At least the weather was benign. Shirtsleeves in October can only be looked upon as a bonus.
The Lewisham Central by-election this year was the second time that I had stood as a council candidate, the first time was in Grove Park during the main local government elections in May 2002. Then I was fighting for a target ward and the build-up had been long and hard. Unfortunately I missed by only 60 votes and the number of Conservatives on the council did not increase.
This by-election was a very different beast. All by-elections tend to be short and bloody guerrilla conflicts but the fact that this was an all postal ballot further truncated the amount of time in which we had to work. Normally an election of this kind would mean about a months worth of electioneering but it was felt that once the ballot papers had gone out there would be little that could be gained from further intensive canvassing, this gave us about 2 ½ weeks of real effort.
Before I go into the nuts and bolts of campaigning it is worth mentioning that, like so many things in practical politics, an election of this kind is very much a group effort. The candidate may be the “face” of the campaign but he or she is only a cog in a large machine, without the help of the political agent (a legal requirement) and the people who help with the canvassing, both door to door and over the phone, you would get nowhere. I was lucky in that the team in Lewisham East, while being small in number, are very experienced and very dedicated.But what is actually involved?
The mechanics of an election are fairly straight forward;
1. Get selected by the party.
2. Fill in a small mountain of official paperwork.
3. Get proposed and seconded by members of the ward.
4. Start pumping out positive information about yourself and the party.
5. Be photographed kissing babies.
6. Knock on doors to find out who will support you in the election.
7. Pump out more positive stuff.
8. Kiss more babies.
9. Pump out more stuff.
10. Chase up the people who have said that they will support you to make sure that they do.
11. Don’t forget to vote for yourself.
12. Go to the count and make sure the volunteer counting teams don’t put your votes in someone else’s tray.
13. Leap with joy and make humble but powerful speech of thanks (if you win), sulk (if you don’t)
Despite having to get out and speak to complete strangers on a number of evenings and weekends there is something strangely absorbing about standing as a candidate. Seeing so many people put themselves out to help you, with little or no benefit to themselves is a rather humbling experience. Knowing that in the case of Lewisham Central we had very little realistic chance of winning was in no way a de-motivating factor. I actually enjoyed it.It is a very useful experience and despite the advances in communication technology there is nothing quite like standing in front of an elector and getting their views first hand. Stuffing leaflets through letterboxes can even be a cathartic exercise. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely!
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