Canvassing is different this year: voters don’t care enough to be angry

Here’s the piece I did for The Guardian on polling day…

They say that the prospect of execution concentrates the mind wonderfully. If you believed the article in The Guardian this morning, which predicted a Liberal Democrat wipe-out in the European elections, my mind as a Lib Dem activist ought to be undergoing the most intense concentration – and I have been deeply concentrating in a committee room in north London as the weather veers from sunshine to torrential rain.

It used to be said that heavy rain was good for the Tories, but these days it is harder than ever to read the political weather. Certainly there is a kind of resignation on the doorsteps about the competence of politicians in general, but there seems to me to be less anger.

Meeting a swearing, finger-jabbing supporter of another party on the doorsteps isn’t always fun, but it’s not what annoys me most – especially when, as in one memorable case this time, the angry person tears up a leaflet in front of me and then throws it into their own garden (I don’t think they thought that one through).

It isn’t the anger, it is the resignation that upsets me. It is the people who say “politics is nothing to do with me” – yet from the pollution in the air we breathe, the price we pay for the water we drink and wash in, through to the schools, roads and green spaces all around us, politics has a huge part to play. Not even a hermit on Rockall can really escape politics.

So, if the reception this year has been less than enthusiastic, it has been heartening on the doorsteps this time around to find fewer people who mistakenly think they’re opting out of something that’s all around them. What’s been less encouraging – and what is a challenge for all parties – is the number of people who want to vote for a person or a party who will fix things, but doubt whether any of us in politics are up to it.

It is a strange election. There are local, national and European factors to take into account, and how they affect each other is very hard to call. Perhaps, even more so than in the past, it’s about the merits of individual candidates – with more and more voters splitting their votes between local and European elections, and also splitting votes between the candidates of different parties in the many multi-member ward contests. It certainly keeps the canvassers on their toes and the data entry people scratching their heads when you come away from a doorstep with someone firmly decided to cast one vote each for three different parties.

One party, however, that has rarely featured around this part of north London is Ukip. My impression has been that their line of “I don’t dislike foreigners but …” has meant that more people than you might think, from the media coverage, have been saying how determined they are not to vote Ukip.

Liberal Democrats are optimistic people, and this may be a day for clutching at what straws we can find. But the huge polarisation around Ukip may, in the future, be helpful for our own MPs (combined with their high approval ratings in their own constituencies) – which is a hopeful sign for 2015.

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