Saturday, February 03, 2007


Blogging, Gambling and the Perils of Delivering Leaflets

Today there’s an exciting all-day meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee, so there’s just time to say ‘Hooray!’ for this being the first anniversary of my taking up blogging. A day crammed with scattergun policy detail seems curiously appropriate, then, though my participation in our early discussion of the next Manifesto may be a little limited: no papers have been circulated, so it’ll all be on the projector and I’m currently blind as a bat. Before I go, though, I’ve noticed the Lib Dem blogosphere sizzling with two issues in the last few days – gambling and letterboxes.


On gambling, I’ll join the blogging consensus of Stephen Tall and Iain Sharpe; I can’t see myself ever entering a casino (even with our elephant’s James Bond fixation), but the Liberal Democrats seem to have been needlessly nannyish over them. It’s not the first time; I remember Andrew Stunell chiding me years ago over the unpopularity of my stance on the monarchy, and my retort that he wanted to ban the National Lottery, and that would wind up far more people on a weekly basis. I like Don Foster, but seem to have a habit of disagreeing with him; I like Blackpool too, for all its shabby charms (well, mainly for the Doctor Who exhibition and fond family holiday memories), and can’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to build a ginormous casino if they want one. If there’s a risk of addiction, by all means regulate them, as you would with any addictive substance. But prohibition? Nah. Let people and communities make their own choices, and if it’s your view that a choice is wrong, their own mistakes.

Letterboxes and other Election Hazards

With such a libertarian strand around the blogosphere, I have to admit I was a little surprised at the tide of (occasionally tongue-in-cheek) support for interfering in people’s homes. No, not sex this time, but the idea that the state should go round micro-managing people’s letterboxes. I’m as fond of Chris Young’s song as anyone else (haven’t seen him for years; wonder how he is?), but while I’m all for regulation of, say, energy-saving standards in new build, I really don’t think ‘Ooh, that caught my fingers once’ is a sufficiently major issue of public policy to unleash an army of bureaucrats with rulers. So, Paul, Stephen, Peter, er, ‘Action’ and all, sorry, but I won’t sign the petition.

Besides, though I’ve had many bruised knuckles over the years, letterboxes are only about the fifth nastiest hazard to FOCUS (make sure you stick ‘Green Action’ on every leaflet) deliverers. What about confusing road layouts so you get lost and tire yourself out – of all the routes I’ve delivered up and down the country, the worst numbering in Britain still remains the Offerton estate, five minutes’ walk from my parents’ house – or those great long walks up very narrow gardens, separated by fences, so you’re knackered after just a few doors within feet of each other? Should we have a petition for subsidiary gates in all walls and fences that stretch more than five metres? And what about dogs – oh, I could tell you about dogs. The voter in the Christchurch by-election who agreed to take a full-sized stakeboard for his corner house facing right down a busy road, because I had the presence of mind to request it when his dog’s teeth were embedded in my jeans? Or the scar I still have on the other leg nearly a decade after an unleashed dog bounded out to bite me for delivering a leaflet in Taunton (yes, I dragged it, on my leg, up as far as the door to make sure I could pop the FOCUS through before getting away)? Or the most miserable delivering experience I’ve ever had, slopping round Islwyn in torrential rain, delivering until not only had the highlighter pen come up my map, but the print on the map itself, and the leaflets were now not coming away from the bundle in sheets but in thick clumps of papier-maché? Twenty-four hours in that town, and not a moment when I was dry… Or, of course, altercations with voters, the most vivid memories still being by-elections like Eastleigh – the foaming anti-immigrationist who, after I’d pointed out the factual inaccuracies with or politely agreed to differ on every single thing he’d said, ended up howling down the road after me “Chidgey?! That’s not an English name!” – or Christchurch, where after one dispiritingly Tory street, Diana Maddock listened to the bad canvassing news with a calm “They’re all fascists, you know. I hope they’re going to vote for me.” But what made up for it was not banning them, but the tiny old woman who confidentially disclosed, “Well, I’ve always voted Tory…” then seizing me and shaking me as she cried “But you’ve got to get the bastards out!” And that we did, of course.

The answer, dear Lib Dem, is to grin and bear it, and to climb every tower block ’til you win your seat. Not take a saw to every voter’s door, even in fun, and however much you want to do it.

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Sing it ... literally.

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