Last week canvassing started in earnest across Worthing and Adur. In the first of a series of campaign blogs covering the local elections, Carl Walker wonders why we bother canvassing our wards in the first place.
In an age when increasingly complex, multifaceted and morally compromised forms of mass media and social media have become the communication norm, canvassing people on the doorstep can feel quite quaint. As we stood in Worthing’s Labour Hall on Saturday with our clip boards, pens and rosettes I was reminded of those guys you sometimes see in bowler hats cycling alongside the Tour de France peloton on Penny Farthings. And as we headed out to our allotted streets, I wondered why we make canvassing so central to our campaigns.
We moved from door to door, one of us on the board recording people’s voting intentions. It soon became clear that the streets west of the Worthing Labour Hall were replete with Labour voters ready to adorn their windows with Mike Barrett’s name. Even the dogs in Cranworth Road were Labour voters (confirmed via the presence of a red coat, none of our team could actually speak ‘dog’). Indeed, by the end of this road, I reflected on how much fun it would be to follow Tory candidates up the same street, oozing barely suppressed schadenfreude (“Another Labour voter councillor? Aah, maybe better luck in the next house”.)
So, as we moved from house to dog to house, I started to reflect on why we actually bothered doing it. The following list is by no means definitive but it’s a good overview so here it is – the top ten reasons to come out and canvass in East Worthing and Shoreham this spring.
- The most obvious first – it matters to local people. Even in an age of mass political cynicism and disaffection people still want to see that their vote matters enough for a group of complete strangers to use their free time to convince them that their party can help them have the kind of town that they want.
- The next reason is that Tim Loughton really won’t like it. He wants Labour Party members sat on their derrières moaning on Facebook about how bad the world is. He doesn’t want them out there kicking his councillors out of office. Whether it’s because of his dismissive replies to your emails over the years, his appalling and illiberal voting record or maybe because The Conservatives have so few members capable of going out on foot nowadays.
- Lee Cowen - Lee has been a better councillor in his few short months in office than most conservative councillors have in years. Whether it’s his pressure to ensure that the annual councillor allowance was capped at 1% in alignment with the public sector pay cap, lobbying for the retention of the council tax relief scheme or just generally making our glutinous mass of blue councillors properly accountable at every opportunity, Lee is living proof of just how important good Labour councillors are.
- You will miss The One Show! Canvassing happens early evening and it is the only sure way you will avoid the arse-numbing intellectual vacuum that appears to constitute early evening entertainment.*
- Labour values. Whatever wing of the party you consider yourself on, whatever your branch, Worthing and Adur is crying out for Labour Party values in public life. Too many vulnerable people’s lives in our area depend upon it.
- Tim Loughton won’t like it. I know I mentioned it earlier but it’s such an enticing prospect that it needs mentioning twice. Imagine how sad his face will be watching Labour councillor victory speeches.
- It's fun. You also do not need to know the manifesto like the back of your hand. Sometimes people think that canvassing is having ten out of eleven doors slammed in your face of an evening. It’s not, it’s actually about eight. No seriously, it never happens. Whether people vote for you or not, they respect the fact that you can be bothered to get out on the streets and talk to them. You have some great, funny and occasionally weird conversations with people (someone once asked me why I reminded them of their Uncle Ted. Still possibly the hardest question I’ve ever been asked since their Uncle Ted was long dead and I’d never met him). It really is good fun. If you want to spend an evening feeling really good about the people you share your town with, get out and canvass.
- The candidates. I’m new to the party so maybe we have candidates this good every year but seriously, if there was an (admittedly unusual) international “best crop of local election candidates for a coastal area” award, this lot would win hands down. If just a handful of them get into office to support Lee, it is going to make Adur and Worthing a much better, much fairer and more democratic place.
- The Tories are on the ropes. God, I love writing that. The Tories are on the ropes. Yup, felt as good the second time around. After their majority received such a sound kicking in the general election, and they recently lost the Mash Barn by-election, they know there is something happening here. A changing demographic and years of public service destruction, housing and NHS crises, shameful levels of child poverty and homelessness (and their weird parlour trick of dragging the country through the dirt to make John Redwood and his mates happy) are starting to get a little old. Really, let’s kick them out!
- Voter ID. While we were canvassing, John Turley told me that nothing beats getting out and talking to people. He’s right. Our chances of winning depend on us finding labour voters and getting them out to vote on May 3rd. To do this we need to know where they live and how they vote and the only way to do that is to get out and ask people. Our election chances will be helped by publicity, stalls and social media activity but if we are to win it will be because we had lots of Labour canvassers finding the Labour voters and getting them out to vote.
And seriously folks. Imagine how good you will feel knowing Tim’s disappointed on 4th May and struggling with his social media responses? Won’t that make all the unanswered emails and inadequate responses to your questions worth it?
*Please note: Carl's staggering comments about The One Show do not represent the views of the CLP. Matt and Alex, because I know you read this, I am so so sorry! Ed