Rebecca Lowe Coulson is a freelance writer, and was Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham at the 2015 General Election.
A friend laughed at me the other day when I told her how much I love being non-partisan. “You write for ConservativeHome!” she said. And, sure, I get her point – even though it ignores this site’s independence. But I was a parliamentary candidate in 2015, and now rejoice in my present impartiality.
I never said anything I didn’t believe in during the campaign. However, I was always aware of what I didn’t say. And aware, too, of the things that I said which would have been assumed by those listening to be backed up by Party reasoning that, in truth, I sometimes found flawed. I still occasionally find myself falling back on this reasoning – and find relief in thinking matters through afresh.
I admire those who have the restraint needed for the short-term-concessions-for-long-term-gains essence of party politics. But I’m happier not including “long-term economic plan” in every sentence that I speak. And in being free to find fault, say, with the triple-lock pension policy. I was looking forward to considering voting for another party: I knew it’d be unlikely there’d be a better electoral home for a classic liberal like me, but the idea excited me, nonetheless. Ha. As if there’s much point in even thinking about ticking a new box in June.
The chance to criticise and comment on the entirety of the political landscape is, primarily, why I’m delighted to be spectating this time – having decided immediately after the last election that being a candidate wasn’t for me again. But there are many reasons why I don’t envy my friends, and others who are currently standing for Parliament, or hoping to do so.
Such a short amount of preparation time will be immensely hard in terms of personal logistics. Being a candidate is a big commitment, not least regarding financial output , which might range from paying for travel and accommodation to funding campaign resources. Voters often don’t know that there is no financial recompense to candidacy, and are similarly unaware of the common self-driven and wider pressure on candidates – particularly on those fighting non-target seats – to contribute money-wise to a campaign that they’ve already committed to in other senses. Most significantly, time spent has its costs – especially when these include extended absences from work: certain employers are more understanding than others. Few people go into politics for the money; it remains difficult to do so if you don’t have some.
Being a representative also brings the constant worry that someone will seriously misquote you – whether you’re on film, or in the pub. And it’s to be assumed that horrible things will be written about you on social media. But there’s something less conspicuous that we should discuss, too. Just after the last election, I wrote here about the often disappointing managerial approach of the Conservative Party. I wrote that:
“I refused to abide by orders not to campaign in the City of Durham over the final weeks before the election. Not only because it seemed vacuous to refrain from leafleting near my house in spare half hours. But also because the constituency is my home, and I could not abandon my local Association, and the incomparably keen and helpful Durham students, in this way. This was clearly profitable, and did not prevent me from spending many days supporting the local target seat (albeit a little less cheerfully than when I was choosing to do this, which I had been since before my selection)”.
And reflected on the:
“downright bullying tone of the phone calls and the badly-written emails which some of the management side of the party used to attempt to enforce this. (And the general militarisation of the voluntary wing). Not to mention the informancy it attempted to induce”.
There’s no time here to reflect on other weaknesses – or subsequent improvements – except to say that current constraints should not be taken as an excuse for similar failings. And to add that proper discussion of such matters should be seen as constructive. That the approach taken at the last election, which caused so much disillusionment among activists in seats with untapped potential, has not led to a weakened chance of winning this time round is largely because of the opposition’s frailty.
That leads to the one reason why I might have reconsidered my decision not to apply to stand again, if I hadn’t been so sure. This election offers the Conservatives a great opportunity in the North – and great opportunities for the North, itself. The political tribalism that once felt so present in my home region of the North East has strongly decreased over my lifetime. When I knocked on their doors, a couple of Durham residents may have laughed at me for being a Conservative candidate – but none was overtly nasty. That brought me hope.
Those people who voted for the Party for the first time in 2015 broke a personal barrier. And those who effectively voted for it by opting for Brexit (in that Labour offered no coherent stance on the issue) have broken it, too – in the same way that those who effectively voted for the SNP in the Scottish referendum then went on to do so again in 2015.
There are many Northern seats that are lazy Labour sinecures. There are also such Conservative seats elsewhere – and many excellent MPs representing either party, across Britain. But there is much to be gained from re-addressing long-held political allegiances. In 2015, we upped the vote in the City of Durham by 9 per cent — the sixth biggest Conservative increase in the country. And while I don’t see it being won anytime soon (although it may be a target this time), Darlington, Bishop Auckland, and a couple of other more marginal constituencies may well now join the select set of North-Eastern Conservative seats.
As an onlooker, this election feels exciting and necessary. Such events – unlike referenda – provide the opportunity for us to choose the representatives we want to be the ones making choices for us. It’s both a responsibility and a privilege to stand for Parliament, and the candidates we all need are those people who are keen to do so for the right reasons. If their parties support them – and the local associations and campaigners – appropriately, then there is much good to be gained from this election, all round.