As you will have noticed from my homepage, I’m currently standing for election the Labour Party’s national executive committee. It’s not the first time I’ve stood in an election. I’ve been a candidate for local council, I stood – and was elected to – a couple of different offices at University. I even stood in a mock election at School. But they were all different.
For a start, the two times I stood for council were at the height of the Liberal Democrat hold over Newcastle. I know we laugh at that idea now, but there was a time when voters took the Lib Dems seriously, at least in local elections. Anyway, given that they were in power in the City, and I was standing in a ward with a very strong Lib Dem vote, I knew I wasn’t going to be elected. I was also standing for election at the same time as friends within the local Party were standing elsewhere in the City. I was part of a team of candidates.
Similarly at University, I stood on the Labour slate for the Students’ Union posts I held. I was one of several people standing together, sharing the workload, sharing the tensions and stresses. I was one of a group of good friends and comrades going into battle together, fighting the good fight, planning to build the new Jerusalem in the green and pleasant lands of our University buildings and campus. I was part of a team of candidates.
Even at my old comprehensive, I was standing with classmates, having a laugh, learning a bit about politics and representation along the way. It was a team event.
Standing for the NEC as an independent is proving to be a fairly lonely business. Putting yourself out there for Labour Party members up and down the country to judge you is a nerve-wracking business. That’s not to say I haven’t had support. Friends old and new have come forward to offer personal support and endorsement of my candidacy. But a handful of definite votes out of a potential many thousands is only slightly reassuring.
The other thing is that while organisations like Progress have databases of contacts and networks that they can put to use for the candidates standing on their slate, I just have myself and a handful of friends. When a candidate needs to round up the nominations of as many Constituency Labour Parties around the country, having a large database of CLP secretaries and contacts is a massive help. Putting yourself out there and selling yourself as a candidate without that network has logistical and organisational problems that make standing as an independent really difficult.
As well as that, you also need to be happy to answer why it should be you they nominate. Why am I the one person more deserving of a vote than someone else? How do you make that case without sounding supremely arrogant? It’s not an easy thing to do. It must be even harder for people standing as MPs or even party leadership. I stood for the NEC because I believe the Party needs an independent voice on the NEC, and that I have the combination of skills, experience, and knowledge to do a very good job representing those CLPs on the committee. As someone originally from the Northeast, I also have a better idea of what’s happening in the country outside of Westminster. But putting all that across in a few sentences on a leaflet or at a meeting without coming across as completely over-confident is a talent. I’m not one of life’s show offs. Selling my attributes doesn’t come overly easily to me, but I’m getting better at it!
That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the experience. Reaching out to CLPs around the UK and hearing what issues people are having, what members think of the Party, and what they think of my ideas, values, and opinions has been a really enriching and valuable thing to do and I’d recommend it to anyone, as long as they don’t mind not being part of a team. The loneliness of the long-distance campaigner is probably the hardest part of standing for any election.