Has this week been decisive for the by-election campaigns in Stoke-on-Trent Central? Paul Nuttall must be nursing a cracking hangover. Having been so thoroughly exposed hasn't done his campaign any good at all, to the point where he cannot really go door knocking again - not that he did much except hang around campaign HQ and have a few photos taken. And the lies keep on a-coming. He got rumbled over false claims that he served on the board for a North West skills charity. Michael Crick's digging has discovered that Nuttall was on the local election register before he moved into his house - yet another offence to chalk up with all the others. And the dishonesty is spreading as UKIP supporters at their Spring conference pose as activists in Stoke. I know fibbing and politics are bedfellows, but Nuttall and co are something else. And this is without mentioning his yes-I-would-waterboard-a-10-year-old gaffe.
Despite the repeated efforts of UKIP's helpers in The Sun, The Express and, yes, The Sentinel to put a few daft tweets from seven years ago on the same level as lying about the Hillsborough disaster, going into the last Saturday before polling day things are looking good for Labour. So what was it like on the doors? Yesterday morning I was out in Bentilee. Regular readers will know this is one of the biggest estates in the city, and was - according to legend - once the largest council house build in all of Europe. During the 00s it acquired some notoriety as the then council ward returned three BNP councillors to the local chamber. Concerted campaigning by Labour and change in the national political weather saw them cleared out in the 2010 and 2011 local elections. However, the problems that underpinned BNP support - unemployment, low pay, insecurity, deprivation, housing - did not go away, and were in many ways exacerbated by the cuts forced on the City Council by the Tory/LibDem coalition government. Nevertheless, despite the head of steam building behind UKIP in the run up to the 2015 general and local elections, the purples could only manage the return of two councillors across the city. In Bentilee, Labour held on and retained both seats, which hardly makes it a "UKIP heartland" in my book.
And, as sessions went, it was pretty much what I expected. The round we were on had been doorknocked the previous two weeks and so our time was spent filling in the gaps (you might be pleased/horrified to learn, depending on your affiliations, that Labour had a healthy lead on the prior information). I was on the board, Miss Ford, and so didn't do much engaging, but it did mean I had a proper overview of how we did. Labour came out on top overall by some margin followed by three Tories, and handful of Don't Knows and Won't Says, a couple of Againsts. The BNP and the Greens(!) can each count on at least one vote apiece from this part of Stoke. Too many non-voters though, which is par the course for Benters, unfortunately - ward turnout in 2015 was under 40%. I did get the chance to speak to one bloke who was already down as an Against (read Kipper) who was fulminating against Tony Blair's oh so helpful intervention in the Brexit debate. Another comrade told me later that Blair had come up for him too, a sign that he's firming up the UKIP vote? There is, of course, a rule barring party members from providing assistance to rival campaigns ... In all, not a bad morning. If these canvass returns hold out across the constituency, then Labour can look forward to Thursday's outcome.
In the afternoon we had a flying visit from Jeremy Corbyn. Speaking to the 150 or so present he thanked everyone for coming and laid into UKIP as the Trojan Horse for NHS charges and privatisation. Jez praised Gareth's Plan for the Potteries and looked forward to meeting him in the Leader's Office Monday week to ensure it gets implemented. Lastly, he urged everyone present to grab a canvass board and leaflets and hit the streets.
Much to my amazement, and for the first time ever, when we went to grab a board for more door knocking they had all gone. Our intrepid gang headed off instead to the wilds of Eaton Park with bag fulls of addressed letters. For folks unfamiliar with this district, it is a mix of 1970s and 80s detached and semi-detached housing, a mix of owner-occupied, mortgage holders and privately rented. Politically it's always been a bit tricky for us. The present chair of Stoke Central Labour, Terry Crowe, represented Eaton Park on the City Council 2011-15 and has done so at various intervals for nearly 30 years. Presently, Rita Dale of the City Independents holds the ward. Unfortunately, running around bashing stuff through letter boxes aren't ideal for gauging the mood. Though, somehow, we'd manage to attract a journalist from German radio and she went round vox popping every local that crossed our paths. One young couple said they were voting for Nuttall because of immigration. The woman recounted how she'd previously lived next door to a foreigner, and in the space of a year he bought three cars. Another guy out cleaning his motor said he voted Leave but was undecided in the by-election, though definitely against UKIP. Speaking of the kippers, one comrade out leafleting with us while wearing union paraphernalia was challenged by a lesser spotted UKIP canvassing team. "What do you think of your candidate's sexist tweets?" asked our newly-found allies in the struggle for women's equality. Any other situation it would be "PC gone mad" bollocks.
And that was it for me. Back to base and the humdrum of shopping and putting the tea on. Also, when I got home, I learned that one so-far-unidentified UKIP activist didn't have a particularly good afternoon. One of their leafleters got caught short and decided to relieve himself up against the side of a house. Unluckily for him, he was seen via CCTV and challenged about it. In response, the culprit tried to force his way into the elderly woman's home, presumably to seize the evidence. If Nuttall wins, this will be far from the only time UKIP pisses on the constituency.
Anyway, speaking to comrades out on other rounds the results of the day's campaigning were fair to good. But it's far from job done. Now we have to make sure we turn out the thousands upon thousands of Labour promises on the day. If you haven't had chance to come out yet, want to help and are in a position to do so, there's still plenty of work to be done. Especially on polling day itself. Come join us and help bury UKIP this Thursday.