Over the last couple of days (basically since the election was called) I’ve had a few people asking me how and why I got into politics. There’s nothing like an election to spark the old political mindset in people. It’s a good thing – the more politically aware people in the country, the better. So I thought I’d put together a brief guide based on my own experiences (and my own experiences alone, since it’s 1AM as I’m writing this and I don’t want to phone people at this time of night to get their views).
The following is a quick run-down of the things anyone who is considering getting into politics should know. Some of these are things I was told when I first phoned up my local Conservative Association and told them I wanted to help out (because that’s how you get started. Why not message your local group today?) and some of them are things I’ve learned through my own experiences.
It doesn’t happen overnight
Politics is a long game, you don’t achieve success by doing a few leaflet deliveries and then levelling up like you completed a mission in some game or other (although if the local party is small and they are actively looking for new people to fill roles, it’s not unheard of to come away from your first meeting with a new job). For my part, I started out in political work helping my Dad deliver leaflets when I was a teenager. Later on, I joined my local association, went to all the meetings, delivered a huge amount of leaflets (I’ve lost count of the amount of shoes I’ve literally worn out during leaflet campaigns) and got known by people in the area.
I mentioned after the first election campaign I helped out on here in Bolton (the 2010 General Election, in Bolton North East) that I would be interested in standing for Council if a space opened up. One didn’t open up for four years. You’ve got to have a lot of patience in politics. I kept on volunteering with the local association; attending meetings; delivering leaflets and campaigning really, really hard for everyone who needed campaigning for.
Basically, I proved I was able to do the job before I was offered the chance to run for election, because that’s how this works.
There’s a lot of leg work involved
If you’re a marathon runner, you’re well equipped to do the kind of miles it requires to get elected. I’ve heard people from other parties claim they “worked hard” at getting elected when they delivered around 5000 leaflets in an election campaign. I’ve delivered that many in a few days before, because you don’t get elected off 5000 leaflets. 40,000? Sure but 5,000? Why bother delivering so few? Where I represent, that’s not even one leaflet per person who is eligible to vote for you.
I recently started checking how far I walk when I go out for a day’s delivering: the average is 11 1/2 miles per day. You lose a lot of weight if you campaign right (which is useful from my point of view because I’m aiming to run a marathon and I need to get fit!). I mentioned earlier that I’ve worn out shoes while delivering leaflets and that’s no joke. When I was out on a re-election campaign in 2014, the sole of my right shoe literally fell off in the street.
The guy I was campaigning for offered to drive me home after that but I had a better idea. We drove to a nearby supermarket and I bought some superglue, stuck the sole back on then finished the deliveries for that day. It was good weather and we were only a couple of days away from election day. I didn’t have the time to wear in a new pair of shoes before the intensity of election day hit.
Does that sound a bit excessive to you? Well the good news is that not everyone is quite as intense a campaigner as I am. Most people do a few hours in the morning, then either a few hours in the afternoon or a few hours in the evening. I tend to go at it all day because I want to cover as much ground as possible. Either way, you’re going to have to put a lot of walking into it.
You’re going to make enemies
I’ve lost count of the amount of people who say they hate me and wish I was dead. I am not joking.
Politics makes enemies for you. People will disagree with your views and they won’t hesitate to tell you that. I’ve had people scream at me because they think I’m evil. I’ve been blamed for everything from the rise in crime (which is falling, by the way) to the rise in sea levels (sorry to say those are going up). Did I do anything to warrant this? Well I stood for election, so apparently that makes me fair game.
A lot of enemies
I said I was looking forward to campaigning for this General Election. This is what I was subjected to as a result.
If you think these guys were just random trolls, think again. That’s par for the course, as these screenshots will show.
Also, there’s this drive-by insult.
Here’s one more, for good measure.
That last screenshot is from when I lodged a hate incident report with the police because a hate incident occurred. You may have seen it in the news. Every few months, I get a flood of abuse on Twitter because an angry man misgendered me in a hate incident. It got picked up by the national (and then international) media because I’m a politician; which sadly leads to yet more hate incidents. This isn’t a unique situation.
Every politician gets abuse, mostly from people you don’t even represent. You either develop a thick skin or you don’t make it in politics. For my part, I block and move on when it’s online hate. It’s more difficult to deal with when it’s hate in the real world but, thankfully, that’s far less common (because trolls are cowards).
Even when it’s not your fault, it’s your fault
That leads me nicely into my next point: everything is your fault. Crime is your fault, even if you are already working with the police to reduce crime (and if you’re in politics, you should be doing this). Antisocial behaviour is your fault. I am out in the community; on the phone; in meetings; and sending emails for hours every day, making sure problems are solved – and at the end of the day, there will be new problems. Why haven’t I solved those yet? “Because I just found out about them” isn’t the right answer – and those problems are still my fault.
That abuse I showed you in those screengrabs? I didn’t show you the ones where getting that abuse was supposedly my fault. Everything is your fault when you’re a politician; even when it’s not your fault.
But I’ll still do the job, because I live for solving problems and making peoples’ lives better. If you’re like me, you’ll love this job. If you’re not, you’ll either have to find a way to cope or quit, because problems like this are the bulk of the job (and if you don’t do it right, it’s your fault).
Even if you do your best, you can still lose
My predecessor was a “rising star” in his party, and he still lost. Only a few years ago the Canadian Prime Minister lost his seat in an election. Big names come and go; small names come and go even faster. You can be the best politician in the world and still lose because public opinion wasn’t on your side; or because the public wanted to “send a message” to the leader of your Party. That’s part of politics.
Being a politician isn’t the same as any other job. In most jobs, if you do a good job and the company you work for is running along well, you won’t get fired at your annual performance evaluation. In politics, you could have made the area you represent a veritable utopia and people still get to vote you out. That’s the nature of democracy. So if you’re not one for uncertainty, this job isn’t for you. Personally I look at it like a constant reminder to keep on doing better. I live for the constant battle to improve. Nobody reaches perfection but I’m going to give it a bloody good try because as far as I’m concerned if I’m not doing that, I’m doing the people who elected me a disservice.
Persevere anyway. It’s definitely worth it
So it can be daunting to think that you’re going to be giving this job your all; walking so much your legs could wear down to the hip bone while you’re doing it; make peoples’ lives so much better, and then still lose after all that effort. Do it anyway. You’ve got to be in politics because you love your community and want to make it the best it can be. You’ve got to want to help people. You’ve got to want to be able to get up every morning and wonder how you’re going to improve someone’s life that day. That way, the effort is worth it.
If you’re coming into politics because you want the prestige, forget it – it won’t happen. You’ll bail out before you get it, because it only comes to those who get to the top and getting to the top takes so much work. You’ve got to do it for the love of it; and if you are doing it for that, it’s so very definitely worth it.
So if you’re here for the right reasons, good luck. I hope to see you on the campaign trail. Can you start at 08:30? We’ve got 2,000 leaflets to put out today and it looks like rain’s going to set in by midday so we need to get a move on…