|A Denholme doorstep...|
It rained today. I mean really rained. Torrents of cold water pouring down onto the Pennine village of Denholme. And we got wet - "I've never know rain like it" was one slightly exaggerated comment. We plodded on from house to house, talking about the main road through the village, the housing development just starting in the derelict (and unsightly) former mill site, and the work of the library that the community saved when Bradford Council wanted to close it down.
We heard about national politics too, about immigration and jobs, about the NHS and about the lack of trust in politicians. As always we listened, tried to get the message across about an improving economy and how we'd protected the health service from the worst of the cuts. Nowhere did we find antipathy - one man abruptly told us he wasn't voting indeed that he'd never voted and would never vote again. And there was the usual smattering, unsurprising in such dire weather, of people too busy or too tired to engage with a damp canvasser on the doorstep - "not interested", "not now I'm on my way out".
There were worries. The woman who invited me in to shelter in her porch so she could tell me how terrified she was at the prospect of a Labour government. Or the ambulanceman who, putting aside his worry about cuts to his service, said that we couldn't risk the economic recovery so he'd be voting Conservative. Time and time again the message came back - "we can't risk it", "Labour might tip the economy back", "I don't know what will happen if we get Miliband in charge".
And there were the waverers, the don't knows. the not sures and those not voting. Each one with a different concern - maybe immigration and Europe, perhaps something personal about social care but most often a real bemusement about the pitch being made to them. I know I can't change someone's mind on their front step in the pouring rain but I make the points - economic recovery, referendum on EU membership, investment in health - and hope that my little contribution (and the fact I've turned up on their doorstep) might tip them from don't know or not sure into voting Conservative.
Many of you will have watched this election through the prism of the media - debates, interviews, stunts, gimmicks, more manifesto launches than ever before (there seems to be one for every minority and every special interest these days), and the constant bickering of talking heads. You'll have laughed at the gaffes, spluttered in righteous indignation, argued with the TV and the radio. Some might have stepped a little further - attended a local hustings, rung a phone in, clicked on one of the avalanche of petitions that pointlessly clutter up our email in-boxes.
Out there on the doorstep it feels very different. For sure we meet the engaged and involved, the questioning, and the angry. But mostly we meet people who make clear that, however important the election might be to us politicians, they have things in their lives that are much more important. Like the man in Cottingley who said, "yes I'll be voting but I've not had time to think about it yet". Next to running his business, ferrying children around and fixing the cracked pane of glass in the conservatory, my plea for his vote is unimportant.
I've not watched much of the TV campaign and my consumption of the newspaper campaign comes courtesy of Twitter so I can't say who did well and who didn't. But I think that the two main parties have adopted very different strategies - Labour segmenting like mad and targeting bespoke messages to target groups of voters and the Conservatives preferring the bash, bash, bash of a repeated message. The marketer in me is curious as to which will be more effective - my direct marketing bias tells me Labour's approach, cynical and exploitative, owes more to Readers' Digest than David Ogilvie. And I know this works.
But I also know that the repeated message and the bestseller syndrome works as well - some of you are now bored with 'hard-working families', 'long term economic plan' and 'don't let Labour ruin it again' but these messages are just starting to get through to people like the man in Cottingley I mentioned above.
Back on those doorsteps what we get fed back to us are the messages that have filtered through - the real 'cut through' not the belief that getting something trending on Twitter is any sort of engagement with that electorate. So we hear those concerns that have reached people - immigration, health, the economy, the competence of Miliband and the threat to our unity from having separatists dictating government policy. No-one mentioned Miliband's 'pledge slab' or Cameron's slip up, no-one talked about bacon sarnies or Bullingdon boys, and no-one said a thing about the inundation of opinion polling that we've seen during this election.
I don't know what will happen tomorrow - other than that millions of men and women will exercise their franchise. I know what I hope for and I see those polls and their accompanying analysis - your guess is probably as good as mine so I won't be making any predictions. But on the dozens of occasions when people have asked me what's going to happen - usually in the context of not wanting a Miliband/SNP cuddle-up - I've answered along these lines:
"All I can do is put my cross in the right box and tell everyone I meet to do likewise."
That right box - for a load of reasons - is the Conservative box. Some of those reasons are negative - not wanting Labour to ruin the economy yet again while screwing us over for a load more taxes being a really important one. But most are positive - offering lower taxes, better managed services, the sort of real compassion we need rather than Labour's 'hug the poor but do nothing much to help them' attitude, and a chance to have a substantive debate and a real say on the UK's most important relationship, that with our European friends and neighbours.
There are lots of things that I don't like about the last five years - the nannying fussbucketry, the creeping erosion of civil liberties and the enthusiasm for grand projects like HS2 stand out - but anyone who thinks a Labour-led government would be any better in this regard needs their head examining. Add in the fascism of the SNP with their named person laws, minimum unit pricing and banning of songs and you get the recipe for the most illiberal government in the UK's history.
So put your cross in the right box tomorrow. Vote Conservative.