We’re living in an age of renewed political activism. The Occupy movement and the various marches and strikes we’ve seen in the last year demonstrate that. There is also a new generation of "activists" who join Facebook groups and inexplicably email their opinions to news channels.
I was always a particular type of activist. Marches, placards and ill-informed status updates never appealed to me. I always preferred being ill-informed in the flesh.
For years I trudged the streets door-knocking as a Labour Party volunteer and then as a member of staff. Speaking directly to the public on their doorstep is revealing, heart-warming, depressing and dangerous, usually all in one afternoon.
You’re grateful for the kind ones, for the like-minded and for those who keep it brief. You worry about the ones clearly leading troubled or challenging lives and you’re disturbed by the aggressive and abusive ones. My favourites were always the ones who were a bit weird. I can still remember a few of the people I spoke to over the years. Here are some of the highlights:
The Naked Skinhead of Blaenau Gwent
He answered the door wearing nothing but a handlebar moustache. “Oooh hello mate, I’m from the Labour Party,” I said trying to not laugh or gawp at his willy. There’s no way you can’t look. It’s just there, hanging around, commanding your attention.
“Right. . Is this about the by-election?” he replied.
“Yes it is, I just wondered if you’ll be voting on Th…”
“Look at me mate. Do I look like a man interacting with the state?”
“Fair point. Taraa”.
The Dog Man of Corby
It was a wet afternoon in Northamptonshire. A young chap with angry eyes answered the door, restraining some denomination of status dog by the neck. Realising the tense situation I opened with: “Good afternoon sir, I’m just calling on behalf of your local Member of Parliament”.
“Which party?” he asked in a way that made it sound like there was no right answer.
“Labour,” I ventured with a sickening inflection.
“You better get the f**k off my doorstep before I set this b*****d on you”.
“Oh yeah? If you want to go toe-to-toe, I’ll do you and matey right here pal”.
(I wish I’d have said this. Instead I went “Ooooh!” and legged it). I still wonder if I’d have said that I was from the Lib Dems that his demeanour would have changed and he’d have offered me a KitKat.
The BNP Man of Stoke
Never argue with someone on their doorstep, even if what they’re saying is disgusting. My mate who was door-knocking with me preferred a more direct approach when dealing with racists and almost laid one out on his own front drive. The guy was a nasty piece of work and I was next door chatting to a lovely old lady when I could hear the volume next door steadily rising. You don’t need to be a master political strategist to know that shouts of “oh yeah? Oh yeah?! OH YEAH?!” aren’t evidence of winning hearts and minds. I had a quick peek over and could see that my pal had squared up to this fella. BNP types aren’t renowned for backing down or for their use of diplomacy so I had to step in my standing at the gate and going “we need to leave”.
Dog Owners (various)
Postmen despise dogs and so do political door-knockers. My mate Paddy used a wooden floor tile as a "dibber" to shove "sorry you were out" leaflets through letterboxes so his fingers weren’t endangered by dogs on the other side. I used to eliminate the risk completely by guessing which houses had dogs and avoiding them. Tell-tale signs were paw prints on the front door, turds in the garden and a kennel. When those houses didn’t have dogs I was confused. If you’ve got a dog you’ve opted out of democracy as far as I’m concerned. Some people would die for their cause; I wouldn’t risk my fingers for mine.
I haven’t been door-knocking with Labour for a couple of years now, but writing this out has made me realise how much I miss it. Talk is cheap and plenty of us chat about politics a heck of a lot. The people who really change the world are those that go out and do something about it. My local party secretary is about to get an email offering my services. I can’t be bothered to go round to her house.
Matt Forde performs Eyes to the Right, Nose to the Left, at the Udderbelly – Wee Coo, 1st – 26th August, 4.05pm. For tickets see: www.edinburghsbestcomedy.com