20 tips for candidates
Iain Dale has a good post today - http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2010/04/twenty-pieces-of-advice-to-election.html - 20 tips for election candidates.
As I'm now going round the track for my 7th election as a candidate (3 including this one for borough council, 1 for a county council seat, 1 for a district council and 2 for parliament) and I think my 12th as an Agent, here are my 20 tips (with some crossover with Iain's):
- As Candidate you are not in charge - you are the "legal necessity"/the product being marketed - it's your Agent who has the final say on all aspects of the campaign. Trust their judgment.
- But you do need to show "leadership" by example. If you want to get people out campaigning for you the best way to do it is to shame them into it by the amount of work you do. The candidate should always be the person who has made the single biggest contribution to canvassing, not least because contact with the candidate massively increases propensity to turn out and vote.
- You need a proper written campaign plan so that you know what you are supposed to be doing on each day of the campaign. Get it agreed by your local party so that you have written authority and buy-in for everything you want to do, pay for and publish.
- You can't make up at the end of a campaign for time wasted at the start. Hit the ground running.
- If you find you don't enjoy campaigning then politics is not for you, because it's all about representing people so you have to like meeting them. Withdraw while it's early enough to do so and let someone else who finds it fun have a go.
- By running for public office you throw your entire life open to public and media scrutiny. Withdraw or don't run if you are fanatical about your privacy.
- Be true to your own beliefs. Don't just spout the party line, say what you believe - making clear which opinions are personal and not official party policy. People want politicians with views, not automatons who memorise the manifesto.
- Remember that for party activists and die-hard supporters you temporarily embody all their hopes and aspirations. Your behaviour needs to reflect the trust people have put in you. During the campaign and if you win there is no "off-duty" time - you are the candidate 24/7 and anything daft you do reflects on your candidature and party.
- The single metric of success that counts before polling day is the number of voters you speak to on the phone or doorstep. Prioritise canvassing over all other activity and during the short campaign if you are a parliamentary candidate try to do canvassing from 10am to 12 noon, 1pm to 5pm and 6pm to 8.30pm. Other tasks like press releases and emails should be done when it is too early or too late to talk to voters. Set a target number of canvassing contacts to make each hour and keep trying to hit it.
- If you are doing that work on the doorstep you need to be fit and have comfortable shoes and socks - 30 days of walking/standing for 8.5 hours a day is physically tough.
- Eat healthily and cut back on drinking during the campaign - you need a clear head and maximum energy. However, a single beer or glass of wine each night will help you unwind and get to sleep at a very stressful time.
- Have a weekend evening off every week during the campaign when you spend time with your family with no political TV and your mobile and email switched off.
- Don't get worked up about the national campaign. You can't affect it. Put your emotional energy into your own ward or constituency where you can make the difference.
- Say yes to all hustings. You won't get a single extra vote by public speaking but if you out debate your opponents your morale and your team's will soar and your opponents' morale will be damaged. The kind of people who go to hustings are opinion-formers in their communities.
- Try to be friendly to the other candidates (unless they are fascists). They are your opponents not your enemies and a bit of courtesy, respect and humanity should stop them campaigning against you in a personalised way.
- Nurture the local press - they need stories and pictures.
- You need a compelling local narrative for your campaign. If you can't tell the story of why people should vote for you and your party in one sentence, why should people consider voting for you? It needs to explain the positive difference electing you and your party will make to their lives.
- Save the best, punchiest message for a final leaflet that goes out in the last week - too late for the opposition to respond and at the point when ordinary voters finally realise there is an election on.
- Don't stop getting out the vote until 10pm on polling day. I was involved in a parliamentary campaign where we started winding down at 9pm and lost by just 45 votes - a number we could easily have pulled out in the final hour.
- The count is part of the campaign not a social event. People have lost elections because they weren't paying attention in closely contested counts and didn't spot errors by the counting staff.