Apr 11 2010
The view from the doorsteps
Posted at 7:15 am
It was good over the last couple of days to be back on the doorsteps. There is more commonsense. More interesting issues emerge than in the musings and rantings of the “air war” on the media.
So what are people talking about? A large number raise the issue of immigration. They do so in a non racist way. They just think we have invited in far too many people in recent years. They see the strains this places on housing and public services. They expect the next government to control the numbers and are grateful to learn of plans to do so. They also want our borders beter policed against the handful of criminals who come here with criminal intent.
They are talking about the economy – about the shortage of jobs especially for young people, about the poor returns on savings, about inflation and the price of petrol. There is understandable resentment about the huge salaries of some public officials and about the crazy bonuses of the state subsidised bankers. Many of them want change, as they have suffered from the recession. Many fear that things will get worse after the election when the true state of the books will have to be revealed and tackled.
They are talking about the state and cost of public services. Individual households have understandable worries about school places or facilities for the disabled or treatments in the NHS depending on their personal circumstances. Overall there is a feeling that local service providers are not empowered enough, and above their heads there is an expensive and unhelpful bureaucracy. One local civil servant was particularly keen that a Conservative government should be elected, as she is fed up with expensive consultants coming in, asking how she does her job, and then claiming large sums for telling her how to do it. They think Council Tax is too high.
More people are engaged with this election than were engaged in 2005 at a similar time of the campaign. The Conservatives are more confident in their view, keen to tell us they are Conservative, and often keen we should move on to talk to others who might not yet be of the same mind. Those in the Wokingham constituency who have decided to vote for other candidiates, especially those voting Labour and Green, tell us so, but sometimes kindly sugar the pill with a comment that their opposition is not personal, or even with a comment that they have no criticism of the way I did handle being their MP when I was in that job. As I often explain, I think it most important that any MP takes seriously the duty to represent all constituents, and to represent views to the government of the day with which he himself does not agree where needed. A good elected official needs to be fair and fair minded, and to understand there is a range of legitimate views.
There is a third group who say they have not made up their minds. They are often unwilling to discuss the election or the main issues, leaving the canvasser wondering whether they do not intend to vote,or whether they have made up their minds and disagree with us. The 2005 election and the recent by elecitons and Council elections I have canvassed have also had more people saying they don’t know and then declining further conversation. In those cases the numbers of non voters was very high and accounts for the scale of “Don’t knows” in the canvass. It is their democracy too. We, in the political parties, would like to draw them into conversation. That is the way we can either explain that they have misunderstood what we are trying to do,or can understand what they think is wrong with our approach. Political parties cannot learn to serve you better if you will not tell them what you think. Saying “Don’t know” is also the way to invite more literature and visits – it is not the way to deter a motivated party, who will concentrate on the “Don’t knows” rather than on those who have decided they like some other party better.
Everyone knocking on doors – including the candidates – is a volunteer. We do it because we think democracy matters. We do it as a public service. We do it because we do want to know what you all think. Sensible candidates and canvassers do it in the spirit that there can be wisdom on the doorsteps, and we don’t know all the answers. They also do it knowing no party will please all the people all the time.
Promoted by Christine Hill on behalf of John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham Berks RG40 1XU