21 March 2001
Solo leafleting is a soul-destroying task.
You start off perky and enthusiastic, scampering up paths and joyfully thrusting your leaflets through letterboxes that hinge wide to accept them. The dogs are friendly, the cats civil, and the children glimpsed dimly through frosted glass front doors pick up the leaflets and totter off to hand them to their mothers.
Three hours later, things are rather different.
The laws of physics are suspended, so that front doors are twice as far from the pavement as they seem, and the paths all have loose slabs that hinge as you step on them, squirting liquid mud over your shoes. The letterbox gremlins have been round ahead of you, fitting industrial strength springs that turn each flap into a savage mousetrap with a slavering hellhound barking behind it. Toddlers with sticky fingers gaze stupidly at the leaflets, then eat them. Front doors left on the latch hinge open without warning, leaving you toppling forward into a living room full of surprised voters.
And worst of all, householders start leaving their recycling boxes in their front porches, immediately beneath the letterbox. As a candidate, you have few illusions. You know that most leaflets will be discarded unread. But there is something terribly dispiriting about doing the binning yourself.
The problems are still there when you go out in pairs or groups of course, but they are mitigated by being able to moan and whinge. Also, you can keep your spirits up longer by competitive leafleting, leap-frogging each other to alternate houses down the road.
Later today I’ll be going out with a new volunteer and her small daughter for the first time. The company will be welcome even though the daughter, showing a mercenary streak that belies her tender years, has secured a promise of payment in chocolate. I’m wondering what they will make of it all.
Occasionally you find yourself in conversations with voters, even though you are utterly unprepared for it. Your attention is three houses up the street, working out the best route past the garden gnomes to the door, and you are dressed for comfort not respectability. Nevertheless you do your best.
Last night I met one such voter, who was standing at the end of his drive shaking his head at the mess the cable company had made of the street when they dug it up. I introduced myself and – much to my surprise – his face lit up.
“I’m voting for you. And so’s the wife. We were talking about it yesterday. Shake Labour up a bit, they’ve been in too long down here. I hope you lot get in.”
Crikey. Something’s clearly stirring out there. And best of all, I was able to hand him the leaflet – which made one less letterbox to battle with.