Roisin Ingle on ...

... politicians at the door


I had my first politician of the season calling round. She looked sheepish. When I saw her face, all friendly and vaguely apologetic, I wished I hadn’t opened the door. The only time I can say , hand on heart, I enjoyed the experience of being canvassed was the time I opened my door in my dressing gown to Bertie Ahern, wrapping it around me all faux-flustered, like something out of a Carry On movie. Those were the days.

Things have changed. I don’t really answer the doorbell any more. It’s either someone selling electricity or television channels or – once – strange Russian dolls made of something that looked like tree bark. And when I see the smiling, friendly, semi-apologetic face I can’t dredge up any enthusiasm. I told my friend, a former politician, about how I didn’t really give the smiling woman much of my time. I thought she’d be disapproving but she surprised me.

“I loved canvassing but I always remember being very aware we were taking up people’s precious time and invading their space,” she said. Apparently a politician’s ideal canvas is when they don’t spend too long on the doorsteps. The worst is when they come away from the door with scraps of paper on which the constituent has written about drainage issue that needs addressing locally. “Then you need to go through the motions: writing letters to the council when the council already knows all the issues going on in the area.”

She sighed then, the sigh of someone who had written too many letters to the council about leaky drainpipes.

It’s a good night, apparently, when you just show your face and get a “hello, thanks, goodbye” and off you pop to the next door. “It’s not so much about the politician meeting you , it’s about you meeting the politician,” she said enigmatically. The idea is that later, when you go to the polling booth and you see their face on the ballot, you think, oh yeah, that’s her or him, they called round. I’ll give them a vote.

We were talking about this because I had decided I didn’t really want politicians calling to my door. Would it be awful to put a sign up, the way some people put “No junk mail” notices on their doors? (Apparently, this is not a deterrent to politicians who, interestingly, don’t consider, their election materials junk.) My sign would say something like “No politicians please, occupants bingeing on House of Cards ”. Or “I’m sure you’re a lovely politician but I’m not interested in anything you have to say.” She didn’t think it would be a problem.

Then she told me the story from the politician’s point of view. There are around five types of people behind the doors she reckoned:

Number 1: The Busybody. Usually a member of the residents’ association or some local group. “I like the ones that are interested in the community but not the ones who just stare at your outstretched hand like it’s dirt and proceed to tell you what little they think of you and how much you need their approval.” She went canvassing once with her aunt, who’d never been around doors “begging for jobs” as she put it. This Busy Body annoyed my friend so much she told him where he could stick his vote. “That’s not really what you should do but sometimes you can’t help it,” she said.

Number 2: The Lonely People. There are lots. You stay on their doorsteps longer because they are just so delighted to be talking to someone that they start to tell you all about themselves. “It can be heartbreaking,” she said. “They look at you with sad eyes when you go”.

Number 3: Sneaky Effers. These are affiliated to an opposing party. They keep the canvasser talking as a sabotage tactic; the longer they stay on the enemy door the less time there is to go chasing more amenable hearts and minds. “Sneaky Effers,” grumbled my friend.

Number 4: I Need to Get This Off My Chest brigade. They do what they say on the tin.

Number 5: The Average Punter. It’s me. Possibly you. We do the bare minimum: we might shake a hand; nod non-comittally. “I like the Average Punter. You know where you stand with them,” she said.

I used to be an Average Punter but now I’m something new: the Refusenik. I’ve even got the wording for my sign and my friend approves: “Politicians: please don’t disturb. We’ll read your leaflet later. Maybe. Best of luck!” That should do the trick. Or not. We’ll see.

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