Some of us map out our lives by the political calendar. I have to confess that I struggle to remember the date of my wedding anniversary and my children’s exact birthdays but I can always recall when I first got elected to Southwark Council (Thursday May 3rd 1990), the General Election when I stood in Croydon South for the Liberal Democrats (Thursday May 1st 1997) finishing in a heroic third place, and pretty much every election I’ve been involved in ever since.
The first Thursday in May usually means that there are local elections somewhere and this year I’ll be spending the day in a campaign headquarters somewhere in Dulwich, co-ordinating Liberal Democrat activists busily scuttling around the leafy suburb, reminding all those pro-remain local residents to get out and vote.
Today therefore (Friday 6th April) is the deadline for submitting your nomination papers if you wanted to stand in the local elections. All around the country, over the last couple of weeks political geeks like me, will have been desperately trying to find ten local residents to sign their nomination papers, making sure that their name and signature matches their entry on the electoral register and that they haven’t accidentally signed anyone else nomination papers. For the smaller parties and independents this can be a real struggle as they try and find enough people to fill the ballot papers.
Behind the scenes, most local parties are run by a tiny group of well-meaning amateurs – some more competent and organised than others. I fondly remember being selected as the candidate for Abbey Ward in the London Borough of Southwark in Pat Whiffen’s living room in her flat on the Neckinger Estate. My candidature was proposed by Pat, seconded by Gillian, the Abbey Ward secretary and voted for by the only other person attending, Cllr Alan Blake, the other candidate standing alongside me. Alan and I spent the next few weeks cobbling together leaflets, cutting and pasting clip art with actual scissors and real glue, which we then stuffed through the 3000 or so Bermondsey letterboxes in our patch.
On polling day, with more scissors and more glue, we cut up copies of the electoral register, marked up with our known supporters and knocked on doors, reminding people to vote. Thanks in huge part to the personal local appeal of Simon Hughes, who was the Liberal Democrat MP at the time, both Alan and I were elected and I spent 8 years as a local councillor serving on committees like planning, education, social services and environment. It was a wonderful opportunity to play a very small part in delivering local government.
Politicians aren’t universally popular. Voters don’t really trust or like them very much. Yet still they continue, filling out fiddly nomination forms, writing leaflets, printing and delivering them, knocking on doors and now desperately trying to amplify it all over social media too. They get little thanks or reward for playing their part in the democratic process, especially the also-rans who don’t quite get elected. Whichever party they are from, they mostly mean well and are trying to make the world a better place. If one of them knocks on your door over the next few weeks do try and be nice to them.
Steven Gauge’s new book “The Little Book of Politics” will be published by Summersdale on the 12th July 2018 (He’ll probably remember that date too)