So it struck me as I was busily "knocking up the slip" in the West London marginal of Hammersmith and Fulham. Democracy is still delightfully old-fashioned. Mark my words, it'll be many years yet til all this e-democracy applesauce becomes de rigueur. The foot-soldier is still king.
Perhaps I should explain myself. "Knocking up the slip" is Election Day slang for getting out on the hoof, banging on doors of canvassed voters and asking, "Hey you, have you gone to the polls yet and voted for our lot?" If the reply is in the negative - though not too negative - you urge them to switch off their tellies and hop it to the polling station before their chance to exercise their democratic right fades into history.
Last night, as the sun set over West London, and the open-hours of Britain's General Election rapidly approached closing time, I armed myself with campaign literature, a list of names and addresses and went press-ganging for the Conservative Party in a target-seat marginal constituency. A number of things struck me.
First, for all the televisual flashiness, international focus, and personality cult of increasingly distant and cosseted leaders, politics is still local. Voters live in houses and flats, not in think-tanks, tv studios, press rooms, or in some non-descript "global" thingumajig. No-one I talked to mentioned Iraq, America, the UN, the Earth, Europe or any some such. No, people talked a lot about their local pub. They asked in which school hall the polling station was again. They were generally pleased, I think, to see my smiling face, my Tory sticker on my lapel, and seemed to approve of my making an effort. Not one person said, "Bugger off, you politico!" But I'm willing to bet most of them cry "Bugger off!" when they see a Party leader acting all professional in a stage-managed press conference on their TVs. I bet they shout at the screen, or say to their spouses, "These bloody politicians!" Face-time is more important than ever, I'd say.
Or maybe it's just my face...
Anyway, second, there's no better feeling than successfully cajoling someone to slip on a jacket and walk with the family to the polling station. Pure democratic bliss. Unbeatable good Samaritan stuff. What a sight it is: a British family, strolling to a run-down hall where in some small way they get to stick it to the powerful! Real democracy cannot be bought. No, sir. Real democracy is the hairs standing on the back of my neck as I think, "I just did that! That vote's thanks to me!"
Third, I'm willing to bet none of the people I knocked up (so to speak) were gagging for some form of online democracy, e-voting, email-canvassing. Democracy is a physical thing. At least, it is if you're doing it right. Democracy is the electricity, or otherwise, between human beings who through no fault of their own are forced to live with each other. It's about organising that relationship. No soundbite, press conference, flashy graphic, or website can substitute a polite manner, a warm smile, a chat about the weather or the like. One old Italian couple who took five minutes to make it to the door were proud to tell me how, on account of the fact it would've taken several days for them to reach the polling station, they'd cast their ballots by post. They even laughed when I made a joke about their upping our vote count by 25.
Democracy in action requires the action part. Action is not a media thing. Action is about the troops, the guys like me who give up their evening to go knock up the slips. I am proud to say I got the vote out last night.
The most successful politicians, I think, still recognise the old-fashioned nature of democracy. For democracy to thrive, shoe leather must be worn down. Earlier this week, I went to the hotbed constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, won last night by the ubercontroversial George Galloway. You can read my coverage of this bizarre experience here and (if you're interested) check out a silly post-count encounter between Galloway and the BBC's Jeremy Paxman here.
On Tuesday, I could sense Galloway was going to win. How? Because he'd mobilised the troops (literally, I should add). As I followed him and his supporters around, I kept thinking how similar he was to his nemesis George W. Bush. (Ah, the irony!). Karl Rove has retaught politicians the old-fashioned lesson: get on the hoof, knock on the doors, whip up the grassroots, involve people. Galloway is a graduate of Rove's school of politics. And it works.
Oh, and incidentally, Greg Hands, the Conservative candidate, won Hammersmith and Fulham with a 7.3% swing from the incumbent Labour MP.