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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 09:43 GMT
What makes young leafleters tick?
By Lucy Wilkins
Political reporter, BBC News

Claire Palmer delivering leaflets
Conservative Future deputy chairwoman Claire Palmer strides through west London

Spending hours stuffing political leaflets through letterboxes may not sound like an ideal way to spend a Saturday, but there are young activists who, far from being disengaged with the political process, positively enjoy it.

A growling dog eagerly rips the leaflet to shreds as soon as it is slipped through the letterbox. There's no doubt the residents won't be reading about the achievements of the Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

But the eager volunteers continue to distribute thousands of flyers for the Conservatives on a cold winter's Saturday. With no local elections here this year, and possibly years before the next general election, they have a long time to spend spreading their message.

All the main political parties have youth organisations - indeed they see attracting young members as the Holy Grail of recruitment.

After spending an entertaining evening at a Labour club in the west midlands a week earlier, I've joined about 50 members of Conservative Future to get a different perspective on the state of political engagement.

They have gathered at a private house in west London for a pep talk from local MP Greg Hands before they set out in small groups, clutching a map and bundles of leaflets, warmed by promises of a pint at lunchtime.

They are a sort of flying squad, ready to swoop in and blitz an area which needs an extra hand.

This time it's Hammersmith, destined for boundary changes and earmarked as a Tory target seat.

"If we have Hammersmith, we will definitely have a decent majority in Parliament," Mr Hands says.

Inspired by such a vision, volunteers Claire Palmer and Liza Creary head out, first to a council estate.

Postie sympathy

The letterboxes are many and varied. Stiff bristles are reluctant to let the leaflets through, metal flaps snap shut on cold fingers, some of the letterboxes are at ankle level, others are plastered in "no junk mail" stickers and aromas of all descriptions waft out of them.

"I'm beginning to feel more sympathy for posties," says first-timer Liza, 22, who works at YCTV, a charity that promotes youth culture.

Liza Creary
Cameron's 'fire in his belly' attracted Liza Creary to the Tories

She once showed Conservative party leader David Cameron around YCTV and was invited to address the party conference in October last year after impressing him with her interest in politics, and yet she says she's nervous about spending a few hours with young people of similar beliefs.

Perhaps it was because she was the only black person in the group. She says she felt if she asked anyone if they had heard the latest Dizzee Rascal single they might stare blankly back at her and ask "Dizzee who?"

Despite having a mother who is a staunch Labour supporter, Liza has now switched sides.

"The Labour Party has done nothing for me," she says, although she also remembers that "the Tories stole my milk" .

Among Conservative policy she supports is the opposition to ID cards, but it is the leader himself that seems to inspire her.

Rapping Cameron

"I really like the way he handles himself. He's got energy and is young and it's the whole JFK effect. And bless his heart, David Cameron is trying, even when he does stuff with the rappers," she says.

And even though she describes herself and her friends as chavs, she isn't bothered by his upper class background - "You can't hold that against him".

Peter Smallwood
This is worthwhile when we get to the next election and win
Peter Smallwood, 17

After two hours off-loading leaflets, she's feeling more confident at the pub, bumping into friends she met at a women's training day.

Her views on Cameron are echoed, not surprisingly, by the national chairman of Conservative Future, Mark Clarke.

He says a typical week for him would involve some Conservative event every night - social events, speaking engagements, setting up branches - "business is booming" he says.

The longer-serving members of Conservative Future are full of the joys of party policy. Deputy chairman Claire Palmer, a 24-year-old barrister, is a politician in the making.

Phrases such as "sharing the proceeds of growth" trip off her tongue as easily as they do from David Cameron's, even while she's stepping round an abandoned push-chair in a dank stairwell.

"There's a misconception that people in council estates don't vote Conservative, but many wouldn't have their homes without a Conservative government," she says.

Living in east London, this patch of west London isn't even her own, but she has the patter all ready if a resident actually asks her about the local council's record.

My friends think it's because I'm passionate about the Conservatives, but it's also because it's just fun
Gemma Townsend, 23

As it happens not many do get engaged in political debate and quite a few leaflets seem to prompt doors to open and the leaflets to be handed back unread.

Involved for three years, she says it doesn't matter how many volunteers turn up on an "action day" as even one leaflet delivered is better than no leaflets.

And she's enthusiastic about the social aspect of such events, even enjoying the chance just to get some fresh air and exercise after a week spent shuttling between court and office.

At the pub Gemma Townsend, 23, has been involved since the May 2005 election. "You get so much out of it, because a big group can cover a large area.

"My friends think it's because I'm passionate about the Conservatives, but it's also because it's just fun," adding that her and Claire are planning a skiing holiday together this year.

All year round

Peter Smallwood, a 17-year-old A-level student, seems one of the more serious among the volunteers. Why is he here, especially as he seems at a loose end being under-age in the pub?

While others his age might still be in bed on a Saturday or playing computer games or even studying, he's been out delivering the message on the policies he thinks the country needs.

"If we start now and are working all year round, we will show that we are real and not pretending just when we need your vote. People will respect us all year round," he says.

And, with that, back out to the streets they head.




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