Being a PPC with a Snap GE looming….

Needless to say, I have been busy lately! As have been PPCs and candidate selection teams up and down the country with the threat of looming General Election. Exciting times!

This uncertainty plays havoc with our mental health. We all have mental health, as we all have physical health. Not knowing whether one’s life is going to be put on hold in a few hours time for the next six weeks can be extraordinarily stressful.

At our local exec last night our team well-being was raised by a wise and concerned seasoned campaigner. He wanted us to first of all recognise the dangers of a 24/7 campaign and the huge pressure it puts everyone under; and secondly have a way of supporting our activists.

I have been at a lot of training sessions over the years since approved as a PPC in 2014. I can not remember any ALDC or party training in protecting and preserving the health and well-being of our campaigners and activists. There are usually lots of jokes about the junk food we all consume and the weight we gain due to poor hours, lack of sleep and not looking after ourselves – a feeling that our bodies might take a bashing during the campaign but its all worth it in the sacrifice for the Greater Good, i.e. winning.

I made it very clear last night at our exec meeting, and was fully supported by our local party Chair, that the health and well-being of everyone fighting to get me elected MP was extremely important to me. That I was aware of the stress I personally was under and would be making sure I had time with my family and away from the campaign. This would make me a better candidate all the other hours of the week.

We don’t have a local party well-being officer here (do any local parties?) – but we did agree to encourage a campaign buddy system – that people would have someone to offload to and share worries with that they might not wish to air in a wider team meeting. We are still developing our practices, so ideas of what others have done in their constituencies/local parties to protect the health and well-being of activists would be useful.

Going forward, I’d like to see a new notice put along side the Committee Room notice, and indeed used in all campaign offices, which highlights health and well-being during a campaign: drink lots of water; eat regular healthy meals; take time away from the campaign to be with family and friends; have a campaign buddy to share concerns with; contact details of the local party chair (or other designated person) for serious complaints of harassment or bullying.

This is a brain dump this morning after a late night keeping up with the shenanigans at Westminster and an early start as I have a train to catch for a London meeting – it would be great to have feedback on these ideas. I will put one final plug in for Mental Health First Aid – I’m trained up, as is Norman Lamb MP – it would be good to have a Mental Health First Aider in each local party. But in the meantime, let’s recognise the potential for team stress, anxiety and exhaustion, and support our activists to deliver the healthiest campaign possible.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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8 Comments

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Sep '19 - 1:01pm

    You are so right Kirsten. Politics can be all consuming and result in total burn out unless you have endless stamina and energy. We need to have a culture in which people can say ‘I need to have a break’ without being regarded as lacking in commitment. It isn’t just PPCs, although a heavier burden of expectation falls on them, activists at all levels should be able to do the same. For a long time ALDC had a slogan ‘where we work we win’ which could lead people to beat themselves up if they didn’t win. It isn’t true of course. As Lib Dems we won’t win if we don’t work hard because we have few, if any, safe seats, but we can give more than our best and still lose.
    Many years ago when I worked for a charity we had a volunteer’s charter and someone reminded me the other day that party activists are all volunteers. Perhaps something similar would help to clarify the expectations the party has for our volunteer activists at every level. In the meantime saying thank you is a good way of boosting morale.
    So, thank you Kirsten for being an excellent PPC who deserves to win and for caring about the welfare of those who are working hard on your behalf and on behalf of our party, and, I think, on behalf of our divided country.

  • It’s a long time since I stood as a candidate – but I had one rule in each of the three constituencies I fought (none of which I lived in). There had to be somewhere I could go and ‘die’ – sit/lie down, take my shoes off, be fed coffee/cake/whisky (late evenings only) and generally receive a bit of TLC before putting the shoes back on again and going back into the fray.
    Constituency/campaign HQ wasn’t that place.
    Each time, a super person/family stepped up to provide this – and I still have three sets of very good friends as a result.

    Maybe it should go into the Candidate’s Compact?

  • Kirsten Johnson 5th Sep '19 - 9:46am

    I like the idea of a Volunteers’ Charter, Sue. Something we should try to take forward maybe with ALDC? Margaret, having a place to rest is, I agree, key.

    To all readers, to clarify, I am concerned about all activists being overworked and not being looked after. Yes, PPCs are often pushed too hard, but there are many other campaigners who are also under great stress in GE and local campaigns.

  • Philip Knowles 5th Sep '19 - 11:33am

    The need for a break was emphasised at the PPC Summit yesterday.
    One thing that also needs emphasising is that the Candidate needs a driver who knows the area. Arriving at an event stressed because of driving in traffic, looking for parking spaces and thinking about what you are about to do or say is not good for anybody.
    Scheduling food and comfort breaks was mentioned yesterday too. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs still holds. It’s difficult to be patient and coherent when you’re bursting for a pre.

  • David Rogers 5th Sep '19 - 4:43pm

    Kirsten I agree with your hastily-assembled list of things needed to support PPCs, and the ideas added by others. You will know this, but the practical points about a suitable place for TLC, and a driver who knows the area, will need to be replicated several (?many) times over in a large rural constituency like North Devon!

  • “I have been at a lot of training sessions over the years since approved as a PPC in 2014. I can not remember any ALDC or party training in protecting and preserving the health and well-being of our campaigners and activists. ”

    Back in the run up to 97 there were such training sessions and ALDC ran things like that at Leader’s weekends and in publications. That had dropped off the ‘curriculum’ by 2009 onwards.

    The party was very very bad at supporting people IME. It was only after leaving I realised just how much it had f****d up my mental health.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Sep '19 - 4:18pm

    Sadly Kirsten is no longer the PPC after her car-crash interview on Radio 4 at the weekend.

    https://www.devonlive.com/news/news-opinion/naive-lib-dem-candidate-victim-3336312

    It just goes to show how important media training with a combative interviewer is before you get anywhere near a public presence.

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