The cult of the Labour doorstep does more harm than good

by Jon Bounds

For the ‘sensible establishment’ supporters of Labour’s pre-Corbyn core comes a new standard to which the rest of Labour’s membership must be held: time on the doorstep.

The idea that knocking on doors providing up to date voter data (oh, and having ‘conversations’, although in what form we’re never really told) is the only route of activism available to the foot-soldiers.

Having an opinion is frowned-upon until a certain amount of dues-paying doorstepping has been completed.

A Red Wedge-style series of fund- and awareness-raising gigs with high profile names is dismissed as meaningless in electoral terms. Unless enough doors have been knocked on.

Labour far outshone the Conservatives in doorstep conversations in May last year. But, if knocking on doors alone won elections, it wouldn’t be the Labour party in power: it would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In coalition with meter readers and Betterware franchisees.

Social media may be an echo chamber, but its connections and volume still matters.

It’s where people are — but crucially most see no substantive delineation between platforms, between local and national issues, nor between ‘real life’ and the real people they communicate with online*.

That’s why Tom Watson’s digital project, and what it comes out with is so important: we do need to be able to understand how the psychology of people plays out as a whole. That includes conversations around unity in the media, and on the web. And it includes targeted digital interactions.

I’ve a lot of time for Jess Phillips, the ‘outspoken’ MP for Yardley, or at least it seems I feel I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what she’s said now.

She’s recently been talking about how people on the internet are stopping her being ‘herself’. She says that people are willfully misinterpreting her — and that’s contributing to the rise of the robot MP, too afraid to say anything put the scripted party line.

I wonder if she sees the parallels in how she jumps to give her opinion at things, often speaking before the full story is known, and how other people behave towards her? It is true that we often find most distasteful in others the behaviour that we recognise and dislike in ourselves.

The irony is that, yes, she was misinterpreted by the media — ‘I’ll stab him in the front’ — when talking about how Jeremy Corbyn was misinterpreted by the media and giving that as a reason to potentially work against him.

Is she not worried that PLP member’s attacks on Corbyn risk him turning into a frightened ‘robot’ too? Isn’t that what we had for a leader in the previous two elections? How did that work out?

People I know, who know Jess Phillips say she’s the same in real life as she is online. That has certain merits, but it’s not quite true: everything we do online is mediated either by oneself or others. We have to understand the prisms through which we’re seen.

If you’re an MP, you’re not normal — you’ve had a particular set of ambitions, opportunities and experiences. If you’re more than passingly interested in politics, you’re not normal either. Look again at your Facebook feed: although it’s skewed towards your personal likes, is it more political or personal?

Watching Googlebox, liking ‘indie music’, or tweeting about ‘bake off’ doesn’t give you some direct line to ‘people’. Only thousands of real conversations — and arguments — offline and online, and through the unfortunately mediated press,  can do that. People like Jess are really valuable to that goal, so she needs to be onboard: but intra-movement discussion needs to be constructive as well as honest. We need to beware we don’t conflate a common touch with an actual principle.

But what if you aren’t ‘on the doorstep’? I find this criticism both disingenuous and exclusive. In reality it’s one of the stock criticisms that can now be laid at the new kind of activist: they’re not doing what we always have done.

Emails from our local party leaders often feel like they’re prickly at an influx of activists: they often “remind new members” of the doorstep protocol, despite there being no way for those enthusiastic neophytes to know.

This behaviour, and the exaltation of those ‘on the Labour doorstep’ feels like a set of shibboleths to assert control of the movement. It also feels like an all-purpose criticism to use when change feels uncomfortable. Change may be uncomfortable, but it has to happen.

Jon Bounds is a writer, on culture and the internet especially. He is co-author of Pier Review, a book about memory & the seaside

*This new book Social Media in an English Village is well worth a read on real-life social media use, free to download from UCL Press.

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 Responses to “The cult of the Labour doorstep does more harm than good”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Jess Philips may be keen and charismatic, but that doesn’t translate as being acceptable to the public, outside her constituency, just because she our ad Abbott in her place,isn’t a badge of honour, Andrew Neil often does that

    Agree about the Red Wedge style pop star /comedians backing Corbyn,like the 1987 ones, at the time it was noted ,all it did was appear so cynical it probably encouraged more people to vote Tory

    Yes voter ID isn’t that accurate,but you’d be supported hoe many people can be signed up to become members,even if we do get the, you only come around here when it’s election time, but the Tories are formidable at campaigning,they’ve a NO, no go areas idea even Wales, we’ve lost areas like Essex for a generation

  2. Hi Jon,

    I’m not a Labour member (I’m a Lib Dem), but it may be one reason moderates are encouraging Corbyn supporters to go on the doorstep is that they’ll find it educational.

    On social media, it’s easy to spend your time meeting people you agree with. On the doorstep, it isn’t like that.

    Although we are total strangers knocking on their door, people are remarkably honest about what they think (and, if you’re willing to listen, they can be remarkably friendly too).

    Listening is the best way to persuade, but it comes with a price. Your opinions may change too. Who knows what they may become?

    Maybe you won’t change your opinions one iota, but maybe you will. If meeting the electorate helps you develop new insights on how this country should be run, I think that’s a very good thing.

  3. Jonathan Capehart says:

    There is surely a place for both? You cannot escape the reality that older people are more likely to vote but less likely to use social media. This will become less true over time but at present it is a fine balance and we ignore either at our peril.

  4. Christabel says:

    Doorstep activity helps members to understand what they’re up against. You can’t just block those with opinions you disagree with (a frequent occurrence on Social Media), you have to walk down that street to find that three out of four people disagree with your flagship policy; you also need to walk down that street to understand that non-voters aren’t going to vote for anyone. Ever.

    In other words it’s not about persuading the electorate, it’s about educating the activists and it can be a real eye-opener sometimes!

  5. Bobby says:

    When Jess Philips compared the rape spree in Cologne to a Saturday night in Birmingham, for the sake of cowardly moral relativism, she promoted the image that is becoming a permanent notion in the minds of British people, that Labour and the Left will smear and slander their own people, cities and towns so as not to offend multiculturalist taboos, that they are gobby self hating cowards, that they care more for what a bunch of Guardian luvvies think of their virtue signalling than the concerns of the ordinary people. Only that can explain Jess Philips idiotic and slanderous comparison, the reflexive cowardice of Labour multiculturalism, which cannot tell simple truths without making specious moral relativist comparisons. And such people are not fit to rule us, because they hate us.

  6. George Laird says:

    Going on a doorstep is educational, the problem for some is the content, you can’t sell crap packaged as sweets and expect a result. Likewise showing up with nothing is equally silly.

    In the long campaign doing voter data is a good idea but only if you have enough bodies and it is coupled with getting people to express their views on things needed done in the area, roads, lighting problems, a straight data collection is and should be a part of the exercise of engagement not the core reason.

    If you want to find out the hard truth about about people’s views, face to face is an eyeopener because some people will give it to about who and why someone is failing the party.

  7. Tony says:

    I suspect that that a lot of these telephone conversations were simply too short to persuade many people at the last general election.

    If the conversation went like this it would not have much effect.

    “Hello, I’m calling from the Labour Party. Can we count on your support?


    “Okay. Have a nice day.”

    But with more resources, Labour might be able to do things in a bit more depth and help persuade more people.

    A conversation might then have gone like this.

    “Well, Ed Miliband does not seem like a prime minister to me.”

    Reply: “Well, nobody looks prime ministerial until he/she becomes prime minister. It was true of most leaders of the opposition in the past including David Cameron.”

    “Yes, I suppose that might be the case.”

    Every problem that someone raises can be answered.

  8. ad says:

    If you’re an MP, you’re not norma

    Activists aren’t normal either. As people have noted above, perhaps the real advantage of doorstepping is that it bring activists into contact with the people they want to vote Labour. (This sort of thing is why they used to be keen on focus groups, but eberyone seems to want to condemn those as the devils work these days.)

  9. steve cook says:

    I am not at all happy about this article or blog-it defines everything that is wrong with the labour party and modernity and the general democratic process in the uk in 2016.

    if I read it line by line-barely a single line stands alone or makes sense or feeds into an over-view that is coherent or humane or logical.

    I am not aware of any political campaign in the last 50 years in the uk that required for the parties appeal to be sold to the public-so the whole blog is rubbish in the broadest sense.

    the labour party could guarantee winning the next election and every election for the next 2 or 3 decades with ease and with true majorities and even with improved participation figures if it wanted to…. it obviously doesn’t want to and the person who wrote this blog hasn’t even considered it viable or aspirational or desirable.
    instead we get loads of childish gibberish about idiotic concepts and strategies and realities as seen from the eyes of a posh young Londoner who lives in a total bubble.

    if the party wanted to know what people think-that’s easy look at the opinion poll data or ask a normal person or 10 000 again very easy to do.
    neither of these is acceptable to the labour party so then we start to understand where we are and why-but it gets much much worse.

    refuse to consider public opinion when you are aware of it-and particularly on the top 10 issues and most extreme examples that influence the maximum number of peoples opinions and colours them also-so even if they vote labour -they do so reluctantly.

    this will then prove to everyone how anti-democratic the labour party is and how they despise the poorest 50 % of the electorate and only consider the views to be worthy of tallying if the polled are degree holding pro-London pro -ethnic pro-mass immigration pro-trident pro-eu pro-feminist pro-Barnett formula and much more.

    so the labour party has at its core and like a shell surrounding a nut-a force-field of hate and bias that deters 80-90% of the population from voting labour and so you can conclude from that support is waning generationally and yearly and that half of all the people who vote labour do so reluctantly or through tribal loyalty only.

    you are a minority extremist anti-democratic party-corrupt to the core and prejudiced against the white working class and poor who still make up 70% of the population .
    70-80% do not have a degree and 85% do not live in London .

    nobody is sold the idea of voting for a party or even a policy within a manifesto-never happens only people in a posh bubble would think otherwise.

    you prove you are pro democracy and prove you favour helping the poorest 50% and you don’t mess up when delivering and you don’t allow anti democratic or hate fuelled minority views to interfere in this process and as time goes by people see the good done and continue to vote for you and as long as you stick to the principle of democracy is valid and the poorest half have the greatest need to representation -you cannot fail.
    if you enhance this with great ideas and integrity demonstrated for all to see then you win by a landslide and voter participation even increases.
    this is true in all democracies and everywhere and historically -why doesn’t anyone think like this on this site or mention this on this site ? because all of you are in that ugly bubble-posh privileged London-centric wealthy childish elitists who simply think winning an argument is sufficient and all of you are hypocrites and liars and professional politicians or dismissive of egalitarian values and freedom of speech and democracy .
    you call anything that is popular and can win elections …. popularist said sneeringly [ Emily Thornberry style] or you call it mob rule or luddite or something offensive.

    entertainers and doorstep knocking and campaigning has no hope of doing anything but persuading 2 or 4 % to vote for a party they don’t want to and will regret later if even 2% are that vulnerable to bullying or persuasion?

    as for deals with the snp-they are the enemy and the last election should have made that clear to you -but as you live in a bubble it didn’t register .

    if the Barnett formula is scrapped and if the evel issue is resolved then and only then can most English folk consider the snp as valid as partners for any English party-and that looks very unlikely -so any deal will make even more people hate and fear the labour party than already.
    another example is if the party ended the nhs postcode lottery for health provision -like cancer drugs and ivf that would be both egalitarian and popular-2 things the labour party hates-but it would win votes.
    likewise scrapping the Barnett formula would win votes and be egalitarian.
    likewise immigration controls-very firm ones would win votes and be egalitarian and popular and helpful to the poorest half of the country.

    I have never had a politician knock on my door nor even an activist-im 53 and live in cambs and have lived in this house for 25 years in the centre of the largest town in cambs since 1968 st.neots 40 000 and soon to be over 60 000.
    I assume as I also lived in central paterborough in a 7 bedroom house for 5 years that never got knocked on once …. that most people in the uk have never in their lives been door stepped by an activist let alone a politican….. so why this stupid blog-full of ugly views and lies and nonsense and unhelpful and not relevant to the country or the party or to policy implementation or campaign issues or even for electoral success or even true-fundamentally no one knocks on doors and the few who have never influence anyone and comedians and singers and campaigns have zero effect also .
    but the truth is out there-I have given examples of how to win and stay in power and how to enhance voter appeal over time and how to formulate policy and how to canvass opinion etc- this is basic stuff -but I have never heard nor read of any labour spokesperson saying anything I state here -not one point ever since maybe 1995 .
    labour will surely become a 3rd or 4th party in the uk over the next few decades and then the posh rich elitist champagne socialists and London residents and ethnic minorities can have your very own little fringe party and leave the 70% white working class and poor without representation rather than maintaining this evil pretence as is now the case.
    end the elitists using the better schools-this is egalitarian and popular.
    end faith schools and curtail gambling access and tax alcohol and prosecute muslims or anyone who mutilates genitals of children or segregates sexes or does not stun before slaughter animals or who houses people in dangerous locations like sheds and end forced marriage and prosecute the culprits and likewise forced veil wearing -all egalitarian and popular -all unsupported by labour and never called for by labour .

    human rights and the poor and democracy are all the enemies of the labour party-it didn’t used to be like that.
    I did a silly internet test I stumbled on today and did it twice and adjusted my input data to make absolutely sure of its findings and both times I came out as traditional working class-I haven’t seen a working class white English person tv giving views or asking questions since about 1990 -just after the miners strike -they are denied access to the tv camera now and there are almost no working class white labour supporters in the party and the few there are are all reluctant labour voters and leaving by the year.
    most of this country is poor and working class white English people-maybe 70% certainly over 60% I live amongst thousands who I know in my town where I grew up-almost all of them think just like me and very few will vote labour or have voted labour or could even be persuaded to vote labour -so you must count opinions and reflect opinions and learn to value egalitarian policies and be popularist and learn to love democracy-blair came close but it was all pretend or largely pretend and he ushered in the London centric evil champagne socialist and elitism and trebled the number with gambling addiction and alcohol addiction and made faith schools extremely devisive and allowed sharia panels and covered up epidemics of muslim paedophile gangs and he permitted and covered up sex segregation in faith schools he made viable and hundreds of other very illegal and horrible examples of elitist lying hypocritical and anti white working class things-the list is endless and un defendable and anti democratic and anti poor and anti egalitarian .

    equal per head funding of pupils would also be popular egalitarian and isn’t supported by the elitist labour party of course-leaving my town with only a third of the funding parts of ethnic London gets-how can this make the majority want to vote labour or associate the labour party with fairness or pro poor policies?
    cambs has the largest constituencies in the uk and the least infrastructure spending and worst services and lowest educational achievements and lowest per pupil funding and was historically always the lowest paid place in the uk also
    London gets 95% of the arts budget ensuring millionaires and billionaires never have to pay for their own tickets to ballet and opera-as the tickets are subsidised by the poorest people in the country for the richest and London has the museums and as many bridges as the rest of the uk put together and 2 ring roads and crossrail one and crossrail two and the euro train hub and heathrow and more buses than the rest of the country put together and the entire underground train network including the new line to heathrow and out to the northern suburbs .
    its a joke and very sick joke at that -to rob from the poorest to provide a wonderland for the ethnic minorities and super rich and elitists who live in London-when most of the country has nothing or close to nothing-in st.neots we have a town of 40 000 and will be over 60 000 in 2026 [ 10 years] but we have no location where 2 buses can stop at the same time or where even one can stop for an hour-nothing – we have the same a1 and a428 that was built here in 1960 or earlier-promised and never delivered for 50 years -yet the traffic and population has grown 5 or 10 fold.

    while the party is full of liars and hypocrites and racists like Dianne abbot [check out the youtube vids of her] or the evil professional feminist scum like Yvette cooper or caroline flint or Emily Thornberry the monster or jaqui smith the cow who had her mortgage paid off for her by the poorest in the country or the evil eagle sisters or the frightening freak that is owen jones your guardian spokesperson ….. then there is no hope of sincerity or democracy or egalitarian views be promoted and the poorest half of the country-almost all of which are white working class English will just continue without hope of representation.
    sadly most of the few who still vote labour -do so reluctantly or out of tribal loyalty and half the population don’t even vote at all and I blame labour for that-you have systematically destroyed all faith in our process being democratic and removed any prospect of egalitarian views ever playing a role in uk politics -and this silly blog says if we aim for 30 % of the 50% who vote and focus mainly on London and a few Pakistani towns and persuade a few middle class monsters and do a secret deal with the snp and if the tories do really bad we may win the election as the largest of the small parties and can seize power maybe- and we will do that by singing or telling jokes or knocking on doors etc -its an ugly party full of ugly monsters with a vile plan and a series of evil poor-hurting anti democratic policies which mock democracy and despise the majority of the population.

    oh yes and targeted internet campaigns and politically aware folk and activists and local campaigning -all this is rubbish-sort of stuff someone in a bubble might think and it also sounds like the ramblings of someone very young who has never done a proper day of physical work in his life -unlike most of the population -its just tootall utter garbage sadly for you.

    70% use the internet and 10% are involved in any political awareness online and only 1% believe in the cult of the personality as in jess Philips-a single person who is entitled to her views but of zero credibility and very unimpressive in terms of everything she says and her reasoning-but I like her simply because she answers questions and she rarely says what the elitists expect her to say.
    anyway none of that is true which you raised and discussed -I have never had a single person knock on my door-so I wont be door stepped and when I am by jehovas and by charity collectors I spend up to 2 hours attempting to convince them of my views and trying to persuade them to change their views.

    why do you think telling people they are wrong will win you a single vote ? it wont .

    I love people and love politics and forgive opinions and errors and consider arguments the only way to change mind-sets-I loathe positive discrimination and political correctness as does every single person I know-without exception -tell that to racist liar and hypocrite Dianne abbot .
    I am atheist republican and disabled and have campaigned for the disabled for 15 years and I have a disbled g/f of 11 years and had a disabled dad and have a disabled best friend-I had voted labour all my life and I campaigned for the p.l.o. and was anti racist and risked my job on many occasions defending immigrants and have lived amongst them in central peterboro and I have dated them and had them as lodgers and neighbours -so I am not a little Englander or monarchist or out of date -I supported corbyn on his anti eu stance like benn and also on his cnd anti trident stance-but the evil that is the labour party elitists managed to bribe threaten or bully corbyn into reversing both his life-long views a few months ago and that will have hurt corbyns reputation for being independent and honest and shows no integrity or reflection of popular views or a process of argument-just practicalities and lies and secrecy-that does not enhance the view of the labour party-but no doubt loads of self serving elitists professional politicians in the labour party will be patting themselves on the back now because of that success they had.

    this last 2 points -trident and the eu and corbyns views on them is of no importance here-its my opinion only and relevant in the context I gave it in -but not critical to labours prospects and its problems as 2 policy issues.
    I could list 10 or 20 things you must do to win power and be trusted and you must maintain for credibility purposes to remain in power and I have covered most of those key points already so I wont list them here again .

    opinion polls are everywhere and free and reality is just 100 yards from your front doors if you want to go and find the same answers out in person-I know how most white working class English people think and why and I am one of them-unlike all you lot . egalitarian views are critical to the labour party and even to the tory party as is sincerity and accountability and transparency and economic sense and democratic values and the poor must be the prime concern for any labour party-that is the 50 % poorest-the working class and poor-who are mostly English and white.

Leave a Reply