It’s not long now, and this will all be over. The daily grind of canvassing, visits, hustings and casework; social media, emails, articles and phone-calls.
All to secure my seat in the Commons, that so many queue up to tell me that I will or won’t achieve. My favourite commentators are those who haven’t done a days canvassing in their life, almost certainly have no idea where my constituency is but, having read a lot of political blogs, seem to know ‘for sure’ which way the vote is going to go up here.
The canvassing is becoming a grind. The walk up the garden path. The dilemma of whether to knock or ring – when almost every house these days has a ‘No Cold Calls’ sticker on the door. The semi-anxious wait to see if you can make out any semblance of life behind the opaque glass, before dutifully pushing the leaflet through the door.
Most open with a smile, say hello – and you are away. These are the easiest to engage. They bear no ingrained hostility to moderate politics, and display a general apathy – or even a sympathy that I am putting myself through this process.
I talk about the local council, but am yet to find anyone who thinks that it does a wonderful job in all respects. The concept of a council is never going to be popular – paying into a pot that will be distributed unevenly across the community – and I am unsurprised when yet another moan against the council comes my way. It would be easy to jump onto every issue and campaign against the local council. However, the truth is that they do a good job under great stress, and I have some admiration for them.
The harsh truth – which nearly all candidates will not tell you – is that there are some people who we do not wish to represent. One fights one’s way up their garden paths, which are strewn with some child’s toys amongst the fresh dog turds. Their door has no handle – just a hole where the handle used to be before it was kicked off in last night’s drunken rage. There is vomit on the front door. Ed Balls will become fiscally astute, George Osborne will look at least 25 and Natalie Bennett will be Prime Minister before this family even think of getting up on May 7th and voting. But I want to go to every house. (I don’t really – but I said I would). I am a naive duty-bound idealist, so I knock.
There is a male scream in an unidentifiable dialect that I think asked me who the f**k I am. I tentatively reply that I would like to represent these residents as their MP after May, and could I introduce myself. A child of school age opens the door, followed by his father in a dressing gown.
“What’s this, then?” Again, I explain my reason for calling. “I don’t vote. You’re all tossers. All you do is take my money”. I ask him which elected representative had been round his house and relieved him of his cash; it turns out that he is talking about benefit payments which have reduced by £300 per month.
I ask myself how we have got to the point at which people think state welfare is ’their money’. I also wonder how much money this chap must be taking home from the state each month for reforms to have reduced his income by £300. My patience snaps and I walk away, wishing him a nice day. I ask myself why I am bothering to try and improve the lives of people who can’t even be bothered to separate their child’s toys and their pet’s faeces? And what right do people have to call you a ‘tosser’, simply because you stepped up to try and make a difference?
I’m clearly no seasoned politician. As I shut the gate, the chap spits on the ground in front of me. And I turn to him.
“Look, mate: I’m just going around trying to give people something to vote for. I’m not offending anyone, and I’m trying to make this town a better place for all of us. Why is your kid not at school? Why is there dog s**t on his toys? If you’re going to f**k your life up, go ahead – but at least give your lad a chance, eh?”
I have over-stepped the mark. But the guy has no response. Perhaps he wasn’t expecting a response from me at all. I’m annoyed with myself: I shouldn’t preach to people, or tell them what to do with their lives – I never meant to. But this visceral waste of life, combined with some personal offence, took me back to my pre-politics days. How did we get here, where so many people feel that they genuinely have a ‘disability’ or ‘condition’ that requires support from the state? Whatever happened to self-sufficiency and overcoming adversity?
The truth is that for those for whom the welfare state was designed for, I would happily pay twice my taxes. Some cannot go and earn a living at all, and cope with conditions and illnesses that are horrifically limiting. We should pay these people more; more of us should give more.
Meanwhile, some people are angry that those who are living a life off the state are not working; and that the rest of us have to, and that this, by extension, is unfair. They have a point. But the real crime here is lost in the debate. The real crime is that we are judged, as a society, on how we look after our most vulnerable people.
For, despite record contributions from the rest of us, our most vulnerable – not those self-diagnosed disorders or injuries – are still finding life inexorably hard. Our elderly veterans still contribute to their social care from their military compensation. Our care in the community means that 74 per cent of our hospital population is over the age of 70 – and unable to move out. Who wants to be in a hospital longer than they need to be at that age? Councils are still allocating 15 minute visiting slots to some of the loneliest in their care; mental health provision is diabolical – the list goes on.
And of course it goes without saying that, to those who simply seek to live off the state, the fact that others “go without’ is all my fault. I am ideologically wed to the idea of doing down the poor and downtrodden, and looking after the Conservative Party – the nasty party. Apparently. All this has nothing to do with the welfare bill going from £120 billion in 1997 to £210 billion in 2010, engendering a generation of ‘see what I can get’, rather than ‘see what I can make of myself’. It has nothing to do with spending so much money from the public purse that we are literally running out of cash as a nation – and the most vulnerable feel their services hit.
The picture of canvassing I paint here is not representative of my constituency as a whole. The vast majority here is polite, smiling, quiet – very British. But it is these people who suffer because of the few who gobble up all the services – all the while complaining that there isn’t enough.
And if I don’t tell that chap how I felt, who will? If you never tell anyone of the error of their ways, how can you expect them to correct? The accusations are bound to fly around my head; that I’ve become preachy, self-serving and right-wing.
But the truth is that the whole point of the Big Society is to look after each other – and sometimes that includes reproving those who are eating the largest slice of the cake whilst some of the most vulnerable go hungry. It isn’t ‘posh’ or ‘elitist’ to get stuck in to the tougher aspects of society. It’s to contribute to the society that you want to live in. And I don’t want to live in one where dog faeces is mixed up with kids toys. Sorry. So I will speak out. Sorry.