Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affection, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.” – William Shakespeare
This was certainly the case for 99% of everyone I spoke with on my morning on the Labour street stall in Swanley town centre, Saturday March 23rd 2019.
Canvassing or talking politics to random members of the public is certainly something to be apprehensive about, particularly in times like these when members of our paramilitary are firing rounds at a poster of the leader of the opposition and circulating it online. However, I was pleasantly surprised, not just how much I enjoyed speaking to people and better understanding their concerns, but also the polite nature of it. Yes, obviously there was people uninterested, others even offended at the sight of the Labour emblem emblazoned in plain sight. Yet, in my first experience of speaking to members of the public about politics outside of my own social circle or the confines of local Labour Party meetings was more than encouraging enough for me to consider getting back out onto the streets campaigning for Labour again.
There is something to be said of conversation and its supposed art. This space that is created between friends and strangers alike to express their opinion without offence or scurrility as Shakespeare himself described. Winston Churchill once said “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”, he couldn’t be more wrong. Only in conversations with your ‘average voter’ can you truly understand the very beauty of democracy. The right that we can all exercise our opinion at the ballot box is something that was fought for, not given. This was fought for by the Trade Union movement and subsequently the Labour Party, born out of the opinion of your average worker through conversations between one another. Without the value of conversation and debate on our streets, in our pubs or our workplaces we would be strangled by the governing elite and their aristocracy.
Brexit seemed to dominate conversation in Swanley. The vast majority of people I spoke to explained how they was ‘fed up’ and that politicians should ‘just get on with it’. I sensed a feeling of exasperation of the entire process and how it still dominates the mainstream. Most people I spoke with still wanted to Leave, believing in the argument of reclaiming sovereignty of our nation and ‘taking back control’ . Whilst I have some reservations with these particular arguments, the sentiment was clear, this has gone on too long and needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. We need to find a time and space to have conversations about other social issues that are being suffocated by Brexit – a clear lack of affordable housing and the slashing of public services that so many people on the breadline rely upon, to name but a few.
I did manage to find one lady who I stood with for close to 20 minutes discussing the political landscape far wider than the Brexit impasse we find ourselves in. She told me how she wanted to see more of an emphasis on new green initiatives, so I invited her to explore the Green New Deal inspired by US activists and adopted by Labour members. We spoke of the closing down of community centres in Swanley and how this damages the elder community and their overall health. I directed her to more information on Sevenoaks Labour manifesto for healthier communities and my personal pledge to focus on trying to deliver better community activities at affordable rates if elected as Labour Councillor in May. Of course, she had an opinion on Brexit too and how she wanted a Peoples Vote and a clearer message from Jeremy Corbyn but it was refreshing, particularly for myself canvassing for the first time, to hear concerns of people I have never met before outside of my own bubble.
Another man I spoke to was concerned with finding a public space for Swanley Rugby club to play their games. This was something not currently provided under the Tory dominated Swanley Council. Whilst another was interested in discussing the Swanley Town centre redevelopment plans and how this would damage the skyline.
This variation highlighted the diverse issues that each member of the public viewed as important to them and their community, be that on a local or national level. My experience reaffirmed for me that conversation and the way it is conducted can offer a better understanding of your average voter’s opinions which is integral to building any meaningful transformative society that represents the many, not the few.