Today I knocked on 200 doors. As well as seeing a lot of UPVC, I met a startlingly wide range of people. Happy ones, miserable ones, mildly aggressive ones, gay and happy ones. Most were older (I was calling in the daytime), nearly all were OK about me calling and I had a good old laugh with quite a few of them. I met three 90 year olds, all of whom vote, one who had voted Liberal since the 1930s.
My resident survey is designed to drill down to the key issues upon which I will base my campaign. Middle Schools come high up, especially for Mums and Dads (Bury's Middle School system is being abolished by the Tories in the next few years). I was amazed by how local a lot of people's concerns are: parking, traffic nuisance and so on. A lot of people see themselves as powerless in the face of officialdom and, over time, just resign themselves.
I was surprised by how many people want to talk. Not just older people but also the young mum, surrounded by her kids, talking about the parking problems in the street. The teacher talking about the schools. People, I noticed, weren't looking to me for answers but to be heard.
Today has shown me how important knocking on doors is to identifying support. You get a pretty good sense of who might vote for you come the election. Most are happy for you to come back. They appreciate seeing someone from one of the parties, once they realise you're not flogging something. But the most precious haul from today was the 30 or so people who I think will vote for me, particular if I go back nearer the election. Few of these are, I sense, committed Lib Dems, but, rather, people who responded particularly well to the visit and the message. If I can do enough of this type of day, between now and the election proper, I reckon I can harvest a lot of votes.
The territory today was mostly quiet residential streets, mostly bungalows with neat gardens, a five year old Nissan in the drive and `Neighbourhood Watch' signs on the door. Not Labour territory, by default Tory but, I noticed, not committed Tory.
Politically the thing that stuck me most profoundly was the number of people (10-20) who said they would vote Lib Dem if Vince Cable was leader. The man seems to strike a massive chord with voters. Indeed, at this rate, I will be trying to get my photo done with him, such is he a hit with voters. Cable is seen as straight-talking and right about things. Indeed had the leadership election been a year later, I have no doubt now that he would have been taking us into the next election. Clegg, by contrast, isn't mentioned. People just don't know him and his similarity, visually, to Cameron, won't, I feel, help us come next year.
I did, at a few doors, encounter some raw anger about the political class. A real bitterness that politician have screwed-up big time and got away with it, their own financial futures intact. The `plague on all your houses' reaction wasn't common (perhaps five people in all) but edges with anger, which you tend to register.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed myself today. For any aspiring politician, this is a necessary rite of passage. You have to listen to people, you have to connect with their concerns. You also have to empathise because if you don't do this, you're not going to win their support, especially as a Lib Dem in a town divided mostly into Con-Lab. My reception, on the whole, was positive, better than anticipated and it made me want to do it all again soon.
It also made me believe that, with a fair wind, I can actually win.