Doorstep canvassing is hard work. The Labour Party provides a standard script for those who are willing to undertake the desk. However experience demonstrates that all you need to do is knock on a door and say ‘Good-day Mrs. Smith. I’m calling on behalf of your Labour Candidate’. Their immediate reaction will give you enough information to mark them down as Labour, Doubtful or Against. For most practical purposes the last two categories are the same. You can move on quickly but are exhausted after two or three hours.
Sometimes you encounter the genuinely thoughtful doubtful voter who would like some sort of further discussion. Occasionally you will knock on the door of someone who has a grievance or problem where they wish you to take action. Most of the electorate however regard doorstep canvassing calls as a ritual to be closed as quickly as possible so they can get back to the television. Very few people, even when they clearly hold opposing views, argue back or are hostile. I do, however, remember my father being pretty aggressive when a Tory canvasser called on our owner-occupied semi on the outskirts of Cardiff. When he politely answered that he would be voting Labour her response was ‘What Labour in a nice house like this’. I could hardly think of a class-ridden statement designed to annoy him more.
One doorstep response does rankle. This is ‘You never called on me’ – ignoring the fact that you are calling as they speak. There is a variant dinner party articulation that runs ‘I’m not voting because they never called on me.’ I have no patience whatsoever with such people. They are lucky to live in a sophisticated democracy that has been secured by the sustained efforts of early generations – women in particular should be ashamed of turning their backs on the courage of the suffragettes.
There is also a practical objection to such daft negative statements. In North Norfolk we have over 68000 electors. Let’s assume you could call on twenty in an hour; this is a very high estimate given the widespread dispersion of population in the villages. Finding an address can be difficult, as I know from my frequent assistance to the drivers of delivery vans in my own village of Sharrington. Assuming that a Candidate has seventeen hours a week available for canvassing (this is a really tall order for anyone who holds a full or part time job), it would take him or her 200 weeks or 4 years to get round everyone. True other people could call on their behalf but equally the voter could well not be at home when the call was made. Whichever way you look at it such a response is imply an excuse for a moan.