Tees

General Election 2019: Canvassing in the winter

Two people ringing a doorbell
Image caption Would you open your door to a stranger on a dark evening?

The December days may be short and the weather inclement, but with election day looming there can be no let up on the campaigning front.

The County Durham constituency of Bishop Auckland is one of the most hotly-contested in the country and its geography - towns, former pit villages and swathes of rural areas - also presents a challenge.

So the campaign is a mixture of business as usual and creative thinking, ranging from woolly gloves, extra phone bashing, and pub visits.

All four candidates spoke of the problems of knocking on doors during dark winter evenings.

However, Labour's Helen Goodman and her team were "pretty determined" to let the winter timing have "minimum impact".

She said: "Labour has a very good ground operation and the timing of this election - which, by the way I think is entirely deliberate - isn't disturbing the way we are campaigning.

"We don't stop when it gets dark, people are still willing to open their doors, although we may not be out as late as we would be in the summer.

"But one lesson I've learned, which is really quite important and something I knew already but this has reminded me, is that we need better street lighting."

Image copyright TOM BANKS
Image caption The constituency is a mixture of post-industrial towns and agricultural communities

Conservative candidate Dehenna Davison said they had changed timings when it came to knocking on doors.

"We're having a rethink and flooding the morning and afternoons then in evenings running what I call pub conversations.

"They're an open forum which we advertise on social media, I'll be there, people turn up and can ask questions and we can chat.

"It's an interesting and, I think, quite novel way to engage with people and to be out and about - I'm running them anywhere in the area that will have me."

Pit villages

For Nick Brown, from the Brexit Party, the issue was the short length of the campaign as well as the weather.

"The logistics, cold weather and dark evenings getting around all the small pit villages in such a short time, all feel difficult", he said.

"Nobody wants to open doors between seven and eight at night to a stranger, so we're restricting things to daytime and phone calls.

"Also, online is taking a bigger percentage, with this campaign accelerating the trend of the way the world is going."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Areas of rural Teesdale, bordering on the Pennines, form part of the constituency

Liberal Democrat candidate, Ray Georgeson, said they were making a lot of phone calls and engaging with people online.

There was also door-to-door work, though this was more likely to take place during the daytime.

He said: "When you knock on doors you find people are polite - even if they don't agree with you they are civil, and seem to appreciate you being out if it's cold and raining.

"We are used to putting on the long johns and woolly gloves to try to keep warm, sometime a bit too much - if you're in a rush delivering leaflets you can get in a bit of a sweat."

Cafe politics in coal country

So much for campaigning, what about election day itself?

Research from the University of Oxford has found virtually no correlation between the weather and turnout, but all the candidates voiced concerns.

Mr Georgeson described it as "crucial", saying "if there's a Beast from the East or something similar this year, I don't know what will happen."

But Mr Brown believes technology is the answer and this election will add to the pressure to bring in electronic voting.

"If we had that, we wouldn't even be having this discussion about the weather", he said.

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