Since I have joined back in August 2015 I have seen many newbies run as candidates for local councils, parish councils and also eventually as potential parliamentary candidates should a snap General Election be called. None of these roles have ever appealed to me for a multitude of reasons. Aside from my exec roles, I started to look round to see what else I could do to help support my local party.
I took the decision to train to be an electoral agent over the summer, thinking I would have plenty of time to learn the role as the next round of by-elections in my area would be called in 2019. I could start my training at Autumn Conference and be very ready for 2019. I was very wrong! The resignation of UKIP’s Catriona Brown-Reckless from Medway Council meant that I was thrown into the deep end very quickly. Her resignation was announced right before Conference and it was decided that I was to be both agent and campaign manager for Isabelle Cherry, our candidate chosen to stand in the by-election. The ward was Strood South, an area where we had done very little work for over ten years. This meant that the objective of the campaign was clear: we knew we had little chance of winning but we could collect some data, start building in the area and try out some new methods of campaigning such as social media etc.
The essence of the campaign was planned and the signatures on the nomination form were organised before Conference. I had very little time to soak up the general atmosphere; I had a plan and I needed to stick to it! Training was quite intense but I learned loads (and in case anyone was wondering I still managed to enjoy Conference to the full and Hilton bar prices meant I did not have any hangovers to interfere with my training). I strongly recommend attending training courses at Conference; although I concentrated more on the compliance ones than campaigning ones.
Once back in Strood the campaign could start in earnest. We waited for our Focus to be delivered (carefully written up by other members of the team whilst I was away in Brighton and yes, evenings were spent in restaurants proof-reading literature). Action Days were planned and advertised. Bundles were weighed. Turf was cut (badly). We were ready to go!
The Action Days themselves were great fun. We had lots of support from all over Kent. The levels of support were overwhelming; never had I expected so many people to turn up! I am still so very grateful and cannot thank those that did help enough. The role of the campaign manager on these days is to plan, hold everything together and remain at the base to ensure everything runs smoothly. Providing food always helps, and as Issy is vegan I made sure all snacks were vegan-friendly. There was plenty of work to do outside of the action days too. Focus delivery; canvassing, it all needed to be done! Cutting turf became my new hobby; although on a personal level I still have so much more to learn when it comes to Connect (as anyone who knows me and also has Connect access will tell you; countless phone calls and messages and I still by and large don’t have a clue what I am doing). I also had to learn about social media campaigning. My Facebook and Twitter accounts were primarily for personal use and I had no idea with regards to advertising and how to raise our profile.
In addition to this, the campaign didn’t run as smoothly as hoped. Another by-election was called early on in the campaign which meant that resources would have to be spread more thinly. Isabelle was involved in a culinary incident which resulted in quite a nasty burn on her leg; whilst she tried to campaign through this it soon became apparent that medical treatment would be needed and she would need to take time out for a few days. I myself came down with the obligatory cough/cold combo I usually get when I am stressed. Time management really became an issue as both of us had then to enforce periods of rest whilst keeping the momentum of the campaign going. In hindsight, I fee we managed this as best we could; the last thing we wanted to do was to burn ourselves out before polling day.
Polling day itself was a whole new experience. Up early to get my vote in before all the fun started (yes I had to be reminded to vote). Knocking on doors, getting people out to vote, stopping only for a pub lunch. Making sure we got round all the polling stations to thank the staff for their help; after all, its a long and cold day for them too! There were sightings of Mark Reckless (cheeky really as his wife’s resignation triggered the by-election in the first place) but luckily he did not cross my path. All was going to plan.
Count night itself was interesting. I had never done a count before, aside from the EU referendum. We did some tallying and no; the results did not look good. The polling station staff confirmed that turnout was looking to be poor, which it was. However, this made the count nice and quick so there was some good news in any case! Our result is there for all to see.
So; what have I learned from my experience?
- Sometimes, you just can’t win, however hard you try. We all should set our to do our best in every seat we stand in. Sometimes though, the odds will be stacked too high against us. This was one of those times.
- Always have a plan.
- Delegate tasks to other members of the team. You can’t physically do everything alone and nor should you try. There are always people around you willing to help. They will also have a good variety of skills. It makes sense to put them to good use!
- Always say thank you.
- Make sure you have enough work for all your activists to do. I tended to underestimate what we could get done. Luckily, there was always more to do.
- Make time for yourself. It’s easy to get carried away, work extra hard and neglect your own needs. Make sure you take time out to do something you enjoy, or even just to relax.
I am proud of us. I’m proud of what we achieved. We did our best and that’s all you can ever do.