I stood on a street corner waiting for the local Labour Party to arrive. No sign. I wondered if I was in the wrong place. Then within two minutes a dozen of them, from all directions, introducing themselves and taking red and yellow stickers to wear. We walked up the hill on a very targeted run of the houses, only knocking on doors left over from a previous survey. Rain started to fall.
In a housing estate the team spread out. I found one woman, a continental European perhaps, to say she’d vote for us. Up the hill again I stood with a colleague in the porch of a grand house split into 6 flats. He dealt with the first half, including a shambling spacey character with a string belt who seemed perhaps on drugs, perhaps something more permanent. He was like a figure from Withnail & I. He told us he wasn’t interested in voting. Then he asked, apropos of not voting: Will I be subject to a fine of one thousand pounds?
Alone, I pressed the 6th buzzer. He wouldn’t tell me his voting intention. I walked away uphill. The rest of the party was nowhere to be seen. Under dripping trees I climbed past beautiful, elegant houses of brown brick and white stone. I walked all the way round to the heath. No sign of my comrades. I thought I would wind up having to go back home. Then I found them again in another housing estate. One canvasser at a time was going into each building, then emerging as another went in to knock on another door – a curiously inefficient approach. On the first floor I was answered by a 30-something male who said yes, they vote for our local MP. He wanted to get back to his wife feeding their child. Almost everyone who answered the door to me was busy like this.
I had lost the team again. The rain fell. I thought, perhaps if the rain falls hard enough, some householder will take pity on me and offer me their vote.
I wandered back into the estate one more time in hope of finding them. A local Labour activist of decades’ standing, an elderly lady in a bright red mackintosh coat, was coming back. As she and I walked back to find our colleagues on these roads of extraordinary houses, she told me she knew every door around here. She pointed to an old post office, an old stables. She asked me what kind of literature I specialized in.
I knocked on the door of a house with a foyer so grand it was like looking into a stately home. The lady of the house told me they wouldn’t be voting Labour. Every house on the road was grand, but every one seemed different. Round a corner I was sent down a long path, which the veteran lady said was a place to buy drugs. She didn’t really mean it as a recommendation. It was like a backroad, between two rows of houses, but so long and deep it was almost like going into the woods. The other canvasser with me did his job and turned back. The path went on. The rain hung in the thick trees overhead. It was like going into a scene from The Wind in the Willows or Black Swan Green or Penda’s Fen. At last I reached the first ‘cottage’ I was supposed to canvass. It was a buzzer at the back, or maybe the front, of someone’s long garden. I gave it my friendly opening spiel. A low muttering came back. I waited silently. I wasn’t quite sure he’d spoken. He spoke again: Did you catch what I just said?. I brightly replied: Oh, no, actually, I didn’t! He spoke again: I’m not going to tell you how I’m going to vote.
I walked on looking for the other ‘cottage’. I couldn’t find it. At the far end of this mysterious side road I turned around. It took so long to walk back I thought, given that I’ve already lost this team twice tonight, it was daft for me to go all the way down here alone. But down another hill I found them. Back in the first housing estate to knock on the doors that hadn’t answered earlier, I watched my colleagues spread out again. A woman answered a door, said she’d just come back home, wasn’t ready to think who she’d vote for. I thanked her for her time. On the corner we were told that our local teams had now covered the entire ward in five weeks. This was the last piece of the picture. Our organizer handed out Mr Kipling angel slices as a reward and told us about polling day.
A British Asian man from Stockport drove me the short distance home. He told me about local history and said Glenda Jackson lived in a house we were passing. He said he had campaigned in the 1983 election, had seen Harold Wilson beside Michael Foot, had torn up his card after the Iraq War, had come back to campaigning two weeks ago. He told me of how Yvette Cooper was being sent out to speak for the party now. It was all very interesting. I said I’d see him again soon.