‘Sore feet and wretched video doorbells: An ode to canvassers who made history’

Ian Barnes
Distributing posters on the doorstep

You did it. We did it. Thousands of steps hobbled, sweaty journeys criss-crossing the country and your phone battery so fried by the doorstep app that it may never recover.

Time to treat your aching feet to a week of bubbly foot spa. Those trainers are wrecked. They’ve served you well over the last few months but it’s time to put them out of their misery – unless you’re Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, in which case the Oxford Brogues will be resoled on Monday.

Thousands of doors knocked, thousands of voters met and a mountain of data churned by the algorithms at Labour HQ.

Knock three times…

But nothing prepares you for the doorstep; the exhilaration and the ecstasy, the disappointment and the dejection. And it all starts with that knock or push of a bell.

Anticipation builds as you see the flutter of curtains, hear the slow creak of a bedroom window above you or catch sight of a shadowy shape moving behind mottled glass.

The door opens. A face appears. The psychological dance of your eyes meeting theirs followed by their eyes flicking down to your sticker or rosette. The moment of reckoning as you stare deep into each other’s soul.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found it only takes three seconds to decide if you’re attracted to someone. I’d argue political rejection can beat that by two seconds. And a seasoned activist can predict how the conversation will go in less time than that.

You take advantage of the silence and off you go: ‘I’m Ian and I’m calling from the Labour Party…’ On occasion the door’s already closing before you finish the sentence and you attempt the frantic: ‘do you know which Party you’ll be voting for?’

Occasionally you hear whispering behind a closed door. Child: ‘Mum there’s someone at the door with a Labour sticker.’ Mum: ‘Shhh. Don’t’ open it.’ Child: ‘I think he can hear us.’ Mum: ‘Shhhhhhh!’

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Have a little patience

But how long do you wait for the door to open after that first knock? Is the car in the drive? Is there a pile of mail on the porch floor?

Your brain slots the puzzle together building a Sherlock-like mind palace and then you walk away, only for the door to open seconds later. You abruptly turn but another member of your team trailing behind has jumped into action. You are saved by a colleague who gives you the subtle nod that everything is going to be okay and you can safely be on your way to the next door.

In this campaign, the 0-10 question has become a favourite. It brings out the inner gameshow host. Big smile (should have invested in those Turkey veneers), draw breath and throw out the question. You get the magic answer and it’s thumbs up to the board runner as you head back with all the swagger of Bellingham bicycle-kicking it in with seconds to spare.

It sees you

And then there is the nemesis of all door-knockers: The video doorbell. The all-seeing-eye. The Cyclops guarding the homestead. The insidious chime you find yourself mimicking in the shower or invading your nightmares.

I read of one ingenious canvasser who carried a parcel and wore a baseball cap. Artificial Intelligence will never reach the dizzying heights of human endeavour like this.

The video doorbell can of course lead to the ultimate humiliation for all canvassers: the robotic invitation to leave a message because someone is out. You were a once proud creature, the product of 100,000 years of human evolution, but now you’re reduced to hunching over a plastic lens as the family inside quietly laugh at your face on a screen in all of its fleshy, fish-eyed glory. You leave a few words using your best message voice but inside you hurt.

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Man’s best friend

And we can’t forget the family dog. It hates you. It will always hate you because you have the audacity to enter its territory. You gingerly push the leaflet through and hear it shred the precious, glossy literature purely to show you who‘s boss. You’ll never win and both of you know it.

It can be serious, though. I’ve been out when a dog sprinted from the back of a house and the GMB’s usually mild-mannered Peter Roberts used a clipboard to fend it off with a Special Forces manoeuvre that would make Bear Grylls proud. To this day, that teeth-marked clipboard in Great Yarmouth serves as a stark warning to the novice canvasser.

And it all ends with the obligatory photograph. Do you stop a passer-by? Who’s got the longest arm for a selfie? Do you include a road sign? The jostle for prime position behind the candidate followed by the usual shriek: ‘John, you’ve left the bloody Corex boards in the office again!’

Sore feet, bitten fingers and an out-of-focus photo in the rain, but it’s all been worth it to convey those Labour policies and help create the change we need after 14 years of utter chaos. But be sure to order those new trainers because the local elections are just around the corner!

Ian Barnes is the GMB Political Officer in Enfield and former Deputy Leader of Enfield Council.


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