The strange world of political activism
To be fair to Mr Hodges, also, I have to admit that I share much of his cynicism about canvassing.
A lot depends on the general political climate. In 1997, amidst the New Labour euphoria, you might have been forgiven for forgetting that you were a political activist, and thinking rather that you were a long-lost brother or a returning hero. I remember one street where I was all-but-embraced in virtually every household and was followed up the street by a group of children who literally cheered me from house to house as though they were watching the overs in a cricket match.
By contrast, 2007 was a different matter altogether. I would guess that a majority of people simply refused to come to the door to speak at all, and those who did were overwhelmingly hostile. I genuinely think that we did more harm than good that election – we simply reminded the opposition to turn out to vote to get rid of us.
Voter-ID, on the other hand – which Mr Hodges appears to confound with ‘canvassing’ – is a different matter. Voter-ID is where you go round door-to-door purely and simply to identify where they vote Labour. It is essential that you do this well before the election.
By contrast to canvassing, Voter-ID really works. When the election comes, you know where your friends are. You need to check that they are still up for voting, and – on the day – you need to make sure that they go out to vote. Especially in poorer areas, this indisputably delivers victories in even the most dyed-in-the-blue Tory wards. There really ARE more of ‘us’ than there are of ‘them’, if only we can get ‘us’ to go and place a cross next to the right name.
That was part the problem in 2007. After 10 years of Labour domination, we had got sloppy. All the old voter-ID lists were way out-of-date, and we ended up doing our voter-ID as we were doing our canvassing, and it was disastrous.
They live where you don’t dare to drive
George Galloway has obviously got us all thinking about canvassing, because also today Rupa Huq, who was one of the failed shortlisted Labour candidates for Bradford West, has written a disappointing article to the effect that she was ‘best out of it’.
She alludes to the Morrissey song:
“You don’t know a thing about their livesAs someone who has doorstepped in ‘that kind of’ area, my immediate, trite, response was to suggest that the U2 song Where The Streets Have No Name would probably have been more appropriate. There is one area of town, in particular, which is so confusing that I regularly knock the back door, having knocked the front door only minutes earlier; it is very embarrassing, especially if you got a negative reaction the first time!
They live where you wouldn’t dare to drive.”
Amusingly, one of our Party members is the former council official who devised the numbering scheme, so we punish him by making him go round there delivering the leaflets!
But as for ‘not daring’ to go, perhaps I’m lucky that there are NO ‘no-go’ areas in Aycliffe … maybe you need to be wary of the dogs, but certainly not the people. Indeed, the poorer the area, the more submissive and pliant the people.
The other day, we were in a nice part of the town, but there was a block of single-persons’ flats – the kind of place that lady canvassers do not like to go alone. By chance I drew the only flat where a voter was registered (a telling point in itself) and I bowled up to the door (yes – having checked for evidence of dogs).
It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The door was answered by a crushed, timid man, wearing a vest and track-suit bottoms, who twisted uncomfortably like a child in trouble.
He was typical of the kind of person for whom I have given my life as both teacher and politician.
‘Hello,’ I enthused, ‘My name is John Clare and I am canvassing on behalf of the Labour Party. Did you know there was an election on Thursday?’
‘Oh yes … I’ve already send off my postal vote … I posted it on Sunday.’
He spoke slowly and distractedly. I wondered if he was on drugs.
‘Great!’ I said. ‘It’s wonderful to see that you are so public-spirited. May I ask how you voted.’
‘Oh yes … Labour,’ he said.
But I was a teacher for 40 years, and I can guarantee you that he was lying. A short pause and a slight double-take in his eyes betrayed that … in addition to which, when I checked, I saw that he hadn’t applied for a postal vote.
People are strange when you're a stranger
Seeing as we’re finding pop songs appropriate for doorstepping, I suspect you couldn’t do better than The Doors:
People are strange when you're a stranger,which are feelings with which I suspect every canvasser will be able to identify.
Faces look ugly when you're alone
Women seem wicked when you're unwanted,
Streets are uneven when you are down
As Mr Hodges points out, political activists are not normal people, and it is we who are invading normal people’s lives. The mere fact that you are knocking doors makes you odd, and you would be mistaken to think that the people you speak to are telling you the truth; almost all of them, even the polite ones, mostly want you to finish up and go away.
But, having said that, how else do we contact my single, crushed flat-owner man? If there is anyone who NEEDS a Labour councillor, who needs to be rid of this ideologue Tory government, it is him. And – so – maybe I will never persuade that particular person ever to actually vote … but the person three doors down, now that’s a different matter.
As Mr Hodges acknowledges, someone has to do it and – in the absence of a flood of eager volunteers – I suppose it will have to be you and me.
I know few people who do not HATE knocking doors; like visiting hospital or going to the dentist, it is something you have to steel yourself to undertake.
Nevertheless – like visiting hospital or going to the dentist – it is something which has to be done.