In praise of being a by-election candidate

It’s 18 months since Jamie Reed resigned as the MP for Copeland, forcing a very unexpected by-election.

I’d never intended standing for parliament.  I was very content running my own business and being a local (lowest level – unpaid) Councillor, campaigning on a local issue I was passionate about (keeping our maternity services).

Copeland was not a winnable seat (we had no Lib Dem councillors there and all the Lib Dems were in Stoke fighting Nuttall) but by-elections command a lot of party and media attention, so being the candidate gave me the chance to do many things I couldn’t have done in an unwinnable seat in a general election for example:

– Copeland contains Sellafield – the hub of the nuclear industry.  Our nuclear experts were very worried about the consequences of the UK pulling out of the Euratom agreement as part of Brexit.  Lord Teverson and Baroness Featherstone helped me get this issue rapidly on the Westminster agenda.  Because I was raising it in Copeland, the main party candidates had to know about it so their parties had to help them and this issue quickly gained cross party attention.

– I was also very concerned about a particularly toxic academy issue we faced.  The other candidates didn’t properly understand it but by raising it again and again and explaining it in depth at hustings I was able to make sure they did.  To her credit, Trudy Harrison (the elected Conservative MP) has got herself onto the Education Select Committee and is working hard on this issue.

– I was able to drive forward my work on our maternity issues with the help of Norman Lamb, Baroness Brinton and the local media.

 – I was able to be a role model for the kind of evidence-based inclusive democracy I believe in, for example I was able to set up hustings in areas that felt neglected.

I got high level training on working with the media and plenty of experience.  I got the support of very experienced politicians and my fantastic agent Andy Sanger and so was able to learn a great deal very quickly.

The credibility I gained during the by-election meant that I was elected to Cumbria County Council last May.  From there I’ve been able to continue to protect maternity services and I’ve been able to have a positive impact on more issues than I can count.  

I just wanted to write all this down in public so that people can draw on my account if they every need to persuade people to become by-election candidates.   If you want to make a positive different to this world you should jump at the chance to be a Lib Dem candidate in a by-election.

If you want to know more, my councillor website is here, my Facebook Lives from the by-election are on YouTube here, my education website is here and I’ve written this book about how we’ve worked to protect maternity services in West Cumbria.

* Rebecca Hanson is a teacher, a lecturer in education, an education adviser and a member of the LDEA committee. She was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Copeland by-election in 2017.

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  • David Evans 29th Jun '18 - 1:57pm

    Rebecca was and remains an excellent candidate and councillor. We can all gain from the lessons she has learned.

  • Well said Rebecca. I have always believed we as a party owe an immense debt of gratitude to all of our by election candidates. Especially perhaps those in the less promising areas. It’s great to hear that you got a lot out of the experience.

  • RUTH COLEMAN-TAYLOR 29th Jun '18 - 3:15pm

    Thanks Rebecca for this very informative piece and congratulations both in raising your key issues and continuing to have an impact on how these play out in your local community.
    As a former Councillor and several-times Parliamentary Candidate, I would add to this that you learn something by being a candidate in almost any election – however unwindable it seems! – and you can make an impact as a result of raising your profile by being a candidate. There are so many places out there which are not yet hearing the Liberal Democrat message. Being a candidate may be a scary thing but letting the status quo go unchallenged is a lot scarier.

  • Denis Mollison 1st Jul '18 - 8:28am

    I’m glad you found standing a positive experience. I enjoyed my brief contribution – one day of non-political volunteer work above Buttermere in the remotest corner of the constituency, and one day of leafletting near Sellafield, ending up with the hustings at Workington, where I thought you did very well – but sadly the proportion of voters that go to hustings and see their candidates discussing issues is small.

  • Inspiration to ALL potential candidates at all levels. They should this write up in training or thinking about being a candidate articles 🙂 I helped a little bit in your campaign, so happy it led to positive outcomes .. ie becoming a County Councillor 🙂

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