With so many new members of the local Labour Party – 700, I gather, of which I am pleased to be one – I am on a pilgrimage to meet as many fellow supporters as possible, and ask some simple questions…What was is that made you join, or re-join, the Labour party? Why be active? Who has inspired you? And…why now?
Today, I am meeting Ali Borman, known to many of you, for her campaigning on the doorstep.
Born in Beckenham in 1977 (40), her parents moved to Bristol when she was one year old. Her father had been in the forces and then worked for the Post Office in London before a job came up at British Telecom in Bristol. He took redundancy in the 90s. Her mum went to Library College, stayed at home until Ali’s younger brother started school and then worked in the local Primary as a librarian and Secondary school as office staff but was made redundant.
Ali is a single mum with two girls 7 and 10 years old and lives in North Petherton. The day we meet, over half term, the children are reluctantly undergoing a First Aid Course with Little Knox. Of course, afterwards, they said they loved it.
Her story is like those off so many I have spoken to – just getting by. Looking after two children on your own, the job space is limited. What comes in from maintenance helps her to keep head above water but financial worry is always in the background. Hand-me-downs are part of her life and what small breaks she is able to take, come out of the little she can put by. She wonders, if she relied on benefits, or if maintenance was taken into account via means testing, what on earth she would do. This makes her think of others who aren’t as lucky as she is. ‘How can families invest in their children’s future and ensure a better life for them with no money?’
No Going Backwards
She tells me, after about an hour’s discussion, the fundamental political reason she became involved.
‘Basically, I am scared’. ‘I am scared of powerful people messing things up and blaming poorer people. Scared of those using racism to divide us. Scared of losing the freedoms our ancestors fought for. As a woman, scared of us going backwards (in an atmosphere of revisionism in the direction of pro-life and amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 which came in just ten years before she was born), concerned about woman’s reproductive rights. Scared of not being able to help.’
Ali is by profession a Learning Support Assistant at Creech St Michael Primary School, working with children with special needs. Her main charge is a child with Type 1 diabetes. She describes the pressures under which schools now operate. Having to do more with less, under pressure to do away with teaching assistants completely. Ultimately, Ali is scared that those she is caring for, the most defenceless, will suffer.
Knocking on Doors
But how does her apparent timidity square with the scariest thing of all – going up to a stranger’s door and saying ‘Hello, I am Ali Borman, and I am from your local Labour Party’.
Self-deprecatingly , Ali describes herself as ‘not really a self-motivated person’ and ‘actually lacking in confidence’. And yet, the first time she offered to venture out knocking on doors, due to unforeseen circumstances, her partner did not turn up and she found herself on her own. ‘So, I just took a breath and carried on’. ‘I just made myself do it’. ‘I just pushed myself out there. I suppose I am better if I just jump in the water and swim’, she says.
I am probably not alone in thinking that ‘knocking on doors’ is one helluva way of building up confidence. As regards local politics, though, it is possibly one of the most valuable aspects of campaigning. But what drives her on, I wondered?
‘In a world where people are asking themselves lots of fundamental questions like ‘What is the point?’ and ‘Where is the meaning?’ Ali says, she ‘decided to stop arguing with her cousin on Facebook (who happens to disagree with her view on life) and do something’. Knocking on doors, it seems, was the answer. Something that starts that process of binding a community in a way that remote social media cannot (however useful it can be in other ways). Someone taking that risk on the doorstep, making oneself vulnerable, and yet ready to say in simple words ‘this is what I stand for’ while listening to others.
On one doorstep she is answered by an Italian lady. ‘She was a Tory, but so lovely to talk to, in the middle of cooking a curry, but she still answered the door to talk politics.’
Perhaps when this person enters the voting booth next time and scribbles that cross with a blunt pencil (whenever that shall be), she will think of Ali, and the impression she made, and put her cross in the right box.
But, as you can imagine, door-knocking is not always so polite. At one house in Stockmoor, the male owner comes to the door, just looks her up and down and closes the door in her face. ‘It’s hard to keep going after that’,Ali says, ‘but you have to’. Just a few numbers down the road, the door opens, and a lady says ‘Oh everyone votes Labour in this house, so glad to see you!’
We talk more about who has inspired her. At a local level, it is Gary our branch secretary (so hard working, encouraging and supportive) and at national level, Jeremy (so human, warm, and thoughtful; and with no airs and graces).
She sees the referendum as a failure of politics as a whole. A decision that should not have been offered to the people in the way that it was. We discuss community initiatives in the local area, such as RAFT (Refugee Aid for Taunton), not as subjects that have to become Labour initiatives (Federica who runs RAFT is a Lib Dem) but as things that bind communities, how RAFT has, apart from all its overseas work, linked up with the Taunton Association for the Homeless, the Food Bank, and the local animal shelter to share donations, and ensure that absolutely nothing is wasted, showing our shared values in an outward looking way – things that we need to support as people, not specifically as Labour.
She is perplexed as to what can make others, sometimes those in business, shut off their feelings towards their fellow members of society, to be uncaring, and then dissociate themselves from the consequences of their actions – such as being more concerned about saving tax, rather than seeing the things that tax is actually meant for (those matters essential for the common good such as our schools, hospitals, roads, prisons, legal aid). She, like so many of us, cannot see the virtue (as she says with reference to Universal Credit), of ‘starving people into work’.
Once again, on my interview trail, I have met a local member of our party who is truly inspirational. We talk about what might happen with a Labour victory. ‘It will not be just about winning but what is done with power and, if we do not have that close connection with all those people behind their front doors, perhaps we will not do half as good a job. If politics is not about community it is about nothing.’
Interview by Anthony Lipman