This is a rehash of a blog I wrote at the beginning of the 2010 election campaign, having just re-read my blogposts from the 2005 election, when I was Conservative candidate in North Norfolk. The experience brought back lots of memories – not all of them bad! But it did make me think about the pitfalls of being a candidate and how to get through an election campaign intact. For what it’s worth, here’s my advice to first time candidates…
- You can’t do everything yourself. Let others take the strain. You are the leader of the campaign. Act like it.
- Keep your cool. There will be moments in the campaign when you want to scream your head off. Resist the temptation. Count to ten. Then count to twenty. Ignore the temptation to hit your agent when he/she calls you a “legal necessity”.
- Your campaign workers are volunteers. They don’t have to turn out to help you. They do it because they want to. Motivate them. Treat them well. Make sure you stop for lunch and that they don’t do too much. It’s a long campaign. Don’t wear them out after the first week.
- Make sure all your literature is proof read. Three times. And not by you.
- If you have a campaign blog, never write a spontaneous blogpost. Always run it by someone else first. Be incredibly careful what you tweet. Imagine your name in bold print in the Daily Mirror. If you hesitate before pressing SEND, it probably means you shouldn’t.
- Make sure you keep to your normal sleep patterns. You may think you are Superman/Superwoman, but you’re not. You need your sleep. Make sure you get it.
- You don’t need to hold a long campaign meeting every morning. Three times a week is usually enough. Make sure that the only people who attend are those who really should. Restrict meetings to half an hour.
Posters do not gain extra votes. But they make your local party feel good and give your campaign the appearance of momentum. Do not put them up too early. And do not put them up all at once. And if they get ripped down, make sure your campaign team has a strategy for replacing them within 24 hours.
- Personalise your ‘Sorry You Were Out Cards’. Include your ten campaign pledges on them. And include an apparently handwritten message and signature.
- Do not drive anywhere yourself. Especially, do not drive your campaign vehicle. Appoint a PA who will drive you everywhere. Think of the bad publicity if you are involved in an accident, or even a broken down car or flat tyre. The last thing your campaign needs is for you to be involved in a public argument with another irate driver. If someone else is driving, you can walk away when another car is arranged for you.
- Make sure you eat properly, and regularly. McCoys, Coke and Mars Bars do not a healthy diet make. Do not drink any alcohol during the day. Never buy anyone a drink. It’s against electoral law and counts as treating
- If Party HQ offer you the chance of a visit from a politician even you have barely heard of, turn them down. Even if you have heard of them, consider turning them down. Visits from national politicians use up too many resources and rarely attract a single extra vote.
Don’t canvass before 10am or after 8.30pm. It looks desperate and annoys people. And be very careful about canvassing on Sundays. People don’t like it. Use Sundays to catch up on deliveries in areas with no deliverers.
- Resist the temptation to strangle the next person who asks “How’s it going?” or “Are you going to win?”. They’re only being polite.
- If you’re in a high profile marginal seat which the media find interesting, avoid spending half your day giving them interviews. Your only media focus is local. Ignore Michael Crick. He’s not there to help you.
- Avoid the natural desire to believe what voters tell you on the doorstep. Most of them will tell you what you want to hear in order to get you off the doorstep. If they say “I’ll see how I feel on the day” you can safely put them down as a Liberal Democrat.
- Your ‘Get Out The Vote’ operation is more important than anything else you do during the campaign. Satisfy yourself that your Agent and Campaign Manager have it in hand and they know what they are doing.
- Ignore those who tell you not to appear at your count until it is well underway. It’s your moment. Relish it. Prepare your speech. If you lose unexpectedly, you will be remembered for how you react. Act graciously towards your opponents during the counting and in your speech.
- If you lose, you will be tempted to blame someone. Your party leader. Your local party. Anyone but yourself. Don’t. Whatever your personal thoughts, no one likes a bad loser. Be dignified and take it on the chin. If you win, hubris may take over. It really wasn’t all down to you, you know. And make sure others know you know that.
- Make sure you write a personal thank you letter – and I mean write, not type – to all those who helped on your campaign. Do it within a week of polling day. You really could not have done it without them.
Good luck, and try to enjoy it!