Dan Jarvis MP went on a nine-day, nine-region campaign. Photo: Twitter/@DanJarvisMP
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Late decisions, the Ukip temptation, and NHS fears: a Labour MP's doorstep marathon

Britain is undecided: we must help it decide, one conversation at a time, argues Dan Jarvis, who went doorknocking in nine regions in nine days.

The clock is ticking down to the general election. But though the lights may still be on in parliament, the real politics is taking place far away from Westminster.

That’s why I’ve been out on the doorstep.

I’ve just got back after a nine day, nine region campaign marathon, travelling more than 900 miles to 27 seats that will help decide whether Ed Miliband walks into Downing Street on 8 May. From Thurrock to Plymouth, up to Bury, Redcar and a lot of places in between. 

Why did I do it? Because I believe Labour is working to achieve something that no other party is trying to do – win for the whole country. We’re the only party fighting to win seats all the way from the south coast to the Midlands, through Wales, the North and into Scotland.

What did I find? Some people are undecided. That’s only natural. For the first time ever, we have a fixed-term parliament and people know when the election is. They know they’ve got time to weigh things up. Others are focused on paying their bills, getting the kids to school and haven’t given any thought to politics yet. One man in Chatham thanked me for stopping by to tell him there is an election in May. "I promise to look out for it," he said.

That’s why my feeling is that this will be a "decide late" election. As a Labour MP, that gives me confidence. Because when it’s a close election, what happens on the ground is all the more important.

At a time when people are increasingly asking who it is they are sending to bat for them in parliament, Labour have fantastic parliamentary candidates. We’ve got more organisers than ever before and we’ve got the most committed campaigners in the country.

The Conservatives seem to me like an increasingly virtual party. In many communities they appear to exist only on billboards and the glossy leaflets they pay people to deliver. By contrast, Labour supporters are stuffing envelopes and pounding pavements at all hours and in all weathers.

Two things very quickly became clear during my time on the road:

First, no matter where you are, people have a very human respect for those who are willing to spend a cold January evening on the doorstep. They care about which party is taking the time to come and knock on their door. 

Second, the increased focus on our NHS in our national debate isn’t some party-political construct. It’s a reflection of what people are feeling across the country.

The NHS was raised with me more than any other issue. I remember the conversations I had in Harlow with Livingstone, a nurse who’s worked for ten years at the local hospital; with Caroline, a public health registrar from Worcester; and an elderly couple in Lancaster, worried about the services they rely on. They all told me that they would be voting Labour to protect our NHS for the future.

These concerns about the health service speak to a wider feeling I felt across the country.

People want a government that is on their side. To protect us from forces and dangers that we cannot face alone. And to get big things done so this country will work for the many. The battle we have to win is convincing them that this is still achievable through the ballot box.

There’s a popular wisdom that we should blame political disenchantment on the expenses scandal, the two-party duopoly, Nick Clegg and tuition fees, or controversial conflicts overseas. But I think it’s more than that. There’s a basic feeling that our problems have outgrown our politics. Our lives are now shaped by complex global forces. Tumbling oil prices, wages being eroded by globalisation and new technologies, our livelihoods being thrown into crisis by property speculators on the other side of the world.

Questioning whether traditional politics as we’ve known it can make a difference is not a disillusioned response, it is a rational response. I heard it first-hand from a man called Michael, a father and a gas-fitter, on a freezing evening in Morecambe. He told me how we was leaning towards Ukip because he felt Britain’s only option was to shut the borders for five years. "We’ve got to get our house in order," he said.

But as we talked about immigration and Labour’s priorities, it became clear that Michael didn’t feel any particular warmth for Farage or his party. He wanted reassurance about how a future government would make life better for people in his shoes. We shook hands and parted on good terms, with him a little closer to a decision.

There are countless other Michaels out there. And for many, the decision they make on polling day won’t be who they vote for, but whether they vote at all. The only way we can build a better Britain for them is if we boldly make the case, one conversation at a time.

Dan Jarvis is Shadow Justice Minister and the Labour MP for Barnsley Central

Dan Jarvis is shadow justice minister and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

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The attack on Les Bleus was an attack on the soul of France - that's why Euro 2016 must go ahead

As a continent reels politically from the refugee crisis and emotionally from the Paris attacks, football must find a new, confident voice.

After the Paris attacks, the great Bill Shankly’s words have rarely been so tested: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you, it is much, much more important than that.”

As bombers detonated their suicide belts outside the Stade de France, French and German football fans cheered what they thought were fireworks. They were unaware that it was the opening salvo in a night of barbarity. One of the bombers had a ticket for the game but, mercifully, was turned back at the turnstile. Had his bomb gone off inside the stadium, the immediate loss of life, plus the panicked stampede and two more suicide bombers lying in wait outside for escaping fans, could have produced a death toll higher than at Hillsborough, Bradford, Heysel or either of the Ibrox ­stadium disasters.

The French intelligence services have yet to conclude publicly whether the attacks were timed to coincide with the prestigious friendly or whether the crowd of 80,000 was simply another target of bloodthirsty convenience on an already preordained date. Either way, there’s no mistaking that an attack on Les Bleus was an attack on the soul of France. In the aftermath, the Germany-Netherlands friendly game was called off and Belgian football went into lockdown.

How should British football respond? To those who think that the sport is just 22 players kicking a ball around a field, this may seem a peculiar question. But ever since the tail end of the 19th century, when football escaped from its self-enforced ghettoisation in Britain’s public schools, it has had a greater purpose.

More than any other sport, football has been intertwined with politics. As Harold Wilson said: “It’s a way of life . . . a religion.” When President Rowhani of Iran wanted to bolster his image as a new kind of leader, he didn’t deliver a speech but tweeted a picture of himself wearing an Iranian football top, watching a match. Franco’s dictatorship clung to the all-conquering Real Madrid and punished FC Barcelona. On Robben Island, ANC prisoners idolised Billy Bremner of Leeds United and successfully demanded the right to play football.

In October, one of the biggest protests against the closure of the north-east’s steelworks was from 10,000 Middlesbrough fans at Old Trafford. When Catalans challenged hikes in transport costs, they boycotted public transport from the Camp Nou. The biggest “Refugees Welcome” signs in Europe weren’t produced by governments but by fans of the Bundesliga champions, ­Bayern Munich.

So while the singing of the Marseillaise at the England-France match at Wembley was a “hairs on the back of the neck” moment, most of us understand that it’s not enough. What is less well known is that this wasn’t the first time that one of the world’s few genuinely inspiring anthems has been performed in earnest in British football. A century ago, bands took to the pitch to play patriotic British, French and Russian music – not out of altruism but military necessity. The British army was under intense pressure at Ypres and urgently needed new volunteers. The War Office turned to football.

For many, the journey to Loos, Flanders and the Somme started with a routine visit to cheer on their local team. Their sport transported them from a home football field to their foreign killing fields. Many clubs, including Everton, held military training on their pitches, while Manchester City’s then stadium, Hyde Road, became a 300-horse stable. Hundreds of players died serving in the Football Battalion.

But for too long our national sport reflected Britain’s lack of ease with diversity. From the 1920s, the religious sectarianism that poisoned the west of Scotland was allowed to fester in Glasgow’s football. The sport’s tolerance of recreational racism became widespread. Outside stadiums, right-wing extremists sold their propaganda while, inside, black players were vilified – even by their own supporters. Football’s racism corroded its heart and was rationalised in its head: it was allowed on the pitch, cele­brated on the terraces and accepted in the boardroom and far too many changing rooms.

And now, as a continent reels politically from the refugee crisis and emotionally from the Paris attacks, football must find a new, confident voice. The sport and its fans cannot sit on the subs’ bench at a time like this.

In a nation where only one in five male workers joins a trade union, football is a rare regular collective experience. It is more authentic than click-and-connect social media communities. Despite high ticket prices, football offers the one place where thousands of working-class men, including many politically disenchanted young men, come together in a common cause.

British football has long since jettisoned its ambivalence regarding racism. But for organised extreme right-wingers, Islamophobia fills the space vacated by the anti-Irish “No Surrender” tendency on the sport’s fringes. Although the number of top-flight British Muslim players is infinitesimally small, the streets of Bradford, Blackburn and Birmingham teem with young British Muslims kicking a football. More clubs can harness their power to inspire and increase their ­involvement in community counter-­radicalisation strategies. Clubs should also take the lead by having zero tolerance for Islamophobia, training stewards and backing fans who stand up to fellow supporters.

And, finally, the European Championships, for which all the home nations bar Scotland have qualified, must go ahead in France next summer. There’s no liberté in cancelling. In the name of fraternité, let’s all back France as our second team. Allez les Bleus!

Jim Murphy is the former Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and leader of Scottish Labour 2014-15.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State