I’m just emerging from three and a half months of one of the most difficult processes I’ve ever put myself through. While it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned.
I’m a councillor in Stockwell ward in Vauxhall. In early July, our MP, Kate Hoey, announced that she wouldn’t be standing in the next election. After 30 years, this meant that members would have a selection process for their next Labour candidate.
Pretty much the instant that Kate’s tweet was published, there was a swirl of social media activity. In amongst that, a few people contacted me to see if I was going to go for it. People that I wasn’t expecting, from different wings of the local party, even non-members or former members started coming forward to say they’d help. This was a huge boost, so I started to think seriously about it and submitted an application when the process opened up in early September.
I was delighted to get as far as the longlist and, of course, disappointed not to get further. I thought I’d write down a few tips in case they’re useful to others…
1. You have to be ready for this to take over your life, so get as much done as you can done in advance.
I used the time between July and September to draft my application, talk to people locally about my policy ideas and pledges, look at sample materials from other people’s campaigns, and do as much local activity as possible to build up my bank of photos. I’ve always used social media in my work, so I also ramped that up to build my profile.
If you get through to the shortlist, you will need to draft materials introducing yourself and why you are standing. It’s really important that everything you produce is well-written and brings out your personality. A wonderful friend of mine who is a copywriter helped me with mine. Get some pictures done professionally at local landmarks.
2. You need to build a campaign team – and have someone to manage them.
I didn’t have a campaign organiser until quite late in the process, which meant a lot of the co-ordinating was down to me. Luckily, I’ve got a background in communications and marketing, which really helped. There were only 11 days between longlisting and the final selection, so I had to focus on getting everything ready as if I was going to be shortlisted as I wouldn’t have time to waste.
In four days, I had a direct mail, a leaflet, a website all prepared and I’m really proud of how much I can get done in a hurry. All of that experience will stand me in good stead for the future. If I was doing this again, I’d recruit an organiser earlier in the process.
3. It’s important to run a positive campaign and be friendly and supportive to other candidates.
Whatever the outcome, especially if you’re going for your home seat, you’re going to have to continue to work with people who are also in the running, and their teams.
4. You’ll need to develop a thick skin.
I developed my very own forcefield like the ‘Get up and Glow’ from the Readybrek adverts. I can visualise myself inside it with all my loved ones and everything else is just noise. Someone said to me early on that every minute spent looking at what other people doing, is a minute that you haven’t spent on your own campaign which is great advice.
5. When things get really tough, which they inevitably will do, remember why you’re in the race.
It’s very easy to be caught up in the whirl and forget what it’s all for. Vauxhall is a constituency in the heart of London, just across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster, yet for many, many residents, the seats of power couldn’t feel further away. Nearly 50% of Vauxhall’s children are growing up in poverty, in the heart of one of the wealthiest cities on the planet.
As a councillor, I am supporting hundreds of Stockwell residents who are having a really tough time. They were my inspiration along the way and helped me remember why I was putting myself through this. A huge thank you goes to Pedro who lives on the Mursell estate, and Fatima on the Spurgeon. They need a brilliant MP in Vauxhall.
I wish the shortlisted candidates all the best for Sunday’s final selection meeting and thank my friends and comrades from across our movement for their support – especially my sisters in the Fabian Women’s Network. And now, back to the day job.