Nicky Morgan is a former Education Secretary, and is MP for Loughborough.
Where were you when you realised that, far from this year’s cycle of elections being over on May 4th, that the campaign trail would continue for another five weeks after that?
I was on the train from my constituency to London feeling very pleased that all the matters I had resolved to sort out over the Easter recess had actually been done…when my husband texted to ask what the Prime Minister would say in her statement just after 11am? As the Twitter frenzy started, and ,speculation got completely out of hand, those of us who actually have to be stand for election swapped messages, saying, basically: “It has to be an election doesn’t it?’
I can entirely understand why the Prime Minister has called this poll. This Parliament does need a line drawn under it – and British politics needs a re-set, before we disappear in ever-decreasing circles. But for those of us heavily involved in the election campaign, whether as candidates, agents, association officers, councillors or campaign team members and supporters, what does a snap election actually mean?
For a start, this will be a very different campaign from 2015, because then we had the date for polling day years in advance, and so were chivvied along by CCHQ for a long time before the actual campaign. I remember the campaign brief which happily announced it was now only 100 days until the May 2015 election.
In 2017, by contrast, we started with just 51 days to go, and with a sudden flurry of re-adoption meetings, waiting for the CCHQ literature pack, a dusting-down of former campaign diaries and leaflets, and trying not to upset those standing in the local elections, because their campaign has suddenly been rather overshadowed by the general election to come.
Political leaflets now contain masses of photos. With the advent of camera phones, Twitter, Facebook and more, I try to get a picture at most events I attend and, often at the end of meetings, people will want a photo so they can tweet it. I have a great picture of Sir Winston Churchill in my office which I often use as a backdrop. Suddenly the question is whether we have enough photos for the leaflets , and are they varied enough?
Furthermore, we will each need a decent head and shoulders shot for the leaflets. The next debate is whether we can use the same one given the last election was two years ago, and I know that I’ve acquired plenty more grey hairs and wrinkles since then!
For those of us who are sitting MPs, the snap election has meant deciding to stand again in a very short space of time, as the local press start ringing to see if they might have any new faces to get to know. Clearly some MPs have been planning to depart in 2020, so the question is whether they want to leave the Commons three years early, or extend their stay (assuming they are re-elected) by up to two years.
Some will have planned their escape routes already; others will not have been so organised. For others, ill-health means they have to mull over whether they can put themselves forward this time. I’m really delighted that both Nick Boles and Ken Clarke are standing again. We need them both in the Commons.
And, of course, it is not just us who serve constituents. Our staff do an amazing job whether they are based in London or locally. Their jobs are suddenly on the line in a way they hadn’t expected the day before. Some of them will have been through this before, and can justifiably expect to be sitting at the same desks after June 8th. For others, where their boss is in a highly marginal seat, the future suddenly doesn’t look so certain.
In any event, we all cease to be MPs and be able to handle much casework from May 3rd, which means warning constituents that our MP offices are going to be very quiet for a few weeks. It means working out which bits of office equipment can be used over the next few weeks, and which are owned by Parliament and need to stay under wraps. It also means marathon efforts to clear diaries, and I feel most sorry for those who have organised important celebration or launch events in Parliament who are now told that their booking has been cancelled. As one contact e-mailed: “But I’ve just posted a hundred invitations!”
Local Associations have to work out what to do about their fundraising dinners and events, most of which will need to be cancelled. We had two events alone planned for Friday 9th June which need to be re-arranged.
And then, of course, there is the electorate, which is waiting for candidates to beat a path to its doors – many of them having already been knocked on for the May local elections. One constituent cheerfully tweeted that, when he heard the news, he realised that he’d have to take a different route into Loughborough market for the next few weekends, in order to avoid all the political parties who set up their stalls there during the campaign. I haven’t yet met the Loughborough equivalent of Brenda from Bristol but I’m sure that he or she is waiting for me.
This will be my fourth general election in Loughborough, and my fifth as a candidate. The longer you are an MP or candidate, the longer your record of service is, and the more people you’ve been able to help through your casework and surgeries. As a political animal, I know that elections are ultimately what it is all about: the drafting of leaflets, the knocking on doors, the tactical conversations, visiting other constituencies to offer support and see how they are doing, and the relief of getting to 10pm on election day and thinking ‘”that’s it: I can do no more”. So roll on General Election 2017. I look forward to seeing ConservativeHome readers on the campaign trail.