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Democracy and Door Knocking.


Democracy and Door Knocking.

Pravin Rasalingam
Published in Media by Pdotty in 2016)

‘So how will you be voting in the Brexit referendum?’

‘To leave.’ Said the friendly young woman who happened to be holding a year-old baby.

We were door-knocking, it was Sunday, eleven am, and I was grumpy.

Maria had dragged me out for this, which was becoming more and more apparent was a complete waste of time, and surreal. We could have gone to church instead, or Golf.

I often asked my local councilors how door-knocking helps, but they always managed to fob me off with relative ease. We weren’t even asked to try and make people vote for our beloved party. We just knocked on doors, but not random doors, but the doors of Labour voters or members, hardly the type representative of this country, and to me not the people we should be targeting. Shouldn’t we be targeting new voters? Oh no, that was not how the electoral system works.

Our aim was to fill two boxes.

1. Voting Labour?

2. Voting Leave or Remain?

And then, if you feel some vibe with the voter, you got the opportunity to ask why? And that was it, no high-tech social media campaign, or catchy advert on a bus, it was like turning up to a boxing fight with a Queensbury rules pamphlet, and the other side came with a knife.

‘So what’s your main reason for voting Brexit?’

Clearly, the vibe wasn’t there, but she was in the mood to talk, and I was curious about what in-depth research she had done, from the Daily Mail, Express, or YouTube. You could of course have an idea what they were thinking. But the mental gymnastics always came out with responses that you can never predict in a million years.

‘The city center is falling apart, planes are falling from the sky.’

Hmm…tricky — Express or YouTube?

I wondered what she would say if I wasn’t me, a very dark Sri Lankan man, but someone of her own kind, someone she was completely comfortable with. She was white working class, and Catford was becoming more and more denominated by ethnics, noticeably so. I noticed it, I would assume she noticed it even more so than me.

I nod my head, ‘Yeah.’

‘ I can’t argue with what you’re saying. ‘

‘Planes are falling from the sky.

‘Yeah those two planes.’ — her eyes widened, with intense focus.

‘Scary times.’ I said. We both looked to the baby — both feeling that the future was not going to be great for the next generation.

I am married to a Romanian, Maria, and knew of some of the benefits; In terms of cheap labour to the UK and fresh cheap vegetables. I also liked freedom of movement. Being able to go to Romania for a month or two with little effort. But was that such a big sell? Freedom of movement. Most plebs like me couldn’t speak another language, the dream of going and working in Italy seemed like a pipe dream, and it was. They wanted a blue passport, which would allow them to go to fewer countries, but with the Caveat, fewer people could come here to work. The sacrifice was worth it.

This would all mean I need to get a visa to live in Romania, but I could sort this out. Was this a positive for people like her?

I didn’t really have a concrete answer, we were told not to try and sell Remain, so I wasn’t sure what I was doing here; apart from being told so by a nine-month pregnant woman. I might sound like a pathetic victim, but I really had no choice, she now outweighed me by 5kg.

I got the chance to door knock with my Local MP, Heidi Pepper-Smith a mini-celebrity so that was fun; and saw how often futile it was to try to change someone’s opinion, even if you are a skilled communicator, and well prepared as Heidi was.

Oddly nobody said immigrants as a reason, not the blacks or the whites, I guess the blacks were more integrated, so didn’t say what they thought. But they seem to be more against immigration than the whites. The Indians were a little more open about it. They really didn’t want any more immigration. They were also both against eastern european immigration, from what I could gather. It was a fun game, “Trying to get the meaning.”

“Yes, eastern europeans, not the good ones, the bad ones!”

And the good ones take our jobs, and the bad ones steal, was what I could gather.

I assumed they meant Romanians, I laughed about this, and often wound Maria and her friends about it. But they would say this was because they were gypsies, and they weren’t real Romanians. And that my fellow constituents were right to be concerned.

Heck, I even managed to meet a few Romanians, now British residents who wanted to Vote Leave too, for probably the same reasons.

I would like to ask Gypsies, who they like being racist to, the more Indian type gypsies? I am sure it goes further, maybe they draw the line at someone like me. Or it’s the Standard, Blacks, and Muslims, believe me, It’s on my bucket list.

The ignorance, laziness, and xenophobia of people were getting to me. And these Labour members and voters were more informed and left-leaning than the general public, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I guess it saddened me. Was this the country I loved so much?

I never appreciated how lucky I was to be born in England. And now seeing some of the rights and freedoms being taken away, made me appreciate this even more, but it was too late.

The masks had come off for Maria, and for me in part also, I didn’t like my wife and future son being looked at as second-class citizens like I was growing up in the 80s London. But would it be any different in Romania, a mixed-race family?

‘So this your first-time door knocking — said my trainer and team leader Sophie. A 20 year old redhead.’

‘Yeah, I am so nervous — And I really don’t know what to say. I am rubbish at debating.’

‘I am surprised so many people answer the door!’

‘People are more friendly than you expect, and I guess they like to talk.’

‘Not looking good is it’ — hoping for someone else to state out loud the obvious.

‘No it’s going to be close.’ — Sophie raises her eyebrows a tick.

‘So what you do?’

‘I am at Uni studying politics, I want to become a teacher.’


‘Have you been doing this for long, you are so much better at it than me.’

‘A year, it’s fun, the people are so nice.’

I give a rye look, no response.

‘And you?’

‘My wife’s idea.’

‘Yeah I saw her, she has been partnered with Heidi.’

‘Heidi is great, isn’t she’

‘Yeah she is, and what a great communicator, wish I could be like that.’

This question was often a check to see if you’re a Blairite or a Corbynite. There were two very distinct camps. I came to the party liking both, but this seemed not to be an option anymore. Heidi was a well-known Blairite. I was a Corbyn Fan, but I liked her as a person and was impressed with her in general. I hadn’t really shown my colours yet, and after this, I was closer to being done with the whole thing.

‘Well, she has been doing it for years, you are doing great.’

I finally got some approval.

‘Two people talking about terrorism with you how odd, nobody has mentioned that to me.’

Yeah, it’s a mystery I thought…

‘What do they talk to you about?’

‘Oh, the rubbish not being taken away as often, struggling to get a place for their kids in school, crime.’

‘Oh useful stuff, I nod. ‘

I would occasionally catch Heidi for a moment, trying to come out with some facts, trade or legal-related, and she got little in return.

‘Four percent GDP decrease, mean less money to spend on local councils, less money for schools, bin collection.’

But it glazed over the constituents.

I mean rubbish was piling up, and schools were crumbling and we are still in Europe, so what’s the difference, plus we would be “FREE” of the EU and all their bureaucracy; many would respond without a moment’s breath. They had been prepped too it seemed.

Like the England football team, there was some mass delusion, about the UK’s own global worth, they genuinely thought these rules of Trade and international law didn’t apply to The UK, or to the great powers, but maybe they were right. Currency strength is perception. And the perception of the UK is good, I thought.

‘It will hurt them more than, us’

Clearly, a statement that didn’t make sense as Europe was eight times the trading bloc size than the UK. ‘

There were also elements, from Older constituents that the EU was run by Germany, and were winning the Third World War by stealth.

I should have found this fascinating. But I didn’t. I was sad, I wasn’t quite sure exactly why. Was it the xenophobia from all races, ages, and backgrounds; from one of the most liberal and ethnically diverse places in the UK, that was bothering me? Or the fact there were so many better things to do, Like watching, Location, location, location.

One highlight was a real doozy. one with a cool-looking 40-something constituent, who informed Heidi he would not be voting for her and voting for the Greens. He gave her some abuse for supporting the bombing of Syria and the Iraq war. He was also going to vote Remain. Hmm, maybe I should join that guy’s tribe. I’m sold!

Extra Extra — we have a converted — I smiled to myself.

She was so diplomatic, what was she thinking inside? She had the perfect poker face, I would have been embarrassed beyond belief.

No, it was all pointless, like the poster on our window to vote Remain which I could see in the distance, as we continued our walk.

‘What’s the point, you putting that poster up, we could be attracting rocks.’

‘Our window could get smashed, what about the baby’s room?’

‘This needs to be done, stop being so whiney. You will be happy after we have done this.’ – Said an oddly chipper Maria.

This was true, Maria was nine months pregnant, and I was the whiney one.

We knocked on the door of some run-down 70’s block. Two sweet, 6-year-old twin mixed raced girls, seem to be pimping me to their mum. Their mum wasn’t too bad.

John our local council leader looked toward Heidi,

‘This is not looking good.’ With a pout that he always loved to do.

‘I can’t see Remain winning, we live in a remain area, and more than half want to leave.’ — I bluntly say out loud. These practiced politicians were thinking the same things, but for whatever reason weren’t keen to give strong opinions, especially if they were slightly negative.

‘Yeah doesn’t look good.’ John9 grimaced.

We arrived back at the local pub, they were having a party thanking us all for our hard work.

‘I remember before Bulgaria entered the EU there were lines of trucks. waiting to get over the border, lines and lines of trucks ‘ said Maria, giving her insight into what living outside of the EU was like.’

Heidi nodded her head with a concerned, empathetic-looking gaze.

None of this meant much to us, including me, the UK is not Romania or Bulgaria, we are richer and better than those countries.

Heidi once mentioned, how the escalating ladder of power never ended, and never ever seeing the top, the sense of helplessness. That being an MP meant very little and she wondered if that would be the case if she ever got a cabinet job.

We knew something bad was going to happen, but there was nothing we could do, that’s how it felt. Door knocking was something; I guess it eased our conscience.

To try and stop our country from doing self-imposed sanctions, but it was a weak attempt, a very weak attempt.

Nobody in there thought we would win.

‘Well it’s close, 52:48’

More like 50:50, we all thought.

Heidi took to the stage.

‘Hey everybody, thank you so much…’

Heidi gave a brilliant speech full of energy and hope. I can’t remember what it was about, but it sure cheered me up, and I felt inspired.

I got home, I check the odds for Leave, 10:1, that’s worth a 1000 quid bet!

‘Hi mum, thanks for the food’

‘You have a Remain poster on the window, who put it there?’ She had a nosey expression, she was interested.

‘ Maria did.’

‘I told her it attracts rocks.’

‘It’s next to the baby’s room, she doesn’t worry about such things.’ Shaking her head in disbelief.

‘Who are you voting for by the way?’

‘Leave.’ She said in a matter-of-fact kind of way.

‘How can you vote for leave!’ — I was mad but kept quiet, I wanted her to talk more.

‘Well, Boris saying it will improve the lives of British young people, and more money for the NHS. Also, a lot of Romanian criminals in Birmingham so many.’

‘You know Boris is a Con man.’ I roll my eyes.

‘When we came to this country, child care was 1 pound an hour.

‘The hospitals were fantastic. And the schools were not so crammed.’

‘Wow 1 pound, that is amazing.’

‘There are just too many people, too many immigrants.’

‘We are immigrants, you do know that?’

‘No, it’s different. The Sri Lankans coming, they are not educated, they don’t know anything.’

I sigh. ‘Great.’

‘I am married to a Romanian you do know that right .?’

‘I guess if my daughter-in-law feels so strongly about it. I better vote Remain.’

I smiled, I was happy and pleasantly surprised.

‘Thanks Mum.’

I couldn’t believe it, the sign worked. People could change their minds, and just from a sign. Pravin what a pessimistic idiot you have been, Maria was right. Maybe we did help!

Democracy works, I was tempted to run into the streets, shouting,

“Democracy works Democracy works.”

If my bigoted 70-year-old mother could change her mind, maybe anyone can.

I reduced my bet to 100 quid, maybe there is hope. If good people like us fight the fight, maybe a few idiots will decide not to vote against themselves.

Two years later over a typical Christmas argument, I would find out she voted for Leave; in that moment she cost me my faith in humanity and more importantly — 9000 bucks.P-dotty

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