We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

West Suffolk Liberal Democrats

The Reluctant Volunteer

February 14, 2020 4:22 PM
By Gerald Watts

Part One: Leafleting

I am not a typical volunteer. In fact my track record of expending time and effort when there's nothing in it for me personally is unimpressive, to put it mildly. Yet during the last few months I have been active on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in two election campaigns, the first national, the second local. Why did I do this, you may ask, and what did I actually do?

Addressing the second question first: I attended some meetings, made some phone calls and delivered some leaflets. And it is the last of these activities I want to describe to you as it is the one that I found the easiest - and the one which requires no skill beyond following a simple map.

You are given a bundle of leaflets by a local committee member, together with a map of the 'walk' you need to cover. Typically there are about a hundred leaflets in a bundle and the walk has been carefully chosen to minimise time and distance.

When it's a walk in my local village, the area is familiar to me. If it's elsewhere, I usually check it out using an online mapping application. This helps me identify streets which are too small to be named on the map. Then I simply pick a convenient time and off I go, usually with my leafleting partner - my wife, Alison. And we always go armed - each of us carries a wooden spoon to help push the leaflet through draft-proof letterboxes, thus sparing our knuckles.

Working as a team, we can deliver two bundles in a couple of hours, though this all depends on how far apart the houses are and how many gates you have to open (and close!). Modern estates with cul-de-sacs and closes are the quickest. Then it's home for a cup of tea, feeling pleased with ourselves at a job well done and basking in the thanks of the local chairman and candidate.

And if we're asked to deliver more, well, we decide. We think about it and say yes or no as we wish.

But - ah, there's always a but - isn't leafleting a bit of a waste of time and not unlike dropping off junk mail? Not at all! Political leaflets, even from the Liberal Democrats, may go unread and end up in the bin soon after delivery, but they promote name recognition of party and candidate. They offer people a chance to read about local issues. They show that the party is active and that it has the will and the energy to reach out to local voters. (Of course, leafleting is not as good as canvassing, which means actually knocking on doors and speaking to people. I haven't been canvassing myself but my wife says it's more interesting, more rewarding and more important than leafleting. Perhaps she can write a Reluctant Volunteer article herself.)

And to compare leafleting to junk mail brings me to my answer to the first question. Why do I do it? Is it because I approve of the policies of the Liberal Democrats? Yes, that's broadly true. Is it because I disapprove of the policies of other parties. Again, largely true. Does it come down to selling something, making special offers like a flyer from a pizza delivery company? No. That is about encouraging consumers to buy. I deliver political leaflets because I want people to take an interest in our democratic process, to vote, to have opinions, to see that parties are different from one another and to understand that the outcome of elections will affect their lives.

I have been reading a lot about the decline of democracy in the 21st Century. The various threats include creeping executive power, a largely unregulated social media exploited by cynical political operators and voter apathy. I deliver leaflets, go to meetings, make occasional donations and am writing this article because if ordinary people like me didn't do these things, democracy itself is weakened. As one academic wrote, "democracy is in danger of going out, not with a bang, but a whimper". So, reluctantly, I volunteer.

Gerald is a new member of the West Suffolk LibDems Executive Committee and is new to campaigning. If Gerald's experiences have made you think about volunteering, why not join us for a FREE training day on Sunday 8th March, courtesy of ALDC. Full details here.