It’s around this time that local parties come under a slightly odd dual pressure. The chances are that it is fairly clear at this stage which wards fall into ‘target’, ‘marginal’ and ‘development’ categories. In addition, any defences that are being fought with a new candidate are probably well underway.
The other pressure comes from the need to have a ‘full slate’. Put simply, this is having a candidate for every seat being elected in your area. Candidates in non-target seats are often referred to as ‘paper’ or ‘paperless’ candidates. To be clear, these mean exactly the same thing.
Part of this is the natural dislike of gaps. The urge for the neatness of a full slate can be both powerful and helpful. The phrase has also taken on a sort of mythical importance, with great weight placed on it by experienced campaigners.
There are several good reasons to field a full slate of candidates, whether it is at Parish, Council or Parliamentary level:
- Democracy. This may be the most ideological of the reasons but it has a solid idea behind it – there are people out there who believe in what we stand for, support our aims and want to support us. We have a duty to give them that opportunity through their vote. More specifically, a supporter in this election may be an activist in the next – this is far more likely if we have a presence on the ballot paper.
- Information. We think in terms of ward boundaries – the vast majority of the public don’t. This is easy to forget as campaigners. Being a candidate gives you a platform (an excuse even) to ask people what they think – any information a candidate can gather could form the next campaign or give an indication of how a community feels about a particular issue. This can only be useful going forwards, whether in that same area or another with similar issues.
- Testing. Every election, at any level, is a chance to test new messages and campaigning techniques. We all know that messaging is an imperfect art. Even when we know people’s general mood, there are nuances that we can miss and that’s before we factor in the impact of national events. Elections in non-target seats are an opportunity to test messages that we feel can be strong but need some work. How residents react, how our opponents react and the amount of traction a policy or message gets all help us in refining our campaigning in target seats.
- Training. No matter how many books are written on the subject, and there are some very good ones, or how much of ALDC’s own bespoke training you undertake, there simply isn’t a better way to learn about the ups, downs and general mechanisms of elections than being involved in one. A committed volunteer should always be encouraged to stand as a ‘paper candidate’ so that they can experience the process. Some may get the taste for it and go on to be candidates in target seats, whereas others may realise that their best work is to be done firmly as part of the campaigning team. Either way, you and your fellow campaigners will better understand both the process and the resources available to you. That is only going to help in future elections.
Many of us, myself included, have had the experience of being a paper candidate. We have to remember that to someone who has never done it before, it can be an odd prospect. What I’ve set out here are some of the core reasons that a full slate is beneficial for both present and current elections.
As well as these, the other selling point should be that it really is an experience. There’s nothing quite like being able to vote for yourself in an election and knowing that neighbours and friends in your community are doing the same. All of our candidates should be rightly proud of themselves!