Due to a slight change in circumstances I’ve been spending a lot of time with the team in Tower Hamlets recently. This makes me happy in itself; it is an area of London I know pretty well and feel extremely comfortable in and the team there are all very welcoming and friendly. I really want to share my experiences canvassing last weekend because it was truly extraordinary.
We went out as part of the 10,000 Conversations campaign run by London Liberal Democrats. We were armed with the latest Focus (of course) and a petition demanding that the rights of EU nationals living in the UK are protected and that they are given the right to stay. This is an area that voted to remain in the EU referendum so we were expecting a reasonable result in any case, however you never know what to expect when door knocking!
I’ve taken petitions out before. You usually get a few signatures each and a couple of email addresses to accompany them. So, I did as I would do in the past; knock on the door with an optimistic smile on my face, launch into a description of why I was interrupting their Saturday’s activities and hope that I can come away with some data as a minimum. However, so many said an emphatic “yes!” it was overwhelming!
We all came back with lots of signatures and those who stayed out all day filled nearly two pages each with signatures. The message on the doorsteps of Tower Hamlets was clear; residents want to look out for their neighbours and want to protect their rights to live and work here as they always have been. At one household, I had the residents (there were three adults living there) queuing up to sign!
We asked how they would vote in local elections. An overwhelming 59% of people we spoke to in the ward that weekend said they would vote for us in a local election. The comments we were getting were positive too; they were pleased at our stance over Brexit, they had warmed to Tim Farron, they were disappointed in the lack of opposition from Jeremy Corbyn.
The overall feeling was that they were happy that someone was willing to stand up for them and their interests. This is an area which I understand has been dominated by Labour for years. Some people said they would still vote labour; or would consider voting either Labour or us. It does seem though that, as more and more people become disillusioned with the lack of credible opposition coming from Labour at a national level they are looking to us as a credible alternative.
People actually stopping us in the street! (I kid you not)
Yes. People were actually stopping us in the street! Not members, not even historical supporters (one was a Labour supporter until now), but people that have had enough. The closest I have got to this is when I was campaigning in Richmond Park and a passing car beeped and waved as they saw a group of us out delivering. I have never experienced this before, people stopping us in the street; congratulating us and furthermore thanking us for giving up our Saturday to campaign! This just isn’t normal!
I cannot describe to you just how motivating this is for an activist. It lifts your spirits. I know that not everyone agrees with us (and we did have a few people that made their opposing views heard) and when you go out on the doorstep you do have to be ready for this. However, to receive endorsement from the general public reminds you why you are doing this week in week out and, more importantly, who you are doing it for. Every single one of us is making the difference, either by knocking on doors, signing petitions, talking to our neighbours and people within our communities. It all adds up.
I know that a positive result in London is not necessarily news. I’m fully aware of the recent opinion polls that show us at 23% for voting intention in London as a whole and that much has been discussed on the subject. I suppose my contribution to the debate is this; seeing the numbers is one thing, we are Lib Dems after all and we do all love numbers, facts and polls. When you go out on the streets and you actually witness the changes in opinions (either local or national) for yourself it motivates and inspires you.
Much is discussed about “getting out of your bubble”; picking a street in your ward and knocking on doors is a very good way of doing this as you really do not know what the views are of the person behind that door. There is little better for an activist than a positive day on the doorstep and it was great to be a part of such a brilliant day!
So, fellow activists (and first-timers too, it’s really not as scary as you think and I promise you will be well-supported); get out there and knock on those doors!