This diary is written by a Parliamentary candidate contesting a marginal seat in May.
It’s 7am…I was returning late last night from a 40/40 training day, and I have overslept. My phone is ringing off the hook, and I see it is the duty prankster from the local paper. I went to school with him, but I still wouldn’t trust him to not stitch me up given half the chance.
He wants to know if I won the shopping trip with Theresa. I wonder if he is still out from the night before. He explains that last night there was a Conservative Party Ball where they were auctioning off things to raise money for the General Election. One of the prizes, amongst other car-crash dates with Ministers on offer, was a shopping trip with the Home Secretary. For shoes.
Things are on the up here in this particular corner of the UK. I am gently beginning to be included in the nearest 40/40 seat campaign training schedule, including the aforementioned Ministerial Visits Programme. Prior to such a visit tonight, we have a Candidates and Agents training morning, where the local CCHQ professional staff member will take us through some ‘tips from the top’.
I arrive early, as is my wont. This 40/40 seat is currently occupied by a sitting MP, and it would be fair to say that he is in a precarious seat. The Liberal Democrats are strong here, the Labour Party are strong here, and the UKIP prank seems to be going on for far too long. We are ‘receiving’ a Minister later on, but first for some campaign training. New to this, I eagerly await some education.
The MP’s Agent is young, and seemingly irritated by my presence. He seems mildly annoyed that other candidates have been invited along to a Campaign Day that to his mind should be entirely focussed around his MP. I feel like apologising for my presence – but apologising to someone 40 years my junior whom I haven’t actually offended is a step too far.
We start with surveys. Apparently everyone has been surveying their constituents, and getting paid by CCHQ for the surveys they fill in: they more they fill, the more they’re paid. “Easy money” one might think with a mischievous brain – but I am assured they have all been done properly.
We then get on to the cream envelopes. The public apparently love receiving replies from MPs and candidates in cream envelopes – preferably with something on signifying the grandeur of the sender. (A wax stamp?!?)
I begin to think of excuses that might relieve me from the rest of this training day. I was hoping for some subtle messages from the top, some encouragement in the shires. I looked over into the corner at a pile of unopened, stamped and addressed mail for constituents that have been returned due to wrong addresses/names and places.
There were at least 2,500 pieces of unopened mail – almost £1300 down the drain, right there. We are in the ‘long campaign’ period that started in December. Before that started, this MP’s campaign had spent just under £100,000. The Agent remarked that “another £24,000 might just get us over the line”. I almost laughed before I realised he wasn’t joking.
Another surprising thing I learned from the day was the redundancy built into the 40/40 master plan; none at all. If we were to lose just one 40/40 seat that we currently held, the whole programme would fail in its objective. Being no election master-planner myself, I was in no position to offer advice. I did, however, remark that with a plan based on such precarious assumptions, since some poll ratings for 40/40 seats is dire, we might need some resilience built into it. I think I was the only one who heard this. Perhaps I didn’t say it.
The ministerial visit was a delight. The three other agents and candidates/MPs fawned over this Minister, who unfortunately I had never heard of, or indeed knew there was a position for. This was part of the ‘winning strategy’, to get Conservative Ministers to visit the shires and attract a crowd. Unfortunately, this particular event had sold out only to the Association, which I understand was under threat of worse punishment for not attending.
“Get a picture with her, get a picture with her” was the over-riding call. I felt like a girl at a Take That concert asking Gary for a ‘selfie’. My humiliation complete, I expected a camera crew to walk out and say the joke was over.
The rest of the week was a lot better. I am more convinced than ever that the doorstep is where this campaign will be won or lost. I think a lot of the media chin-wagging, the twitterati and the childish banter about ‘who said what when and to whom’ disinterests the vast majority. I think the British People are not so easily swayed, and deserve a lot more credit than we or other parties give them. Give them hope – dare I say it, inspire them – and success may follow. We no doubt face enormous and complex challenges, but there an obvious vacuum for political leadership in this part of the UK, and no-one seems prepared to fill it.
Perhaps if I work hard, give people something to vote for, I can do that. Awkwardly, it requires deliberate dislocation from the sort of ‘White and Black’ Ball that took place last night. I understand why these things happen – the money has to come from somewhere – but the damage done in working class places such as mine is significant.
How can I defend it to the young, aspirational family man or woman who we should be attracting, still needing tax credits because his wages don’t cover his rent? What has he or she really got in common with those paying to go on a date with Michael Gove? I am the conduit – I get that. It is my job to insulate this Party behaviour from the electorate, but it would be an awful lot easier if it wasn’t this way.
Its bedtime. I now consider myself lucky that I am outside of CCHQ’s horizon. Ministerial Visits, Black and White balls, cream envelopes and endless surveys where both the questioner and the subject are not overly interested in the answers is not really politics to me. It is about hope, about fighting injustice, about caring for the most vulnerable by whom our society is judged. It’s not about bullying Ed Miliband about his appearance, or insulting a perfectly decent man like Nick Clegg. It’s about providing a better answer than them.
It’s about attracting people to a message of hope and unity, building a happier and more content society. It’s a noble calling, and one that I will not regret, whatever the outcome.