It has been said that politics is sex for ugly people or high-functioning sociopaths. On an unrelated note, I volunteered for the Ed Miliband leadership campaign, originally out of curiosity and because two of my friends were doing it. I found myself becoming a passionate supporter of Miliband and someone with great hopes for Labour and all politics, if only every party can tap into the energy and optimism of the student voter.
And this was a campaign, to quote one of the handmade banners, ‘Powered by People’, with ‘Ed’ surrounded by pink paper hearts – to which, various unkind middle aged people said things along the lines of “Remember 1997” and “You’re young, but as you age and wither you’ll become a cold, pessimistic husk.” But those people are over 30 and comment on newspaper websites, so they can be safely ignored. The people behind the Miliband campaign were a mixed bunch, with the volunteer HQ commanded by two redoubtable and supremely able young women, and staffed by a rotating band of even younger volunteers; some just getting A-level results, some just finishing PhDs, some students like us; people of all ages, from young teenagers to Pakistani businessmen to Australian Labor expats. It really was inspiring.
While there was the data entry, and the calling around to shark up audiences for Q&A sessions, the best part of the process was the phone banking. Every time, there would be so many of us that some of us would need to use our own mobiles. We would phone people, Voter ID them, try and convince them, try and wrangle out a second preference, or simply get ranted at. The rants could be the most fun, as many Labour members seem to be retired men with strong opinions – “What’s he going to do about what Thatcher did to the Unions?” or very patient elderly women who would take in the whole pitch and promise you that it hadn’t made any of difference to their opinion and that “they’d read the literature”. I never spoke to anyone who was abusive or unkind– and, if someone calls you and asks “Can I ask how you’ll be voting?” and you say “Yes,” and there’s a silence, and the person asks “So, how are you voting?” it isn’t funny to say “I said you could ask!” Seriously, do you honestly think you’re the first human being to come up with that? But every now and then you would get a firm Ed supporter, or an Andy, Diane or Balls-ite who happily engaged in discussion and promised a second preference. Less often, but most rewarding, were those who didn’t know and who had lost faith in Labour, who would finish the call with a promise to vote Ed and bit more cheerful as well. “I still don’t know,” one woman told me, “But it’s wonderful to hear all you young people are getting involved. You’ve given me a bit more hope in the party.” One word, though, to those who decide to campaign in this way: don’t make ironic and hyperbolic jokes about political parties to people who actually work for them. And make sure you grab several slices of pizza, because collectivism is suspended when eighty hungry social democrats are faced with free Dominos.