Returning to the Fold #5 – rediscovering the pleasures of canvassing!
If you have been following the posts you will know I have become immersed in the Gorton by-election having re-joined the Lib-Dem Party a little while ago. So, of course, it was with a bit of a jolt that the calling of the General Election changed the timetable somewhat. The by-election was (I suppose sensibly) cancelled and the vacancy in Gorton will be filled merely as part of the General Election now to take place on 8th June.
A key part of my rationale for being involved again was, and still is, to help my friend Jane Brophy in the Mayoral elections in Greater Manchester, so the Gorton date change has made little difference to my commitment. Thus, having committed myself to participating fully for the last week of the campaign, I decided I should still do that, not least because there is a by-election at City level too, for a Council seat within the Gorton Constituency. Working here, therefore, will still contribute to the Mayoral Election, for stronger Lib-Dem presence on the Manchester City council and could prove to be a strong marker for a successful campaign in Gorton in the General Election.
Given the canvassing I have been involved with over the last few days I have a weird feeling the national opinion polls are seriously underestimating the position of the Liberal Democrats, especially a recent poll which suggests the party has actually slid backwards again. But that may simply be that a national opinion poll is not picking up people whose views have been affected yet by real Lib-Dem activity. It will be interesting to see if the local election results are sufficiently favourable to impact upon those people that do not live in our “political bubble”.
So, what has the canvassing been like? you may ask…
All I can say is that I have been really enjoying canvassing in the Rusholme area of the Gorton constituency. So far, over about four weeks of activity here, I have found just one person who has been prepared to say he is a Conservative – and he would not contemplate even a discussion of tactical voting. There have also been a few households who would not declare their affiliation where my assumption has been that they were probably conservative.
Of course, as part of a solidly Labour seat there have been quite a few people declaring they were solid Labour, but I have found just as many definite Lib-Dems so about fifty-fifty on that score. The best part of my canvassing here, however, have been the instances where a self-declared Labour voter has actually changed their mind on the doorstep as the conversation has progressed. I guess this is what is meant by the expression “soft Labour” vote!
One particularly rewarding conversation on Sunday went this way. “This is really a Labour household” was how I was greeted at the gate – he was working on his vehicle in the driveway. I took my clue from the word “really” in the sentence. I suppose I heard just an element of doubt there and we had a good-humoured conversation around current politics. He seemed to be warming to the idea of the Liberal Democrats having held back the worst of Tory plans during the coalition years. He had also voted “remain” in the European referendum last year so was sympathetic to the idea that all may not yet be lost if we could provide an opposition with some backbone.
In the end it proved to be my story about the handshake and Gladstone that sealed the deal. His two year old daughter was playing in the front garden and seemed interested in the silver haired visitor with a bright rosette. So I shook his hand and he called his daughter over, so I shook her hand too and then launched into the story (for details see my previous blog! https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/handshake-claim-to-fame/comment-page-1/#comment-240 ) So there is a little girl in Manchester who, in perhaps sixty eight year`s time will be able to say “when I was a little girl….” and Gladstone`s handshake will only be three away from someone living nearly two hundred years after his decease.
So the conversation ended in smiles and my new friend became a definite Lib-Dem voter on the canvass return and he and his little girl were happy to have their photo taken with the poster they took to declare their allegiance.
In fact, I must have now told my “Gladstone handshake” tale about ten times on the doorsteps of Rusholme and it has cemented several conversions or consideration of “thinking about change” as well as selling the poster seen here and – on Saturday – the signing up of a new member. Really, however, the main reason for such reconsideration by former labour voters has been the willingness to participate in a conversation about politics. And it is this willingness to talk that characterises a more positive feel for the Libaral Democrats than I have experienced in a long time I have to go back to 1983 to find a period where I was experiencing such positive thinking on the streets.
It has also been a pleasure to meet new friends from other parts of the country who have been coming up to Gorton over the last few weeks to help. It has reminded me about the camaraderie I have been missing not being active in the Party – so a bit “shout out” to my fellow canvassers, hope you have been enjoying it as I have!
All this has contributed to my increasing enjoyment of the canvassing process in the last few weeks. Indeed, as I write these last few lines of this blog-post, I am able to reflect that my return to the fold of Liberal politics has been rewarding and, above all, FUN. Long may it continue. I just hope my optimism survives the vote on Thursday and the General Election when it happens next month.