Friday, April 02, 2010

Twenty Pieces of Advice to Election Candidates

I've just been re-reading my blogposts from the last election campaign in 2005. The experience brought back lots of memories - not all of them bad! But it did make me think about the pitfalls of being a candidate and how to get through an election campaign intact. For what it's worth, here's my advice to first time candidates...

  1. You can't do everything yourself. Let others take the strain. You are the leader of the campaign. Act like it.
  2. Keep your cool. There will be moments in the campaign when you want to scream your head off. Resist the temptation. Count to ten. Then count to twenty.
  3. Your campaign workers are volunteers. They don't have to turn out to help you. They do it because they want to. Motivate them. Treat them well.
  4. Make sure all your literature is proof read. Three times. And not by you.
  5. If you have a campaign blog, never write a spontaneous blogpost. Always run it by someone else first. Be incredibly careful what you tweet. Imagine your name in bold print in the Daily Mirror. If you hesitate before pressing SEND, it probably means you shouldn't.
  6. Make sure you keep to your normal sleep patterns. You may think you are Superman/Superwoman, but you're not. You need your sleep. Make sure you get it.
  7. You don't need to hold a long campaign meeting every morning. Three times a week is usually enough. Make sure that the only people who attend are those who really should. Restrict meetings to half an hour.
  8. Posters do not gain extra votes. But they make your local party feel good and give your campaign the appearance of momentum. Do not put them up too early. And do not put them up all at once. And if they get ripped down, make sure your campaign team has a strategy for replacing them within 24 hours.
  9. Personalise your Sorry You Were Out Cards. Include your ten campaign pledges on them. And include an apparently handwritten message and signature.
  10. Do not drive anywhere yourself. Especially, do not drive your campaign vehicle. Appoint a PA who will drive you everywhere and cater for your every whim.Tell them to make sure you eat properly, and regularly. McCoys, Coke and Mars Bars do not a healthy diet make.
  11. If Party HQ offer you the chance of a visit from a politician even you have barely heard of, turn them down. Even if you have heard of them, consider turning them down. Visits from national politicians use up too many resources and rarely attract a single extra vote.
  12. Don't canvas before 10am or after 8.30pm. It looks desperate and annoys people. And be very careful about canvassing on Sundays. People don't like it. Use Sundays to catch up on deliveries in areas with no deliverers.
  13. Resist the temptation to strangle the next person who asks "How's it going?" or "Are you going to win?". They're only being polite.
  14. If you're in a high profile marginal seat which the media find interesting, avoid spending half your day giving them interviews. Your only media focus is local. Ignore Michael Crick. He's not there to help you.
  15. Avoid the natural desire to believe what voters tell you on the doorstep. Most of them will tell you what you want to hear in order to get you off the doorstep. If they say "I'll see how I feel on the day" you can safely put them down as a Liberal Democrat.
  16. Your Get Out The Vote operation is more important than anything else you do during the campaign. Satisfy yourself that your Agent and Campaign Manager have it in hand and they know what they are doing.
  17. Ignore those who tell you not to appear at your count until it is well underway. It's your moment. Relish it. Prepare your speech. If you lose unexpectedly, you will be remembered for how you react. Act graciously towards your opponents during the counting and in your speech.
  18. If you lose, you will be tempted to blame someone. Your party leader. Your local party. Anyone but yourself. Don't. Whatever your personal thoughts, no one likes a bad loser. Be dignified and take it on the chin.
  19. If you win, hubris may take over. It really wasn't all down to you, you know. And make sure others know you know that.
  20. Make sure you write a personal thank you letter - and I mean write, not type - to all those who helped on your campaign. Do it within a week of polling day. You really could not have done it without them.
Good luck, and try to enjoy it!


Tricia said...

Very good advice, Iain, and most of it what I would have said when I was an Agent. The no driving is particularly important. I remember having to emphasise that to candidates at Parly by-elections. And sometimes they get caught out. Think of the bad publicity if they are involved in an accident, or even a broken down car or flat tyre. The last thing their campaign needs is for them to be involved in a public argument with another irate driver. If someone else is driving, they can walk away when another car is arranged for them.

Terry White said...

About as good advice as is possible I'd say, and not just to aspiring politicians either!

Antisthenes said...

I wish to add one more. If you are serious about winning, make sure you lie, obfuscate and kiss lots of babies. That's how the others do it who get elected especially the Labour candidates.

Margot James said...

Salutory words Iain and excellent advice - thanks and good luck to everyone else studying this advice!

bertie said...


I was interested to read your tips, but as an ex conservative agent from the dim and distant past (circa 1979), I must disagree with the first one. The candidate doees not lead the campaign - the agent does, its his/her job. I can clearly remember from my training days that the candidate was described as a legal necessity to allow the professionals to get on with the job in hand!

G Laird said...

Dear Iain

I liked your 20 points.

You are correct about volunteers, free help is sorely needed at this time because everyone is in the same boat.

I would also add a 21, make sure you feed and water your volunteers, a cup of tea and a sandwich does wonders.

And make sure the campaign organiser is a people person.

You get more out of volunteers by being proactive to help them enjoy the experience.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

Derek Wall said...

Sound advice, thank you.

Unknown said...

Oh, I have another one: make sure your Party is not going to spend 97 billion pounds on nuclear weapons before running as candidates.

Unknown said...

Point 1 - The candidate is NOT tyhe leader of the team the agent is. The candidtae is the nice smily face to the public and the workers, but the agent is in charge.

Martin S said...

Iain, you should expand this in to a book. Seriously. It would sell well across all parties.

Especially if you include sections on local elections, assemblies, European Elections, etc.

Old Holborn said...

Hmmm. Interesting post.

How much of it would apply to an independant?

Chris Lovell said...

Great post Iain.

You've inspired me to write my own for council candidates.

leftpeg said...

With advice like this, how can any candidate possibly lose? Oh...

Ben said...

What's next? The Gianfranco Zola guide for first time managers? ;)

John Demetriou said...

OH said:

"Hmmm. Interesting post.

How much of it would apply to an independant?"

They'd probably need to learn how to spell first. Might help.

But then, from a coward in a mask, I guess there are other hurdles to jump before the big stuff comes into play.

Nich Starling said...

Well point 12 is clearly wrong. I canvassed on a Sunday prior to my recent by-election gain from the Tories (in order to complete my 100% door knock) and it was some of the best canvassing I got done. Tremendous response.

As for "never after 8.30", if it's light, keep going until 9.00pm.