The PPC Files (1): the 3 worst things about being a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate

Imagine what it’s like to be a Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate – tasked with leading and motivating a group of diverse volunteers against all the odds, and organising foot-slogging campaigns on a shoe-string budget that will get you and the party noticed.

Lib Dem Voice contacted a dozen PPCs to find out what they really think about the experience. We guaranteed anonymity to ensure those responding felt able to say what they think, and not simply stick to the obligatory it’s-such-a-privilege line. Of the 12, seven are men and five women, and they include one ethnic minority candidate. The constituencies they hope to represent range from the south to the north, and include Lib Dem marginals and ‘no hope’ seats.

In today’s first instalment of The PPC Files, our ‘golden dozen’ tell us the three worst things about being a Lib Dem PPC:

No time for leisure / family
Need a 48 day to balance campaigning and earning a living
Need LOTS AND LOTS of money – fundraising a huge problem

i) It’s a colossal commitment of time, emotional energy and money – the activity of the campaign across the whole constituency over time maps well to my own emotional state; ii) you rarely get personally thanked, yet you must (there is no option) exhibit boundless enthusiasm and energy; lead from the front and push from behind, and remember to be grateful to everyone who helps however useless / annoying they may be; and iii) knowing that despite having delivered five leaflets through
that door, when you knock on it they’ll claim to have never heard from you, ever.

Lots of expenses, but, err, no expenses – being a candidate is a financial black-hole.
You find you can delegate responsibility for success, but you can’t delegate blame for failure.
Helping the local party members explore and resolve their (mostly negative) feelings towards each other.

Not knowing whether any of the hard work will pay off. Internal squabbling and politics. (Understandble) fact that most members see Lib Dem campaigning as a very peripheral part of their lives.

1. Those councillors who have become too grand to care about the health of the party at its grass-roots.
2. The quantity of financial appeals from Cowley Street and the Region which members receive during the course of the year. It makes it several times more time-consuming than it should be raising additional money for the party locally.
3. The sudden squalls over quite trivial details of national policy – sometimes resulting in a rash of resignations. (Are Lib Dems peculiarly susceptible to such problems?) Lots of time and effort can be wasted getting over such episodes.

Balancing normal life with politics. I’m getting married soon, have a mortgage to pay, want to start a family and improve my career prospects. But I also want to commit every waking hour to making a difference for my community and country and to getting elected to Parliament. It is not an impossible balance, but it is not a walk in the park either.

Keeping going when the political cycle is against you. You win some, you lose some, and when the tide is against us it is difficult to keep going forward all the time, especially when local members and supporters always look to you to take a lead.

People have no idea what it is like being politically active or what it means to be a candidate. There is so much ignorance. A secondary school headteacher thought I got paid an MPs wage to be the candidate, many think the party pays for everything including your salary. When I get phoned at 10pm on a Sunday night by a resident they think its my staffed personal office rather than my home.

So many people assuming the worst motives of you.
Your own team not recognising you to be a volunteer like them.
Often feeling guilty for not spending every possible moment on the campaign.

The amount of time one needs to spend away from one’s family; the limitations imposed upon one’s ‘real’ (i.e., money-earning) career; the occasional failure of colleagues/the party hierarchy to appreciate that one can legitimately have priorities and interests beyond the party.

Not enough time or money for all the things you would like to campaign on; the cost of standing; not having enough time to do anything other than being a mother, candidate and running a business.

Juggling your life, job and candidacy; financial pressures of your campaign; always having to lead from the front and cajole people into doing more than they are comfortable with.

In Part 2 of The PPC Files (tomorrow): What do you wish you’d known before being selected as a PPC?

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  • One of the oddest things I found about being a PPC was that most local members were not political at all and some actually resented things becoming political.

    I felt it was a bit like being elected as chair of a golf club but everyone getting cheesed off with you if you actually wanted to play golf!

  • Giles Cranning 28th Jul '08 - 10:13am

    I am a PPC from another party and it is reassuring to know that it is no different elsewhere.

    All you ever hear are complaints that you are not doing enough when those complaining actually do bugger all themselves.

  • Grammar Police 28th Jul '08 - 10:57am

    I’m not a PPC but have been a council candidate and am a ward rep – the ignorance point really rings true. Most members of the public seem to think you get paid to deal with their problems and can’t understand when you don’t have an office and staff.

    Even members and supporters occasionally don’t recognise that the party lives or dies by its volunteers – many are “far too busy” to spend 20 minutes a few times a year delivering leaflets down their road, but complain lots if they don’t hear from the party, or there’s no campaigning going on where they live.

  • Chris Keating’s approach shows the levels of borderline contempt some on the campaigns side have towards candidates.

  • We need to consider how the party can make it easier for candidates.

    For instance, PPCs with children could be given funding for one day’s childminding per week. I know an experienced minder who only costs £35 per day and (out of London) that is not exceptional.

    It’s not much to spend to give PPCs several more free hours in the week.

    Actually, its the sort of help plenty of old ladies in local parties would gladly provide for free if asked. I know my Mum would rather look after a PPCs kids than stuff envelopes any day!

    Help paid for by the party could, if necessary, be limited to target or ‘moving forward’ seat PPCs.

    I have encountered the mistaken belief that PPCs are paid.

    It may be worth mentioning in PPC’s post-selection press releases, and elsewhere, that they are in fact unpaid volunteers.

  • Well I have to say that second-time around all of these comments are true – and indeed, I have experienced just about every facet of them.

    I remain convinced though that PPCs do a vital job – even if too much is expected of us by both the local and national parties, from whom support is often very limited.

  • I’m sure I hear the voice of my local candidate in these quotes – but I’m not sure quite in which one!

    It is easy to sympathise with the struggles of building a community network across a transient and fragmented society, but this is the test of ability for the job. It is just a shame that so much personal sacrifice is wasted by the institutional set-up to no real ends.

  • Martin Land 28th Jul '08 - 3:14pm

    I view this seriously, but with just a little amusement. I have a successful, very well-funded local party full of committed activists, and 30 councillors who have doubled their share of the vote in the last two GE’s and even when we advertise, we don’t get any applicants. Maybe PPC’s should do a little more research before they commit to some of these seats? And make sure before they commit that the local party is really committed to supporting them?

  • Antony Hook 28th Jul '08 - 3:25pm

    Think of it as spending money to buy extra hours for your PPC to campaign unhindered.

  • Peter Welch 28th Jul '08 - 5:13pm

    Martin – Outsiders look at those 30 candidates and decide that one of the locals will want to do it, so don’t apply. This is a hazard of success.

  • Interesting and important as this is, I think I would go along with Chris’s view that it makes for a somewhat one-sided and demoralising take on things.

    You could equally do a survey of activists asking them what they like least about candidates (in general!) but I’m not convinced it would be a productive exercise.

    People should certainly know what they are getting themselves into, but is this really the forum to achieve that?

  • Chris Keating 28th Jul '08 - 9:54pm

    Jo, I don’t think it’s fair to expect candidates to be perfect!

  • Returning to the discussion at the start of the comments section, rather than depress wannabe PPCs, perhaps the statements (in the original piece) might encourage those LibDem activists working with PPCs to be a bit nicer to them next time they meet them – perhaps even to say thanks!

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