I’d never canvassed before this election. Labour’s radical vision for a fairer society – wait when did that become radical? – inspired me to go out door-knocking on every day and hour outside of work I had.
After all the variety of critiques of Labour’s strategy it feels like we’ve forgotten to celebrate the beautiful scenes on doorsteps across the country that have taken place over the past six weeks. Following three years of frustration listening to wasteful arguments in parliament and seeing lie after lie printed by the press, we came together as a country to have tens of thousands of face to face, one on one conversations about politics and society with each other. Inspired by Labour's vision of hope, the whole Momentum team did an incredible job of making this happen.
So I first want to say thank you to all the board runners. The board is the heart of the canvassing operation. Via the board we know who might like to talk about Labour’s policies and how they intend to vote. It’s no small feat sending out your canvassers down the street and translating their passionate anecdotes into clear data on the form. Thank you to the board runners for making our small actions add up.
Because that’s the root of canvassing’s magic. Each conversation can’t change the politics. It’s a practice that only starts to shift things once it’s scaled up. There’s no official numbers released yet, but estimates are between 30,000 and 600,000 individual canvassers hitting the streets over all the sessions across the country. In despite of a barrage of messages in the media and a heightened sense of divisions across society, we talked to each other.
Sometimes for twenty minutes or longer. Someone on the doorstep who seemed to want a chance to pour their political hearts out and make sense of the mixed messages being thrown at them in block capitals on front pages and Facebook macros. Conversations where we heard exactly how the local hospital was suffering because of the Tory cuts, what the local residents were doing to try and keep the school functioning. Remainers said they’d vote leave now to end the impasse; Leavers said they’d vote remain given what they’ve seen if the deal-making process. On the doorstep England seemed like a country with more in common than divides us, and one where the shared problems have been caused by austerity and a frustration with how parliament functions.
On the doorstep England seemed like a country with more in common than divides us
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The people who came out to help canvass were astonishing in their diversity and enthusiasm. People drove across county lines to help ferry canvassers around towns in the cold and the rain. At every session I attended there’d be at least a dozen first time canvassers getting involved and giving it a go. So much more daring than a march or demonstration, and yet so much less demanding than risking your liberty and participating in civil disobedience, canvassing rose up in this election as an honest day’s political action for concerned citizens across the country.
People haven’t felt listened to – and the operation gave the chance to remedy that for some. Next time the project can only grow stronger. Everyone involved will have learned an abundance of important lessons, so that the next canvassing army to form for a left-wing government – alliance, coalition, single party or formed through proportional representation – will be bigger, stronger and more strategically utilised. And for all those saying the UK didn’t vote for socialism when offered – well if that’s your argument, you’re also saying almost half the voters did!
Whoever wins the Labour leadership take note: there’s boots on the ground and we come out for something well beyond our Leave/Remain stance and even a fabulous set of policies. We come out there because we care about active participatory democracy and we’re the one thing that can work beyond Facebook advertising and a sold out print press.
Whoever canvassed, rest now, you deserve it, ready to come back stronger next time – with all the people inspired by your commitment who will make up our force for real change in the years to come.