GEORGE KEREVAN reports from the proverbial doorstep of politics…
GE15, the universal social media hashtag for Britain’s five-yearly date with democracy, is now well under way. That means candidates and their campaign teams are braving barking dogs, dark closes, and would-be electors irate at having their favourite soap opera interrupted, to knock on doors and meet the voters.
This, dear reader, is where democracy becomes real. I should know because, as an SNP candidate in GE15, I am part of this vital ritual.
How often have you heard a government minister or opposition spokesperson deflect a question or criticism with the immortal words: “That’s not what I am hearing from voters on the doorstep”?
It is an article of political faith that the doorstep is the pulpit of democracy.
In many ways it really is. However, I suspect that many a professional politician approaches his or her five-yearly date with practical democracy with more trepidation than pleasure.
Not everyone finds canvassing – cold-calling an unsuspecting voter to seek their view on the forthcoming election – an easy thing to do. It does, after all, require a bit of a brass neck or at least a thick skin.
Though you might not credit it, I’ve known quite a few elected politicians and even Cabinet ministers who are literally shy about knocking on a stranger’s door to ask their political opinion.
In fact, I suspect that in most parties the members who do the actual canvassing – as opposed to other vital tasks, such as stuffing envelopes and delivering leaflets – is a dedicated minority. The doorstep, it seems, is not everyone’s cup of political tea.
Personally, I’ve grown to enjoy the doorstep experience but it is not without its hazards…
For starters, canvassing in Scotland in darkest January or February requires arctic clothing and a skill in navigation the RAF would be proud of.
In recent times, the architectural profession has fallen in love with the notion of designing “defensible” communities – housing estates that are physically organised to discourage outsiders such burglars, passing motorists seeking free parking, homeward bound revellers, or salesmen of any description (including canvassers). The result is that it is very easy to enter such urban labyrinths but fiendishly difficult to get out.
Many a time I’ve found myself in a concrete Loan, Garden or Court, only to find I can’t find my way back out. This is frequently compounded by these urban fortresses being interconnected like a Byzantine fortress, in a series of interlocking circles.
The result is that you don’t actually know where one street starts and another stops – they bend back or overlap. Result: you are lost and cut off from your fellow canvassers, even though they are only over the wall.
Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue in recent years. A mobile phone GPS is perfect for finding one’s location, though you still need a stick of dynamite to clear a straight line exit.
Knocking on doors is an art in itself. Sadly, in the decades I’ve been canvassing, one can chart the loss of community and neighbourliness. Once, every door had (1) a family nameplate, (2) a bell or buzzer to communicate readily with those inside, and (3) a proper letterbox to receive correspondence or literature from the outside universe. These days, all too frequently, some or all of these are missing.
This makes canvassing much more problematic…
It is now more common than not in tenement or flatted properties for there to be no name (or even internal number) on a door. As canvassing involves logging information about potential supporters, it actually helps if you can find them.
Even if you arrive at approximately the correct door, getting those inside to acknowledge your presence can be an issue. Most door buzzers in my experience are decoys designed to fool would-be callers. Either that or they are so mute that no inhabitant can hear them ringing over the sound of the TV.
The only recourse is chapping on the door but this inevitably results in sore knuckles after a stair or two. The sure way of attracting attention is that the owner’s dog – whose hearing is acute and canine hunting instincts uncorrupted by flat dwelling – starts barking.
Which brings me to the Dog Issue.
The local canine family member (or members) will invariably bring a constituent to open the door. Unfortunately, the canvasser is now faced with the complicated task of engaging in a political discussion while the householder valiantly attempts to stop Fido or Wolf from escaping into the wider wold.
By this time, Fido or Wolf’s canine shouting has triggered a response from every other dog in the stairwell. A sophisticated debate about the errant macroeconomic policy of the current shower in government is rendered difficult. Though, I must say, you would be surprised by the number of householders happy to give it a go.
As a cat person myself, my heart always lifts when I come to a door with a cat flap. Here I will find a bond beyond party politics! Alas, not always. I rang a door the other week which had a huge plastic cat carrier parked outside. I was half a sentence into an ice-breaker question about the cat’s name when the lady who answered the door suddenly looked pained.
The cat basket was on the doorstep for collection because her moggie had died. Shaking her head, she closed the door.
Yes, truth and pain does lie on the doorstep.