The long, slow derisory syllables were coming from the open window of a passing car. "Fuck off," she was telling us, just about audible over the music she was sharing with the street. I smiled benignly back and mouthed "vote Labour".
My first day of canvassing was, honestly, a little discouraging. It was freezing and getting colder and darker, on the outer edges of an outer London suburb. There were some good interactions, and those who were doing to vote Labour were really going to vote Labour. They were so happy to see us. And the late Autumn sky was a ravishing palette of pastel colours. But there was a lot of confusion on the doorsteps, and some local Modi-inspired opposition. And the cold was seeping into my bones, and some addresses were better concealed than Jimmy Hoffa, and this was a tight Tory-held marginal.
You could just feel that this was going to be a hard campaign. Plus, I was annoyed with myself because, out of practice at doorstepping, and probably too much inclined to try to be clever, I had fumbled a couple of interactions. But. A young activist from Tottenham, campaigning for the first time, had made banana cake for everyone. And it was still warm, and there was a flask of coffee. We downed that and kept going, well into the dark, enthusiastically. And, I hesitate to admit, cheerfully.
I don’t do cheerful unless it’s absolutely necessary. Like anyone else born in Ballymena, I do militant dourness. Evangelical solemnity. And there has been a lot to be dour about in this campaign. Infuriating coverage, official gaslighting, the enormous dissonance between what appeared to be happening on the ground and what was showing up in the polls. Mistakes we have made in the campaign. Above all, the invisibility for so many supposedly smart journalists of what is an historic movement-based campaign.
But everywhere I have gone in the last few weeks, always marginals, I have been surrounded by dozens of people and sometimes hundreds, who were excited to be there in the cold and wet with their Labour scarves, rosettes and stickers. Cheerful, warm, and talkative. I’ve met people who live just up the road, but whom I’d otherwise never have set eyes on. I’ve seen local councillors and MPs work people, form instant relationships, getting warm reactions passers by, shoppers, old ladies on the doorstep. I’ve had little smiles of solidarity from strangers, seeing my Labour sticker. People working behind shop counters anxiously ask how it’s going, actually thank me for volunteering, tell me to get the blonde idiot out.
For those campaigning, there has been a palpable and transformative feeling of comradeship. Among the many causes for mood swings in this election, I am repeatedly struck, felled, brought to tears by unexpected solidarities and sacrifices. The sheer heart of people who have gladly put themselves out to stop hundreds of homeless people dying every year, to stop the benefits system and its persecutory sanctions from driving people to early graves, to stop the lethal cruelty of the hostile environment, to save the NHS from these mercenary upper class scum. It’s difficult not to believe that the country, or some part of it, is being changed for the better merely by the fact of this campaign. Or that a new country is in formation. And it’s hard not to feel a little humbled by it, as well as regretful over all one’s defensive cynicism, bitterness, point-missing intellectualism, ignorance, futile rages, pedantry, amazing opinions, and misanthropy - when, after all, this better country exists in germinal form.
Throughout the campaign, life has been petitioning me: cheer up, you miserable sadsack bastard. And will I, you might wonder? Will I, fuck. But just at this moment, I have these lines from Hopkins, stuck in my head like some glorious earworm. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God./It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
Good luck, comrades.