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?

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No comments

What a great exercise in negativity.

by Chris Keating on July 28, 2008 at 9:33 am. Reply #

I would have thought that the prospect of a crushing defeat at the next election would also be high on the list of the negative aspects of being a Lib Dem PPC.

Guess I was wrong!

by Letters From A Tory on July 28, 2008 at 9:57 am. Reply #

One of the oddest things I found about being a PPC was that most local members were not political at all and some actually resented things becoming political.

I felt it was a bit like being elected as chair of a golf club but everyone getting cheesed off with you if you actually wanted to play golf!

by Ruth Bright on July 28, 2008 at 10:04 am. Reply #

I am a PPC from another party and it is reassuring to know that it is no different elsewhere.

All you ever hear are complaints that you are not doing enough when those complaining actually do bugger all themselves.

by Giles Cranning on July 28, 2008 at 10:13 am. Reply #

I’m not a PPC but have been a council candidate and am a ward rep – the ignorance point really rings true. Most members of the public seem to think you get paid to deal with their problems and can’t understand when you don’t have an office and staff.

Even members and supporters occasionally don’t recognise that the party lives or dies by its volunteers – many are “far too busy” to spend 20 minutes a few times a year delivering leaflets down their road, but complain lots if they don’t hear from the party, or there’s no campaigning going on where they live.

by Grammar Police on July 28, 2008 at 10:57 am. Reply #

Chris – why is it negative to let folk get things off their chest? It’d be worse to let folk just bottle it up.

In any case, the series will end with the 3 best things about being a PPC 🙂

by Stephen Tall on July 28, 2008 at 11:08 am. Reply #

Glad to hear it!

Asking people to think about negative aspects of what they’re doing, without balancing that with anything positive, or thinking about solutions, will inevitably make them less enthusiastic.

I imagine you asked these candidates questions for 3 parts at once. If so, fair enough. But because you’re presenting them part by part you’ve produced very depressing article which is also going to depress a lot of its readers… 😉

by Chris Keating on July 28, 2008 at 11:19 am. Reply #

I have to admit that having seen so many of my friends in target seats burn out and otherwise walk away, I’m not terribly impressed by Chris K’s “chin up, don’t let the side down!” response. Far too many people become PPCs – even target seat PPCs – without a clear idea about what it entails. You simply can’t repeat enough what hard work people have to expect, especially given the capacity people have for self-delusion in this area.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t put the positive side across as well, and the clear implication of Stephen’s original article is that LDV would anyway. But to hide it away in some broader piece balanced out with positive comments would be to do all wannabe candidates a gross disservice. Don’t we get enough of that style of “on the one hand… on the other…” reportage from the BBC?

by James Graham on July 28, 2008 at 11:38 am. Reply #

Chris Keating’s approach shows the levels of borderline contempt some on the campaigns side have towards candidates.

by observer on July 28, 2008 at 11:51 am. Reply #

James, my comment wasn’t “chin up, don’t let the side down”. I am at least as aware as you are of the pressures candidates face.

If anything is doing prospective candidates a disservice it’s a list of 36 reasons why they shouldn’t bother.

There is a world of difference between a realistic view of what it’s like, and a list of complaints.

by Chris Keating on July 28, 2008 at 11:56 am. Reply #

@Observer: I suspect that if you spoke to all of the hundred-odd candidates I’ve worked with, you wouldn’t find anyone who said I treated them with contempt.

by Chris Keating on July 28, 2008 at 12:01 pm. Reply #

We need to consider how the party can make it easier for candidates.

For instance, PPCs with children could be given funding for one day’s childminding per week. I know an experienced minder who only costs £35 per day and (out of London) that is not exceptional.

It’s not much to spend to give PPCs several more free hours in the week.

Actually, its the sort of help plenty of old ladies in local parties would gladly provide for free if asked. I know my Mum would rather look after a PPCs kids than stuff envelopes any day!

Help paid for by the party could, if necessary, be limited to target or ‘moving forward’ seat PPCs.

I have encountered the mistaken belief that PPCs are paid.

It may be worth mentioning in PPC’s post-selection press releases, and elsewhere, that they are in fact unpaid volunteers.

by Antony Hook on July 28, 2008 at 12:50 pm. Reply #

Why should a PPC with kids be given more funding than one without?

What if a childless PPC has other responsibilities, maybe an elderly parent who needs care. Would that also be paid for to free them up?

by Julian H on July 28, 2008 at 1:07 pm. Reply #

Well I have to say that second-time around all of these comments are true – and indeed, I have experienced just about every facet of them.

I remain convinced though that PPCs do a vital job – even if too much is expected of us by both the local and national parties, from whom support is often very limited.

by Biodiesel on July 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

Julian, I agree that funded childcare would be a bit much to ask for; but I like the volunteer babysitter (or carer for elderly/disabled relative) idea. Funded childcare opens up a whole can of worms. We’re poor enough as a party as it is.

I disagree that giving prospective PPCs a realistic idea of the mountain that they have to climb is a bad thing, though. Yes, it might put some people off. But those people are probably unsuitable anyway, if they are put off by the idea of working hard for little/no reward.

by Jennie on July 28, 2008 at 1:52 pm. Reply #

Further to childcare, what about a general swap shop, like the LETS barter systems, which could include secretarial, domestic, home help etc as well as childcare?

But instead of credits you get, um, satisfaction…

Seriously, maybe there’s something in that. We’ve often remarked on the difficulties of enthusing people by means of parking a sheaf of paper on them. What if they could give a defined skill/block of time instead that offers a definitive result – e.g. freeing someone’s time for an extra surgery or to resolve a particular local problem.

Doesn’t get rid of the perception problems though.

by Alix on July 28, 2008 at 2:16 pm. Reply #

Actually, that could be a really good idea for a website: Lib Dem skills bank. Volunteers could register and put in what they are willing to do – childcare, leafletting, typing, hell, even dog walking – and what they can’t do (e.g. can’t leaflet due to being wheelchairbound, but can do secretarial stuff) and then they’d be searchable by location and timeslot.

by Jennie on July 28, 2008 at 2:20 pm. Reply #

I’m sure I hear the voice of my local candidate in these quotes – but I’m not sure quite in which one!

It is easy to sympathise with the struggles of building a community network across a transient and fragmented society, but this is the test of ability for the job. It is just a shame that so much personal sacrifice is wasted by the institutional set-up to no real ends.

by Oranjepan on July 28, 2008 at 3:08 pm. Reply #

I view this seriously, but with just a little amusement. I have a successful, very well-funded local party full of committed activists, and 30 councillors who have doubled their share of the vote in the last two GE’s and even when we advertise, we don’t get any applicants. Maybe PPC’s should do a little more research before they commit to some of these seats? And make sure before they commit that the local party is really committed to supporting them?

by Martin Land on July 28, 2008 at 3:14 pm. Reply #

Think of it as spending money to buy extra hours for your PPC to campaign unhindered.

by Antony Hook on July 28, 2008 at 3:25 pm. Reply #

Martin – Outsiders look at those 30 candidates and decide that one of the locals will want to do it, so don’t apply. This is a hazard of success.

by Peter Welch on July 28, 2008 at 5:13 pm. Reply #

Interesting and important as this is, I think I would go along with Chris’s view that it makes for a somewhat one-sided and demoralising take on things.

You could equally do a survey of activists asking them what they like least about candidates (in general!) but I’m not convinced it would be a productive exercise.

People should certainly know what they are getting themselves into, but is this really the forum to achieve that?

by GavinS on July 28, 2008 at 7:08 pm. Reply #

Erm, did they truly want to do it in the first place or were they perhaps motivated by other reasons?
The type of person motivated enough to do the job is a very rare person indeed…

by Jo on July 28, 2008 at 7:50 pm. Reply #

Jo, I don’t think it’s fair to expect candidates to be perfect!

by Chris Keating on July 28, 2008 at 9:54 pm. Reply #

Returning to the discussion at the start of the comments section, rather than depress wannabe PPCs, perhaps the statements (in the original piece) might encourage those LibDem activists working with PPCs to be a bit nicer to them next time they meet them – perhaps even to say thanks!

by Stuart on August 2, 2008 at 7:54 pm. Reply #

Responding to James comment “Far too many people become PPCs – even target seat PPCs – without a clear idea about what it entails.”
I really think there is no excuse for this. Someone who wants to be a PPC does the training, and if that doesn’t forewarn them what to expect, nothing will.
PPCs should also expect to encounter some prickly characters as well. If a local party is big enough for the seat to be winnable, the laws of averages will tend to suggest that there will be some of those, and a good PPC will know how to deal with such people.
Clearly there is a downside. The upside is that most local party members are well worth meeting. Galvinising a local party and taking the media initiative can be exciting. And if you are dedicated enough, the ultimate prize is victory. You can do a job that you really believe in.
PPCs need to be robust people, because if you do get elected you need to get used to your opinions being fully tested by your opponents. It is not an easy life being an MP, and a good PPC experience is one that prepares you for that.

by Geoffrey Payne on August 2, 2008 at 9:21 pm. Reply #

I would be interested to know how it feels being a PPC when councillors in a seat don’t pull their weight (despite being paid allowances for the time and efforts they put in to keeping themselves in office).:D

by Technomist on August 6, 2008 at 12:31 am. Reply #

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