Labour canvassers with Daniel ZeichnerCambridge University Labour Club

As December’s general election approaches, activists from different parties have been hitting the streets of Cambridge to secure and win public support for their favoured candidates. Varsity accompanied both Labour and Liberal Democrat canvassers over the past few weeks to see what a day of door-knocking looks like.

On 10 November, a dozen students were joined by three councillors, an ex-MP and the parliamentary candidate, Rod Cantrill, to try and convince residents of Castle ward to vote Lib Dem. In the 2018 local elections this ward was won by the Lib Dems by just 25 votes, making it a significant target of the local party’s efforts in this election.

Before setting off, Cantrill thanked canvassers for coming out to support him and spoke of the importance of canvassing to a parliamentary campaign. Some of the students present said they attended canvasses nearly every week, and remarked upon the interesting conversations they’d had on people’s doorsteps, not just in this election cycle but also in previous ones.

Students also remarked on the break that canvassing provided from work and university life. Luke Hallam, Chair of the Cambridge University Liberal Association said, it’s always rewarding to break out of the bubble and see the real Cambridge-where people live, their communities. It gives you a new perspective on things.”

“You occasionally get invited in for a cup of tea...People often like talking to young people especially, and it gives a sense that what we are fighting for actually matters, and that people are relying on the Lib Dems to fight for the environment, for Europe, for equal rights and proper funding of our services”

“This election feels particularly special and everything is up for grabs. British politics is at a turning point as the two main parties get transformed...This is such a strong motivation to canvas in 2019, and with an NHS winter crisis, the climate emergency, the prospect of Brexit, it’s an election with more at stake than any election for a long time.”

Another canvasser described the “love of spreading liberalism” as reward enough.

Varsity accompanied Labour activists the following Sunday as they embarked on one of the weekly canvasses run jointly by the university’s Labour Club and the Constituency Labour Party.

Arran Parry-Davies, CULC co-chair, said, “sometimes we get sent to pretty far out parts of Cambridge, but we always go canvassing in big groups. We’ve been canvassing since well before the election was called - as soon as we had an inkling an election was on the way.”

Hollie Wright, also CULC co-chair, has been canvassing since her first year at Cambridge. “I think my reasons come from the fear for the seat. It really does matter here if you convince even one person to vote… that’s the thought that gets me out of bed on a Sunday morning to campaign! We’re slightly more worried for this election because students won’t be here on polling day.”

“The reason we’re getting so many canvassers out compared to previous years is because people are aware how competitive this seat is this year,” Parry-Davies added.

Another canvasser, a Churchill alumnus who is an active member of the CLP, told Varsity about the focus of canvassing in the run-up to polling day. “One of the main purposes of canvassing is to gather polling data. Then on polling day, we’re obviously not allowed to campaign near polling stations, but what we can do is increase the voter turnout: we’ll send drivers with cars to pick people up and take them to the polls.”

“Canvassing can be quite intimidating at first”, said Parry-Davies, “but once you’ve been to one it becomes a lot easier. People always want tips beforehand but the best way to learn about it is to just try it.”

“When someone opens the door, we’ll usually start by asking if they have any local or national concerns they’d like to address with us, rather than just asking who they’re voting for this year. Residents tend to open up more when we do this, and if the issues they bring up align with those that Labour is addressing, we’ll then encourage them to consider Labour.”

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