There’s nothing like spending three hours putting leaflets through people’s doors to give you a perspective on what politics really is.
In the current angry – perhaps even hysterical? – climate, it would be easy to think that politics is rotten to the core. But it isn’t. Do you remember those ‘Love is ...’ cartoons that had as many answers as people wanted to think up? Well let me paraphrase.
· Bleeding knuckles from dropping leaflets through metal letterboxes
· High blood pressure from having dogs threatening to bite your fingers off
· Low self-esteem from being the recipient of people’s anger for all sorts of reasons nothing to do with you
· Finding the wallet is empty because the party has asked for yet another donation to funds campaigning work
· That look in one’s partner’s eye that says ‘You said you’d be home an hour and a half ago’ when you get back from yet another meeting.
And many more – all because you believe in something enough to be willing to go out and put your money (and the skin of your knuckles) where your mouth is.
Normally when I go from door-to-door asking people if the Liberal Democrats can count on their vote at the forthcoming election, I listen and don’t generally challenge what people tell me – it’s like a surgery on foot. But I have become, not aggressive but politely assertive when people say, as they do at lot at present, ‘Oh you politicians are all as bad as each other.’
What I don’t say – though often want to – is that there are very few people who have a totally clean record on their expenses, and that those who do should be the ones to cast the first stone. Many people – waiters, hairdressers, even my own profession of journalists – have been caught up unwillingly in a system that underpays but has a tacit acceptance that income can be topped up by ‘expenses’ claims, so it would be wrong to assume that MPs are all bad apples because they too have got caught up in it (a system largely instigated incidentally by Margaret Thatcher).
The anger people feel about MPs’ expenses is totally understandable. But it is a travesty of justice to take it out on their lay councillors and council candidates (unless they have done something illegal or unethical). So I say to people on the doorsteps: ‘I understand your anger, but surely you’re not going to let the goings-on at Westminster stop you saying who should represent you in filling in the potholes in your road and making sure your council tax is well spent, are you?’
Whether I get through to them will only become clear after 4 June. But I urge every voter in the forthcoming county council elections to vote – and to vote on local issues. If we get a turnout that’s higher than Westminster, that will send the signal that people do believe in democracy – it just has to be a fair, representative and clean one.