An innovative new method: talking to people

30 April 2001

I’ve been going door-to-door recently, in an area where we’ve never been particularly strong, never put out a leaflet, never fought a sustained campaign. It’s been an education.

The reason for this adventure into Labour-voting territory is to survey opinions on the local football team’s hopes of building a new stadium in place of the deteriorating arena at the bottom of people’s gardens.

Brentford FC desperately needs a new home. The site in Feltham looks like the best option anywhere in the borough. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.

I lived around the corner from the site for two years. People I’m very close to grew up there, or have lived there for years. Dropping a football stadium into the local park – and several thousand supporters onto the local roads – stretches the imagination somewhat.

But that’s just my opinion, so I’ve printed up some surveys and am knocking on the doors of the 314 houses most closely affected to find out what they think.

It goes something like this:

Knock on door. Shadow appears through glass – householder coming. Just time for a last check of reflection – survey forms arranged neatly, flies done up, gate shut behind me in case of escaping dog.

“Sorry to disturb you, my name’s Andy Darley.” Look of extreme bafflement from resident as they wonder, ‘Should I know him? Is he a doorstep conman? Has he got a mate creeping through my back door at this very moment?’

“I’m the Lib Dems’ prospective Parliamentary candidate around here.” Brief flare of panic becomes visible in eyes as householder regrets opening door. Worse than a conman – a politician!

“I’m doing a quick survey into the future of Feltham Arenas.” Immediate transformation of attitude – some people have strong opinions about this, others have shapeless fears based on vague rumours.

At this point there’s generally a small child trying to make a break for it, or the sound of a favourite TV programme, or the smell of cooking. So the next line tends to go down well.

“I wasn’t wanting to keep you on the doorstep now, what I’m doing if people agree is leaving the form with you, then coming back between eight and nine tonight and if you leave it poking out of your letterbox I can collect it without disturbing you again.”

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s the right thing to say. The response is almost always positive. Another survey form disappears inside another house, along with the rapidly retreating householder – relieved at not getting trapped, pleased to have their opinion asked.

Several hours later and I’m back. Almost every form handed to a real person (as opposed to pushed through an unanswered door) is hanging there awaiting collection.

It’s a small thing, asking people’s opinions instead of assuming you know it all already. You would have thought all politicians would do it. But the surprise on people’s faces and in the completed forms tells its own story.