If I ever write my political memoirs this could be the title – although admittedly a gross exaggeration. My fondness for canvassing is well known, as well as my view of its importance. I welcome Ed Miliband’s announcement of this as a target for the Labour Party in the short run-in to the General Election.
A couple of things, though. Why wait till now to announce this? I have been out most weeks since 2010, in fact since way before then. Also, I hope that the targeting so beloved in some sections of the party is largely set aside.
In the heady days of overwhelming Labour popularity, in the run-in to Blair’s 1997 landslide, it was a case of finding our support and reminding it to vote on the day. Nowadays we make do with barely a hair’s breadth lead over the Tories, and our task is as much about persuasion as it is about identification.
I can recall helping colleagues across Essex, and striding sometimes a hundred yards between doors. They were not spaced this far apart, it was in areas of dense terracing, but that was the gap between known Labour promises of support. I could not help but wonder about all those residing behind the doors we marched past. Surely everyone deserves to see and hear what Labour has to offer, both friend and foe?
As I approach my third General Election as candidate I am still determined to engage with everyone that I can. I know that I cannot get around to every door, and also that more doors are marked as ‘not at home’ than those that are answered. I am not in politics just to win elections, I want to change the world. I can’t see that happening if I just stick to friendly faces.
Also, regardless of their affiliation, I hope to be able to represent all in Southend West. It is difficult to represent someone if you have never spoken to them. I also believe that even the most die-hard Conservative supporter will start to question their loyalty if all they ever see is the Labour Party at their door. Besides, issues are issues regardless of who tells you about them.
Targeting is appropriate at times, and I am not blind to the reality of scarce resources. However, bequeathing whole swathes of supposedly unpromising territory lets down those Labour supporters who reside there, lets down those who cherish debate, and lets down democracy. It also makes victory too easy for our opponents in these places, and allowing them to allocate surplus resources to Labour marginals. Besides, I have personal experience of being a branch secretary in a ward that was (and still is) seen as a Tory stronghold, yet had one of the largest Labour memberships in my borough.
Canvassing does not just unearth voters, it encourages membership – which leads to activism and donation.
I recall a story of a little old lady who lived at the top of a sixteen or seventeen-storey tower-block in east London. She dutifully turned out to vote in a council election some years ago, and was one of perhaps a couple of dozen who opted for the Communist Party candidate. When asked why she voted for the Communist candidate her response was that he was the only one who knocked on her door. Sometimes just turning up is enough.