A Canvasser’s Dilemma: “Hello, Mr Smith”

Knock, Knock!  Door opens… “Hello Mr Smith, my name is Tahir.  We are out today …”

Mr Smith: Let me ask you a question. A Labour guy and the Tory bloke came last week and promised the same things.  What is it that makes you Lib Dems different or more caring and able to deliver this for me as compared to them?”

Tahir:  “Mmm…”  A simple question that is not easy to answer for a resident.

I often wonder what is our local government raison d’être that differentiates us and gives us resident voting loyalty, other than hard work on local issues and name/face recognition.

The Party is determined to maintain its historical reputation for being the party of community politics and decentralisation.  Councils are and should remain central to our plans for the country.  We want to reduce the powers of central government to interfere in democratically elected local government. 

Mr Smith: “You just want local elections to be held using proportional representation and introduce local income tax?”

“Well we believe in equality and fairness. That means everyone’s vote matters and counts when electing a representative, as it should. We also want to have more local power to make our own decisions based on local needs and not those imposed on us from central government. Don’t you think that fair?”

Mr Smith: “Maybe, but what about local Income Tax?”

“Well it’s a better system and fairer than the local rates. Residents should pay on their ability to pay and not an outdated rates system that over a period of time has become unfair resulting with the poorest people paying a much higher proportion of their income than the richest.

Local income tax is a fairer tax system to feed local needs like repairing pot holes, better upkeep of parks and hedges, provide community gardens, more funding for child protection and better services for pensioners, to name but a few.

Mr Smith: “I don’t want you to build on the green belt but we need more houses.

“We want to set up a new Housing and Infrastructure Bank to stimulate more house building.  We believe we should build on Council-owned and Government-owned land first, and abolish Voluntary Right to Buy for Housing Associations”

Mr Smith: “What’s in it for me?”

“We are a party steeped in our communities. When post offices were being closed down we stopped that and modernised them. We want more funding for social care and Health from a national tax charge, a penny in the pound to raise £6 billion a year to do this.

All this and more that we do is to enable residents to secure more power over their lives and we deliver that by being involved in our communities to make services more available and better.

That is what differentiates us from the others.

** Some actual incidents to note experienced by members on the doorstep:-

  • There are sad recollection of events in residents lives, that are in many cases heart breaking
  • Residents who you have never met or know are very familiar with you because of the Focus literature. Makes for an unusual conversation!!
  • Thankful resident who you have assisted or just grateful that someone cares enough to take this responsibility on

It’s not so bad after all.

* Tahir Maher is a former Chair of South Central Liberal Democrats and lives in Wokingham.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 20th Feb '18 - 5:32pm

    I’ve done my share of canvassing over the years, sometimes for others but more often than not for myself. I’m happier doing the latter, I must confess. I’ve always taken the advice of the late David Penhaligon, who said something like, whatever you do make sure you leave them with a piece of paper. The other thing he was supposed to have said was that you had about eight seconds to get your message across before their eyes glazed over.

    So, armed with clipboard, rosette, and leaflet I would approach the front door (but rarely between 7 and 8pm when the soaps were usually on back then) and knock once, possibly twice, sometimes even three times, and, if nobody answered, stuff the leaflet through the letterbox ( usually headed ‘A message from…’; but not ‘We called to see you today’ in case all you were doing was stuffing not calling – no need to be accused of hypocracy!)

    If someone was brave enough to open the door I did the usual ALDC identity checks, handed over the ‘piece of paper’ and gave my sales pitch. Most people were polite, some less so, many had the origami habit of trying to fold the paper as many times as possible (probably on its way to the waste bin) as I talked. The most common responses were, in no particular order: “No thanks, we’re all (Tory/Labour) here.” “I’ll think about it.” (Unlikely) or “I might vote for you in this election.” (Usually local). So, not many doorstep conversions, I’m afraid.

    Just one, possibly apocryphal story told by a Labour colleague, sadly no longer with us. He was canvassing one afternoon, knock on a house, whose door was opened was open by an irate gentleman. “Didn’t you see the sign?” he asked, pointing to a notice that read ‘Night shift worker. PLEASE DO NOR DISTURB’. “What do you want?” To which my Labour colleague replied; “I’m canvassing for the Conservative Party.”

  • Lloyd Harris 20th Feb '18 - 6:22pm

    If I found a Mr Smith like this I would be certain he was deliberately wasting my time and probably an activist for another party. If Tories or Lab knock on my door I would do the same to be honest.

  • Has the local income tax policy been exhumed from where it belongs? As for rates, the community charge known as Poll Tax followed by Council Tax has superseded them about 30 years ago. Isn’t some form of Land Value capture the preferred option now?
    It is better to give assistance to individuals to pay their housing costs if need be rather than further distorting the housing market.

  • Stephen Booth 21st Feb '18 - 8:47am

    A simpler answer is to explain that the election is about electing a local representative to the council – someone who will take up local issues on their behalf. It’s not about national politics or Brexit. We campaign on local issues. Check what Labour and Tory say in their leaflets; it’s invariably about national politics. They divert attention away from the poor job being done by the local Labour/Tory council.

  • The Layfield Commission on Local Government Finance (Layfield Committee, 1976) came to the view that there should be major changes in the financing of British local government. The majority of the committee argued that there prevailed a damaging ambiguity in responsibility in central-local financial relations. They argued that a choice should be made between either fuller central control or much greater local accountability. Their preferred choice was for a system based on strengthened local accountability. In their view the best means of achieving this strengthening would be a major shift in the financing of local government towards much greater reliance on locally raised taxes. Furthermore, this extra local taxation would best be provided by a local income tax. They felt only a more progressive tax could support the desired weight of expenditure to support their preferred option of strengthened local accountability. The government in a Green Paper in 1977 (Department of the Environment, 1977) rejected this recommendation. British governments have long been hostile to a local income tax. What eventually came instead was the disaster of the Poll tax and its rushed replacement the council tax. Capping was introduced and business rates became a national tax.
    The Lyons report (2007) was non-committal on how local authority finance should be raised and eleven years on little has changed.
    The idea of Local Income Tax has been left to wither on the vine. The focus today is on broadening the tax base of Local authorities and Land Value Capture (incorporating Land Value Tax) , an approach endorsed by ALTER https://libdemsalter.org.uk/en/

  • Simon Banks 6th Apr '18 - 6:55pm

    Often the easiest answer is to point out where our local policies or record are different from our opponents’. If it’s hard for a reasonably well-informed canvasser to find a significant difference, something is wrong that the canvasser can’t fix. However, as Tahir clearly understands, our wish to devolve and to empower communities and individuals do characterise us in much the same way that support for people near the bottom of the heap characterises Labour and defence of wealth characterises Conservatives. So any example relevant to local elections at that level is worth stressing.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd May '18 - 12:33pm

    Wokingham needs a different MP.

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