A candidate’s tale: Part 2

Today Richard continues his account of his campaign in Macclesfield in the General Election. You can read Part 1 here.

We planned a campaign to make maximum use of social media – the leafleting of the 21st Century. (Don’t worry. We had plenty of leaflets too!)

Having practiced our high-visibility public-facing events – canvassing and hustings – we captured them in photos and posted through Facebook and Twitter, so people could see we were out there talking to the voters, taking the campaign seriously. A weekend’s events could be spread over the week to keep the stories alive and interest up.

Add to that our Election Countdown – so popular we shared with several other local parties. From 21 days out, a new graphic card each day with the number of days to the election illustrated by an appropriate Liberal Democrat achievement or pledge – or a Tory disappointment.

Hustings turned out to be a strength.

Top tip: do read the manifesto. My Labour opponent turned up to our first hustings still struggling to make his way through Labour’s document. I’d read ours a week before. Thanks to the leak, I’d read his a week before that. That level of being unprepared shows, and leads to scrabbling around trying to pick an answer from scraps of paper.

But the manifesto isn’t everything. A solid grounding in Liberal tradition, history and philosophy helped give depth and background to many of my answers. Make sure you know key details about the seat too – which schools are facing funding cuts; where is the local green belt under threat; what pressures is the hospital under, will the Town Centre development ever be completed? It’s important to show we care about the issues that are important to the people we’re asking to support us.

It all generated a buzz. People knew we were out there trying.

There is an emotional toll. Even in a seat that isn’t in the full glare of a winnable campaign. I’m ashamed to say there was one evening when I just lost my temper completely, and irrationally. That stack of books is never going to argue back again. Bless my husband, Alex, for putting up with me then, and every other day. I’m not ashamed to say that I did break down in tears on Election Day reading a Facebook post from one person with terminal cancer, voting Liberal Democrat knowing they would never see a Liberal Democrat government. I can barely imagine the roller coaster Tim Farron, or Nick Clegg, had to go through.

There were things that didn’t work – our traffic stopping event planned to coincide with a visit to the Macclesfield Treacle Market had to be called off when it turned out the Treacle Market had emailed the wrong Lib Dem branch asking to be kept politics-free. I never properly managed to get connected to the candidates support from the central party. Mostly that meant writing my own replies to the endless emails, though I’d probably have ended up doing that anyway. I did get calls from Great George Street, though, who were supportive and then genuinely delighted when I pre-empted them by saying I was already in the target seat working.

And there were the tragedies: Manchester. London Bridge. The strangely moving vigil and being accepted to stand as a community representative, united in grief and stoic rejection of terror.

But in spite of all that, I remember the successes: hundreds of doors knocked on, hundreds of emails answered, thousands of leaflets delivered, my personal pledge not to sign any pledges outside of our manifesto kept, people coming up to us at hustings saying I’d convinced them on the day to change their vote.

In a way, the best of being in a seat we were not expected to win was that it liberated us to fight a campaign based on hope, to go out to people and offer our manifesto and our Liberal Democratic values: education and opportunity, enterprise and environment, part of a greater world, for a brighter future.

And that meant 3350 people voting Liberal Democrat, choosing hope rather than Labour’s unfunded promises of ponies for everyone, or Tory scare stories of vote for nurse for fear of something worse.

The high point of the campaign: getting a spontaneous round of applause from the school hustings for telling them that they had a married LGBT+ candidate in front of them. There’s hope for the future right there.

Now we have to plan our target wards for the County elections, deliver our thank yous and look at starting some surveys.  One election isn’t an end, only a new beginning.

Big thanks to:

Sam (@DesignMonkeysUK), Jo (@jomaitland), Andrew, Ahmad, Max and Stephen and particularly my patient agent Gareth.

And all at @macclibdems


* Richard Flowers has been a Party member for 20 years. He’s campaigned in many an election, stood as a local councillor, and Parliamentary candidate, was Chair of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, and in 2020 was Liberal Democrat candidate for the Greater London Assembly constituency of City and East. He is currently English Party Treasurer. Thanks to Liberal Democrats in government, he is married to his husband Alex Wilcock. He also helps Millennium Elephant to write his Very Fluffy Diary.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sue Sutherland 23rd Jun '17 - 1:24pm

    Well done Richard and thank you for your interesting reports which I’m sure will help other candidates in the next GE whenever it is.
    I was a bit saddened that you felt not being a target seat meant you could offer people hope based on our manifesto and values because it sounded as if the national campaign hadn’t offered that hope. I’m not sure that it did and that is why Labour were more successful at winning hearts and minds.

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Jun '17 - 9:53am

    Nice account Richard,
    I think what we have to ask ourselves is why an effective campaign (I wager more effective than the others, locally) in a safe Tory seat with a significant Remain vote like Macclesfield, a seat where we were getting 25% not so long ago, still resulted in us losing votes? Surely we were not squeezed locally? Why did Remain voters in many parts of London, in Bath, Oxford, St. Alban’s swing behind us during the campaign but desert us during the campaign in most of the north? In Huddersfield we did far more locally than the Tories, and as much as Labour apart from some expensive regional mailings but got 2% in places where we have local councillors…..

  • Joe Winstanley 24th Jun '17 - 5:59pm


    Well done to you and the team for carrying out such a positive campaign, it was encouraging to see some Lib Dem posters popping-up in new locations across the constituency. I look forward to lending my time and support in next years local elections.

    Whilst knocking on many 100’s of doors in neighbouring Hazel Grove, I very quickly found out that there was a very limited appetite for a second referendum, even amongst many long-term LD’s who voted to remain. I was also very surprised by the number of long-term LD voters that disclosed that they had voted to leave.

    I agree that Macclesfield is winnable in the not too distant future, and one only has to look back to the 23% vote share in 2010 to gain further encouragement. That said, I’m not sure the proposed changes within the Boundary Commission’s 2018 Review will help. I’m sure there are more potential LD voters in Poynton and Disley than in Wilmslow and Peover. Although perhaps the hung-Parliament makes the revisions less likely?

    I don’t envisage the post-Brexit economic landscape favouring many of the constituencies larger employers, notably Astra-Zeneca, and the likely impact on the local dairy and livestock industry is potentially catastrophic, with farmers facing the unenviable treble whammy of export tariffs being applied to their largest overseas market, the weakening of SPS protection measures which will open the floodgates to cheap US food imports, and the inevitable reduction in support payments.

    I mention farming, as although farmers make up a very small proportion of the electorate in the constituency, they do have the potential to wield a disproportionate influence because of land that they own either side of the constituencies major thoroughfares. You don’t need to get that many farmers on board to win the ‘poster war’ which, if nothing else, can impact on the oppositions morale. Food for thought I would suggest.

    Finally, when you wrote: ‘some pretty underhand use of questionable numbers’, I think that is a rather generous assessment, but perhaps that’s a conversation for another day…

    All the best.


  • Wonderful stuff

  • Ahmad Arafa 3rd Jul '17 - 12:35pm

    A big thank you to you, Richard – it was a pleasure campaigning with you!

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