I have been asked to write a few words about the cost of being a prospective parliamentary candidate. Where to begin? The first thing to say is that I remain convinced that being selected as the PPC for my party and for my home town was an enormous privilege – a life event which I will always cherish. I was selected in September 2012 to fight to win back the seat for Labour which had been lost to the Tories in 2010.
As an ex-soldier I can only think of the campaign in terms of military phrases such as ‘friendly forces’, ‘enemy forces’, ‘vital ground’, ‘key terrain’, etcetera. And like most military campaigns my candidature became dependent upon logistics and the availability of resources. Keeping going was a challenge in itself – three years is a long time to commit not only for yourself but for your family too.
What I learnt was this: the campaign was underpinned by ‘three magic elements’:
And that it is possible to be an effective candidate while only having two of the three. So for me I began my candidature enjoying having both the ability to self-fund my own campaign expenses through being in full-time employment and the ability to dedicate a reasonable amount of time. The constituency was my home town – where I grew up, went to school and where I returned to on leave while serving in the army. But by the time I was selected I was based three hours away in London. With my parents living in the constituency, this was manageable while I retained the time and the money to forge ahead with the campaign.
Other elements came into play such as the performance of the ‘ground war’ and the ‘air war’. In this regard I have the very best memories of the ‘ground war’ – so many local supporters who lent a hand leafleting, knocking doors, or just being there as a friendly face at a street stall or hustings. I also learnt just how much time and energy is needed to battle to transmit your message – I sought to get at least a couple of press releases into the local press every week and was successful. However, this required almost constant activity.
A year into the campaign I lost my job but was able to find another so I continued to juggle being the candidate with the time travelling and being away from my wife and one-year-old daughter. The support of the previous Labour member of parliament, a clutch of outstanding councillors, my organiser, agent and supporters plus an array of organisations such as Progress, Labour Finance and Industry Group, Unite, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the Fire Brigades Union, kept me and the campaign on track. I was proud to stand and proud to speak on any number of local issues from the unprecedented rise in the use of foodbanks to the need to ensure good mental health care.
The cost of being a candidate came to be realised on entering the second year of the campaign – as a family we were trying to spend more time in the constituency, we had put our house on the market and our lives were revolving around preparing for the forthcoming election. I lost my job again – the impact being that I no longer had the ‘three magic elements’ (location, time or money). When you do not have the money to travel it becomes difficult to be in the right location (the constituency) and therefore your time is squeezed (not only in keeping the campaign going but looking for work too). Of the ‘three magic elements’ the most visible and perhaps the most important is location – being on the ground speaking with potential voters and supporters. As on a military operation you can have as much fancy gadgetry as you like wielded with skill from afar but at the end of the day you can only truly and effectively hold ground if you are standing on it (and preferably ‘dugin’).
‘Doing politics’ is not easy – in life the things that are really worth winning very rarely are easily attained. Faced with the enormous opportunity of standing to be elected as the Labour MP for my home town or stepping down we chose to fight on. My wife, now having had our second child, went back to work from maternity leave four months earlier than planned and I volunteered to serve as a full-time army reservist. We fought on.
I did not and do not expect any sort of sympathy. Being the candidate was tough: it cost thousands of pounds, hundreds of hours on late-night trains, and significant strain on family life. But was it worth it? Yes, 100 per cent yes. Belonging to the Labour and trade union movement is a privileged opportunity to stand up for others who face real, unsought-for plight, and an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with like-minded people to give today for a better tomorrow.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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