Canvassing in Haltemprice and Howden

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
10 July 2008

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): "It's a total waste of bloody money!"; "I have not made my mind up yet"; "I've voted for him already" (one of 10,000 postal ballots requested, 59 per cent sent them in); "I just don't know about politics, I don't vote. A lady somewhere will be turning in her grave" (clearly meaning her mother); "I never thought I'd vote Tory, but this time I will" (an enthusiastic Lib-Dem); "Look at all these leaflets!"; Definitely I'm voting for Mr Davis ... I don't need a car thank you, my son will walk me there".

I canvassed for David Davis on the eve of the by-election. The uncertain did not want to discuss. We had a single conversation with a man who did raise 42 days - he was for locking them up, but not, on consideration, if they were innocent. Davis's core team is very competent. But it is hard for them. Many voters are puzzled about why David Davis has done it, especially Conservative voters. I'll come back to this, his core problem at the moment. But also party activists who worked especially hard to ensure he won the constituency in 2005 to frustrate the Lib-Dem's "decapitation strategy". They backed a leader. They wanted him to be Home Secretary. Now, on election day many will be fifty miles away for the close of the 150th Great Yorkshire Show of agriculture and country life at Harrogate rather than mobilising turnout. While some of the Conservative voters are enthusiastic for his call many others don't think it is a Tory issue. But then, there are non-voters who have pricked up their ears and admire Davis as much for his demonstration of integrity as out of concern for the issue.

I also attended a packed and perfect lunchtime meeting, a small rally with quiche. Bob Marshall-Andrews opened with a wonderfully funny short speech, in part drawn from a great piece he wrote for the Yorkshire Post that Tom has already blogged. I hope Bob will publish his list of Labour's iniquities in OK. He laid special emphasis on how regular forms of protest, for example against GM crops, are now being defined as acts of terrorism.

Rachel North followed, her presentation was quite exceptional. Starting from the experience in a carriage of 7/7 she said the terrorists want us to "lash out". Their outreach is our panic, their aim to spread fear, sow division, and "turn our nightmares against us". "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything" she concluded to great applause. It was hard for Shami to follow, but she did a great job, projecting the need to be firm on principle but practical. One of her many strengths as a campaigner is unique: she makes the audience feel safe in her hands (usually charismatic leaders make one feel slight nervous as well as elevated and inspired).

In the questions, Rachel was asked if the victims of 7/7 had been consulted. "NO", she said, but she was glad. "It is not appropriate to make law on the basis of feelings"

Davis was asked why he had not resigned over the Lisbon Treaty, surely this was a much greater threat to our way of life (a point, indeed, made by one of the citizens we canvassed as his explanation of why he would not vote). DD replied that while he was very happy with the Irish vote there was nothing he could do as an individual to change Brown's policy on the EU. Whereas, even if 42 days is defeated in the Lords it would come back to the Commons. But if everyone in Westminster still believed that 69 per cent of the public supported 42 days it would go through, with much else sucked behind it. Whereas now, he argued, his action had already sparked a wide debate. One that seems already to be shifting opinion (he had read out the Rowntree ICM poll result at the start of the meeting).

This is quite a difficult argument to communicate especially because it has an unstated, implicit criticism of his own leader's potential for backsliding. DD's action has these justifications:

1. Parliament is suborned it now cannot stop 42 days
2. The Lords isn't and may force parliament to vote again
3. This vote CAN be won, but only by public support
4. This can't happen without DD's knight's move

But this is a hard argument to get across. It is, as Davis said at the meeting, the start of a ten year effort.

So, my three memories of canvassing for freedom: Fine, tall trees, hedges, bushes and greenery (a good omen); drizzle, damp and overcast skys (a bad omen); hairy letterboxes (unspeakable!).

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