Dr Dan Boucher is currently City Seats Initiative Mentor for the Welsh Conservative Party. He is a former candidate for the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament.
Saturday mornings often see me and my three year old son out canvassing together. We first started out when he was just three months old, strapped to my stomach. Sometimes I take him with me because I have no choice other than to do so – or not to go canvassing at all. It’s an issue that I know other parents have had to wrestle with.
The truth is, however, that we rather enjoy these father-son times together. He joyfully shouts ‘leaflets!’ when he finds we are going, and we have fun together knocking on doors and doing deliveries. Often his presence will melt the hearts of – usually older – ladies who then offered sweets and biscuits to sustain us on our travels.
A few weeks ago, however, we had a less positive experience.
We were doing surveys and, having greeted the lady who came to the door, I began my usual patter only to be interrupted by her rather gruffly demanding: “Which party?” “Conservative,” I replied – to which she responded: ‘F**k off.’
Now, I am used to being called all manner of things on the doorstep. I well remember when I encountered a disciple of Nye Bevan who told me that I was ‘lower than vermin’ (which I have to say I found rather more offensive). Normally I would have just ignored the response and pressed on to the next house.
Given, however, that on this occasion I had my son with me I decided to say something. ‘Do you have to use language like that when I have my three year old with me?’ I responded. Her reply was very telling. ‘You shouldn’t take him canvassing with you if you don’t want him to hear that.’ She then went on to say that we were on her land, and she could say what she pleased. After this, she then made her Labour identity – something that was clearly extremely important to her – very clear and rebuked me for knocking doors in her road since it was ‘a Labour area.’
We pressed on undeterred to the next house, but the more I thought about the experience the more extraordinary it became.
Here was a fairly well-off lady, with a very clear Labour identity, and yet she was prepared to suggest that parents who cannot afford child minders when canvassing should not get involved in politics. How elitist! Her strident assertion of her private property rights, meanwhile, which gave her the right to say whatever she pleased to other people on her land, seemed extraordinarily individualistic – and a million miles away from the communal ethic we are told is central to Labour’s ethos.
Moreover, in asserting this individualist ethic vis-à-vis my son, she demonstrated a complete lack of any sense of social capital that might moderate the way one seeks to assert private property rights in a society in which we have regard for others as well as ourselves.
Now, while this lady clearly had a strong Labour identity, I don’t know whether or not she was a party member, and no doubt Ed Miliband would say that her behaviour wasn’t representative of the Labour Party. Having said this, however, it seems to me that it is not surprising that such an approach should surface when one embraces a statist ethic that cannot but undermine the role of society.
To the extent that Labour is losing its civic compass, this does provide Conservatives with a real opportunity to become champions of an authentic communitarian ethic nurtured against the backdrop of a commitment to civil society and community rather than to the individual or the big state. So while the lady I met may or may not have been a signed up Labour Party member, her response does seem to be indicative of a centre-left individualism which is deeply unattractive.
Despite this unfortunate encounter, my son and I have continued knocking on doors and chatting to people about a rather different vision of society to that espoused by the lady we met on that enlightening Saturday morning. He recently asked me when we would be able to deliver leaflets about him! ‘You’ll have to wait a while,’ I replied. As my friends say: good to start them young.