Talking to voters on the doorstep is more important than ever in this election

Western Mail

Getting out on the doorsteps and meeting voters face to face is more important than ever in this election, according to former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain.

The ex-Neath MP is convinced that in this tightly-fought election personal contact is much more effective than cold-calling or social media campaigning.

This is the first general election since 1983 that the former anti-apartheid activist has not been a candidate.

He admitted: “It’s slightly weird in one sense.”

Mr Hain has been knocking on doors in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in an effort to turn the seat from blue to red and send Delyth Evans to the green benches of the Commons.

Underscoring the importance of meeting voters in person, he said: “I think that this election is more about doorstep work and personal contact than any in my experience. I’ve always believed direct voter contact is much more important than telephone canvassing or digital communication.

“But in this election that is exponentially more the case because there is so much volatility. You can feel it on the doorstep.”

Mr Hain tried to defeat Conservative David Mellor in Putney in the 1983 and 1987 elections but won Neath in a 1991 by-election.

He dismisses comparisons with 1992, when Labour and the Conservatives were deadlocked in the polls until John Major got on his soapbox and secured a majority.

Mr Hain grew “really worried” on polling day that year when he heard turnout in Sussex was “unusually high”.

But he said: “[This] is completely different. This is multi-party politics.

“That was two-party politics and there is an anti-politics mood in the country which is completely different from 1992. The political situation is much more fragmented.”

His “gut feeling” is that Labour will emerge as the largest party and he doubts whether his party will experience the meltdown in Scotland that has been forecast at the hands of the SNP.

However, he said: “The irony is the more people vote SNP the more likely David Cameron will lead the largest party. That’s simply the reality.

“They say that they are an anti-Tory party but in fact that consequence of Nicola Sturgeon doing well is David Cameron remaining in No 10.”

He argues the campaign has been diminished by the absence of head to head debates between Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband, saying: “You can see exactly why David Cameron refused to debate head to head with Ed Miliband because Ed Miliband has surprised people as I always thought he would by the strength of his performance in the election and on television as well…

“He’s confounded his critics and I think if there had been a head to head I think Cameron would have come off the worst and I think that’s why they didn’t do it.”

Describing the type of leadership he hopes Mr Miliband will provide, he said: “I think he will be a very strong prime minister and I think he will show real guts and vision.

“He’s somebody who has a really commitment to social justice and fairness as well as economic prudence and in that combination I think he will be a real breath of fresh air.”

In the meantime, he is coaching a new generation of canvassers on the basics of doorstep campaigning. In particular, he drills them on the importance of pushing leaflets all the way through letter-boxes.

He said: “It’s amazing how many people don’t do that. Other parties come along and pull them out behind you.”

A further word of advice is to stand well back from the door and give voters plenty of personal space.

He said: “You’ve got to remember that for most people political canvassers are a distinctly odd breed.”