Saturday, 25 April 2015

In praise of the (election) workers

The last few leaflets
At the start of this seemingly interminable election campaign I was delivering 'In Touch' leaflets in Denholme. In that peculiarly Yorkshire spring precipitation that can't decide whether it's rain, snow, sleet or hail. I'd listened earlier to assorted pundits, journalists and such like holding forth about the issues in the election and social media was cluttered with gangs of smiling campaigners waving placards.

And I thought that the image of the election campaign given us by the media is pretty unrealistic. A more accurate picture of election campaigning would show me in a wind-cheater, scarfed up and shivering a little as I plod up Hillcrest Road delivering my own personal little message. And thousands of others doing likewise everywhere across the country. Not just the ones in those Twitter pics waving banners but loads of others who are delivering a few leaflets because they support the cause, because the candidate is a friend, because someone asked and they thought 'why not'.

So when you're feeling a little cynical about politics and politicians think instead about the lady delivering my leaflets up Wilsden Hill, a beautiful, almost unique collection of old agricultural buildings, workers cottages and great views. Or about the old man who delivers them round your way. Politicians (well nearly all of them - I can name a few that don't) recognise the importance of these people, listen to them and understand that they do it for a whole host of reasons.

Yesterday, as the temperature dropped and the clouds gathered in preparation for today's rain, I was delivering my leaflet in Harden. At one house a couple were sat in their summerhouse drinking tea - taking a mid-afternoon break as they put it - and we had a brief conversation. Mostly about the fact (which they hadn't appreciated) that there are local council elections on the same day as the general election but also about my lack of 'minions'. I didn't go on to explain that what 'minions' I have are, in truth, volunteers and mostly elderly. These are the people who help me campaign every year and their number and capability diminishes with each passing year.

When I was first elected - 1995 by just fifteen votes - things were very different. Across the four villages of Bingley Rural we ran a full polling day campaign having canvassed more than half the ward. Every polling station (bar two with only 150 electors each) was manned from 8am through to 8pm, numbers were collected and crossed off. And we knocked up and pulled out - even down to one colleague baby-sitting while someone went to vote and another driving someone to vote as she'd had one or two too many to drink. I remind everyone that this is why I was elected on that day.

On 7th May the same applies - there will be MPs and councillors elected because of those men and women who plodded up damp drives, gashed their fingers on rusty gates, fought the evil that is the English letterbox and braved 'beware of the dog' signs. For sure, all the nice comfortable warm folk clicking on things in their living rooms will have helped too but the real slog done by the party workers come rain or shine is the reason why safe seats stay as safe seats, why marginals are held against the swing and why people we didn't think will get elected get elected.

There are too few of these people - we couldn't muster the numbers to run a full, old-fashioned polling day campaign these days - and the national party headquarters, filled with young folk who've never done one of those campaigns, are not interested in finding more. Yet those people who do that delivering, canvassing, writing addresses, sticking on stamps and bashing in poster stakes are the political party - without them it's just a badge or a brand sustained by large donations or, worse, through state funding.

So, before all the different political leaders, campaign managers and political strategists start taking credit (or blame) for the election result, let's celebrate those ordinary election workers who delivered, rang, stuffed and knocked. They are better and more important than all the David Axelrod and Lynton Crosby sorts that litter our political scene. Well done - whatever party it's for- and thank you.


1 comment:

Clarissa said...

Ah, leaflet delivering. Together with folding them (back in the days when they were A4 with little use of colour), that was my introduction to grassroots politics back in the days when my mother was an active member of Castle Point Conservatives and I'd yet to reach double figures.