Despite what some politicians say, elections are actually quite an unsettling time for them. The public are in effect making a judgement on who they want to be their representative in an area for the next 4 years and this can sometimes be an uncomfortable personal message to hear. It might also be life changing for their personal circumstances.
As someone who has both won and lost on a number of occasions, I have come to learn many lessons about elections and lesson number 1 goes like this:-
A voter has the absolute right to choose who they like based on whatever reason they like.
This sounds obvious but can actually be a great frustration for every candidate when faced by a voter in the doorstep! This is because they have a certain message they want to put across to the great British public. Instead, they find people with a massive range of public interest in political affairs ranging from being absolutely fanatical to completely uninterested and all the spectrums inbetween. But every single voter has the same 1 vote to use if they so wish.
I mention this because we are now in a campaign where I am one of the candidates in an election for Surrey County Council. This means that whoever wins in each of the 81 divisions ends up as the local rep and therefore link with schools, youth centres, roads, social care and other similar services.
For many voters however, they see this as an opportunity to express their views on other completely unrelated matters such as their view on the present or previous Government, the economy, immigration, Europe, party leaders etc. etc. Despite our efforts to politely inform them that whoever they choose can do nothing in those areas, they still wish to vote accordingly and good luck to them…it is not for any of us to complain if they choose to vote in this way. I can remember personally losing my then Watchetts seat in 2003 exactly like this with people repeatedly saying that they weren’t going to support me due to the war in Iraq!
For others, they do not have the slightest interest in any of the policies being put forward but they do want to know about the people and especially if someone is standing who they know or are connected with in some way. This is particularly true in local elections where people live, work or “play” with many of the candidates. In effect, they want to vote for their friend or even someone they vaguely know on the grounds that they can then approach them should the need arise. Every candidate in every election has a personal vote of some description and this is because a personal link will often trump someone’s political views which are rarely strong.
For others, they will pick according to apparent random issues such as who they think is the best looking, has the funniest name, lives nearest to them (all of which I have heard) or some other non political reason.
This leads on to lesson number 2…
“The electorate are always right”
This lesson is again really hard especially when extremist candidates win such as the BNP (thankfully not standing in Surrey Heath) or when people have such low awareness that they still think we have a Labour government or that Mrs Thatcher was in the Labour Party (yes I have met such people in the last month).
The best way I can describe it is a bit like applying for a job but instead of a interview panel of 4 or 5 people, the decision is made by over 10000 deciding! But whether someone wins by 1 vote or 10000, they still have a bigger mandate than any officer as the public chose them. For that reason, I have always come to the view that you should win humbly or lose gracefully and always respect whatever the public result regardless of whether you agree with it or how others behave.
And the final lesson I have learnt is this..
Be focused on your own campaign
In my particular election, there are 2 other candidates who are also running active campaigns in different political parties. I wish them good luck and good health over the next week and recognise the hard work and dedication that they are also putting in. Hopefully, between us all, we can get a good turnout of electors which is then in everyone’s interest.
But whatever they do in their campaign is up to them. It has been mildly amusing to be forwarded blogs, watch videos, marvel at changed photos etc. but whatever they write or say is not relevant to me at all. Too many elections at any level end up with candidates focused on each other rather than focusing on the electorate and their needs and wants. The public hate this and rightly so.
To demonstrate this personally, I have refused to discuss other candidates on the doorstep even when voters have raised comment themselves. Where people have said that they don’t want to support me for personal or political reason, I have still tried to encourage them to vote for someone else so that they do vote. I would hope (and have told informally) that others are doing the same which is encouraging as it is outside the usual election norms.
Following my dismal prediction for the PCC election, I will not be making the same mistake again by guessing the results in Surrey Heath but can say that I am really enjoying this campaign and chatting to so many local residents. It has been great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. At times this has been a bit embarrassing (such as when a member of my campaign team knocked on the door of my old babysitter and started swapping stories!) but whatever happens, I hope all the Surrey Heath candidates in all the parties have an enjoyable final week and that the weather stays good!