by Stephen Tall on July 31, 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 fourth instalment of The PPC Files, our ‘golden dozen’ tell us what they think is different about being a Lib Dem PPC compared to running for Parliament as a Labour or Tory PPC.
No money and it is a DIY campaign. I doubt there are many Labour and Tory PPCs who are able to say the have a intimate knowledge of risos, folding machines and stuffing machines. With the Lib Dems you experience the true grit of campaigning and experience real politics which is on the pavement with the voters.
Hard to say, never having been a PPC for another party! I think , despite what I said above about the pressures from the party hierarchy, that Lib Dem PPCs are on a looser leash, by and large, than Tory or Labour. This could be seen as a good thing (allows more room for individuals to work in their own preferred way) or a bad thing (can lead to a sense of isolation/lack of support).
The only way for us to win is to work our constituencies intensly. Our party presents its candidates to the media and public and super-councillors, and does not promote or use them for their wider interests, experience or attributes. The Tories appear to have started doing this a lot more recently.
We never, ever take a seat for granted. We know we have to work hard for every vote, and I think that often makes us more engaged with the issues that are key to people in our areas.
I think generally, Tory and Labour campaigners are better funded – certainly in winnable seats – and have more flexibility to campaign full or part time. Certainly they have better professional support because they have more cash to through at the situation. It is perhaps an unfair generalisation, but I think a lot of Tory candidates are personally financially better off and can commit more time and personal cash to their campaigns. It is frustrating that local voters tell me they want an ordinary person to represent them, someone who is really in touch with real life, but it is difficult to be an effective candidate without personal financial strength.
Lib Dem MPs are generally very good at providing support to PPC’s if they possibly can: they have not forgotten the long hard slog to get into parliament, and mostly love campaigning.
Lib Dem PPC’s probably get heard more often in the process of policy-making than do PPC’s in larger parties. (It will be interesting to see whether this changes as the number of Lib Dem MP’s increases.)
There is considerably less of an issue with personal status in the Lib Dems. It is very impressive how responsive MP’s and Cowley St are to direct approaches.
However, if you are not in a held or target seat (or one with a by-election), the amount of money coming to your constituency is miserably small.
Well we are on the side of righteousness! Seriously, I think we have to lead a lot more from the front. There is far less financial support and so less paid staff and so consequently you are spending a lot of your time persuading volunteers why they should spend cold winter evenings delivering leaflets to get you elected. Labour/Tory PPCs have much more of an infrastructure around them. We have to be more innovative running our campaigns.
We also have less media profile and so have to rely on getting our message across through our literature and finding alternative ways of raising your profile. We are also more at the mercy of events. We all know that plenty of undistinguished Labour PPCs got elected in 1997 simply on the back of the national swing. I suspect many Tory PPCs will enjoy similar good fortune in 2010. Lib Dem PPCs know that they will have to earn it and are very unlikely to win any seats on national swings.
You have no legacy problems or issues, but you have a credibility gap to cross which can be very difficult and draining – you need to work twice or three times as hard as they do. We have no ‘safe’ seats.
i) Having a strong intellectual tradition that you can call on; ii) having many fewer resources to call on; and iii) never taking anything for granted.
1. No baggage of failure of policies and government
2. Power of alternative options for voters
3. People will see it as a tokenistic role as they will assume no real possibility of winning
In part 5 of The PPC Files (tomorrow): How has becoming a PPC affected your career?
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?
The PPC Files (3): What do your family and friends think about your decision to run for Parliament?