The PPC Files (1): the 3 worst things about being a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2008

Imagine what it’s like to be a Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate – tasked with leading and motivating a group of diverse volunteers against all the odds, and organising foot-slogging campaigns on a shoe-string budget that will get you and the party noticed.

Lib Dem Voice contacted a dozen PPCs to find out what they really think about the experience. We guaranteed anonymity to ensure those responding felt able to say what they think, and not simply stick to the obligatory it’s-such-a-privilege line. Of the 12, seven are men and five women, and they include one ethnic minority candidate. The constituencies they hope to represent range from the south to the north, and include Lib Dem marginals and ‘no hope’ seats.

In today’s first instalment of The PPC Files, our ‘golden dozen’ tell us the three worst things about being a Lib Dem PPC:

No time for leisure / family
Need a 48 day to balance campaigning and earning a living
Need LOTS AND LOTS of money – fundraising a huge problem

i) It’s a colossal commitment of time, emotional energy and money – the activity of the campaign across the whole constituency over time maps well to my own emotional state; ii) you rarely get personally thanked, yet you must (there is no option) exhibit boundless enthusiasm and energy; lead from the front and push from behind, and remember to be grateful to everyone who helps however useless / annoying they may be; and iii) knowing that despite having delivered five leaflets through
that door, when you knock on it they’ll claim to have never heard from you, ever.

Lots of expenses, but, err, no expenses – being a candidate is a financial black-hole.
You find you can delegate responsibility for success, but you can’t delegate blame for failure.
Helping the local party members explore and resolve their (mostly negative) feelings towards each other.

Not knowing whether any of the hard work will pay off. Internal squabbling and politics. (Understandble) fact that most members see Lib Dem campaigning as a very peripheral part of their lives.

1. Those councillors who have become too grand to care about the health of the party at its grass-roots.
2. The quantity of financial appeals from Cowley Street and the Region which members receive during the course of the year. It makes it several times more time-consuming than it should be raising additional money for the party locally.
3. The sudden squalls over quite trivial details of national policy – sometimes resulting in a rash of resignations. (Are Lib Dems peculiarly susceptible to such problems?) Lots of time and effort can be wasted getting over such episodes.

Balancing normal life with politics. I’m getting married soon, have a mortgage to pay, want to start a family and improve my career prospects. But I also want to commit every waking hour to making a difference for my community and country and to getting elected to Parliament. It is not an impossible balance, but it is not a walk in the park either.

Keeping going when the political cycle is against you. You win some, you lose some, and when the tide is against us it is difficult to keep going forward all the time, especially when local members and supporters always look to you to take a lead.

People have no idea what it is like being politically active or what it means to be a candidate. There is so much ignorance. A secondary school headteacher thought I got paid an MPs wage to be the candidate, many think the party pays for everything including your salary. When I get phoned at 10pm on a Sunday night by a resident they think its my staffed personal office rather than my home.

So many people assuming the worst motives of you.
Your own team not recognising you to be a volunteer like them.
Often feeling guilty for not spending every possible moment on the campaign.

The amount of time one needs to spend away from one’s family; the limitations imposed upon one’s ‘real’ (i.e., money-earning) career; the occasional failure of colleagues/the party hierarchy to appreciate that one can legitimately have priorities and interests beyond the party.

Not enough time or money for all the things you would like to campaign on; the cost of standing; not having enough time to do anything other than being a mother, candidate and running a business.

Juggling your life, job and candidacy; financial pressures of your campaign; always having to lead from the front and cajole people into doing more than they are comfortable with.

In Part 2 of The PPC Files (tomorrow): What do you wish you’d known before being selected as a PPC?