Always Speak up to be Selected

On 15th October, Sheffield South East selected me as their parliamentary candidate. The city has six constituencies. Sheffield Hallam members selected Laura Gordon to replace Nick Clegg last year, leaving five Sheffield constituencies needing candidates selected that evening. Though Sheffield Central was contested (congratulations to Shaffaq Mohammed), the remaining four were not.

Sheffield South East is not a target seat. Although 40 members were present, only two were eligible to vote in my selection. Had I not attended, I may still have won.

In uncontested selections at both council and parliamentary level, candidates understandably do limited preparation for their speeches at hustings. Why bother when you know you’ll probably win anyway and you’re essentially doing the party a favour? Well, I chose to do things a little differently, and I think you should too.

Firstly, the standard of public speaking (even amongst some of our MPs, somewhat shockingly) is often poor. This is a chance for you to practise. Set-piece political speeches are not the same as delivering a work presentation or running a seminar – they are all about persuasion. It’s a different art and one that takes practice.

Secondly, when I was a new University debater, one of my trainers said, “you don’t often get people forced to listen to you for 5 minutes – enjoy it”. In a debate, you don’t choose the topics. As a non-target candidate, you can say what you like. Set out your vision for the party; say what you think we should do next.

Thirdly, selections are exciting and may attract new members. The Sheffield Hallam selection was the most exciting Liberal Democrat event I have attended since I joined in 2015. Even if your seat is uncontested, you can inspire, tell your story and give the event a liveliness that makes members both old and new want to come back for more.

Despite only needing to win two votes, several folks very kindly complimented me afterwards. (Including, somewhat surprisingly, the returning officer after the result had been announced.)

This depends on your other time commitments. More folks (especially women, ethnic minorities, LGBT, and disabled candidates) need to stand, and if you don’t have the time to do a proper speech, it shouldn’t put you off.

Being a former President of a university debating society, debating at school, hosting a community group called Sunday Assembly and even having done some stand-up, I have done quite a bit of public speaking. The bottom line?

All these skills are teachable. However, they take practise and opportunity.

If you only read one thing about public speaking, I recommend Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson, a retired speechwriter who ran workshops in the Reagan White House and wrote for a certain Paddy Ashdown.

You may not reach the level of Benn or Margaret Thatcher, but you only improve if you try.

(PS: if you are at an event where you are in the audience asking a question, ask a question, don’t make a speech. It’s not about you, and you’re selfish. If you’re hosting an event with audience questions, make it clear that you will be ruthless in telling people to be quiet if they ramble. Then be ruthless. If it’s not clear where somebody is going in 30 seconds, ask them to sit down. Otherwise, it’s going to take another five minutes.)

* Rajin Chowdhury is a junior doctor specialising in anaesthetics and critical care. He has been selected as Sheffield South East parliamentary candidate

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  • chris moore 17th Oct '18 - 9:29am

    Congratualtions on your selection, Rajin.

    Delighted to see another (relatively) new member as a PPC.

  • John Marriott 17th Oct '18 - 9:44am

    Good luck, mate; but don’t give up the day job yet. The NHS is going to need you for quite some time to come!

  • Michael Bukola 17th Oct '18 - 10:24am

    Many Congratulations Rajin, I have every respect for those of us fighting the good fight in Labour-facing constituencies. I have fought two General Elections and 3 local election campaigns against Labour in similar urban areas in Inner London and found my campaigns enjoyable and thoroughly worthwhile.

    May I suggest you and any of your colleagues based in Sheffield, join the new Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality (LDCRE) [].

  • Ian Patterson 17th Oct '18 - 1:45pm

    I hope Rajin does well. Very surprised to read that his selectorate was 2 people. Was Sheffield SE moribund at constituency level?

  • I suspect John Marriott may be correct.

    Sheffield South East is a paradigm example of what has happened to Lib Dem support as a consequence of the activities of a former member for a neighbouring constituency. Second place and 23% in 2010. Fourth place and 3% in 2017.

    It wasn’t moribund in 2010 – but plenty of material there for an aspiring stand up comic specialising in critical care.

  • chris moore 18th Oct '18 - 9:46am

    His selectorate was 2, but there were 40 members present, a decent turn out, as there was no contest.

  • Simon Banks 31st Dec '18 - 5:12pm

    David Raw: There are two possible explanations. One is that there had been a huge surge in new members who were not yet allowed to vote for a parliamentary candidate (I understand rules vary by region on this, but the reason for such restrictions was a fear of entryism). Given the numbers, though, I suspect the answer is that selections for different Sheffield non-target seats were carried out together (sensible – saves a lot of money) and the 38 other members were mainly not in his constituency. Boundary revisions complicate things further. I’d guess from what Rajin says, that his constituency is merged with others in one local party, probably all-Sheffield.

    Rajin: you not only have to persuade doubters; you have to enthuse believers. One of the main roles of a PPC is to fire up the activists and potential activists.

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