Special delivery

4 June 2001

There is a limit to how often even the most arrogant candidate can stomach seeing photos of themselves – in my case that limit was breached when I returned home from work to find the entire living room floor carpeted with leaflets, each with my photo grinning up at me.

But now I’m praying to see it one more time, on the doormat with the rest of the post one morning this week. Early this week, for preference.

One of the biggest nightmares of this campaign has been the organisation of my freepost leaflets, the archaically-named ‘election communication’ that for most voters will be their only proof of my very existence. It was the first task I started, and it won’t end until Wednesday morning when the last few drop through people’s letterboxes. Hopefully.

It ought to have been so easy. The rules say the Post Office will do you a free delivery, and they let you choose one of two options. You can either have a leaflet delivered to every address, or to every elector.

The ‘every address’ option is nice and easy. You just pay the printer and your work is done. The problem is it’s indiscriminate. When the Post Office says every address, it means every address. They go to businesses, to empty houses, to homes with no-one on the electoral register. Nursing homes with 30 occupants and live-in staff get just one to pass round. Houses in multiple occupancy where the flatmates are at war get just one to fight over. What you gain in convenience, you lose in efficiency. It’s what you do if you know you’re going to win, or know you’re going to lose, or just want to go through the motions.

If, on the other hand, you’re in a close fight, or if like me you want to build for the future, you get a bit clever and use the option for addressed leaflets. This deals with almost all the problems of the unaddressed delivery, with the added bonus that people are more likely to read something with a name and address on it. Or you can get cleverer still, and use different leaflets for different people at the same household, delivered several days apart, in the not-unreasonable hope that everybody there will see them all. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s the root of the problems.

One of my leaflets is full colour, crammed with photos, designed by the party campaigns department, professionally printed on large size paper and then folded, with the addresses laser-printed on. I have one of these going to at least one person in every household. In the original plan they would have been delivered from last Friday, but for reasons I still don’t understand they won’t start to go out until Monday 4th and won’t be completed until the eve of polling day. By any standards that’s cutting it fine, and it’s missed the postal voters by a mile. But it’s not this leaflet that’s turned my hair grey.

The one saving grace of my other leaflet – which went to our five strongest wards – is that at least it has now been delivered and I don’t have to worry about it any more. I printed 14,000 – and when I say “I” printed them, I really mean that. I designed them, reproduced them, fed them through a folding machine, and printed labels on my long-suffering inkjet, which was lucky to survive the experience. Volunteers stuck the labels on and sorted them by street, and we were all set to go when the postal strike struck. I could have cried. We made it in the end, but it was a nightmare of logistics and it threw all my planning out of the window in the early weeks of the campaign. The worst moment, I think, was the discovery that the owner of the house where a fifth of them had been stored for safekeeping had flown abroad and nobody knew whether he would return before the Post Office deadline for delivery. We reprinted them.

And now while I wait for the flashy full-colour leaflet to arrive I spend my time answering e-mails from constituents who say they haven’t had anything through the door and don’t know what I stand for, so why the hell should they vote for me?

The answer’s in the post, and with luck they’ll get it before Thursday.