How I intend to bait the local party canvassers

Michael Brown on getting his own back
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The Independent Online
FOR THE past year I have been living in the real world. After 18 years of gleaning information about political and economic affairs from cosy chats with prime ministers, chancellors and assorted secretaries of states at lunches, receptions, tea room tete-a-tetes and smoking room huddles I am reduced to reading newspapers and watching occasional television.

Being now a normal nobody joining the massed millions of the silent majority I have no opportunity of venting my spleen if I hear or read something that begs a question. In the past I could rant and rave to a government minister either in private, or if he really annoyed me, in the chamber of the House of Commons. If that did not work I could use the full pomposity of being a member of a select committee and take on a hapless foreign secretary or permanent secretary to ask my daft question or peddle my latest hobby horse. Then I could issue a press release demanding his resignation.

Now, I can only do what everyone else does who has no influence on anything: shout at the TV; grumble at breakfast time when the gas or phone bills spoil the day; argue with friends at the dinner table or ring the latest telly poll in the Sun.

But hey! Suddenly I receive a poll card for the London elections. A deluge of Labour party leaflets solicit my vote for "Madge, Josie and David" in marginal Churchill Ward in Westminster to "Get London moving".

Oh bliss it is to be on the other side of the fence. Never in my life have I been canvassed. For every election since I was old enough to vote I have been a committed party worker, candidate or MP out on the stump in all weathers canvassing for votes in gruesome council blocks where, on occasions, I was lucky to escape with my life.

For 18 years, every time I knocked on a door, I waited nervously for the pitbull to be restrained before 15 stone of tattooed brawn confronted me, saw my blue rosette and let forth in ripe Anglo Saxon how I, Thatcher and Major had created every ill known to man.

At every election, either on my own behalf or in support of a party worker standing for council, I have had to defend the indefensible, blame world recessions, and everyone and everything else except the Tories and myself in order to secure a wretched vote.

Not this time.

Having moved to London permanently I am now going to put to good use all the scheming lines and lies voters rightly use to let politicians know that for a few brief weeks, they, the electors, have the upper hand.

My first opportunity came last Wednesday night. My flat buzzer rang. Down the entry phone (how I hated those diabolical inventions when I canvassed) a drenched young city slicker shouts for all the yobbos in the street to hear that he is my Conservative candidate.

So excited am I that I invite him in and offer coffee or gin and tonic. This is the first time in my life I have been canvassed. I want to let off one year of pent-up steam as he suddenly becomes the embodiment of everything to do with the rights and wrongs of the Conservative Party. I want to detain him as I have been on hundreds of occasions, delaying the time it will take him to canvas an endless forbidding street.

I delight in brandishing the Labour leaflet and say, as was said to me so often, "I haven't got one from the Tories."

Sadly my innate tribal loyalty gets the better of me as I see the foot- weary bedraggled wretch. No one knows better than I how awful it is for a party foot soldier to be at the mercy of the voter on his home ground.

I confess my past, tell him he has my vote and he trots away happy. I remember how just one pleasant promise of support during a hapless wet three hours on the slog can make up for 50 abusive variations of "anyone but you".

I cannot wait for either Madge, Josie or David to solicit me for New Labour. I shall hide my photo with Margaret Thatcher on her 70th birthday, invite them in, waste their time and pretend to be life-long old Labour. How I shall love to open with, "We only see you at election time." I shall berate them with "this Thatcher in drag principal boy Tony" and demand renationalisation and huge taxes on the rich. I shall fume about dumping loyal old socialists. What fun I shall have upbraiding them for selling the working man down the River Thames. How I shall enjoy asking why they are privatising the Underground. "Even Thatcher never did that," I shall scream.

Looking at the photos of my three Labour candidates I suspect Madge and Josie, who look as though they've been lifelong Labour workers since Attlee's day, may privately agree with me. David, however, looks the very model of Derek Draper cloning and will probably be nervous as his answers will, no doubt, be electronically monitored by Mandelson at Millbank Tower.

How I look forward to using those trite phrases - "I'll be there on the day", "I'll think about it", "I'll decide when I get there" - that I heard so often when the voter wanted to dangle me on his line. And how, best of all, I shall say that my gammy leg means that at the very least I'll need a Labour car to get me to the polls. "Oh and can I just pop into the betting shop on the way?"

Then I suppose I'll vote Tory as usual.

The writer was MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes from 1979 to 1997.

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