ADVICE: Candidate survival guide

Surviving a local election campaign

Local election campaigns can be stressful, exhausting and challenging. They last much longer than general election campaigns and can involve activity for months (or years). However, they are also fun, exciting and can be sociable. Working with like-minded colleagues, talking to voters and getting things done is very fulfilling. Of course, the ultimate goal is winning an election and, when you do, all the hard work is worth it.

Surviving a campaign is, in essence, down to good planning. You need to understand the commitment, manage your time and be clear about your commitment. Don’t be a martyr – the campaign is only part of what you do and you should balance your time. It is far too easy to take everything on your shoulders when some things can be done by other people. Liberal Democrats are often not good at asking for help but you need to – from colleagues, friends and family.

When you understand the commitment be very clear with friends and family about the time and effort you are putting into being a candidate. Book any time off work you need.

In this guide there are some simple tips and ideas to make your life as a candidate easier.

Plan your diary

This is quite simple – be ruthless in planning out your time and stick to that plan.

Avoid over-committing. It is much easier to give extra time as the campaign goes on than it is to scale back the time you have agreed to give. Be honest, keep communication open with your core team, and let people know quickly if you have a problem.

Personal safety

We don’t want to suggest that campaigning is dangerous because it isn’t. Issues are incredibly rare. However, everyone should take some sensible precautions.

Tell people where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Avoid canvassing on your own, it is always better to do this as a team.

Key points for canvassing:

  • Don’t take risks with aggressive dogs.
  • Don’t go into people’s houses.
  • Try not to lose sight of your partner/s. If someone seems stuck at a door, go back and check they are OK.
  • Don’t leave gates open, on the way in or out.
  • Don’t get stuck with time-wasters.
  • Don’t get drawn into arguments.
  • Don’t take negative responses personally – it isn’t about you.
  • Always take your phone and try to keep it charged. Jackie Pearcey, from Manchester, says “Carry a phone charger in your pocket – when you stop for a cuppa, find a seat in the café with a plug.” Cllr James Baker suggests getting an in-car charger and remembering to plug your phone in every time you drive anywhere.

Online

The online discourse in politics (and almost everything else) has fallen to a very low level. Don’t take any online comments personally and don’t let people get under your skin. Walk away from aggressive or abusive conversations. If issues arise that you are unsure about seek help quickly and always report serious abuse.

Key tips:

  • Be polite and professional whatever others do, and encourage your team to do the same.
  • Engage people who have issues or problems.
  • Answer attacks once if you feel comfortable doing so but don’t get drawn into a long debate.
  • If they become aggressive or abusive, stop and seek help.
  • Block or remove serial problem people from your social media.

Shoes and clothes

Good, comfortable shoes are vital. In the debate between fashion and utility, the latter wins hands down during a campaign.

Sarita Robinson says “Take a different pair of shoes to change into during the day when your feet really hurt.”

Likewise, clothing needs to be functional. Nowadays people don’t expect candidates to be ultra-smart 24/7. However, if you’re taking part in a hustings, interview or have an important meeting looking professional is very important. If you are doing a photo-shoot, make sure to bring changes of jacket, scarf or tie etc – you don’t want a lot of photos with you looking exactly the same!

Stress

Everyone experiences stress in different ways. Try to make a list of your personal signs of stress – headaches and other pains, rashes, panicky feelings, anger outbursts, changes in appetite, forgetfulness, and so on.

Whatever your symptoms are, use them to keep track of yourself. If the toll rises, get some help or rethink your survival strategy.

Cllr Abi Bell, says you should make sure “you have someone you trust to ring to give you advice, have a joke with and who will keep you going.”

Eating and drinking

A good diet is important over an election campaign. It is very easy to get into bad habits – snack foods, takeaways, caffeine and/or diet coke and missing meal times. None of these help long term.

Key tips:

  • Schedule in meal-times in your campaigning.
  • Prepare and freeze meals ahead of time, especially for the last week.
  • Choose foods that keep you feeling full and provide slow release of sugar – protein, vegetables and complex carbs. Avoid eating too much processed or white carbs.
  • Diary out one evening per week at least to make sure you eat something nutritious with family or friends.
  • Increasing your caffeine provides a short-term solution but is not good over the course of an election campaign. Instead, try to increase the amount of water you drink.
  • Snacking will be easy, but over the long term making sure you have healthy snacks like fruit and nuts in your car will help if you need to miss a meal or just want to avoid reaching for the nearest biscuit.
  • Election campaigns can be sociable, with post-canvassing and post-meeting trips to the pub. It can be easy to start drinking more alcohol than you are used to, either in the pub or at home simply to unwind quickly after a long day. This will not help sustain you during the campaign so take a conscious decision to monitor your alcohol intake.

Overall, look after your health.

Time off and family

The demands of the campaign alongside your normal life – job, family, friends etc. – can seem overwhelming. The key is to plan your commitments carefully. The pressure to do more and more campaigning will be there so decide your red lines and stick to them. The last week is likely to be especially hectic so make sure your family understand and book some time off from work.

Family and/or social time away from the campaign is important and will help recharge your campaigning batteries. Avoid the temptation to mix the two, for instance answering emails while being with the kids. You need time away from campaigning. Make sure colleagues and staff know when not to phone you and turn your phone off at times.

Sleep

Getting good sleep is important when you are under the stress of the campaign. You may also be doing much more (or less) physical activity than you are used to. You can miss out on a little sleep for a week or two, but beyond that, you will suffer. Your concentration will drop off and your moods will become more irritable and depressed.

If you stay awake for over 24 hours, it is like having a blood alcohol of 0.1% (which is over the driving limit). Studies of US political operatives found that working long hours during a campaign did nothing to improve their overall productivity.

Key tips:

  • Switch off from the campaign and electronic devices an hour before going to bed.
  • If you find yourself getting stressed, try meditation, mindfulness or similar relaxation techniques. There are also a number of apps that can help such as ‘Calm’ – although be aware of tip 1!

The last few days

The last few days of a campaign are always especially stressful. Seasoned campaigners lookout for signs of ‘candidate-itis’ – heightened anxiety, a belief that we are going to do much worse – or better – than is realistic and being short-tempered. Even under the effort of the last week try to make sure you do rest and concentrate on the job in hand – getting out your voters. Don’t get obsessed with what your opponents are doing. Also, don’t worry if colleagues are stressed, short-tempered or touchy. Forgive them their sins and they will forgive yours!

Decide your commitment in advance and stick to it.

Polling day is particularly long and gruelling. Stop early the day before and get to bed early. During the day have proper meal breaks and drink lots of water. Neil Fawcett, ALDC Development Officer and agent in Oxfordshire, says: “However busy it gets, I always make sure I have regular periods of quiet time, even if it means leaving the office for a break.”

Cllr Peter Barrett, Perth, says: “Make sure to start with breakfast, keep healthy snacks and water in the car and always remember to apply the hand-brake.

“Try alternating between the phone and doorstep knock-up sessions to get some fresh air. Ultimately keep smiling and encourage everyone to go the extra mile, no peeling off to change for the count.”

As we live in Britain the weather has an inevitable role to play on polling day. Timing, of course, depends where you are, but there may be heavy showers, sunshine, a heat-wave or it can be very cold. Whether you need wet weather gear, a blanket or sunblock, be prepared!

Context

No single election, moment, victory or loss will define your political career. Nor should they define your happiness. Politics is a long-term hobby, and you and your colleagues will be more use with years of experience and a passion to succeed than quitting because you’re burnt out.

Try to keep what you are doing in context, you are not climbing Everest you are just focusing on an important piece of work that demands all of your positive qualities and skills to succeed.

Finally, regardless of the result, pick yourself up and go again. By standing you are helping to make our country better – Thank you!

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