Sunday, 20 April 2008

Knocking on Doors

When I stepped out the car for yesterday's canvassing session, the wind was howling and bitter. The streets were deserted and few cars were parked up. The omens were not good. But appearances can be deceiving, as I was to discover over the next few hours.

Burslem South is a very different ward from our normal stomping grounds in Abbey Green. The latter is almost exclusively white and is split between two geographically contiguous areas (Abbey Hulton and a part of Milton). Burslem South on the other hand is made up of half a dozen enclaves. It contains the full range of Stoke housing, from the brand new to the very old. Parts of Cobridge and Middleport are earmarked for demolition and is a major issue in the ward. There are no definite plans for demolition where we canvassed yesterday, but some of the housing stock is very poor. A huge hole in the roof of one uninhabited middle terrace was clearly visible though the top window from the street. The terraces either side of it had occupants. And this was by no means the only example.

The ward is multi-ethnic with many recent arrivals from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Subcontinent. Like where I live in Shelton, there is an established (mainly Muslim) Asian community. Unsurprisingly the BNP stay well away. Drugs and prostitution are big issues too - it was in this ward where teenage prostitute Samantha Bennett was found murdered earlier this month. The sitting councillor is Ted Owen of the Potteries Alliance.

On the doorsteps we were very well received. Most people I spoke with had already read the leaflet we distributed the week before, and so it was pleasantly surprising to find a few saying they were voting for the Socialist Party even before I began patiently explaining why we were deserving of their votes! For some the calibre of our candidate was important. Jane Mellalieu is a Burslem postal worker who has been at the forefront of the struggle to get the 12 reinstated. On the strength of this one self-identified Tory said she was switching her vote to us. Another woman disappeared into her house and came out with a fiver for me!

There was a lot of anger directed toward Labour, anger of the kind that should make any member of that party feel ashamed. I spoke to one former miner who hasn't worked since a cave-in at his old pit. He's disgusted he will be forced to go through humiliating tests and maybe forced unfit back into the workplace in the name of clamping down on a few cheats. This life long socialist and Labour voter will not be going out to support the party that kicks him in the teeth. The story was the same elsewhere. No one identified themselves as a Labour voter, though people were quite happy to call themselves former Labour voters. It's probably a measure of the depth of feeling in the area that the Labour candidate had press ganged two young lads - presumably his sons - to go round leafleting for him!

I also ended up speaking to one guy from Abbey Green who was visiting his mum. I got the vibe from him that he would be voting BNP. This wasn't because he endorsed their politics, rather Labour couldn't have found a more repugnant and unpopular candidate to stand for them.

This was one of the most inspiring and positive canvassing experiences I've been on. If we get a similar reception in other areas then we're on for a respectable vote.

Time for a few unscientific observations. I wonder if comrades elsewhere engaged in canvassing have come across them? Are these just Stoke phenomena?

1) Women are more likely to answer the doors in their dressing gowns.

2) People with barking dogs are more likely to buy a paper from you than people without.

3) Am I the only one to have door-stepped a Jehovah's Witness, instead of vice versa?


Charlie Marks said...

The "former Labour voter" category includes millions, I'd guess. Another consideration is the "would've been Labour voter" which might account for the lower turnout amongst young people - it's usually ascribed to apathy, but on the whole young people are engaged and passionate. Good luck with the campaign, by the way.

Jim Jay said...

"Women are more likely to answer the doors in their dressing gowns."

I had one still dripping and in a towel last week - and I was politely trying to say "you're obviously busy, sorry to disturb you" but she was desperate to chat about all sorts of obscure council issues. We chatted for five, ten minutes.

Although in a previous year I did have a guy answer the door in string vest ONLY. This was a less happy experience for me I admit.

Phil BC said...

Count yourself lucky, Jim. When I was out canvassing down St. Michaels last year a naked bloke answered the door. Thankfully his underside was obscured, but he did seem indecently eager to get rid of me and return to whatever he was doing ...

Geoff Collier said...

No you aren't the first person to doorstep a Jehova's Witness. I did it in the anti-Poll Tax campaign. He wasn't interested in such worldly affairs.

Phil BC said...

Funnily enough she said more or less the same thing to me. "We have to be neutral about political things", she said. On the plus point she did say she'd let her mates know about our candidacy, though that's no good if all of them share her beliefs.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Yeah, I had that same experience canvassing in Huddersfield 2 years ago, with the same response.

asquith said...

Wow, do you really live in Stoke? I'm always surprised to see one on the internet. I'm from Sandyford/Goldenhill originally (in Joan Walley's constituency) and now I live on Blurton. So I've had a barrel of laughs in all the residencies I've had. Not.

Phil BC said...

It's always good to hear from another Stokie, even if they're a LibDem ;)

Karl-Marx-Stra├če said...

Do you often get the "I'll get my husband, he decides who we vote for" response that was common in white-ghetto Dagenham as was right up to the late-90s (and I can't imagine that the mindset has changed that much, even if the ethnic make up has drastically)?

Phil BC said...

Lol, I've had it happen once so far! Woman came to the door, shouted something to her husband and out he came to tell us he was voting for the BNP. However, we patiently explained to him that a) the BNP aren't standing in this ward and b) the BNP are crap and offer nothing to working class people of any description.

I'm reasonably confident they'll both vote for us.