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I'm Too Young To Vote But Have Campaigned So Others Do

08/06/2017 13:04 BST | Updated 08/06/2017 13:04 BST
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

Being 17 in the run up to a General Election is excruciatingly painful. Of course, it is inevitable that there will be this group of frustrated teenagers, but in 2015 I was glad that this "so close but so far limbo-land" would not happen to me and my friends. Oh, how wrong I was!

For me, 17 has been the age of really learning about and understanding politics and developing my own thoughts and opinions. It therefore hit me hard that, in this crucial election, I would not be placing my vote in the ballot box, and getting a say in my own future. After the initial "this is so unfair, so typical that is has to be NOW" annoyance that I'm sure many teenagers around my age experienced, I decided that I would not be passive. I didn't want to sit back, dwelling on my irritation, and swearing at the TV during every debate, I wanted to take action and show my support for Labour in another way.

So, I decided to go canvassing.

The first time I went was a relatively impromptu decision; I was sitting in the kitchen with my mum, contemplating all the revision procrastination I'd be doing that day, when she suggested I venture outside of the house and do something with the day. Well, that is quite a thing to suggest to a lazy 17-year-old!

Before long, the idea starting cooking in my brain. "Find a campaigning event near you. Enter your postcode". Okay, Labour website, that is exactly what I'll do. It brought up a selection of events in my constituency in the coming days, and I excitedly planned to go along the next morning.

Getting off the bus that morning, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Who would I meet? Would they be friendly? Would they tell me what to do? What to say? I'm an introvert, prone to freezing and awkward silences - this felt far out of my comfort zone.

When I arrived at the meeting place, I loitered self-consciously, eagerly trying to work out who was who and who to approach. Luckily, the awkwardness was spotted, introductions were quickly made and I proudly stuck on "I'm voting Jeremy Newmark" stickers.

The process was very well-explained, and it was clear that I would not be thrown into the deep end - I was asked if this was my first-time canvassing, and once I'd replied with a nervous "yes", it was explained that I would be paired with an experienced canvasser, at least until I felt comfortable enough to knock on doors on my own.

The group I was in consisted of six people, plus the Labour candidate for our constituency - Jeremy Newmark, a friendly, interested, and approachable person. The idea is to "leapfrog" between houses, spotting where another person had knocked, and moving onto the next house - knocking only on the doors that were given to us on a list.

When the door opens (which isn't as often as I would have thought, many dogs bark aggressively at the doorbell, but not as many have owners that actually answer!!) the leading line is along the lines of "Hello, I'm here on behalf of your local Labour party, please can I ask who you're voting for in the upcoming General Election?"

Of course, this is met with a variety of responses. It goes from the disheartening "none of your business", the slightly politer "Sorry, I don't want to share that", ranging all the way to "Labour! I'm voting for you guys!" which is always accompanied with a smile, albeit a hasty "no thanks!" when offered a poster for the window. I had one lady tell me "I really hope labour win but I'm not going to vote for them", which is always a useful attitude - and a hard one to reply to!

When the initial question is replied to with uncertainty, the next question to ask is what the person would prefer, a Tory or Labour government. This makes the point that, in our constituency, if you are opposed to a Tory government, Labour is the way to vote - a Lib Dem vote would have little impact. It also useful in gaining insight into where the person is at and how much persuading they're going to need.

Interestingly, I haven't had to engage in as many long political conversations as I might have thought. I have encountered some who tell me they just can't vote Labour, because of Corbyn, and are resorting to Lib Dem, and, on the opposite extreme, some who say they finally have some hope for the Labour party's future, especially in our constituency, and are uplifted to think there is a real chance. Tuition fees has been a recurring topic, with one young man commenting on whether Corbyn would follow through with this promise, and concluding he is more honest than May has proved to be. Important issues such as Brexit haven't actually been discussed on the doorstep, perhaps because Jeremy Newmark's policies on it are clearly explained on a leaflet I give to everyone I speak to.

I found it to be very useful having Jeremy Newmark hovering behind us while canvassing, as when the people start asking tricky questions, and you start doubting if you actually have any political knowledge at all, you can ask them if they'd prefer to speak to Jeremy, and you can cross your fingers they'll say yes.] His presence has made it less scary for me, as he's available for rescuing purposes when I feel too out of depth. This was a key difference I found when I tried phone canvassing - I couldn't divert, every question had to be answered confidently and promptly myself, although the redeeming quality is the suggested script and "crib sheet" you have in front of you, while on the phone.

Since my first experience canvassing, I've realised I love it increasingly, every time I go. There's a real thrill to be gained from hearing someone is voting Labour, or just knowing you've got them thinking and considering, perhaps previously unexplored, options.

I feel strongly enough to knock on doors because I want to ensure people are thinking. I want to start conversations, and get people to engage and talk about the issues. I also think it's very important for people to see that young people do care, and want to actively engage in their own futures.

I have met like-minded people and learnt so much about the wide variety of opinions that are held, even within one party - from those opening the doors, and those knocking on them, and, most importantly, I am very happy to say that I don't feel I have been powerless or voiceless in this election.