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Election 2011

Some thoughts on campaigning in the 2011 General Election

What is the phrase ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ or is it ‘you can sleep after the election?’ Nothing like knocking on doors every evening for a month, tallying at the count and having to go again at a recount to make you a bit tired. I can only imagine how tired each of the candidates is judging by the shattered level I found myself on last Sunday after all the seats were filled in Dún Laoghaire. Now that the election is over, I can look back on the incredibly busy last month as I sit on the train travelling back from Galway where I’ve been with the day job today. But actually the election isn’t over as back in Galway West, a full recount will begin in the morning and there is the small matter of a Government to form this week.

You might ask what you bring yourself to venture out to knock on a door in the rain in February to ask for a vote. You may be surprised to hear that it is actually an enjoyable experience, most of the time! You get a chance at many doors to debate the policies and the merits of your party’s candidates. It is the change to influence the electorate. Not just vote but shape the vote. That is the theory anyway. The debate on the doorstep is certainly something that has happened in this election more than any other. The electorate is very much up to speed with the issues of the day. If this economic crisis has done anything to improve us as a nation, and I’m clutching at straws here, it is maybe to increase our vocabulary. This means canvassers need to be able to deal with conversations including words, phrases and abbreviations unheard of in the last general election like bondholders, sub-ordinated debt, austerity measures, IMF, €7 billion of adjustments, NAMA etc.

Some of the electorate are polite and say they are not interested (generally Fine Gael voters in my view), others give it “a plague on all your houses” feel. These are usually disaffected Fianna Fáil voters of which there were many during this campaign. Only one person was downright abusive and told me to stick my leaflet up my own arse but that was an exception. Many stories from potential voters are similar with most complaining about the Universal Social Charge (USC). Just as Fianna Fáil were helped by the timing of the maturity of the SSIA accounts back in the 2007 general election, in 2011 the USC is doing the opposite. One man tells me he had a sign on his door at the last local election saying for FF’s not to knock on his door. This time he hasn’t put it up as it allows him to give them a piece of mind if they do knock on the door!

The election was called finally on Tuesday 25th January. When the electorate awoke next morning their lampposts had been covered in posters. Sadly high winds arrived the following day meaning the ground was then covered in posters. Was this the Gilmore gale? The Green party’s slimmer posters seemed to survive the high winds best but their party couldn’t survive the wrath of the electorate for propping up that Fianna Fáil led government. Labour went with the Gilmore for Taoiseach posters but these didn’t weather the election campaign very well either but that had less to do with climactic conditions.

As well as having to deal with irate voters, election campaigners have to deal with trying not to lose their fingers in snapping letterboxes or snapping dogs behind the letterboxes. Juggling an election register, map, clipboard, leaflets and umbrella is a very difficult task especially when your hands are frozen. The first couple of weeks of the campaign were not the nicest canvassing weather. Some voters would look out and not like the look of the canvasser lurking at their doorstep in the dark. The wooly hat and rain jacket hood had to be replaced with a flat cap to encourage the voter to open the door. Most candidates had a few different leaflets used during the campaign and some were able to handle the rain better than others. I can see why everybody likes a summer election and why there hadn’t been a winter election for nearly two decades.

Some memorable canvassing moments included calling at the family home of the lead singer of a famous Irish band, the guy who worked for Anglo who was complaining about the 90% taxes on bank bonus and the door that was answered by a lady in a towel! We heard somebody say they were a live in maid but would pass the proffered election leaflet to the house owner. The great and the good also came out to canvass. One voter had a senator, two county councilors (one a former Minister and the other a current Cathaoirleach) plus a potential presidential candidate all stand at their door one night. I hope we got that vote! There was the night we had loads out canvassing in Deansgrange forcing a rival candidate to head elsewhere. There was the guy who said he was voting for Shane Ross until I told him he wasn’t running in Dún Laoghaire. To go with all these stories there were also people telling of struggling to meet their mortgage commitments, how their children had emigrated as there was no work for them and then there was the women who broke down in tears as she had lost her job that week. Our candidate kindly offered them a tissue for their tears.

In order to make the evening canvass with a boot full of maps, clipboards, pen and stickers, I left the bike alone for the month and drove into work before heading to the constituency in the evenings. I headed back home to wolf down dinner in 5 minutes flat while usually busy marking up a map for the evening canvass. Something I learned quickly on the canvass is that yellow highlighted is very difficult to see under the orange sodium lights. Best to go with green or blue!

During the campaign I also had to deal with people asking me was I running for Sinn Fein in the Dublin Mid West constituency. I have to admit that the Shinners’ candidate was a doppelganger for me, a handsome chap obviously. No time for Shamrock Rovers friendlies, a bit of time for tweeting but no time for blogging so I thought I would make up for that today. The leisurely evenings I desire now that the election is over cannot yet begin. When I land in Heuston this evening I’m off to an election close out meeting where we will run through local lessons learned from the campaign, before Thursday’s constituency meeting and then it looks like a special delegate conference on Sunday. Sleep will have to wait!

Tales from the Tally to come later in the week I reckon.

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