My first column in the rather brilliant paper-based hyper-local periodical “High Barnet Local EN5” has appeared in the March issue, and distributed to addresses across EN5 (oh, and in EN4 as well!) Here it is:
Making me unwelcome
Becoming the people’s representative is good for the footwear industry. It involves a whole lot of pounding the streets delivering election literature. I’m doing my part to keep the cobblers going, but I am frequently put off.
‘No Junk Mail’ stickers, for example. We Greenies love reducing waste and making fewer car journeys. It’s great that the residents prefer not to call for a take-away. So I shove my leaflets through the door regardless (often dislodging a shiny flier from the local estate agent in the process. That’s another problem with the stickers: they are ignored). But my leaflets have a get-out. Printed on them are worthy sentiments along these lines: You might be surprised that this leaflet has come through your door despite your clear injunction against it. But that’s because this isn’t junk; it is a vital part of our democracy. If you really really don’t want my leaflet, get in touch, we’ll strike you off our route (and much worse besides).
No one in High Barnet has ever taken the trouble. All doors remain fair game.
My leaflets and free local newspapers connect you to your locality. Those stickers, declaring the residents’ disengagement from the community right there on the front door, puzzle me. But at least it’s their choice. Things get much worse when you live in a block of flats. Here the off-putting can take on an added dimension.
Confronted with a locked door and the post-boxes on the inside (as most are), my healthy exercise in democracy is blocked. When I’m lucky a resident passes through and, seeing my charming self there hapless, lets me in. But more often I’m reduced to pressing the buzzers. Through the small, disembodied intercom I beg admittance to distribute information ahead of the elections. Thus is my masochism gratified. Most often, the response is politely dismissive. Sorry, not interested! Leave them by the door. But sometimes a touch of angrier honesty blasts back: Go away. Last week, I got this: Politics is all bollocks!
When you’re running full-pelt for office, it’s easy for the public’s hostility to politics to get blurred out. Blocks of flats are a cure for that. They’re a reminder that we no longer have the privilege of a benign, well-ordered social democracy that we can safely ignore. The days when apathy was a routine luxury have disappeared up the backside of austerity. People can no longer afford what they could and their children’s prospects diminish in the full-blown assault on the fabric that knitted communities together. So they turn hostile. I want everyone to have an equal chance to receive, read, and be edified by my leaflets, but the denizens of the blocks will or will not receive them depending on the vagaries of neighbours’ movements.
Do you feel that politics have left you behind? Do you live in a block of flats? It may be that you are a victim of the feedback loop. A cynical, unfeeling system has put off the voters; who put off the politicians – even good ones like me – who can’t reach you.
What to do? Clearly we need to restore trust in the system. But maybe begin by installing some post-boxes on the outside walls of blocks of flats?