In praise of political activists and families

By Jill Segger
May 6, 2010

As polling gets under way and the exhausted leadership candidates return to their constituencies and their families, it is a good time to reflect on political activists and on families.

Politics has become professionalised. This campaign has been dominated by television - both in regard to the leaders' debates and the relentless following of the party leaders in all their campaigning activities. The social networking media have also altered the political atmosphere, both for good and for ill. Anything which enables and extends communication is to be welcomed in a democracy. The nature of what is communicated perhaps demands greater discernment than has always been exercised during the last few weeks.

But the ordinary citizens who have been giving up their spare time during this campaign to deliver leaflets, canvass, collate returns and assist in campaign headquarters, should not be forgotten in their unglamorous, low-profile rôle. They form the interface between the professionals and the people. Unpaid, often abused and treated discourteously, many of them endure all this knowing that under a voting system crying out for reform, their candidate has no chance of winning.

These unsung heroes of our democracy are often sneered at as “anoraks”. During this campaign, they have also undergone a backlash from an expenses scandal which they had no part in creating. But as long as there is to be resistance to our elections following the US model of big spending spectaculars, remote from the lives of ordinary citizens, the local activist will be a vital figure.

There is a certain nobility in uniting behind a shared cause and most campaigners recognise that in each other as they pound the streets of their communities behind different coloured rosettes; “watch out at number 12, there's a dog loose” or “I'd give the end house a miss – he's drunk”. The foul behaviour of many BNP activists ( , arising from the essential violence and anger of its core philosophy, is very much the exception. Democratic engagement expressed as genuine concern for the community is behind every leaflet - welcome or not – which comes through our letterboxes. “Even Tories can be good folk” my mother would say on these occasions.

All candidates and activists will be pretty near to running on empty by now. The return of the leaders of the three largest parties to their families to await the verdict of the electorate is something only the meanest spirit could begrudge. It is evident that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown have loving and supportive families. A good time to remind all who make policy that units of love and support come in many shapes and sizes.

My colleague Symon Hill makes the point in “Why I am not voting for the Christian Party”( that a family is more than a “mixed-sex couple who have gone through a wedding ceremony”. Many of us will be in long-standing heterosexual relationships which are indistinguishable in longevity and fidelity from the certificated version. Many will have been similarly blessed in same-sex unions. Others will be part of a community of love in which sexual expression plays no part. Who would claim that siblings or close friends who live together, or communities of nuns and friars are not families?

Families exist wherever people come together with the intention of acting as a family. They are – whatever their format – the places where we are most secure, most nourished and from which we are enabled to go out and strive for the well-being of our local or national communities, according to our calling.

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