Apologies for the lack of posts. I’m sure if you’ve been involved in elections for half your life, and are sad enough to look in Staples for a diary that runs May-May, you’ll know that this is the worst, and in some ways busiest part of the year. It’s building up, everyone knows they now need to do something, but they’re still ducking out of some of it under the guise of arguing about what to say. April you can sail through, people will be at a fighting weight then, but February is like pulling teeth. Also I feel mean for trying to get candidates to knock doors when their hands are like something out of a horror film from vibration white finger.
So in order to perk up the troops, and while away the days until I force people to work evenings, we have been making our way round the bungalows of South Yorkshire. If you’ve done this, you will know, and there is no politically correct way of saying this, that old ladies are lovely. At least the ones we have been talking to are. I’m sure old men are great too, but there are fewer and they seem less keen to answer the door.
It’s one of the great myths about canvassing that people are mean to you. I have never had a door slammed in my face. Nobody has ever complained about the fact that I am knocking. Some people basically hate us, some don’t care, and some have casework and issues that may not have been resolved. But nobody has ever objected to me knocking on their door. Even on a Sunday, whatever numerous candidates have protested.
I have lost count of the number of times, especially during the winter months, that I have been asked in for cups of tea. Sometimes people are just lonely, and want someone to talk to. But some are real enthusiasts for politics, who would never have thought of getting involved in it and realistically it’s too late to convert them now.
Mrs Jones, whose door I knocked on last week, was a great example. (It’s not her real name, but I’ll tell you where she lives if you e-mail me, before people cry Jennifer’s ear at me). She must have been in her mid-eighties. I met her husband first, who seemed unsure about how to answer any of my questions, but said that he would fetch ‘the mester’ (northern for the person in charge, similar to the gaffer if you don’t know). I was slightly apprehensive about this, as sometimes this has meant “I’m not that bothered but it would amuse me to fetch my partner to rant at you”. He was not one of those.
His wife came out and said how lovely it was to have us knock on her door and ask if there were any problems we could help with. Then she said that she would always vote Labour, for the simple reason that she compared her life with her mother’s life. When you look at it that way, you can see her point. Her comparison spanned the 20th century, and she was sure that the Labour party was the dominant progressive influence of those years. Sometimes we forget that. She then rolled off her reasons: the healthcare she had had. The houses she had lived in. The jobs she went through. The fact that she is still alive, and the fact that she is warm. If only I heard all these things brought up at my local Labour party meetings.
Now you can overstate her point. Not everything in her life was down to Labour. She worked hard, and must have been in the right place at the right time to feel the benefit of periods of prosperity. But she recognised politics as the agency which brought at least some of this to her life.
I was thinking about this in a seminar yesterday. One of the other students in my seminar made the point that sometimes people are excluded from politics because the choice they would like is not available to them. This reminds me of when I have more than once been told off on doorsteps for the fact that there was not a candidate from the party a voter would like to vote for. It constantly happens with people who’d like to vote Green, and I have had it before where people want to vote BNP. The view seems to be that the Labour party should make sure there are candidates from other parties.
What I don’t have an answer for is whether this is a new thing. Whether it’s only recently that people have imagined that political actors are provided, somehow, by providence. That it just happens. That politicians, good or bad, are born and not made. It’s also a worrying tendency within the party, where the less functional party units neglect to bring people in, and never consider the training and informing that is the duty of a political organisation. We can’t complain that people aren’t coming to us. Nor can we complain that any given politicians don’t have skills that as party activists we want. The party needs to be prouder of itself as an agent of change, and to recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility to develop the politicians we want.
And if anyone has the February political blues, come out with me and see Mrs Jones. Better still, make her our party election broadcast. I’ll make the tea.