The LDV weekend meme: worst canvassing experiences

Twas the week before polling day, when all through the land
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

Well, we can scarcely complain that this election campaign has been dull. Far from. Trouble is, the single issue which has dominated the campaign for the forthcoming local and European elections has very little to do with either. There’s no doubting that the row over MPs’ expenses is a live issue on the doorstep.

On the basis of my doorstep canvassing experiences this year (more limited than in previous years), I’ve found it hard to discern how far it’s made a real difference to voting intentions. Of those who’ve told me to their face they’re completely disillusioned with the lot of us I can’t help harbouring the suspicion that many of these are folk who probably haven’t voted in recent years anyway – the row has, however, given their frankly pathetic apathy some semblance of undeserved credibility in their own and in the media’s eyes.

All of which is a mere pre-ramble to enquiring of your own canvassing experiences, whether in these elections or earlier ones – not the good times (the Tory/Labour voter you remember from last year who’s now a definite Lib Dem thanks to your local efforts), but the bad ones. What are the worst canvassing experiences you’ve enjoyed endured on behalf of the party? Here are my top three…

The most angry:
was in my first election campaign as a council candidate, in 2000. My ward then took in one of the more prosperous parts of Oxford, and stretched through to one of the poorer areas of largely council housing – and it was in the former (not the latter) that I met the most angry constituent I’ve ever come across. The warning signs were there, quite literally: Beware of the Dog, No hawkers, canvassers etc. But I was the candidate, and felt duty bound to leave no door unknocked. There was no answer, so I posted a ‘We called to see you’ leaflet through the letterbox and moved on. Some 15 seconds later I heard the door open and a loud voice screaming at me to stop where I was, and come back and speak to him, I pointed out I couldn’t do both those things at once – and given he had two large, barking dogs with him, I was disinclined to approach too closely. I decided cowardice was the better part of valour and walked away. Fortunately he didn’t follow me – but did continue to shout at me for some time to come, as I continued down the lane. He went down as an ‘anti’ (though I’ve a strong suspicion he was a Tory, one of those who views any knock on the door as a gross invasion of privacy, one which they’d know how to deal with properly in Singapore).

The most bemusing: this one did take place in the poorer part of my ward, with the resident I was speaking to seemingly convinced – and seemingly not joking – that the Lib Dem candidate for the general election had a thing for ‘ladyboys’. Now I know our party has something of, erm, a reputation when it comes to more outre behaviour; but in this case I knew it to be untrue. But the more I protested of his happy marriage and couple of kids – not that it would matter whatever his personal circumstances, natch – the more convinced this voter became that this was just a cover for his secret ladyboy fixation. There are times you just have to admit defeat.

The most depressing: the 2001 election campaign was, without doubt, the most depressing of my active political life. That nice cuddly William Hague was at his most rantingly xeonophobic at a time when tensions with eastern European refugees (‘those bloody Kosovans’ as they were known by some of my residents) were increasing. Though it was a failed election strategy, there’s no doubt Hague touched a raw nerve: I had conversations with second generation immigrants who argue for forced repatriation of asylum seekers, and one guy who told me – sadly with no trace of irony – that it was time to ‘stop all this bloody immigration and keep England for the Anglo-Saxons’. It did at least allow me a moment of canvassing purity, as I told him that it was absolutely clear he should not be voting Lib Dem, and that I hoped he would not even consider doing so. He looked surprised and suspicious, as if I might be guilty of reverse psychology. But if there’s one thing worse than ignorant apathy it’s ignorant racism (and yes, the word ‘ignorant’ is superfluous on both occasions in that sentence).

Now, who to tag with this new LDV meme? I know, let’s try those folks who made it into the Golden Dozen #118 this week, namely: Ryan Cullen, Linda Jack, ‘Costigan Quist’, Charlotte Gore, Alex Wilcock, James Graham, Jo Swinson, Ali Goldsworthy and Freedom Central, Duncan Borrowman, and Andy Hinton. Oh, and all the other Lib Dem Aggregator bloggers as well.

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10 Comments

  • Canvassing experiences are common across the political spectrum. On the whole, even people who are agin’ you are civil about things, but some encounters endure. I was leafleting in the east midlands in 1997. We Tories were in for a caning, but nil desperandum. as I
    worked down the street, a door was opened ostentatiously where I’d been a few minutes before, a screwed-up leaflet was hurled into the gutter and the door loudly closed. On walking back to inspect, the use to which the leaflet had been put was immediately obvious. As it was hard, shiny, heavily finished paper, I hope the protest was worth the discomfort.

  • This is decades ago, so hopefully the party is now a bit more professional about dealing with constituents’ complaints about candidates: canvassing a council estate in Norwich a very irate woman came to the door and proceeded to tear us off a strip because the previous Liberal council candidate had subsequently been convicted of rape. She and other local people had written to Jeremy Thorpe and warned him about this guy, but had been ignored.

  • rochdale cowboy 30th May '09 - 10:09pm

    Local council by- election – 10 minutes before polls shut and 2 of us were doing final knock up – came across Mr Idiot who ranted on about how he had been called upon by every f’in party all day over and over. I politely informed him that it must be because he had told every canvasser from each party that he would vote for them – and that therefore it was his fault – well I knew he wasnt going to vote. Back on the pavement my colleague asked if we were finished and I said – could you just do this last 1 – pointing to Mr Angrys door ……. it really was worth it

  • Most bizarre (for this year)
    The man who wanted less government money spent on nuclear weapons He explained that as a result of the Chernobyl explosion all metal on earth was radioactive. This radioactive metal was useless in the space station so they had dive down to German ships sunk in WWII to get the only non-radioactive metal that was suitable for this purpose!!!

    Maddest Tory
    The man who walked to a door, next door to where I and a colleague were chatting with a member, despite the big Lib Dem poster board in the garden. When told there wasn’t any point in him calling there he accused us of being typical Liberals and trying to damage the democratic process. He wasn’there long.

    Most embarrassing
    Many years ago, canvassing for a by-election in Greater London I knocked on the door of a leading Tory councillor and had no idea who he was. You’d have thought my colleagues would have pointed out he lived down that road.

  • Terry Gilbert 31st May '09 - 7:39pm

    , Norwich, April 2004: Timid woman comes to the door, listens politely for about 30 seconds, and is then elbowed aside by huge tattooed gentleman. ‘Lib Dems? Yeah, I’ll vote for ya! Better than that f****** Blair I voted for last time!’ I could not resist asking whether it was the Iraq war which had changed his mind. ‘Iraq? Nah! We should’ve gone in and sorted them f****** out years ago!’ I didn’t discuss policy any further – merely thanked him for his vote, and moved on.

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