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Backwords: Bar Room Canvasser

Mike Shaw recalls some of the politicians who sought his vote.

The wily old councillor of a bygone age had the perfect answer to the person who asked when he was going to start his election campaign.

“I never stopped,’’ he chuckled.

And promptly tipped a bundle of club membership cards out of his pocket.

It turned out that although he was a Liberal, he had a card for just about every club on his patch at Golcar.

Councillors’ surgeries are all the rage these days. But Norman was holding them long before the phrase crept into local government.

His surgeries were conducted at the bar of all the clubs and pubs, where he listened patiently over a glass of mild to the villagers’ moans and groans.

So, when the Colne Valley council elections came round, Norman didn’t really have much to do except send out his usual little leaflet.

And that’s when his non-stop campaigning paid off as he romped to the top of the poll time after time.

The great door-knocking crusade comes around at every election. It’s your vote they’re after - and some of the canvassers will go to amazing lengths to get it.

Down the years I’ve heard pledges made on the doorstep that couldn’t possibly be fixed for people.

My mother, bless her heart, had a simple and effective way of getting rid of canvassers. She just said she’d vote for the lot.

But I did know one bloke who looked forward to a visit from the candidates.

Willie was a natural debater. So to test his skill he used to argue against every party in turn.

He usually won, as well. The canvassers either gave up in despair or went away on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Not all councillors that I remember were as shrewd as good old Norman of Golcar.

He knew the dangers of taking the electors for granted, so for all his good work at the bar he still made sure that everybody got a copy of his election address.

Not like one Marsden councillor, who after umpteen years on the council decided he could save a bit of brass by not sending out his usual leaflet.

“If they don’t know me by now they never will,’’ he said. And went on to pay the supreme penalty as the great Marsden public robbed him of his seat.

Top marks for determination must go to the bright young spark who, just after the war, fought his election campaign from the Far East while serving in the forces and came home as an Independent councillor for Slaithwaite.

Nowadays some parliamentary candidates don’t even bother to hold public meetings during their campaigns, never mind those who want to get on the council.

A pity really, because political meetings can be highly entertaining Especially when there’s a heckler in the house.

A local mill-owner once proved to be an unlikely heckler at a crowded eve-of-poll Labour meeting in Slaithwaite.

He persistently and rather successfully barracked the supporting speakers, but met his match when the star of the evening rose to speak.

It was that redoubtable character Edith Summerskill, famous for her hatred of boxing but a great verbal pugilist who put many a Tory MP firmly in his place.

In this case she ignored the wool baron’s interruptions for a while. Then silenced him with the riposte: “I think it’s high time you went home to do the washing up!’’

He sat there just as quiet as a hen-pecked husband for the rest of her speech.


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