Finding your next candidates

Now is a really good time to be a Liberal Democrat, not least because we have hundreds of new councillors and 16 MEPs. As campaigners, seeing someone you’ve campaigned for win is incredibly rewarding. However, we should now be turning our attention to our next candidates. Local elections are scheduled for May 2020 and that is a short window to get a candidate selected, build their brand and put them in a position to win.

Of course, the specifics of how we do the above depend on the area, the individual selected and particular local issues. However, there are some good tips that apply in all cases.


The best way to fill your vacancies is by asking. With our high membership numbers, there’s a new pool of people who might be willing to stand. You should also ask previous candidates, who may have had a tough past experience, to stand again.

We’re in a strong position as a party following the 2019 local and European elections but we can only maintain that positive, winning feeling by having great candidates to fight upcoming elections.

Don’t make it just one person’s responsibility. Everyone in your local party should be involved in finding candidates, whether it is suggesting a name, approaching someone to see if they may be interested or engaging with existing members and ‘paper’ candidates.

In partnership with the LGA, we produced a ‘Be a Councillor’ guide for Liberal Democrat members and supporters. It contains information about how councils work, the role of a councillor and most importantly, what being a Lib Dem councillor is like.

Although candidates must be party members, don’t limit your thinking to only your current members. Look at community campaigners, the recently retired, community group leaders and people who are interested in local campaigns. They will not all be liberals but some will be and they will already have many of the skills needed. Other places to look include local youth parliaments and school governing bodies. Many of these people will be interested in dipping their toe in the water as a paper candidate but may move on to active campaigning or winnable seats.


Experience has shown there are a number of things that go wrong when we try and find candidates. Leaving it too late, leaving it all to one person (who is often busy fighting the campaign as well) and relying on the same old faces are all common problems.

There are a number of smaller tasks that the process can be split into which can then be shared amongst a number of people.


  • Start by inviting all members to apply to be a candidate. Do this by letter, email and phone.
  • Call a meeting of all the past and present members who live in the area, past candidates and others with campaign experience.
  • At the meeting ask all who turn up to think of people who may be suitable (see the suggested people that you could target list below).

This should build up an appreciable list.

  • Then ask local party executive committee members – if they are not standing as a candidate, they should be able to suggest two people who may.
  • Lastly divide those people you wish to approach amongst those that have volunteered and the executive members: call them up, visit them and persuade them. Keep a running total with one person co-ordinating the contacts to ensure everyone does what they promise to do.

Suggested people that you could target:

  • Past candidates
  • Friends and family
  • New members
  • Students new to the area
  • People recently retired
  • People who work in the area
  • Deliverers and helpers
  • Parish councillors
  • Connect Target pool – Volunteer Prospects: Tier One
  • School governors
  • People who move into your area and are party members
  • Any activists in a community group
  • Contacts and supporters of former/retiring councillors
  • Partners of the people who expect to be asked so they can say no!
  • Former candidates who only stood because they knew they’d lose
  • People you think could do the job well (don’t forget to tell them that)
  • Local party activists
  • Council group or MPs’ political assistants (as long as they are not politically restricted)
  • Aspiring parliamentary candidates especially those starting out
  • Chair of a tenants’ association
  • Regular attendees at local community meetings
  • Someone one of your councillors knows (from church, from a community group, from a charity or from work)
  • Any local party member or known supporter retiring from a public service or other politically restricted position (e.g. civil servant, teacher etc.)
  • Activists in local charity or similar organisations, especially if they held a leadership role.
  • Someone who has been helped by a councillor or MP

Often when looking for candidates, we are our own worst enemy – we don’t ask people because we assume that they will not be interested. This is self-defeating, indeed if we took this approach when canvassing, we wouldn’t knock on very many doors.

So, the best advice we can offer is this – ask people!

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