Look after your candidate

This is a long campaign, with more than another week to go. We’re no doubt all getting a bit tired, but keyed up by the feeling that things are going very well in our target seats, and that Ed Davey is coming across as the most human and likeable of the contending leaders. But don’t forget the strain that an election places on parliamentary candidates. All of us need to care for our candidates, make sure that they eat regularly and sleep enough, are supported by others when campaigning – and thanked and cherished when the campaign ends.

I fought five parliamentary elections, when campaigns were shorter and less intensely organized than now. 1974 was the most difficult: two general elections in one year, enough to jeopardise my career if I had not had a sympathetic department head and was fighting a seat in which I lived at one end and worked at the other. Nevertheless there was one point when I missed a local radio candidates’ debate, stuck in the middle of a housing estate on my own (with no mobile phones in those days for my agent to contact me). When I fought my last election, in Shipley in 1987, my brother-in-law took a week off to act as my driver and minder, which made life far easier. He worked out where I needed to be and when, could intervene to pull me away from over-enthusiastic (or aggressive) voters when needed, and got me back in time for my next appointment. A candidate should never be left on their own while campaigning, both for safety and for appearances. In one of our target seats last week I heard the comment that the ex-MP Conservative candidate had been seen canvassing on his own, looking as if he had been deserted by his own supporters.

Candidates in ‘moving forward’ seats have in some ways the hardest time: not benefitting from useful influxes of outside helpers and money, not expecting to win but nevertheless hoping that they somehow might. Candidates in non-target seats turn up to all-party meetings, keep the flag flying and the optimistic face visible while knowing that this time the effort is deliberately focussed elsewhere. Candidates in target seats will hope to have their lives turned upside down the day after the election: exhilaration combined with exhaustion and uncertainty about how to find their way round Westminster, recruit staff, disengage from their previous job and still pay enough attention to their family and friends. Constituency associations need to ensure that they thank their candidates afterwards, however the results have fallen out; and also to thank their partners, who will have coped with the strains of calming a hyperactive candidate while managing most of their shared life. Those who have come close to winning but missed will need the greatest sympathy and support.
We all give up leisure, earnings and personal priorities in a campaign. But the candidates give up the most, taking on the responsibility to appear confident, knowledgeable and optimistic at all times to inspire supporters and impress opponents. It’s impossible not to feel flat afterwards, just when all the neglected aspects of their personal and professional lives demand attention. I remember walking with my family along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal a few days after the 1987 election, thinking ‘I’ve got two really good children here; I ought to have been spending more time with them.’ ( We still have a picture of them, windswept at the Trig Point at the top of Baildon moor on election day, being looked after by the wife of one of our key workers. I will be showing her grandson round Parliament later in July, and will repeat my thanks.)

So cherish your candidate – up to the election but also afterwards. Let’s hope that a great many will be successful, which you must celebrate; but especially thank those who have campaigned very hard but have not made it this time. I recall a visit to Kingston in mid-campaign in 1997, when the young candidate told me optimistically that ‘I think I might get quite close this time.’ The next time I saw Ed Davey was at the first parliamentary meeting post-election, looking happy, tired and a little sheepish about having won. I look forward to seeing more of this campaigns’ candidates arriving in Parliament; but I will be one of those making sure that we thank all the others who have ensured that we mounted a national campaign, in which they played a vital supporting role.

* William Wallace is Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional issues in the Lords.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Robert SAYER 25th Jun '24 - 12:46pm

    Totally right. Having experienced the same stresses as described it can be lonely and you can believe that the most unwinnable seat can be won. But to those fighting in seats outside of the target ones , can I thank you for moving the party forward, you will have found new supporters ,workers and members. All the steps you are taking will in the long term bear fruit. Our grateful thanks

  • Graham Jeffs 25th Jun '24 - 4:25pm

    A truly excellent article.

    I do hope that we all do indeed cherish our candidates before and after the GE. Afterwards is so important.

    Meantime I also hope that the type of overbearing call that was made this last week to our candidate, ordering him to go elsewhere, is a very isolated example of totally unacceptable conduct by a regional official. Needless to say, he was ignored.

  • Also look after your agents/organisers. And agents/organisers look after yourselves and recognise when you’re not Ok.

    Of course that is often a lot easier to do with several years hindsight 🙁

  • And please try to make sure that your candidate doesn’t come down with the dreaded disease of candidate-itis, where, one week out, they suddenly think they can win from third or even fourth place and start campaigning hard on the High Street when they should be heading to that marginal constituency next door…..

  • We’re certainly doing our best to look after our candidates – and the general feeling (from candidates) is that they have been better supported this time than previously, not least with daily emails highlighting important dates and activities and a very large bank of draft replies and ‘lines to take’ for the barrage of demands from third-party organisations that a candidate pledges this, endorses that and signs up to all sorts of single issues (some sensible and some positively weird).
    @Graham Jeffs Asking a candidate who isn’t going to win (even with the most optimistic view of the polls and our canvassing results) to take people to work in a much-more-promising target or moving-forward seat isn’t ‘overbearing’ – it’s a very sensible campaign tactic, and has been part of our overall strategy from the beginning. With a following wind (which we might just have) people being willing to do this can potentially make a real difference to the results – turning seats which we would otherwise lose by a handful of votes into seats which we win by a handful of votes. In this game there are no prizes for coming a very good second.

  • Graham Jeffs 28th Jun '24 - 5:59pm

    Believe me, “overbearing” was a polite term. Also you are unaware of the context. We do not need to be preached to.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jun '24 - 7:30pm

    @ Margaret,

    “In this game there are no prizes for coming a very good second.”

    Actually there are.

    Most of Lib Dem gains at this election won’t simply be the result of the campaigning done in the last few weeks.

    Coming second in 2019 will be a major factor. A ‘very good second’ will be a better launch platform than a distant second

  • Most important we stick to the plan and do not deviate. To win 20 would be solid, 25 great and 30- 35 absolutely brilliant.
    Forget MRP’s, I have seen then giving North Shropshire to Labour, one even says Guildford will go Labour! On the opposite side we were shown in one 20% ahead in Bermondsey, I ask you, and leading comfortably in Cambridge, again ???
    Stick to the plan.

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