Friends, neighbours, south Londoners - lend me your ears.

Happy New Year! My-oh-my what a new year it is going to be. 2015 is all set to be one of the most interesting general elections in modern times.*

Already, parties from across the political spectrum have launched their election campaigns with the leaders of the parties setting out their visions.

I watched their speeches with interest and what struck me was the repeated message about communicating/connecting/listening to voters. I would have thought that this was obvious but the need to keep repeating it would suggest that it isn’t so or, perhaps more importantly, that the electorate don’t believe it to be so.

OK, communicate, I get it. As a candidate in the forthcoming general election I’ve strived to reach as many people as possible. Since the local association selected me to stand for Parliament I’ve spent hours meeting and talking with as many people as I possibly can. I still need to do more but what is the best way to do it?

There are three significant methods that can be used to communicate; canvassing (knocking on doors), delivering leaflets or the new-ish digital media. In my experience each has its own strengths and potential weaknesses. I’ll have a quick scoot though all three but I’m sure I’ll come back to this in later blogs.

During a campaign it is traditional to find candidates and volunteers out over the weekend canvassing. This is probably the most traditional and peculiarly British method of ‘communicating’ during UK elections.

Interestingly, the thing you hear from constituents over and over again as you knock on doors is how nobody has ever knocked on their door. I promise you that you hear this on the doorstep of houses you know you’ve been to recently. For me, the great thing about doorstep canvassing is the opportunity to meet people and listen to what they say. I really do believe that, on the whole, people are fantastic. It may be the case that you disagree about fiscal policy or the best way to relieve housing pressures in London but to my mind there is nothing better than meeting people to get a better understanding of issues and for people to appreciate that, as a candidate, you’re human.

When best to do it? After a certain time at night it’s too late and people are having dinner or relaxing. If I’m halfway through my spaghetti bolognaise watching the latest episode of Broadchurch I don’t want anybody knocking at the door. Those of us doing the knocking know this. That’s why we try to get through our ‘opening statement’ as quickly as we can, “I’m here on behalf of the X party and we’d like to talk about Y and Z”. Sometimes you only get as far as the word ‘party’ before the door slams shut. It can be a little depressing but I do understand that people don’t want to hear the pitch. I have a deep respect for door-to-door sales people who experience this every day. I have to confess that I’ve closed the door on a few people myself.

What about weekends? When the team and I are out over the weekend we do find that on Saturdays many people are, quite sensibly, out. On Sundays people really don’t wish to be disturbed at all. Actually, if you’re reading this and have a view on such matters I’d like to know your thoughts on Sunday morning canvassing – my view is that nobody likes to open the door in their pyjamas.

So whilst I believe canvassing is the best and most effective method of communication the ‘conversion rate’, as marketing bods would say, is pretty low.

What about leafleting? All parties work very hard to write up-to-date and interesting leaflets that will inform. Some will try to smear. Personally I don’t like negative literature. When a leaflet attempts to persuade the reader that a vote for one party will cause hospitals to explode or that a vote for the other will see the constituency sucked into a passing black hole I believe that the majority of voters can see it for what it is. Spin. Of course you need to point out what you think you can do differently to the other guy. But I believe that an out-and-out attack turns people off. A clear leaflet setting out what you believe is best.

So, now you have crafted your masterpiece it needs to be delivered - ay, there’s the rub!

The particular association that I serve is lucky to have fabulous volunteers who will take boxes of leaflets home and deliver them before and after work and over the weekends. I am so grateful for this. When you imagine that the average UK constituency has about 69,000 voters you can appreciate that that is a lot of doors! So despite the help, these leaflets can still take ages to deliver and, when they are, they can be treated the same as a takeaway menu. There is truly no feeling like finishing a leaflet delivery session, walking back to meet the team and seeing your photo glaring at you from the recycling bins along your recently trodden route. Leaflets, therefore, are great for message but tricky to deliver and all too easy to disregard.

Lastly, let’s quickly discuss the brave new world of digital communication. Twitter seems a great opportunity to connect directly but, and I have fallen foul of this, the little flashing red light on the phone, calling you to action can get you into a world of trouble. Like an electronic tap on the shoulder it shouts, "look at me!". You try to resist but what if it’s important? “Feed me!” it screams, “give me data!” The childish delight of picking up a new follower is squashed by some random stranger being vile or deliberately misrepresenting your words.

There is a truly visceral concern that a re-tweeted joke or some late-night, ill-considered statement will have you on the front page of tomorrow's Daily Mail – I know people, good people, that this has happened to. I also appreciate that those of us in the political jungle have a hand in this madness. Pulling each other up over every little mistake and forcing the poor tweeter to eat their poisonous 140 characters like some digital bushtucker trial. But, you know what, we volunteered to be here so shut up and tuck in. Mostly, we are all too quick to enter into long and fruitless conversations with some masked keyboard assailant.

So, all three methods have their positives and negatives but I suppose the best bet is to use all of them and just keep working. Perhaps that is what the electorate look for. They want to see candidates do the work. And what is wrong with that? If it is uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassing, well, so what? To serve in the mother of parliaments is, I believe, one of the greatest honours a citizen can earn. Getting there should be hard. It is not the responsibility of the electorate to make it an easy ride and I get that. It is our job to get the message across and if we are failing then we should try again. And keep trying.

Communicate/connect/listen. Perhaps it is not so obvious. Perhaps we do need reminding and, perhaps most importantly, we should be constantly thinking of better ways to get the message across and talk to the people who, after all, are the boss.

I’ll try my best.

You can contact Peter on or on Twitter @PeterTFortune

*Among other things happening this year are the rugby and cricket world cups, the anniversaries of Sir Winston Churchill’s death and the Battle of Waterloo. A new Star Wars film and, finally, Back to the Future Day.