The other week, I made the decision to purchase train tickets for a 4AM journey down to London, just a few days before all of my university coursework was due. As with many other activists across the country, I was off to spend the first day of December in Richmond Park talking to voters for the parliamentary by-election taking place there. Some people might call that a stupid decision – and they’re probably correct – but there is an important reason as to why I did it. It’s the same reason that I trudged the streets of Norwich in May and again in June this year putting bits of paper through letter boxes and knocking on doors as I went around. I believe that traditional political campaigning holds the key to winning elections.
Politics has not been going particularly well for the progressive parties here in the UK recently and day by day the polls are showing few major signs of improvement. With the Tories surging ahead by a long way, it’s clear to me that they are starting to attract support from all parties and going far beyond their ‘core’ vote. That does of course mean that progressive parties are starting to lose even their core vote, and we saw this happening in the last General Election.
I believe that traditional political campaigning holds the key to winning elections.
In Scotland, Labour lost seats they thought they could rely on and, especially in the South-West of England, the Liberal Democrats fared worse than anyone could have imagined, losing several seats that were considered safe. It’s not that our supporters failed to turn out to vote – it’s that the Tory campaign was very good at taking votes from progressive parties using rhetoric appealing to those who felt the need for change across Britain. With the Tories consistently polling around 40% at the expense of the other parties, they’re unlikely to put an end to this any time soon.
A lot of people who are switching votes to the Tories are simply not hearing the progressive messages of different parties in their local areas. All Lib Dems, Greens, and Labour supporters will agree that we get relatively poor media coverage at the moment, particularly in popular tabloids where there is rarely any mention of us, and never in a positive way. Social media does not fix this problem either. There is a large demographic of people who either stay away from social media and online campaigns, or simply do not use the internet enough for political material to reach them.
I don’t believe the issue really lies with the progressive messages we put out, it’s distributing them that is the problem. I often see differently politically-aligned people appreciating Lib Dem content online, or Tory leaning voters sharing Green Party articles and so on. I’ve seen high profile Labour, Green, and Lib Dem politicians give speeches before and the clear message of a desire for change which would appeal to so many people is always there — it just needs a better way of reaching people. If only there were a way to talk directly to voters.
I don’t believe the issue really lies with the progressive messages we put out, it’s distributing them that is the problem.
The best way of stopping losing votes and starting gaining again, is ultimately, to talk to those who are voting in elections. That’s why so many of us took ridiculous early morning trips from up and down the country to Richmond Park, and why many of us will be campaigning in Norwich and Norfolk before the County Council elections next year. With a lot of focus from the progressive forces in the UK on social media activism, protests and rallies, it’s important not to forget the benefits of talking to voters on the doorstep and in the streets.
As well as sharing our message, perhaps the most valuable part of knocking on doors or handing out leaflets to people, is getting to hear their messages too. There’s no one reason as to why people vote the way they do – but talking to them is the best way of finding out. If we all spoke to voters regularly and listened to their concerns rather than dismiss them, we would then be able to come up with progressive ways of dealing with their problems rather than let the right-wing rhetoric reach them first. It helps us to learn where we went wrong in the past with losing votes, and can teach us how to win them back.
I believe that talking to voters all year round is the way the progressive parties of this country should get back to winning elections, not by talking amongst themselves or ignoring what voters really think. There is nothing shameful about going out onto the streets to try and win elections. A steady stream of people talking to voters should ensure that Norwich stays relatively free of right-wing parties in the County Council elections next year, and hopefully this can be replicated across the country in the future with a greater focus on talking face to face with people.
References: Polling data
Featured illustration by Jayde Perkin