David Cameron remarked after his first walkabout in Glasgow as Tory leader how delighted he was not to be headbutted. This was not a slight on the good people of Scotland’s biggest city – this was a self-deprecating nod to the fact that the Conservatives have, for many years, not been very popular in Glasgow.
I was not so lucky as the party leader. The first time I went leafleting in Glasgow, I made a schoolboy error. I started at the bottom of a block of flats, and worked my way up. This meant that by the time I came down again, the residents at the bottom of the building knew there was a Tory in there. Unfortunately one resident threw a leaflet back at me wrapped around dog excrement – so I suppose it was natural that when I embarked on social action projects in the city it began with environmental clean-ups. After all – the less mess in the street, the fewer potential missiles to be aimed at me!
And what a transformation occurs in a community’s perception of politicians when they engage in local projects. Oliver Letwin said recently that it’s a delusion to imagine most people are concerned with detailed policy. Perhaps he has a point. In Glasgow people are most concerned about things that affect their daily lives – like the litter in their streets and graffiti on their garden walls. Social action in a community like that is a no-brainer. You have to get involved. And it is incredibly satisfying. Bringing in local communities, and seeing their delight at what all of us have achieved at the end of a day’s work is simply magnificent.