I’m returning to political blogging with a series of short blogs on my experience of standing for election as a new parent. I am persuaded that politics does not need to be as confusing and mysterious as it seems to most people – and I hope sharing my experience this year will de-mystify what it looks like to stand for elected office, and help make politics more accessible. I’ll also be candidly addressing what it is like to campaign as the parent to a young child – a whole new challenge for me!
I begin quite literally at the beginning – getting on to the ballot paper. Assuming you get through your party’s selection process (in my case, I had the joyous task of running Conservative selections in Oxford East!), every candidate has to secure the signatures of ten residents for the area that they wish to contest. For those who are really interested, you can download the application pack from the Electoral Commission.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I mean, I got 287 votes in Littlemore in 2016, so that’s almost 300 people who would sign my form, right?
Well … not quite.
The secret ballot, a very sensible democratic measure, means that while I know I got almost 300 votes last time out, I only know with certainty the identity of one of those voters – myself! You can only find out where your supporters are by knocking on doors and asking voters if they are planning to support you (not by itself foolproof – they are not obliged to tell you the truth!). If you don’t have that kind of information, then you are relying upon the kindness of strangers to sign your form.
Let me give you an example – Littlemore ward has 4,600 voters on the electoral roll, and you don’t need a GCSE in Mathematics to know that 300/4600 is not a terribly large percentage! It means that for every ten doors I knock on, nine of them are likely to be answered by someone who is at best uninterested, or at worst actively and aggressively hostile.
Now – in my case I had an advantage! Through a combination of party members who live in Littlemore, and friends who also live nearby, I didn’t have to knock on doors asking politely if they minded me being on the ballot paper. Indeed, I am conscious that at least one of my nominees was pleased to nominate me as a friend, but plans to vote for someone else (Fun fact – you don’t have to vote for the person you nominate)! But sometimes candidates don’t have the luxury of party membership or friends – they simply have to keep knocking on doors until they get ten signatures.
So if you ever get a knock on the door, and you find a local election candidate asking you nicely if you would nominate them to stand for the local ward – you now have a better understanding of the task that they face. It is one of the reasons I have a lot of time for anybody who chooses to get involved in active politics – it is far from easy, and requires a good deal of bravery and perseverance. And I am jolly glad that with a lot of my time and energy focused on my young baby, I was able to rely on the kindness and support of friends this year.