The PPC Files (3): What do your family and friends think about your decision to run for Parliament?

by Stephen Tall on July 30, 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 third instalment of The PPC Files, our ‘golden dozen’ tell us what their family and friends think of their decision to run for Parliament:

Delighted when my children were able to Google my name and proud to tell their friends their mum has been in the paper or TV.
Well done! is the comment from all professional colleagues.

Well… when I first told my Dad, there was this long silence on the other end of the phone, after which he said “I’ve never really thought much of politicians.” Has come down and campaigned for me in each general election, however. The rest of my family have thought it really interesting. My friends think it’s odd and don’t really understand the commitments and efforts involved.

Most of my friends understand the pressures and what I am trying to do, but sometimes it feels like my family think it’s some quaint little hobby that has got totally out of control.

They think it’s crazy – they don’t understand it.

They are very supportive, although it is a strain on family life. I work full-time and am also out 3-5 nights a week and spend some of every Saturday and Sunday doing Lib Dem/campaign related activity. My employer is very supportive (I work flexible hours and work five days in four so that I have one day on the campaign) but it is a tough schedule. The consequence of this is that I work, campaign and spend time with my family….that’s it. I have no social life outside of this, I’ve stopped playing football, going to the cinema, going for drinks after work, visiting friends around the country. I’m NOT complaining because it is my choice, but if you want to win then this is the way it has to be.

Very supportive. I would not have gone for it if they felt otherwise.

I have been politically active for a long time – around 20 years (and I’m only 35 so still perceived as being young by some!) – but I think it is fair that most of my family still think I should get a proper job, even though I have one. My friends are pretty supportive, even when they are politically disinterested.

I can only do this because of the 100% support of my family and friends. They all think I’m mad, but continue to support me….

My family and friends are impressed by my commitment, but frequently can’t see the sense in making it.

Most found it eccentric to some degree or other at first, although support from my immediate family has been unstinting. It’s interesting that over the years, it’s come to be accepted as part of what I am: although it’s also interesting that even quite close friends/family members (e.g. my mother!) occasionally assume that, as a politician, I’m fair game for a bit of a scolding when politicians in general are perceived to be letting the side down.

Some are very supportive; others in my extended family do not share the same politics and tend to be more right wing – they do not believe woman should be in politics or even in the work place.

In part 4 of The PPC Files (tomorrow): What’s different about being a Lib Dem PPC compared to being a Labour/Tory PPC?

The PPC Files (1): What are the three worst things about being a Lib Dem PPC?
The PPC Files (2): What do you wish you’d known before you became a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate?

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Stephen is part 4 the same as part 3 or does the last paragraph need editing?

by Lloyd on July 30, 2008 at 9:34 am. Reply #

It needed editing, duly done! cheers, stephen

by Stephen Tall on July 30, 2008 at 9:42 am. Reply #

OK – this bit contains too much detail – think I might know who two of the candidates are!!!

by Jo on July 30, 2008 at 11:20 am. Reply #

I’m sure if you had a hectic bustling social life in the first place you wouldn’t ever contemplate becoming a PPC – therefore I’m afraid I have no sympathy with people who say it’s wrecked their social life…

It’s a widely known and acknowledged fact!

by Jo on July 30, 2008 at 11:26 am. Reply #

My (at the time) three year-old daughter on my time as PPC.

Playing with her dinosaurs she gave the following commentary:’This is Daddy dinosaur,this is Baby dinosaur and Mummy dinosaur is at a meeting’

by Ruth Bright on July 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm. Reply #

So? Lots of non-PPC women have experienced the same situation probably…

by Anon on July 30, 2008 at 1:17 pm. Reply #

Fair point – but at least most of them receive some financial compensation for the family time they give up. As some of the anonymous PPCs pointed out most people think we receive a salary or expenses anyway!

by Ruth Bright on July 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm. Reply #

This set of articles is really becoming a bit of a pity party from the PPC’s end.

I suspect this just might be because of the nature of the questions asked. I know PPC’s do a lot of work, but they do get the chance at being elected unlike average activists, and its not like there aren’t other people, in most cases, who wanted to do it and lost the vote.

by Tinter on July 30, 2008 at 2:23 pm. Reply #

We have a real problem with attracting PPCs, and particularly attracting the best.

I believe we have areal issue firstly in our expectation of what PPCs can and can’t do and secondly in the way we treat them.

Recognising there is a problem and investigating it is the first step to resolving it. If some of the comments have come as a surprise to any of yuo, then you now have a better understanding of the commitment of those undertaking the task. If you were already aware, then ask yourself what you have been doing to make it more sustainable for a more diverse group of people.

Some of the comments that people have made on these articles (as opposed to the comments of the PPcs within the articles) that I’ve seen in the last few days on this series are shocking in their contempt for the people who take on that role.

And as for having a chance of being elected…no most of them have no chance of being elected, not without 10 or 12 years hard work and then, even that much won’t be enough.

The quality of PPCs we have is varied and some of them don’t live up to expectations. In rare cases that is because they are lazy or lacking in self awareness but most of our PPCs work extremely hard for very little reward and it would seem a whole lot of pressure and contempt from other activists.

We should be saying thank you and supporting them not criticising them for struggling on in spite of the difficulties.

For sure, there are rewards and good points and sometimes the adrenalin will be rushing but as you can see it’s not a walk in the park.

Look how many seats advertise again and again and nobody comes forward; is it any wonder with some of the attitudes towards PPCs and their efforts that have come up in these comments?

PPCs often sacrifice their family life, their social life, their career and sometimes even their marriages..if we want more people to come forward and stand we might want to think of away that the role can be sustainable for those who have choices of other more rewarding and less stressful things to do with their time.

by Jo Christie-Smith on July 30, 2008 at 4:29 pm. Reply #

It would be fine if I was listening to an activist who was moaning about delivering a few leaflets – they would have the right to moan…but someone who has applied for and obtained a voluntary position in the party and has associated tasks and duties that were obviously understood at the time of applying (if not perhaps the role needs to be explained better) cannot moan! If they really do find it that hard they should use their time doing something that they truly feel is worth their free time…

by Anon on July 30, 2008 at 4:31 pm. Reply #

Well said, Jo.

We don’t mind giving up our lives. At the end of the day it is an honour and it can be fun. That not “a line”- I really have enjoyed being a PPC and PEPC.

But we are at least entitled to some respect that is not always forthcoming.

by Antony Hook on July 30, 2008 at 4:35 pm. Reply #

I’m not criticising the PPC’s, giving up a lot of time for a cause can obviously be a burden as much as a privlidge.

I certainly know its a lot of hard work. I expect that activist pressure rather correleates with winable seats, so I think that is a valid point. In non-winnable seats they don’t have a chance to be elected, but then activists (at least the core ones) are likely to expect to be shipping off to a target seat anyway, so less pressure.

PPC’s are people who make a greater commitment to the party, and gain a lot more workload but also opportunities. Hopefully they all understand this going in.

I don’t see how we can make it easier for people who want less workload. Thats what we need to win in target seats. Just as PPC’s go to armchair members and try to get them to do as much as they can, so the party must for PPC’s. It may not always be nice but thats the way it goes.

On the other hand, its fine for them to moan- I probably would! A lot of the time its going to be hard graft with any reward a long way away. My point was that the responses were fairly predicatable in this regard and not that insightful, largely due to the questions.

I know activists who work harder than some PPC’s, and PPC’s who do an enormous job of work. Anybody who volunteers a large amount of their time has my respect for that regardless of their position- though its no coincidence that many of those at the top of that list are PPC’s!

by Tinter on July 30, 2008 at 5:50 pm. Reply #

I don’t think it should be much of a surprise that there is widespread contempt for our political classes after civic society has been continually undermined for decades through successive Conservative and Labour governments as the political interests which make up those parties have sought to attack the well-springs of liberty and democracy in our country in their campaign to gain office – it only seems natural that the general climate of scepticism promulgated by them and reflected across much of the media also has roots within our party.

But the conclusions of that scepticism is what lead me to joining the LibDems and stand up for justice and fairness for all to help carry the fight against corruption and bad practices.

The struggles our party faces at a local level and excessively burdens our prospective candidates at all levels is just a consequence of the weaknesses and fractious nature of the state we live in.

If we have a complaint it is up to us to ask what can we do to improve the situation.

by Oranjepan on July 30, 2008 at 5:54 pm. Reply #

Sorry Anon, but I disagree completely.

Being a PPC for a winnable seat is a tough job, and until you take it on it is difficult to know exactly what issues and problems will be thrown at you, particularly if it is a constituency in which you weren’t previously a member.

All PPCs should accept that they will need to sacrifice a lot of their time to get elected. But I agree with Jo that we have unrealistic expectations. If we want the best MPs it isn’t about a tougher approval process or head-hunting, both of which seem popular ideas at the moment, it should be about giving the PPCs that we have the extra support in the things they find difficult, making sure they have someone to turn to who understands the difficulties they have and can help them with them and giving them more professional support so that someone else can take away some of the burden.

Part of the problem is that being a PPC is often a very different job from being an MP. Someone who is good at one isn’t necessarily good at the other, but you have to go through one to get to your ultimate goal. Even then, after years of hard work you may still not get there due to a change in the political mood, boundary changes, a new opponent who is better than the previous incumbent etc etc.

I want PPCs who are committed to doing the work to get elected. But I don’t want those PPCs to purely live and breathe politics, instead I want them to have a life, have a chance of a successful career, have time for their friends and family and have hobbies that are outside of the Lib Dems. For their own sakes they have to cling on to all of those things in case they don’t win.

by Anders on July 30, 2008 at 6:21 pm. Reply #

I think early selection is part of the issue. It’s vital to win a seat. But it does seem that many candidates in un-winnable seats were sold it on the likelihood of an early election and are now getting more than they bargained for.

I can also relate to the idea in local parties that PPCs will work miracles. Of course some candidates big up their miraculous powers at the selection stage and then handily deflect their lack of success onto insufficient support from Cowley Street.

Some go a step further and recruit an organiser who is also expected to have magical power 😉

And I can tell you some nightmare stories about organisers’ experiences as well.

by Chris Keating on July 30, 2008 at 6:27 pm. Reply #

Well, local parties that expect a transformation from any one person need a metaphorical slap, and I guess that persons doomed efforts to live up to that will be it. I don’t doubt all the stories of unrealistic, pressuring activists, I just can’t relate to it from my own experience so I can’t really bring it into what I say.

I don’t know if I would say tougher approval process, but I think there does seem to be a feeling some people don’t quite know what they are getting into- so it at least could be improved from the candidates perspective.

Being a PPC may not involve the same parliamentary skills, but its going to be a long time if ever for a seat to be safe enough to not be doing the same type of campaigning once its taken, so PPC campaigning skills are vital.

I’m not opposed to providing more professional support, but I think without more specific ideas its difficult to comment on that. I think that ALDC could possibly help the PCA achieve some of this, however.

As to workload, it going down has a vote cost. Really solving the issue would require solving a lot more problems than I think we can- such as declining membership and interest in party activism, difficulties with media coverage, ect.

Now, maybe lowering the workload will have other advantages, such as better PPC’s. I don’t think we can do it without risking votes though, and while I am not in a position to make a real assessment of whats worthwhile overall I think I can guess what the party apparatus, as empathic as most bureaucracies, will do.

by Tinter on July 30, 2008 at 6:56 pm. Reply #

Some thoughts:

a) Better training and guidance for local parties on what they can expect from their PPC

b) More pre-approval training and mentoring, inevitably including the political bit on how to get selected

c) More support for selected PPCs – in the guidance & networks sense, not campaigning tactics (telling people their constituencies should be doing more work won’t keep them sane) and not money (don’t have any to give).

Not really my area but I am sure wheels are turning in some of these areas already. And the Campaign for Gender Balance already do a decent job, for women candidates.

by Chris Keating on July 30, 2008 at 7:09 pm. Reply #

Many good comments above, but I do reject those that say PPCs know what they are letting themselves in for, so tough. Having been an “ordinary activist” too, I know that is hard, but the pressures on a candidate are specific and intense.

In my experience of mentoring candidates in many different seats, local parties often have very unrealisttic expectations of candidates. If there is a problem, the candidate is thrown at it, as if they have a magic wand.

We cannot expect our candidates to solve the deep-seated problems in many local organisations, yet the formal party structure does almost nothing to address these problems, therefore leaving it up to the candidates.

I can say from experience that it is certainly easier to be an MP, doing politics full-time, than to be a candidate effectively shadowing the role of an MP, organising a local party with no paid staff, campaigning on local issues, knocking on doors and on top holding down a full-time job to pay the bills. And I didn’t even have to cope with having family commitments.

The sooner the party can encourage local organisations to recognise this, and to provide better central support, the better.

by Jo Swinson on July 31, 2008 at 12:53 am. Reply #

This is a very worthwhile discussion, isn’t it? I think the key is the management of expectations on both sides.

A priority seat would presumably have an excellent organisation and therefore a right to expect an incredible commitment from a PPC.

In contrast, a seat with a decidedly patchy organisation should not expect an exceptional effort from the PPC.

At the same time, PPCs should recognise how much they can realistically put in and go for the sort of seat where they fit best.

The alternative is to have some PPCs almost killing themselves where there is no prospect of success: and others who expect to be carried to victory.

It seems to me that there are three things that could be done:

1. The candidate approval process could grade candidates in terms of their ability to commit time to working in a constituency.

2. There could be a (regional?) appraisal process, so that local parties know how much they are entitled to expect from a PPC.

3. Taking up Jo’s point, the shadowing of an MP should emphasise that the task of a PPC is much more demanding.

by John on July 31, 2008 at 8:53 am. Reply #

@Jo S
“I can say from experience that it is certainly easier to be an MP, doing politics full-time, than to be a candidate effectively shadowing the role of an MP”

I’ve always suspected as much. It also looks, from my ill-informed perspective, as if being a PPC seems to demand a slightly different balance of skills to being an MP (much as being a PPC in a regular seat is said to be different from being a PPC in a by-election seat). The MP majors on policy formulation and the PPC on campaigning. The only thing that unites both is constituency needs, but even that must be differently tilted. So selection must be an odd game – which job are you really recruiting for?

by Alix on July 31, 2008 at 9:57 am. Reply #

“The MP majors on policy formulation and the PPC on campaigning”

Depends how big their majority is Alix!!!! Policy formation? I bet some of them wish it was!


by Jo on July 31, 2008 at 10:43 am. Reply #

Again…surely that depends on the MP and the PPC…another sweeping statement that may or may not be true?

I’ve met an MP who never stops and I’ve met a PPC who never seems to start!!!

by Jo on July 31, 2008 at 10:50 am. Reply #

“the shadowing of an MP should emphasise that the task of a PPC is much more demanding”

Sorry the comment above was in reference to this earlier comment – why doesn’t Lib Dem Voice have a delete/edit button?

by Jo on July 31, 2008 at 10:51 am. Reply #


“1. The candidate approval process could grade candidates in terms of their ability to commit time to working in a constituency”.

Surely this would mean that anybody with a job or children, or both would be pushed lower down the list?

by Jo Christie-Smith on July 31, 2008 at 11:02 am. Reply #

It’s also something very difficult to measure. How much time you can spend campaigning doesn’t just depend on what commitments you have, but which corners you are able or willing to cut with those commitments, and how much pressure you can handle.

by Chris Keating on July 31, 2008 at 11:57 am. Reply #

Yes, Jo C-S. I think it would mean precisely that: anybody with a job or children, or both would be pushed lower down the list. And so they should be.

All our seats are a considerable challenge, both to win and to hold. It is nice, of course, to be inclusive, and give people a chance etc etc.

In real terms, however, in order to win seats, we need people who are in a position to give as much as it takes.

The alternative is to be nice and inclusive etc, and watch another merciless Tory Government take over the county.

by John on July 31, 2008 at 5:05 pm. Reply #

‘Anybody with a job or children, or both would be pushed lower down the list. And so they should be.’

Blimey, an approved list consisting only of those who are both independently wealthy and childless – should make a pretty short list!

by Ruth Bright on August 5, 2008 at 5:19 pm. Reply #

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