Wednesday 7 June 2017, 21.45
There. It’s over. Apart from the actual voting part. But as far as campaigning for the 2017 general election goes, that’s about it. The last leaflet fell through our letterbox just an hour ago. Like the majority of other campaign comms, it was from the Liberal Democrats. The fact that I have a giant, unmissable LibDem diamond-shaped signboard nailed to a tree at the entrance to our house hasn’t deterred canvassers from thinking that maybe I might change my mind, or that I’m not that committed. Neither has the fact that I volunteered to help with their campaign. I’m ‘known’ to the local party, so one would have thought my property would be spared. But no. Nothing has stopped the deluge of letters, leaflets and newspapers from arriving almost every day.
In the beginning there was Brexit
A bit of background: New Malden is mostly within the Richmond Park constituency, which Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) snatched back from Zac Goldsmith in December 2016 when he resigned from the Tories on a matter of principle (he promised to go if the Tories backed a 3rd runway at Heathrow, which they did). He stood as an Indy and duly lost, but it was close. So it’s understandable that the Lib Dems want to hold on to their only London seat.
But the argument has moved on, at least as far as the Lib Dems’ early campaign literature is concerned. It’s all about Brexit now, and their initial door-drops talk about ‘stopping the hard Brexit’. Voters are urged to ‘change the direction of your country’ in the forthcoming ‘Brexit Election’. A few leaflets later and there’s a subtle change in the wording. The Lib Dems are now ‘challenging the hard Brexit’. (Does that definite article annoy you? It does me.) The next leaflet asks ‘What kind of future do you want for your country? That’s the choice facing people across the country on June 8th.’ That’s not a choice, it’s a question. The newspaper-style format gives them room to talk about ‘the’ hard Brexit as well as reprising the third runway issue and concerns about health and education.
Enter the SS
About this time in mid May, the first leaflet from the Conservatives appears, with its Union Flag border and multiple uses of SS (strong and stable). Vote for the Tories and Britain, it is claimed, will be the strongest country in Europe, although it doesn’t say by what measure.
Their next leaflet is from Zac, who’s standing again, back as a Tory this time, despite the Tories sticking resolutely to their 3rd runway policy. How does that work? A picture shows May and Goldsmith wandering about in a wood somewhere, Theresa hanging on his every word. His next leaflet features a quote from the prime minister, delivered outside No. 10. “On June 8th, every single vote for Zac Goldsmith is a vote for SS leadership in the national interest.” There’s no evidence she has actually said these words, and certainly didn’t deliver them in Downing Street.
Letters from leftfield
Back with the Lib Dems, all manner of election comms continues to pour through the letterbox. Some from Tim Farron, most from Sarah Olney, and a few from Mike, Clare and Edward. Who? Well, Mike Smithson runs a political betting website, and he doesn’t want to tell us who to vote for. “I’m not here to tell you who to vote for,” he says. But if Labour voters lend their vote to the LibDems, they could stop the Conservatives from winning locally. “Just saying,” he doesn’t say. Clare is Dr Clare Gereda, a local GP (and ex-Chair of the Royal College of GPs), who isn’t as squeamish as Mike about where we should put our Xs: “A vote for the LibDems is a vote of confidence in our NHS”. Then Edward’s letter arrives. His double-barrelled surname and title (‘Conservative Member of European Parliament 1984-2010’) make me think he’s been drafted in to help the Tories, but further reading reveals that he jumped ship in 2010 and joined the Liberal Democrats. “Like many pro-Europeans, I’m horrified with the direction Theresa May has been taking the country.”
Vote for one of us!
More stuff from the Tories. The copy is indistinguishable from something Ukip might say, and in fact did. A succession of leaflets asks us to ‘Vote Theresa May’, then to ‘Vote for Zac’, and then to ‘Vote Theresa May’ again. The whole presidential-style approach that the Tories have adopted for this election might come unstuck when stupid people – and there ARE stupid people – get to the polling booth and look in vain for Theresa May’s name.
Like the Lib Dems, the Tories don’t settle on a winning format for their canvassing. We get postcards, letters, roll-fold leaflets, pretend magazines, A3 newspapers, mailpacks delivered by Royal Mail, letters from Zac and another one from the Prime Minister. This one ditches the SS references in favour of ‘standing up’. It mentions ‘standing up’ for Britain no fewer than 18 times, a rate of repetition that would prompt a forest of tracked changes if presented by a copywriter to any normal client.
We also get a leaflet from Zac Goldsmith in which he attempts to explain and excuse his flip-flop, flimflam, weaselly and shamelessly opportunistic approach to local democracy. Hopefully it won’t fool anyone.
Brexit takes a back seat
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems continue their onslaught. ‘Changing the future of Britain’ somehow becomes changing the ‘future direction of Britain’. What other direction could we hope to affect? Hard Brexit gains a capital H, like Grassy Knoll did eventually, but overall the focus is gradually switched from Europe to education and the NHS. For the first time, campaign literature mentions an extra penny on income tax to pay for increased investment in the NHS, but the leaflets choose to portray this with a picture of a HUGE penny, rather than showing a tiny penny in someone’s palm.
Speaking of which, a Lib Dem leaflet turns up with something like an idea in it. Albeit an idea of the kind had by a child or by a particularly literal client. It carries the headline ‘It’s in your hands’ and shows an image of…and I think you know what’s coming…a pair of hands. Inside, there’s no mention at all of Brexit, and nobody thought to put anything on the back. 25% of the leaflet is wasted space.
Token missives from the rank outsiders
At some point during the campaign we get the one and only effort from the no-hope Labour candidate. His name is Laurie South, and he sound like a decent sort of chap, although we learn nothing of his lavatorial habits, unlike his predecessor. A leaflet from the local Ukip candidate turns up, showing a stern-looking bearded bloke who’s anti-human rights and who was, in an statement that will draw knowing nods from kids who were locked up for littering or loitering or looking a bit wrong, a serving magistrate. Neither of these guys has a snowball’s chance in hell of even coming second around here.
And still they come
More leaflets arrive. None appears to be printed on recycled paper or claims to come from sustainable sources, so we can only assume that trees are being sacrificed in the name of local democracy. The Tories’ final postcard states that the loss of just six seats would be enough to wrest power from them. The intention is clearly to prick complacent conservatives into voting, but could have a similar effect on Labour or Lib Dem voters who had been resigned to a Tory victory, but now felt stirred into action.
Door-drops from Lib Dems are now going hell for leather over the ‘heartless Tories” Dementia Tax. The last one I retrieve from the doormat plays the familiar two-horse-race angle, but while it shows a picture of Sarah Olney, Zac Goldsmith’s profile is greyed out. The Lib Dems clearly know how much his supposed good looks appeals to certain voters. (The ones we could do without, really.)
The final tally
In the closely-fought constituency of Richmond Park, the results of the 2017 general election junk mail campaign are as follows:
Liberal Democrats: 36
Total weight: Exactly 500g
Minds changed: Probably zero.