Campaigning for an election in the depths of the British winter is not without its challenges. With the end now in sight, Green canvassers are out in full force, braving the cold in the final push to get more Green MPs elected.
While we haven’t had a winter general election since 1923, Greens are no strangers to winter campaigning. “Having an election in December is not the best month, but this doesn’t stop our Green activists,” Annie Pickering, Green Party Senior Field Officer, says. “Last year we had campaigners in the North East out campaigning during the Beast from the East in the snow, and they won their target council seat in May. Most of our volunteers will be heading to Bristol this time around to get Carla elected, in the warm South West!”
Meanwhile, Green Peer Natalie Bennett is all too aware of the particularities of campaigning in winter: “There exists a photo of me leafleting in a snowstorm in Lewisham in what I think was January 2010. The entire front of my body is coated in several inches of snow, but in a huge puffy jacket, with a hat pulled down over my ears and thick gloves, I don’t remember suffering much.
“Leafleting when cold is one thing. Conducting an entire election campaign, particularly canvassing, in December is something else again.”
So how can canvassers keep up the morale in the cold December weather? Here are Green World’s eight top tips.
1. Wrap up warm
As temperatures continue to plummet, warm layers are a canvasser’s best friend.
Bennett explains: “I’ve always thought of thermals as something you wear one layer of, but I’ve recently taken to wearing two layers of thermal top underneath a thick cotton roll neck, with a dress coat (should I need to be in inside photos) and my full winter coat over that. And a scarf that could easily double as a blanket.”
But it’s important to remember that what goes on can come back off. Tom Hazell, Co-chair of the Young Greens, says: “As Young Greens we often get asked to canvass student blocks, which offer some unique problems. The key here is layers: in the winter it can be near freezing outside, but halls are heated and you'll need all the cooling you can get climbing eight flights of stairs because the lift's broken.
“Bring some gloves for the outside bits too! It's hard enough separating leaflets in the warm, and even a second Green MP isn't worth frostbite for.”
Layers are vital, but don’t go overboard! “If you are going to knock on someone’s door and actually expect them to open it, you have to look like something other than the Michelin man. They have to see your face, and since the point of my presence is often my identity, I don’t feel like I can wear a hat,” says Bennett.
2. Stay dry
Last month brought torrential rain across the country, with some areas experiencing their wettest autumns on record – and it looks like the wet weather won’t be stopping anytime soon.
Umbrellas can be bulky on the doorstep, so bring a waterproof coat, trousers and wellies. Plastic bags are also useful to keep the literature and clipboards dry – soggy leaflets are no good to anyone!
Bennett adds: “There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. I’m not sure that’s entirely true if you are a political canvasser – there is a problem with residents not wanting to open or stay at the door – but I feel that this December election I’m just about proving it.”
3. Take a flask of something hot
It’s hard to keep up morale in freezing cold temperatures, but a cup of tea always goes a long way to help. Hot drinks will be provided at action days, but it’s also a good idea to carry a flask to help you stay warm when you’re on the go.
4. Take a spatula
Taking a kitchen utensil might sound slightly strange, but a spatula will help to get leaflets through doors without your fingers being caught in hard-to-open letterboxes… or even nipped by dogs.
Hazell explains: “On the subject of losing fingers, a letterbox opening tool is vital in the warm and the cold. A wooden spatula will stop you from losing the tips of your gloves to stiff letterboxes and/or dogs, but I find a pen is just as good and a tad more subtle.”
5. Bring a pencil
This tip comes from Bennett, who says: “I learnt this many years ago while trying to hold an outside stall encouraging passers by to sign Christmas cards to Amnesty International-sponsored prisoners. Normal ballpoint pens stop working somewhere around zero degrees. If you’re at that level, you probably need a pencil.”
6. Never canvass alone
Make sure you don’t go out canvassing alone, especially as the days get shorter. Remember that many hands make light work – canvassing with other people allows you to share out the load, making the seemingly endless streets of doorknocking much more manageable.
Going with a group also means you have someone to talk to, which gives you some company when no one answers the door!
7. Don’t try and canvass after dark in rural places
Rural areas are often poorly lit and can be difficult to navigate in the dark winter evenings. If you can’t see the path then voters can’t either, so stick to canvassing in the daytime – people won’t be so keen to talk to you after dark.
8. Make use of social media
Braving the weather takes commitment and determination, so be proud of your efforts and share your campaigning work online through social media. Make sure to tell your friends about what you’re up to and invite them along to help out.