A cold, rewarding election that still makes me hopeful

I guess when I look back, one of my overwhelming memories of the selection will be of cold. A December election is a very different prospect to Britain’s normal habit of having them in May, particularly if, like me, you’ve smashed your spinal cord and are particularly susceptible to changes in temperature.

That, of course, and keeping a very nervous eye out for the rain. I have a new electric wheelchair being delivered next week, but in the meantime the one I’ve been reliant on has developed an alarming habit of malfunctioning in downfalls. Still, in Vauxhall, Aldershot, Battersea and most recently in Thurrock, I’ve managed to get out there on the streets, doorknocking and campaigning to get a Labour government when voters go to the polls tomorrow.

There has been a lot of rain, but as I’ve watched squalls blow up the river between Lambeth and Westminster, I hope I’ve used that time well. That’s included running a fundraiser for the local party and Vauxhall, writing for both the New Statesman and website Labour List. I particularly enjoyed the latter, profiling the party’s disabled and former military candidates and getting out to near where I grew up in South Essex, where campaigners in the marginal of Thurrock have been working continuously since the 2017 election to get the Tories out.

As we now into the last 24 hours before polls open, if I’m honest I wish I had been able to do more. One of the things about part-time campaigning is that it becomes a little addictive. In some ways, it will be nice to spend more time indoors – but I think many of us will also miss it when it’s over.

The polls suggest that we have made a difference. One of the most closely watched polls last night suggests all this campaigning has dramatically reduced unexpected Conservative majority. Even if Boris Johnson remains in Downing Street, that would likely mean another election could be that much closer. Although it also throws us back into a likely Brexit crisis next year, and means those suffering the most under this government will continue to do so.

It’s now three and a half years since I joined the Labour Party and got seriously involved in politics, and if I’m honest being partisan is not always the easiest thing to come to me. I spent most of my adult life a newswire reporter dedicated to freedom from bias, and I’m usually grateful that my shift to becoming a columnist has allowed me to take on outside interests. Still, I’d be lying if I said my instincts have not been almost always to search for common ground.

If 2019 is teaching us anything, though, it’s that some arguments are really worth having. And in truth, I don’t know how I could deal with the current crisis in Britain and Western politics without feeling that I was doing something to help, to try and push things in the right direction as I see it.

If I’m honest, one of the worst things since the injury 13 years ago has been finding it much, much harder to do that. Telling truth to power in the Sri Lanka war remains – along with reporting from southern Africa before it – the most rewarding experience of my life. As I said when I announced earlier this year that I was hoping to become a parliamentary candidate, one of my more selfish and self-centered reasons was unquestionably a desire to recapture that.

Of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, given the way the system worked, I never even got the chance to stand up – metaphorically – in front of a local constituency party to make a case for being a candidate. That’s a pity – and I hope that even in future snap elections, we get a more democratic,accountable and transparent process.

Still, I learned a lot – and am hugely grateful for the support of those who really encouraged me and made it clear they wanted me to run, both in their own constituencies and elsewhere. I’ve also learned a huge amount from watching those who did get those nominations: James Wilder in Newbury, Howard Kaye in Aldershot and of course Florence Eshalomi here in Vauxhall.

Whether or not I have another crack at elected office will depend primarily on what slots become available, and where my life is at the time. When I first decided to think about this seriously in the aftermath of 2015 election, it was in part because I felt the disability left me with so few other credible career choices that I found appealing. In the years since, I like to think I have clawed open more options for myself.

And even politics aside, it has been a good year. That’s included spending about six weeks in uniform with the Army Reserve, most of it on training courses that have taught me a lot. It included travel through Austria and Italy this summer, and starting a Masters in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University. All would have been pretty much unthinkable only three or four years ago, when I was heavily on bedrest with repeated pressure sores.

My health, touch wood, is the best it has been since the injury. That includes a now semi-working left arm – albeit without a working hand on the end of it – and more personal independence than I’ve had since the dying days of Tony Blair. I take the underground and buses on my own, can stay in the wheelchair for 12 hours or so at a time. None are things I take for granted, to put it mildly…

Today and tomorrow, I should be out doing what I can for the election. After that, I’ll make some further decisions on next year. In the meantime, huge thanks to all those who have helped and supported – including of course my PAs, who’ve been pushed pretty hard by everything I’ve done this year. And let’s keep fingers crossed for the right result tomorrow…

 

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