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What I've Learned On The Election Trail With The Lewis Lorry Road Trip

07/06/2017 21:55
Bloomberg via Getty Images

As the old saying goes, you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose. Voters might be forgiven, during the election of 2017, for thinking that their politicians had been campaigning in blank verse: slogan after slogan and not filling in the gaps on the detail, in this the most important election for a generation.

This has posed a real problem for we journalists and to be honest, I've been grateful for the last six weeks to have had almost no interactions with politicians whatsoever. Sky News were kind enough to supply me with my own set of wheels- the "Lewis Lorry"- #lewislorry (gives a whole new dimension to the idea of a company car) and send me up and down the country, instead talking to the voters about what was making them tick.

What we wanted to do was more than the typical election tour which virtually every newspaper and broadcaster undertake at election time. I'm pretty sceptical about the value of what you can learn by getting on a train from London at 8am, rocking up somewhere near a train station, vox popping a few unsuspecting punters in a town centre and going home (my producer Zach banned us filming in any shopping centres). With our tour we wanted to do more than that- we wanted to tell a story about that place and what that particular bit of Britain could speak to about what was going on more widely in British politics.

Therefore we didn't just hit the marginal seats, those places with a majority of a thousand or so, but also places which though ostensibly sporting big, whopping majorities, might tell us something about the election. And at the end of it, hopefully, we might, through putting the pieces together, have something coherent to say about the state of Britain in 2017.

And so alongside the Sky supremo top team of producer Zach Brown and cameraman Ed Young, the three of set upon our travels, from Blackpool to Buckingham, from Cardiff to Cambridge, alongside our indefatigable driver Rupe and of course, the real star of the show, the lorry.
Did we succeed? Well after 1,214 miles, rowing in Cambridge, nightclubbing in Newcastle, roller coasting in Blackpool, hiking in Snowdonia- lives, films and scores and scores of chats to voters, we'll let you be the judge. What I would say though is that my perception of this race changed. I quickly realised that so many of the assumptions that we made about voters' motivations in the glistening towers of Westminster were wrong, principal among them, the nature of Brexit as an electoral driving force.

I first realised, sat in a bingo hall in Hartlepool, after a brief foray calling the numbers, that we'd all been wrong. The assumption had been that Labour voters in the north, many of whom had voted to leave, would not vote for the party this time given its hesitant and unclear stance over the issue. As one lifelong Labour woman, in between dabbing, told me: "Why? It's not the only issue- and we're leaving anyway. You can vote for whoever you like."

It quickly became clear that this election, apparently called on the Brexit prospectus, had already got away from the Prime Minister, that voters had other ideas for what they wanted this election to be about. And that once again, we journalists had misunderstood the contours of the way people think about politics and had underestimated the remaining strength of class solidarity between working class and Labour.

That's not to say that Labour won't lose support in this election, they still might. And in all of my travels I failed to meet a single voter who had said they voted Conservative in 2015 but were switching to Labour this time. Given that Labour need to win millions of those people to win a majority, that seems to me, to still be a long way off.

But I also felt the electoral lava of this election solidify and change as the weeks bore on. When we started, in the south Wales valley town of Merthyr Tydfil, the first place to elect a Labour MP, the anti-Labour feeling was visceral. Jeremy Corbyn was considered weak, useless even, many traditional Labour voters told me they felt disenfranchised and that Theresa May appealed. "Even stronger than Maggie" was a common refrain.

Slowly that began to change. The numbers who waxed lyrical about Mrs. May shrank, the number who expressed surprised enthusiasm for Mr. Corbyn, grew. In particular I could see the core Labour vote in places like Birmingham and the North East solidify and rally behind Mr. Corbyn. I therefore think that the tightening we've seen in the polls is real.

Now this doesn't mean that Mr. Corbyn will win this election- a solid Tory victory is, still I think, the most likely outcome. But it shows that maybe the old cynics who say campaigns and campaigning doesn't matter are wrong. This one has made a difference, I think. At the very least Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stem the bleeding and Mrs. May has dropped the ball and the three figure landslide looks less likely.

And now, it's election eve. I'm thrilled to say I'll be in the studio on election night for Sky, alongside Adam Boulton, Ed Conway and Jane Secker, sifting through the seats and the data to give our viewers the best results service on TV. We've done lots of rehearsals which I've been darting back to London for between lorry jaunts. It's going to be a fantastically exciting night- I really hope you can join us.

Lewis Goodall is a Political Correspondent at Sky News

Follow the election results on VOTE 2017 from 9pm Thursday 8th June on Sky News

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