George O’Keefe spent the recent election day on the streets, canvassing, polling, rushed off his feet. Here he tells the story of his day, and why doorstep politics is so important.
Local politics can often be brushed aside and forgotten as the unglamorous and the unimportant side to government. The voter turn outs across the country speaks for it’s self, some as low as 30%, the time has come when the counting hall is impressed of a turnout of 39.4% in my home town. So the question has to be asked, why do they bother?
I followed and helped the election and campaigning of two brand new candidates standing for the first time, both young but both ready for the challenge of endless phone calls about refuse collections and noisy neighbors. When I first met them there was just a sense of normality, local politics is about just that, local people. Something that really would shock an outsider. The whole bravado of parliamentary language and council chamber customs is only confined to the chamber itself; the political boxing stops at the door and friendship await the other side.
The run-up to an election will be the most stressful and nerve-racking thing you will ever do, and I was only assisting. God only knows how the candidates feel, but it’s the price you have to pay. So once you’ve been selected to stand in a ward, you can basically be on your own. Walking around that ward, knowing it inside out and back-to-front from the leafletting and canvassing you will do. It is hard work, but for some strange reason it doesn’t matter. If you were to say to someone “Go deliver 6000 leaflets today, and again tomorrow and again one polling day” I’m sure some expletives would be used. But when you’re gearing up for the election you just get on with it, and strangely it become enjoyable.
Canvassing, not to be attempted unless you can think on your feet and you know the past 50 years of your parties’ history. Trust me, you’re going to have to know it or at least be able to wing-it at the doorstep. The first thing that struck me was the amount of apathy, people not knowing or not caring, the amount of times I’ve heard “I’m not sure” or “I’ll properly decide on the day” I should have copyrighted those two phrases and claimed royalties! But there are people who do care, I meant some funny people, I meant some lovely people, but I also meant some nutters. It takes all sorts to make a world and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I loved the debate on the doorstep; I loved people having an opinion. I would rather some say they are going to vote for the opposition candidate than not vote at all.
But after all that, and the major lack of sleep comes the big day. Polling Day, not to be entered into on an empty stomach or a lack of tea supplies. The telling rota, more leaflets, knocking up, more leaflets, committee rooms and more leaflets. If you’re helping on polling day you will never work so hard in your life! Running around the ward telling at the stations from knocking on doors right up to polls closing, you will be doing anything and everything. I worked with and met some brilliant people, truly brilliant. That’s not to say I was utterly shattered, but it is addictive. After the vote count the next day I wanted to go back a day and do it all over again.
The clock strike ten, it’s over. Nothing more can be done, you collect your telling slips and tallying up the data. None of which you can really use but you feel like to should be doing something until the vote count the in morning.
All in all, local politics is important. You need them, and they need you.