Where are all those canvassers that told us how much they love Croydon now?

By - Thursday 25th June, 2015

Jonny Rose wants to see more local canvassers for local people

Are you local?
Photo by Ben Coldwell of South West Londoner, used with permission.

Saturday mornings in Britain have always been vulnerable to interruption. But for years now there has at least been an unspoken social contract between the neighbourhood Jehovah’s Witnesses and residents – they get to ring twice and leave, we hide behind the curtains until they’ve gone.

Unfortunately, no such social contract exists with those other doorstep proselytisers that regurgitate a script fed to them by cultic leaders: political canvassers.

The aim of canvassing

Canvassing – “getting out on to the doorstep” – is woven into the fabric of British general elections. It is meant to be the very stuff of democracy itself, the one time when activists come face-to-face with the people they want to represent in an unmediated environment.

The primary objective of canvassing is for local politicos to identify their supporters (or potential supporters); to draw up a list of people thinking of voting for them so that, come polling day, they can make sure you do just that. It also gives local politicians a feel for what people are thinking and talking about in a constituency so that they can fine tune their message.

Canvassing has benefits for the electorate and democracy, too. Ideally after canvassers meet with the electorate, they’re more likely to notice that particular issue covered in the media, and are therefore more likely to talk to their neighbours about it.

These are all good and worthy aims. There is, however, an aspect of canvassing that I found hugely disingenuous throughout the election campaign – the volunteers that came from out of town.

They bus them in, you know

Throughout the elections, pleas for assistance canvassing were all over the interwebs.

“Meet us at East Croydon Station at 11.45AM for a delivery session”

“Join us to canvas London Road. This Saturday 10AM and 3PM”

“Only 72hrs to save the NHS – make a difference, meet us in Croydon tomorrow”

The result: residential streets in Croydon swamped with desperately unchic apparatchiks from far-flung places (Walthamstow) dutifully cramming party literature in letterboxes and interrogating you on how you intended to vote on 7th May. No doubt, if you were subjected to the contrived euphoria on social media every weekend in the run up to election, you could not fail to see these political tourists love-bombing Croydon with their professions of #support, #solidarity and #Croydonisamazing.

Many canvassers aren’t local – they have no knowledge of local issues and they aren’t affected by local decisions

At the risk of sounding like Edward and Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen, the problem with these canvassers is that they aren’t local. This has major ramifications: these canvassers aren’t affected by local decisions, they have no knowledge of the issues and the answers they give are trite responses they were given to memorise thirty minutes earlier at campaign headquarters.

Which I suppose is fine if you insist on seeing general elections as merely a game of national narratives, but I don’t think that such a clear (and convenient) distinction can be made. Although their greatest contributions are towards laws that have national effects, MPs have many local prerogatives, too. As such, they should be supported by a volunteer workforce that also has ‘skin in the game’: locals who are genuine about Croydon’s well-being and who really believe in their candidate’s ability to make the borough flourish, rather than party faithful who have to feign interest in whatever area they’ve been bussed into that day.

Where are they now?

It’s funny how all those political activists that travelled in to flood our streets a month ago and tell us how much they care about Croydon are nowhere to be seen.

I wonder if they’re now travelling in to East Croydon every Saturday to support the independent shops that are springing up around the borough.

Or, if they are going to spend all of next semester telling coursemates in their student dorms just how interesting Croydon is.

Perhaps, they are now considering uprooting their lives and moving to Croydon like the families behind these new church plants.

I bet you haven’t seen that prospective parliamentary candidate since 6th May who was once upon a time so eager to “hear your story”, for that matter. Amazing what people will do and say to get your vote though, eh?

These people don’t care about you, or your life, or what happens to your family once you close the door on them. That’s the reality of politics and politicians, and it’s something that needs to change.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • David

    Spot on. Elections are won and lost on a few marginal seats – Croydon Central being one of them. Increasingly professional political parties pour all their resources in them while pretty much ignoring everyone else. Living in Croydon North I can assure you not a soul knocked on my door.

    Given the result, I’m sure there will be a few Croydon passions rekindled come 2020, so not too long to wait Jonny!

  • Mario Creatura

    You want to know where they’ve gone? Campaigning in a general election is grueling, and frankly, we’re all exhausted.

    Give us a few months to recuperate and you’ll soon see us out again come September.

    There are just shy of 380,000 people living in the whole borough and roughly 50,000 houses per constituency. With general disengagement in the political process, the number of ‘home grown’ activists is small. How can we get around every resident? It’s a Sisyphean challenge. So all parties bus support in from around the country to help promote their candidates, philosophies and visions. This is exacerbated when you factor in that they tend to move their resource where it’ll make the most difference: the oft-hailed marginal seats.

    Contrary to your concluding assertion, outsiders do care about us, our lives and our families. Why on earth are they campaigning here if not because they absolutely care about the future of our community and the direction of our country? Geographic location doesn’t dampen the passion of the political canvasser. Misunderstand that modus operandi at your peril.

    If you want more local canvassers who are embedded in their communities; if you want to change the mentality of politicians and canvassers; if you want more local people engaged in their communities then you need only do one thing: stop criticising us and encourage ‘normal’ people to join a political party, any political party. Join it, get involved, shape policies from the inside to become something that you feel best represents Croydon. With lots of people vying for power, sharing visions for the future, the best ideas will rise to the top. When numbers are paltry, when funding is low, innovation stagnates and the job of political reform becomes that much harder.

    So stop slapping volunteers who care about the national and local community and start encouraging more folk to get involved in local party politics.

    For starters, when are you going to put your money where your mouth is an come out canvassing with me?

    • Anne Giles

      Spot on, Mario. Canvassers work extremely hard, day in and day out, morning, afternoon and evening. Could I respectfully suggest, Jonny, that if we give you a resume of all the hours canvassers have put in before the election, that you force yourself to spend an equal amount of time day in and day out, morning, afternoon and evening, knocking on people’s doors all over Croydon, just to say “Hello, I’m Jonny. Is there anything I can help you with?”

  • Tom Black

    Hi, Jonny. We’ve spoken before about your loathing of politics getting the better of you sometimes, and I do think this is an example of that happening. So I’m going to call you out (see, I know the lingo!) on a few things.

    To address one dubious factual claim: ‘No doubt, if you were subjected to the contrived euphoria on social media every weekend in the run up to election, you could not fail to see these political tourists love-bombing Croydon with their professions of #support, #solidarity and #Croydonisamazing.’ – Well, I for one was very active on social media in ‘the run up to election’ [sic] and didn’t witness either the patronising tone you suggest, or the hashtag ‘#Croydonisamazing’. In fact, that hashtag has only been used once according to a brief Twitter search, and that was by Rise Gallery in February. Unless you’re accusing Rise Gallery of being a sinister front for uncaring carpetbagging political machines, I’m not sure I can get behind your point here.

    To combat a less factual and more obviously rhetorical section of your piece: ‘It’s funny how all those political activists that travelled in to flood our streets a month ago and tell us how much they care about Croydon are nowhere to be seen.’ Which activists came here to ‘tell us how much they care about Croydon’? What Labour or trade union volunteers, in your personal and direct experience, lied to you in the manner you imply here? How many bright-eyed Conservative Future members sang Croydon’s praises before hopping back on the battle bus, never to be seen again? Did the footsoldiers of the #GreenSurge corner you in Matthews Yard and whisper sweet nothings about London’s fastest-growing tech hub, then never return your calls?

    Or are you just making up a strawman so you can knock it down?

    Because to me, canvassers are and were always fairly straight up with their intentions (I have been both canvasser and canvassee on occasion, and obviously my insider-insights come from volunteering with Labour during the most recent election). They’re here to ascertain how you’ll vote, to show that the Labour/Conservative/Green/Britons For A Lunar Base Party is working to build a presence in your area, and maybe win your support – though contrary to popular belief this is not an intended function of canvassing. (Candidates or ‘name’ politicians can try to do this, but that’s distinct from ‘canvassing’.) They didn’t come here to lie about how much they loved Park Hill park or Thornton Heath Leisure Centre. They came here to tell us why Ed Miliband or David Cameron or Natalie Bennett or Dr Lupus B. Spaceman III had the answers for people across the country – including in Croydon.

    People in politics – from canvassers to party leaders, and everyone in between – know how the game works. So, too, do most voters, and indeed non-voters. I think you do too. To feign ignorance in order to write a populist tract like this is a bit… off. I get that this is one of your ‘controversial’ pieces where you try to stir things up a bit. There’s nothing much wrong with writing to provoke a reaction, as long as it doesn’t cross the border into trolling. In this case, however, I think you may have done exactly that.

    But to respond constructively, as I know you and I share a passion for engaging the people of Croydon (and, well, everywhere), I must attack your last point: leaving aside the inflammatory and presumptuous ‘these people don’t care about you’ malarkey, you’re basically saying that we need all our canvassers to be local to our area. Well, that’s only going to happen if party membership and activism increases in all parties in every single area of the country. I don’t think the SNP are going to develop an electoral stronghold in Sanderstead, but you get the idea. The way to get what you want (which is what I want too: a politically-engaged populace with mass-membership political parties) involves a lot of things. More awareness of how politics impacts our lives; party structures that truly empower their members through democratic decisionmaking (though as a tangential counterpoint, the Lib Dems have an internal constitution that enshrines the votes of their members, and they don’t seem to be particularly popular, much less sweeping to power); but above all, a party that is active in all parts of the country.

    Like it or hate it, Jonny, that means bringing people in. If a party doesn’t have a presence somewhere, how exactly is it meant to build one up without people mucking in from a few towns away? Your article appears to lambast the very solution to the problem it is railing against.

    You and I both care a great deal about Croydon, and are excited both by the paths that lie ahead of it and the vibrant heritage it already has. But if Jonny Rose’s vision of Croydon involves a metaphorical wall around the borough, with ‘no strangers welcome’ written on it, then I’m afraid you’ll have to count me out.

    But perhaps you don’t want that – I’d be surprised if an open-minded guy like you did. So I guess this whole ramble of mine could really be summarised as ‘really, Jonny? What do you want instead?’ Your final line ‘that’s got to change’ links to an article about being good neighbours to one another, but I want to hear more about what you’d like to see happen in Croydon’s politics more specifically. And, to coin a phrase: what are you doing about it, duckie?

    (As your own bio distances your views from Croydon Tech City, I should probably do the same here – while I’m a member of the Citizen’s editorial team, the views above are entirely my own and not the publication’s.)

  • Jason Cummings

    Croydon Central was not a target seat for the Conservative Party and as such the external support was pretty light and when such support was ‘shipped in’ it was mostly used for deliveries or other non face to face activities. Almost all of the talking to residents was carried out by Croydon residents! (it’s much more productive if the person who knocks on your door actually understands what living in Croydon is like).
    In short, the answer to your question Where are they now? is that the vast majority of the Conservative activists who worked on Gavin’s campaign are right next door to you where they have been for years!
    Mind you…….with a majority of 165 it might be different next time…..!

  • Stephen Giles

    I am surprised that by now Jonny, you have not realised that the world is built on insincere sincerity!