The Choice

Campaigning is tiring. Canvassing can be monotonous and demoralising one minute, unexpected and life-affirming the next. It changes with the weather, the landscape or the mood of the last person you spoke to.

But we do it for a reason. It works. One of the great glories of our democracy is that people in power have to turn up on the doorsteps of ordinary folk every few years and ask for their support. Hundreds of conversations take place over rickety fences and weather-beaten door mats. Every so often one captures the choice facing a thousand others.

I approached one door in Pembrokeshire last Saturday. The sun was out. A man on his way to clean his car looked up. I introduced myself.

“I know who you are,” came the immediate response, then a pause.

“Can I count on your support?” I asked.

“It’s confusing,” came the reply. I didn’t know quite what he meant. “I’m a Llanelli man, you see. I’ve always known how to vote.” I guessed this was not Conservative.

“Ok. Why confusing?” I asked. Then another pause.

“I like what you are doing,” he began, “I’ve read what you’ve written. I like what you say. I don’t really disagree with anything you’ve done. It’s like last time. I knew your opponent. She was a good person, but… I used to know how I’d vote. I’m not so sure now.”

I made my point about the person elected controlling £100m of public money, choosing the next Chief Constable, setting taxes and deciding priorities. I made the point that, being an executive rather than legislative role, being police and crime commissioner was not particularly party political.

I got a smile and a response: “Yes. I know. I promise I will consider you. I promise. It’s confusing though. I used to just know.”

I may not support Labour but I understand the dilemma. It’s not easy to break the loyalty of a lifetime, possibly of generations. Loyalty to a cause is a good thing. And it’s not always easy to recognise that the people we oppose often share remarkably similar objectives. We all want to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

I tell this story for two reasons. Obviously, I’d like people who normally vote Labour to vote for me. Of course I tried to persuade him and of course I hope my telling it persuades others. But I tell it also because this conversation seemed to capture so much of the choice facing voters, particularly Labour voters, at this election. And a large part of the outcome depends on what Labour voters decide to do.

Faced with a Labour candidate whose record as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council hardly inspires, I know many are questioning their decision. They are caught between the lacklustre choice of their own party and nationalist ideologues in Plaid Cymru. That leaves me, a Conservative, which is not an easy choice for a Labour man from Llanelli. I don’t imagine it’s any easier for a Labour woman from Ammanford either.

Ultimately, these people and many others across Carmarthenshire, Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will decide who is responsible for policing and keeping them safe. That in itself is a good thing. I have laid out my plans. I have made the case for the extra officers, increased support for victims, safer communities and lower bills that I have delivered.

All I know now is that the election will be close. Every vote will count. And – in case you are uncertain – the only safe choice is to vote Christopher Salmon for Police and Crime Commissioner on Thursday!

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