How did you spend your weekend?
A wallet-lightening trip to the cinema? A day (and night) down the pub? Watching the Hearts trounce Cowdenbeath Rovers 10-0?
Maybe you spent Saturday in B&Q buying units and shelves for a new kitchen – or duct tape and a rope pulley to recreate some scenes from (the embarrassingly vanilla) Fifty Shades of Grey.
What you probably didn’t do is run up and down tenement stairs, thrusting luridly-hued glossy leaflets into the letterboxes of unsuspecting pensioners and pressing harassed mothers for some, even the vaguest, hint of how they plan to vote in the general election.
But that is how hundreds, perhaps thousands, of political activists spent their Saturday. With just over two months to go until the nation heads to the polls in the closest vote in a generation, the political parties know they have to reach as many electors as possible, and fast.
To some people, this might seem a strange way to pass precious days away from work. The stereotype of the political campaigner is that of an oddball obsessive with a car boot full of party literature and a passenger seat distinctly lacking a girlfriend. The sort of person who brings to mind the late comedian Linda Smith’s description of John Major: “The man who ran away from the circus to become an accountant”.
This is grossly unfair. This army of envelope-stuffers and canvassers are the lifeblood of our electoral system. Door-slammed as irritants by voters, dismissed as creepily ambitious by journalists, and eyed with suspicion as uppity territory-markers or mouth-foaming ideologues by their own party HQ, activists are unjustly maligned given how much they contribute.
Who else gives their free time to a party, even as it slaps them in the face with high-handed internal directives and shoddy vote-grabbing compromises? Who else is willing to scale tower blocks — top tip: always start at the top and work your way down for your own safety — lugging sacks of flyers they’ve been given no say in compiling? Who else braves flu-inducing weather, disgruntled voters, knuckle-skinning letterboxes, and finger-chomping Rottweilers? Who else would be willing to shimmy up lampposts on a weekday night to fasten posters announcing the name of a candidate who was probably imposed by the party hierarchy because all those local chumps couldn’t pick someone young, articulate, and box-tickingly electable?
Who else does all this and receives no reward, save for the modest purse of maybe being selected to fight an impossible council by-election on the other side of the country if, and only if, every other candidate has run a mile?
So, let’s hear it for election campaigners and the important work they do. And what does that work involve?
You have to deliver a lot of leaflets
I mean, a lot
At least some things are improving
Someone will ALWAYS get their flyers printed in That England. Which is some kind of laminated treason.
It means pounding the pavements, come rain…
… or more rain
It keeps you in good shape, though
Supermarket car parks become your second home
You have to pretend to be impressed by Tom Harris’s ability to name every Doctor Who actor in under one minute
50% of your time will be spent fake-smiling for pictures in the sodding rain
The other 50% will involve the inevitable campaign selfies
Oh, and there are babies
So. Many. Babies.
You will agree to bring back hanging, flogging, and Pam Ayres to Radio Three just to get access to a bathroom
But you won’t be welcome at every door
And someone always has to take one for the team
And at the end of it all, you are legally obliged to tweet the same message
Election campaigners, we would not only give you a great response on our doorstep. We would salute you.