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No junk mail via Shutterstock

The Secret Candidate Here's why 'no junk mail' signs are my absolute pet hate

Leaflets may annoy people but they serve a purpose, argues The Secret Candidate, who faces an uphill task to meet everyone living in their constituency.

MY ABSOLUTE PET hate? “no junk mail” signs. You see them everywhere now, and it’s getting worse: nobody takes down a no junk mail sign ever, so there are always more of them this week than there were last week or last year. Even somebody in my own family has one, which really annoys me.

In rural areas, it can be as many as 25 per cent of houses that have them, and on certain roads in urban areas, it can be as many as half the houses. It bothers me for a few reasons.

Firstly, because they aren’t distinct: you have two categories of people with no junk mail signs. Some people don’t want pizza menus etc, but absolutely want – and thank you for – the political stuff. Then other people don’t want either, and will sometimes open their door and tell you that as they shove it back in your face. Someone, not too long ago, slapped me on the back of my head with one as I turned to leave.

But how do you distinguish? You can’t, on the face of it, without knocking on the door (and then they aren’t always in, of course), so you just have to live and learn really. Some candidates err on the side of caution, some don’t, and it’s really just a matter of choice.

However, a question I often find me asking myself – and sometimes always want to ask the person opening the door to give me back my well-thought-out, interesting enough (or so I say!) bit of information: how do you make your mind up? Is it purely based on party?

What if your generally preferred party candidate is quite lazy and does very little by way of representing the community or putting things forward at Council meetings? In short: how can you tell the difference between who has done work and who hasn’t? The answer often arrives with a sad thud: they don’t want to, they “know which party they’re voting for”.

Too local, too national

It often seems that Irish politics in many ways is still too local, but then in other ways is too nationally-driven. For instance, last time I wrote here, a few fair criticisms came up in the comments, where people said “the candidate shouldn’t be dealing with that kind of work; tree trimming, footpaths etc are all the work of the Council itself”.

There is some truth to this, and where possible I do try and empower people so that they know in future the right person in the Council to contact directly, but at the same time it can sometimes be obvious to someone like myself on the ground that Job A is quite urgent and that a representation might bring that fact to light. However, the criticism that Irish politics is still a bit too local is valid, but yet the criticism that Irish politics is still a bit too national is also to my mind valid and I think both statements can sit side-by-side.

If you consider the amount of emphasis, even in these elections, that is placed on the performance of the leaders of parties or a few prominent figures within parties, you begin to see that. People very rarely mention their local TDs at the door to me from any party, yet I often hear the names of the most prominent people at the top of the party, who do seem to form opinion more often than not, both from Government and opposition.

This is the second reason why “no junk mail” signs bother me so much. I think that individual candidates should be seen as more than just the badge wearer of their party. I do think it’s worth keeping one leaflet from every individual, having a good look at each of them, and deciding based on ideas, or experience, or workrate or whatever your personal criteria might be, to go for that candidate.

However, with “no junk mail”, you often shut the door on half of candidates who won’t drop leaflets into your door, and while you might say “well, they should knock instead!”, you’re absolutely right – they should knock instead – but for a great many logistical reasons this may not be possible.

‘A half-decent substitute’

I have knocked on doors one or two nights a week, for approximately two hours, for the last five years, yet I won’t have met every person in the constituency. In fact, I’ll probably be closer to 35 per cent by a back of envelope calculation. That one or two nights will translate- depending – into another one or two nights worth of case work. On top of that, you have local events (and no, it isn’t just “to be seen” as some cynic suggested, I just like supporting charities – I have done before politics, I will do after politics), residents meetings, Council meetings etc.

That’s the third reason why no junk mail signs bother me: you can’t possibly meet every constituent, and it’s obvious from many of last week’s comments that some people don’t get to meet any local politicians ever, so surely a newsletter is at least a half-decent substitute? It’s hardly that politicians don’t want to meet you – trust me, politicians always want to meet people – there’s no substitute for it. Sometimes it’s just the case that they can’t meet everybody.

This is the final reason why they bother me: it’s not the signs themselves, but it’s that, if they specify the fact and mean no political junk mail, then they represent people cutting themselves off from the political system locally. I work really hard to represent people, get things done, and make sure that if they need me they know where to find me.

Saying “No political leaflets” is, to me, a slap in the face. I understand many leaflets are rubbish (I don’t mean mine, obviously…) that wouldn’t be out of place in North Korea for their totalitarian “aren’t we great?” view of the world, but surely at least everybody has one person in their locality who isn’t so bad as to make you want to ignore all of them?

Or maybe most of us don’t. Trust in politicians, according to the Edelman barometer, has been very low for years now, and it doesn’t look like it’s recovering any time soon. Maybe that’s the problem.

‘The Secret Candidate’ is running for a city council seat. Their identity is known to

Read: Follow our European elections coverage here >

The Secret Candidate
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