We asked people about their path to standing for election…
John Munro, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Weston-super-Mare, 2015
Standing for election was something I’d known I wanted to do for a long time. I joined the Liberal Democrats when I was 13. It was the 1997 General Election. My school had decided they wanted to hold a mock election and, being quite a precocious teen who was into everything, I thought I’d run. At the time I didn’t know who for so I took the perhaps unusual step of getting hold of the three main manifestos and giving them a read. Ultimately it was the Lib Dem manifesto that seemed to make the most sense to me.
So, I stood in the mock election and came second. I wasn’t put off by this as not winning is something Liberal Democrats must become used to if they’ve any hope of remaining sane. I got involved in the party locally and have been a member ever since.
My route to eventually becoming a candidate was an unusual one as after I left uni I worked for the party for a bit. I organised campaigns in the South West for around three years before moving to London to get a job outside of politics. Working for the party was a great experience but it’s not for everyone. I wanted to make sure that I had other experiences before I seriously stood for election so I was glad to be able to work outside of politics, too.
I finally felt that I had the right skills and experience to be a serious candidate just in time for the 2015 General Election. Selection processes differ from party to party but the Lib Dem’s procedure was easy to navigate and I got a lot of support from friends and colleagues and my age was definitely not a factor.
I was 31 when I stood for Parliament for the first time in May last year. Like many people my age I had, a few years previously, ceased considering myself ‘young’.
However, it seems that in politics youthfulness or otherwise is relative. This was brought home to me during the General Election campaign of 2015. I was, by a good fifteen to twenty years, the youngest candidate in my constituency. My 31 years made me, by comparison, the baby of the group.
The political downside to being the youngest person on the ballot paper is the ease with which your credibility can become a factor. Being the only unmarried, childless person on the panel at a hustings debate would occasionally make me feel at a disadvantage – being able to connect with voters at a personal level by comparing your own domestic situation with theirs is particularly powerful. This is where younger candidates have to try and turn their age to their advantage. Finding issues where your age makes you the expert are crucial. I chose housing. Given that more and more people are finding it hard to get on the housing ladder, the fact that I was up against four homeowners some of whom had paid their mortgages off many years previously made me seem closer to the issue and better able to make common cause with the voters.
I’m well used to being the youngest person in a political situation though joining as I did at 13. For the most part, I haven’t let it bother me. If you have opinions and you’re sure of them then age shouldn’t be a barrier to getting involved. Finding other young people who were also involved helped but so did the relationships I was able to build with older members. As with many other things, your youth can be an asset, but don’t let it dominate your politics. Remember that your age is a part of who you are but that there are many more things that define you. Ultimately it’s the whole of who you are and what you believe that will be judged on election day.
John Walsh, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Middlesbrough, 2010
When I decided to apply to the Conservative Party candidates list in 2009 it came after a lifetime of being a Labour voter. My day job is as a documentary film maker for television. I made a documentary entitled The Prime Minster’s Global Fellowship, the PM by then was Gordon Brown and what followed put me off the Labour party. They badly managed the project and some rather unpleasant infighting gave me a fresh perspective on the party I had voted for over a lifetime.
David Cameron had opened up the Tory Party’s candidate list to everyone so I decided to give it a go. Much of what I heard David Cameron talk about did resonate with my beliefs. I was honest and open with the candidates team that I had no political experience and had always voted Labour. The process began with a five hour interview process at the Moller Centre in Cambridge. There were both team building and individual exercises. What most struck me was how dedicated and amicable the team and the other applicants were. There was a wait of about a week before I discovered I was on the official candidates list. It was up to me to then apply for an available seat by sending my CV to those which had vacancies according to the latest CCHQ bulletins. My first interviews were for the Labour safe seats of Middlesbrough and Redcar. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. I saw this as an opportunity to try my interview skills and hone them for later grilling by other constituency parties. Middlesbrough was in the morning, Redcar later that afternoon. The other six applicants for Middlesbrough had strong links to the area and / or strong background in local and national politics: volunteering, research for MPs and local councillors. Much to my surprise I was unanimously chosen as the candidate for Middlesbrough. I had to accept there and then or decline and go to my interview at Redcar. I accepted. I later discovered that I won the selection panel over by playing my potential weakness as a strength. Although I did not have local knowledge or political experience, I was from the world of film and television and that was a resource that I was able to capitalise on with a series of short campaign films.
Although I didn’t win the election I did give the party its biggest vote share in nearly 30 years. I very much enjoyed my time in the town and when I came back to London with 72 hours of footage I cut it into a documentary feature film called ToryBoy The Movie which hit cinemas in 2011 and was re-released again in 2015. I regularly have screenings at schools, colleges and for political motivated groups across the whole party spectrum. It’s now available on DVD from Amazon and others.
During my time on the campaign trail I uncovered a major political scandal and ironically found tribal voting patterns that kept generation voting for a party that was corrosive to their existence, something I was guilty of myself for years as a Labour voter. What I would say to anyway thinking of standing for Parliament? Give it a go. Do not be discouraged by your youth or inexperience as we can all bring something of ourselves that is worthwhile in representative politics and that is compassion, everything else will grow from that.
Cllr Laura Blumenthal, Conservative Council Candidate in Wokingham, 2015