It rained on and off throughout Sunday. Not as bad as Saturday, but not weather for putting up election posters. Yet I found myself quite excited about it. I’m forty-one, so I have long since got over the joy of being allowed to stay up late; so why exactly was I getting excited about driving round east Belfast with a step ladder, plastic sheeting and a bucket load of cable ties?
It has been a few years since I was last out canvassing, but I couldn’t resist the lure of signing up for Naomi Long’s campaign. I’m not an Alliance member, but I was quickly welcomed on board and set to work. And then I remembered how much I enjoyed canvassing.
I know marching up to a complete stranger’s door is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I love the (albeit short) interaction with people. Talk is good, and what we’re really talking about is what we want in life and how can it be better, no matter whether we agree or not.
Three general canvassing rules spring to mind.
One. Smile and be apologetic; you have no right to be there, so tell the person that you are sorry for bothering them. Most people smile back at me. It may be because of my natural charm and roguish good looks, but it is probably because they feel sorry for me in the wind and rain (and on one occasion horizontal hail). In the overwhelming majority of cases, people are very pleasant. Regardless, thank them for their time.
Two. You get some discussion on the doorstep, not tonnes, but some. It’s unlikely you will change someone’s mind then and there by clever argument, so give the party/candidate’s position clearly and politely, but do more listening than talking.
Three. It’s only good fun if you have a good candidate. When the person has been doing a good job, canvassing is made so much easier. Sometimes people will even smile and say something complimentary about them; there’s a good feeling in those moments.
Those are the essentials, though I could add a couple of negotiables. Close gates for example. And if the family schnauzer makes a break for it through the gate you left open, then you do have a responsibility to hare off down the street after it (as happened on Saturday).
If it’s raining and your literature is trapped under your left arm pit inside your coat, produce it with your right hand before the person comes to the door, otherwise it can be misinterpreted as reaching for a concealed weapon. This alarms people.
Two last things. I like seeing other parts of Belfast; places I drive past, but never walk in until the canvass. Belfast becomes a little bit wider for me, and a little bit more my city when I walk down new streets. I like what people do with their homes too; the house with the windowsill covered in meerkat ornaments; the garden with a dozen rusted bicycles lying in it spring to mind.
Finally, it’s good craic. There is camaraderie among canvassers. We curse or compliment the weather together and chat between houses -and we don’t always talk about politics.
So why was I excited about putting up posters in the rain? Well, win or lose, I know I won’t regret spending time on this campaign; it has genuinely been a joy to be part of. It’s good to be part of something much bigger than me; something that’s ultimately about everyone.
Dave Thompson is a teacher in Belfast. Have you been pounding the pavements this election? Let us know your experience in the comments below.