Understandably, a lot of people want to know how it's going. The bookies more or less have Labour and UKIP level pegging, and despite almost two years of UKIP decline at the polls there are people in the media happy to talk the purples up. Typical of this was Polly Toynbee's latest missive, which reckoned Labour is hanging on by its finger tips. Perhaps had she done some politics rather than just write about it and joined activists door knocking she would have found a different story. For sure, while canvass returns are rightly staying under wraps there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Having spoken to folks who've been out many more times than me, the talk of a UKIP surge is just that: talk. While, obviously, Labour is finding UKIP voters there is no evidence of a mass transfer away from either ourselves or traditional Tory voters. Our support is holding up, and so are the Conservatives.
For my part, I've been out on three sessions and can look forward to a couple more next Saturday and then all day polling day. My doorstep adventures took me to neighbourhoods where Labour doesn't have the sitting councillors. The district our team was in this morning has always been a bit tricky - detached and semi-detached housing built in the 1980s, no real community focal point, a history of returning councillors from all the main parties and none. And so my expectations weren't great and, indeed, our returns weren't fantastic. But what we did find was Labour were staying Labour, that don't knows and previous againsts were generally warm and friendly, and that Conservative and UKIP voters weren't afraid of identifying themselves as such. The law of averages indicates that among the don't knows and won't says are people who aren't supporting Labour under any circumstances, but the phenomena of shy Tories and shy kippers isn't likely to be as pronounced here as it might be in other parts of the country. As one of my comrades reminded me earlier, when the BNP were a going concern in Stoke, their support were not afraid of telling you who they were voting for at election time. If you're not embarrassed about declaring for full-bodied fascism, would you be shy to endorse fascism-lite?
As I said, last week we were out in areas that have traditionally been problematic for Labour, and the returns were very encouraging. If anything, there was a small but discernible swing to us. For some voters will undoubtedly be voting Labour to ensure Nuttall is sent packing.
Campaign-wise, everything's going fine. If Labour somehow loses the by-election, it won't be because of strategy and activity. Each day sees new people pile in to Garth Street's GMB offices. Each day teams of leafleters and canvassers pour onto the streets. Each day the contact rate on our database ticks up - never before has the local party had as clear a picture of where its support lies and where opponents' votes are concentrated, all of which are boons for targeted leafleting and social media messaging before polling day.
What can be said of the other campaigns? While there are claims the Tories have written Stoke Central off, the local association deserves its due for at least trying. Never before have I been out canvassing anywhere and bumped into a Tory door knocking team, but that has happened twice now. Today it was three posh women looking bewildered and wondering how anyone could possibly cope with one garage. They might not be mobilising nationally, but they are drawing in their people - one of them told me she'd driven for an hour-and-a-half to be here today. As noted previously, the local Tories are an ambitious lot and if they can turn in a creditable performance here - perhaps even knocking UKIP back down to third - then that will be a feather or two in their caps. The LibDems are banging out typically dishonest leaflets (sans the bar charts, alas) but don't seem to be mounting much of a campaign, but we'll be expending a post on them very soon. The Greens are also missing in action - the disgrace to have befallen their de facto local leader has probably contributed to their dismal profile.
From a campaign point of view, UKIP's is proving to be very poor indeed. For reasons known only to himself, and to the bemusement of locals, Paul Nuttall has assumed the countenance and trappings of a country gent. If he is aping Nigel Farage and his sartorial choices, the penny is yet to drop that what might be appropriate for Thanet isn't necessarily so for Stoke-on-Trent. Still, as the honourable member for Lichfield reminds us, looking stupid is no bar to public life. Politically, Nuttall's unforced error over his house (which he has now moved from) was compounded this week by additional stupidities. On Radio 4 and on the local 6 Towns Radio, he was asked and couldn't name the six towns that make up the city. Small beer for outsiders, but this is the most basic of basic knowledge of anyone who's living in Stoke. He's been forced on the defensive again about his lies. Apparently the whopper about him "being there" at Hillsborough is really true, guv, and people who don't believe him are "total scum". And yesterday in a hustings organised for young voters by one of the local sixth form colleges, Nuttall didn't turn up and sent a lackey from the London Assembly to fill in for him - he was apparently in the capital doing some meejah. Overall, their campaign is turning out to be a shambles. UKIP may boast about having 500 activists out on the streets last weekend, but all we see are the same old faces traipsing around with their dirty macs and well used Sainsbury's bags-for-life.
But because UKIP are running a poor campaign is no counsel for complacency. The general tone of political debate pouring out of the broadcast media and jumping off the pages of the press does their job for them. Nuttall and his coterie of toerags and losers don't need a super slick campaign because they're swimming with the stream. Every Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, and Sun sold in Stoke-on-Trent Central does a more effective job of making UKIP's case than UKIP itself. This by-election is an opportunity, perhaps the only opportunity we'll get of stopping this crap in its tracks before it inflicts even more damage. If you haven't already, come to Stoke, come to Garth Street, and be part of the moment the labour movement said "enough!".