Thursday, 1 May 2008

Late Flavour of the Doorstep

Belated May Day greetings to all AVPS readers!

I won't have the time to write a lot of the next few days - my wife's hogging the computer for her dissertation. So, with election fever still in the air, here's a vignette from the Burslem doorsteps. Mini-ethnographic accounts of this sort will pepper my PhD when it gets converted into book form.

“Hiya duck, very sorry to bother you. I’m from the Socialist Party and we’re going door to door this morning to get signatures on this petition. Royal Mail are planning to close the mail centre on Leek Road and transfer the sorting work that takes place there down to Wolverhampton. What this means for Stoke is the loss of 200 jobs and more of a chance your mail could get lost in the post because of the greater journey it has to make”.

“I’ll sign that”.

She takes the clipboard off me and begins signing her name followed by her address. The pen then wavers pregnantly over the donation column before finally writing down 50 pence.

“I’ll just go and get a donation for you”.

She returns with the money, and I hand over a copy of the paper to her. I also get out the second election leaflet the branch had printed.

“Also, are you planning on voting in the local election?”

“I don’t know yet, I haven’t decided”

“Well, we, the Socialist Party, are standing a candidate in this ward”. I unfold my leaflet and use my pen to point out its headline and the picture of our candidate. “Jane’s a postal worker at Burslem, and part of her round is in this ward. She’s here every day and knows the people and the area very well. Also she along with her workmates took six weeks of strike action over Christmas and New Year. Whether you agree with the strike or not, at least you know with Jane you’re getting someone who’s prepared to stand up and struggle, instead of sitting on the council benches and watching the allowances and expenses flow into her bank account. Do you normally vote?”

“Yes, always voted Labour in the past. I don’t know now”.

“Well we used to be in the Labour party but we left and set up the Socialist Party because we could see which way it was going. Jane also left the Labour party because she was fed up with what it’s doing nationally and locally. The abolition of the 10p tax band, bailing out failed banks with taxpayers’ money … and locally, the attempted closure of Dimensions, the demolitions, schools’ closures, the mayor’s stays in five star hotels at public expense. It’s not really a labour party any more”.

“Okay duck, I’ll have a read of the leaflet and see”.

“Thanks for your time, take care”.

I marked a P for paper sale against her name and looked down the street. A was still standing at the house he’d been at for the last ten minutes. “They must be good, he never usually spends very long with someone”.

The next door that opened was by a small guy who had no qualms in signing the petition, but no money was forthcoming this time. I asked if he was voting this time and he replied “Liberal”. But he agreed to take a leaflet and have a read through. A heavily pregnant woman clad only in a cream dressing gown opened the next door. I explained again what the petition was about, which she signed and I asked her about voting.

“I don’t normally vote, I hate politics”.

“I know all the parties say this, but our kind of politics are different. You can watch them down at parliament waving their bits of paper and scoring points, but that politics is boring and puts people off”.

“Yeah”

“For the Socialist Party, our politics is about street activity, about talking to working class people and finding out what they want”. I took out another leaflet and handed it over, giving the same spiel about our candidate.

“My husband will enjoy looking at this, he does take an interest in politics. Oh yes, we’ve had one of these through before. My father-in-law said he was going to vote for you”. Just then another woman came out her house at the same time a dog darted out from the living room of the one I’m at. I managed to grab it by the collar and ushered it back inside.

“Thanks for your time, duck”. She closed the door and I turned to the woman standing next to me.

“I’d like to have word. I’m sorry for how I look; I was just about to get into the shower when I heard you talking to my husband. I couldn’t believe he told you he was voting Liberal - we’re both socialists. I was hoping one of you would call when I saw in The Sentinel that you were standing in this area. I used to be a member – A knows me. We moved here from Newcastle six years ago. How’s the campaign going so far?”

Because she was an ex-member I felt it best to be open and honest.

“It’s difficult to say. We’ve put out two leaflets so far, but because of limited activist numbers we haven’t done all that much canvassing, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions from the responses we’ve had. Very few people have admitted they’re voting Labour and a lot of people are angry about what’s going on. Whether we’ll benefit from that feeling remains to be seen. I’ve spoken to a couple of people who said they would vote BNP if they were standing, but would now vote for us instead”.

“It’s strange how you could have supporters of something socialists stand against happy to support socialists."

“I know, but generally a vote for them is a protest. They pose as defenders of the white working class and often they are the only ones who articulate the issues working class people care about. Their vote isn’t a solid racist vote by any means. Plus when I was down Abbey Green a couple of years ago it wasn’t too difficult to talk BNP voters around by showing how they scapegoated immigrants for Stoke’s problems, and how they themselves have consistently failed to stand up for working class people of any kind, white or otherwise”.

The conversation continued for about another 10 minutes. We talked about the branch, our candidate, the sitting councillor and the local anti-fascist campaign. I sold her a paper and she told me we could count on two votes from her house at least. I marked the P and two stars against her husband’s name for votes. Because she was so enthusiastic I decided she would be someone worth revisiting once the campaign is over.

A few doors down I came to a house next to an alley, with the door in its side as opposed to the front. I knocked on it and a middle-aged woman opened. I started speaking but it quickly became apparent she was Polish. She started talking to her husband who was watching a dubbed American drama on TV. They beckoned me in. He shouted upstairs. In a few moments a 12-year-old girl came down and was asked to act as our translator. Her English wasn’t very wide ranging and I had difficulty conveying to her the post office issue and standing in the local elections. Her father looked at me and said “jobs?” I nodded and he signed the petition, and gave me a pound. I handed him a copy of our paper, wondering if they will be able to understand any of it.

Eventually A caught up with me and I asked him whether the guy he’s spent so long with was any good. He shook his head.

“Not really. He’s an Iraq war veteran so I thought it might have been worthwhile spending some time talking to him. He had some good ideas and others that were very funny. Once he started it was very difficult for me to back down. I get the feeling if you spent a long period of time with him he would come round to our view”. He then knocked on another door.

I felt an element of trepidation as I started on the next row of terraces. The house on the corner had a company car outside, emblazoned with adverts for one of the local lap dance clubs, so I wasn’t expecting a warm reception on that doorstep. This was compounded when the door was answered by a skinhead wearing what I could only describe as standard issue Nazi bovver boy wear – heavy black boots, black trousers and a loosely-fitted black bomber jacket. But as is usually the case with canvassing, first impressions can easily be confounded. I rattled off my patter about the post office and he was more than happy to sign our petition. I then told him about the local election and who the Socialist Party were standing and he said he’d have a read and think about voting for us.

Not long after we finished the row, and decided to call it a day so A could catch that afternoon’s crucial Stoke City fixture.

6 comments:

asquith said...

Sorry, I don't think you've got much support if that is anything to go by. That old dear you spoke to at first will either vote Labour or not at all. People like that, even if they agree with your views, won't vote for you because they simply can't change.

Darren said...

“Well we used to be in the Labour party but we left and set up the Socialist Party because we could see which way it was going . . . "

*cough . . . splutter . . . splutter*

brooklyn breakfast going down the wrong way.

Dave Festive said...

Well we used to be in the Labour party but we left and set up the Socialist Party because we could see which way it was going

no you didn't, you were expelled from it and have been trying to set up another party to act as entrists inside ever since.

Jim Jay said...

Actually, in fairness, I think that's technically true isn't it?

I mean some members were expelled and there was a decision to take the whole organisation out rather than fight a slow singling out of socialists in the Labour Party. Christ that would have been demoralising and disorientating to be half in and half out.

Not everyone agreed and those who stayed in formed Social Appeal - who are still there and have not expelled (too small and too loyal to bother with once the main job had been done).

Janine said...

He’s an Iraq war veteran so I thought it might have been worthwhile spending some time talking to him.

Huh? I guess he might be pissed off with the government's war policy or had some interesting anecdotes to tell, but I wouldn't generally think that talking to someone who volunteered to kill foreigners for a career would be the most obvious best use of a socialist canvasser's time.

Phil BC said...

Asquith, I agree with you. That's why I didn't put her down as a vote. Most conversations you have on the doorstep are of that character. If we'd had the resources to have canvassed the ward twice we would have returned to ask again.

Dave, you are a rubbish troll. If you want to get a rise out of people you would do well to check your facts first.

Janine, A told me he said some interesting things about the war but had some strange views about other things. We tend not to meet too many Iraq veterans in the course of our activity, so I think it was time well spent.