Ella Garai-Ebner is too young to vote in the general election, so she decided to have her say by knocking on doors as a canvasser for her local Labour Party
Being 17 in the run up to a General Election is excruciatingly painful. Of course, it is inevitable that there will always be people who are slightly too young to vote, but for me, 17 has been the age of really learning about politics and developing my own opinions. It therefore hit me hard that, in this crucial election, I would not be getting a say in my own future.
After the initial “this is so unfair, so typical that is has to be NOW” annoyance, I decided that I would not sit back, dwell on my irritation, and swear at the TV during every debate. I wanted to take action and show my support for the Labour Party, so I took a look at the Labour website to find campaigning events near me and decided to go canvassing.
Getting off the bus that morning, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Who would I meet? Would they be friendly? Would they tell me what to do? What to say? I’m an introvert, prone to freezing and awkward silences – this felt far out of my comfort zone.
When I arrived at the meeting place, I loitered self-consciously, trying to work out whom to approach. Luckily, the awkwardness was spotted, introductions were quickly made and I proudly stuck on “I’m voting Jeremy Newmark” stickers.
The process was very well explained to us, and it was clear that we would not be thrown into the deep end – first-time canvassers like me would be paired with an experienced canvasser, at least until we felt comfortable enough to knock on doors by ourselves.
The group I was in consisted of six people, plus the Labour candidate for our North London constituency – Jeremy Newmark, a friendly, interested, and approachable person. The idea is to “leapfrog” between houses, spotting where another person has knocked, and moving on to the next house.
When the door opens (which isn’t as often as I would have thought), the leading line is along the lines of: “Hello, I’m here on behalf of your local Labour party, please can I ask who you’re voting for in the upcoming General Election?”
The responses go from the disheartening “None of your business”, the slightly politer “Sorry, I don’t want to share that”, ranging all the way to “Labour! I’m voting for you guys!”. Some people said that they just can’t vote Labour, because of Jeremy Corbyn, and are resorting to Lib Dem, but others told me that they finally have some hope for the party’s future. I had one lady tell me: “I really hope Labour win, but I’m not going to vote for them”, which is a difficult one to respond to.
Where the person answering the door is uncertain, the next question to ask is what the person would prefer, a Tory or Labour government. This makes the point that, in our constituency, if you are opposed to a Tory government, Labour is the way to vote – a Lib Dem vote would have little impact. It also useful in gaining insight into where the person is at and how much persuading they’re going to need.
That said, I didn’t have to engage in as many long political conversations as I might have thought. Tuition fees has been a recurring topic, with one young man considering whether Corbyn would follow through with his promise to get rid of them and restore maintenance grants, and concluding he is more honest than May has proved to be. Nobody talked about Brexit on the doorstep, perhaps because the candidate’s policy on it was clearly explained on a leaflet I handed over.
I found it to be very useful having Jeremy Newmark hovering behind us while canvassing, as when the people start asking tricky questions, and you start doubting if you actually have any political knowledge at all, you can ask them if they’d prefer to speak to the candidate. This was a key difference to when I tried phone canvassing and had to answer every question promptly and confidently myself (albeit with a suggested script and “crib sheet” in front of me).
Since my first experience canvassing, I’ve realised I love it increasingly, every time I go. There’s a real thrill to be gained from hearing that someone is voting Labour, or just knowing you’ve got them thinking, and considering perhaps previously unexplored options.
In the end, that’s what got me out of my comfort zone, knocking on doors: I want to ensure people are thinking. I want to start conversations, and get people to engage and talk about the issues. I also think it’s very important for people to see that young people do care, and want to actively engage in their own futures.
I have met like-minded people and learnt so much about the wide variety of opinions that are held, even within one party. Most importantly, I am happy to say that I don’t feel I have been powerless or voiceless in this election.