, I have re-launched my high rise flats’ survey so we can campaign for improvements.
Since the lift trapping, the campaign has left the ground and with just five days to go I’m enjoying myself as I always do – talking to voters and making my case.
Since Boris Johnson called this election to try to steamroller through his fatally-flawed Brexit deal, I have been out in my Leeds West constituency asking people what they want from the next government.
The views of many voters came as little surprise. Many told me that there is real concern about the failure of the Conservatives to lift living standards after nine years in power. So many people are struggling and they do not trust the Tories to change that. I saw that most starkly in a visit to a food bank – a local service needed now, sadly, more than ever.
Of course, a December election poses extra challenges. In the first few days, it felt like it would never stop raining as we walked around delivering leaflets, getting drenched and then trying to persuade people to put a Labour poster in their window next to their Christmas tinsel.
With snow forecast for Thursday, I am acutely aware of the difficulties some people will have in getting to the polling station – let’s not do a December election again please!
Some of the unhappiest people I spoke to were those I met at the four railway stations in my constituency. It seemed that every time I looked at the departure boards the train delays increased progressively – first five minutes, then 10 minutes. Some services were cancelled entirely. Less than half of Northern’s trains arrive on time. That, frankly, is a disgrace.
When the trains do arrive, people are packed in like sardines and squeezed up against the doors – if they can board the trains at all. It makes for a stressful and miserable journey into the city centre for people simply just trying to get to work, college or appointments. Drastic changes are needed and commuters are fully behind Labour’s plans to renationalise our railways, cut fares and invest in bus services.
After more than nine years as an MP, one of the best things about the job is meeting people that I have managed to help. I bumped into one woman who had never voted before but was going to vote for the first time because I had managed to help her with a housing problem.
Another gave me a large hug at the Armley Helping Hands Christmas fair and told me how happy her daughter and grandchildren are in the house I helped them get by taking their case to the council.
Then, there was the man I met in Farnley and Wortley who had voted Conservative all his life, but now plans to vote Labour to stop the Tory hard Brexit. Of course, not every conversation ends with a promise to vote Labour. But more and more are.
There will be one record hard to beat – and that’s to find a more long-standing Labour voter than Jack in Bramley who, aged 92, proudly told me he had voted Labour all his life starting with Clement Attlee and would be out on Thursday to do the same again.
I hope at the end of this election we have a Labour government, and as those who read my columns and my books on Alice Bacon and women in Parliament know, I also want to see more women in Westminster.
Sadly, many of the female MPs standing down at this election have cited the abuse they get as a major reason for quitting, ending their careers prematurely. We will never know what more they could have achieved.
In Leeds, sadly, only 37.5 per cent of candidates standing for Parliament are women. In one Leeds constituency all five candidates on the ballot are men.
As part of the campaign for a more civil political debate, I signed up to the Jo Cox Foundation’s pledge which urges candidates to take responsibility for setting an appropriate tone when campaigning and foster constructive debate. At the hustings in Bramley all candidates signed up to that pledge. I hope this attitude makes its way to Westminster where it is badly needed.
The final question at the Bramley hustings was from a 15-year-old girl. Passionate about politics, she urged candidates to support votes at 16 – a commitment that I’m glad to see in my party’s manifesto.
I hope in years to come that young woman will be a the front of the room taking questions herself as a candidate in the election. We need the sort of passion and desire to make change that we see from young people much more in our politics.
The chance to vote was a hard fought right – especially for women and working class voters. So, whatever your political view, please do brave the weather on Thursday and make sure you have your say. And, of course, I hope you vote Labour!
Rachel Reeves chaired Parliament’s Business, Industrial Strategy and Energy Committee. She is seeking re-election in Leeds West for Labour.