Between work and Full Council this evening I was able to spend three hours "knocking out" in Newton Aycliffe, encouraging residents to back Phil Wilson. It was my impression that the Labour vote was holding up well. There was a feeling at HQ that Labour's effort has been aided by some curious targetting decisions by the LibDems, who seemed to downplay key 'independent' wards where they might have picked up votes.
There's food for thought at Tory Graham Robb's final by-election posting, where he rails against the FibDems' negative campaign and the sheer weight of leaflets distributed by them during the campaign. Certainly I found an emerging anger on the doorstep amongst residents about the volume of material through their letterboxes.
Be in no doubt that it's the LibDems who began this trend. The remorseless barrage of leaflets they routinely deploy at election time is meant, I guess, to counter the fact that in many seats, council and Parliamentary, residents will have heard nothing from the LibDems for a long, long time. It's astonishing that after a Focus blitz, people will assume they've been receiving regular communications from the LibDems for ages. Real policy is normally absent from these leaflets - instead they will ramp up people's fears about some key local issue, accompanied by wholly made-up opinion polls showing the LibDems "neck and neck" with the incumbent party.
Unfortunately, the two main parties have little option but to try and match the LibDems leaflet for leaflet. The result, as I found in Newton Aycliffe, is a lot of real resident anger at the sheer waste, which brings politicians of all hues into disrepute.
But what's to be done? You can't legislate the problem away, as that would be an incursion on free speech. Perhaps the answer lies with local parties reaching agreements in advance of polling day that, say, a maximum of 3 leaflets will be circulated over the period of the campaign by each. That would bring a sense of proportion to the campaign, and be good for the environment too.
It would be a brave Labour agent, however, who slept easily after shaking hands with the opposition on a deal like this...