The short campaign in a General Election is high pressure stuff for candidates in the seats that will determine the outcome of the election. In most cases these brave souls have invested several years of their life and quite a few pairs of shoes in pounding the streets and attempting, one way or other, to connect to around 70,000 people. It’s a tall order and the decline of traditional local media has made it even more difficult.
Candidates don’t just look at winning or losing, disappointing though that is, they look to their reputations and to the future. If they don’t want to do a good job for personal satisfaction and the benefit of their party they want to build their prospects for next time or a crack at a better seat. There’s nothing wrong with political ambition – after all, somebody has to want to run the country!
Getting it wrong or self-destructing in the short campaign will be the thing people remember – and there is usually more risk than reward in the short campaign. Nobody wants that and it is entirely avoidable. Of course it isn’t just candidates in marginal seats to whom this applies. The unguarded actions or ill thought through statements of candidates in any constituency reflect on their party and load the guns of the opposition in key areas crating knock on problems.
So candidates can never be off duty. Here are ten things, some mundane, some personal, some political, that help get you through till polling day in one piece mentally and physically.
1. Get a core team – you need people, two or three, around you who you can trust and within that team you need at least one person who will advise you or act as a sounding board for anything that arises in the campaign. This may seem really obvious but over the years I’ve seen candidates with normally sound judgement making poor decisions for the want of rehearing the arguments. Always remember that your friends in politics are the people who tell you what you need to hear, nnot what you want to hear.
2. Prepare and rehearse – there is an element of performance in politics. Although hustings and debates are by and large the territory of people who know how they are going to vote and reach very few people they are public and mistakes can be costly. There is also a great thrill in thrashing your opponents! There is no substitute for doing your homework and knowing your stuff. It’s a performance and performers rehearse – get someone from your core team to prep you for debates or interviews - then go out and give ‘em hell.
3. Get a driver – candidates have too much to do and too many things to think about to be driving themselves around all the time. Driving is tiring and requires your attention – so for at least some days try to get help. This matters most close to polling day when you are inevitably tired.
4. Reality check – you have done your grid by now and know what you intend to do each day. Of course you have, but take a reality check. Get someone from your core team to check if it all works – timings, travel, preparation time. Keep reviewing your grid and don’t let it creep into all hours.
5. Take days off – everyone need rest. Candidates need breaks during a campaign – so plan the days off and stick to them – you need to plan for 4-5 days during the 5 week short campaign to re-charge the batteries – you’ll probably end up getting 3-4 that way!
6. Key in to the themes – by the time you get to the short campaign the time for building a reputation is over. There just is not the space to build a personal following – by this stage you have either done it or you haven’t. So stay away from high risk, stick close to the Party’s daily themes – it’s the only way to go in a General Election (and remember this is an independent minded candidate saying it).
7. Don’t get involved in minutia – you are a team player. Your job is to be the candidate – the MP in waiting. It is not to worry about leaflets getting out or to count the canvass numbers. Focus on your role and let other people do their jobs.
8. Prepare your social media – social media can be a fantastic distraction as well as a great tool. It is easy to get sucked in to these other worlds. Keep it in perspective, broadcast in the main and build time into your grid to plan your tweets and posts using tools like Hootsuite. Don’t get drawn into arguments – there are almost no votes in it and beware instant replies – engage the brain! Remember tweet in haste, regret at your leisure – and it is the internet – it’s there forever. There’s advice out there on how to keep it safe!
9. Listen and lead – as much as anything else it is your job to keep up morale and provide inspiration for Labour members. You lead by example, of course, but you also lead by inspiring people – a good speech, some good jokes, knocking the opposition, making members feel part of something. Say thank you – a lot, get on the phone to some members every day and listen to what they have to say. Ask their opinion. How you relate to members in the short campaign will matter – especially if you become their MP.
10. Play the role – one of the frustrations of being in politics is that people put you in a box. They make presumptions about you because you are ‘a politician’ but they don’t know you. It’s unfair, it’s shallow, but it’s the way it is and you need to deal with it. You are playing a role – the Labour Candidate – so think about how you want to appear in that role and be that person, when you step into your home that’s you done role playing – switch off, relax, turn off the phone – at least some of the time.
These principals can all be applied to being a candidate in local Government – just in proporation, and remember it is far easier to get to know your electorate as a council candidate.
So the very best of luck to every Labour candidate on 7 May. It’s a great thing to stand in a Parliamentary Election, its being part of history and an experience you will never forget – make the most of it.