Campaigning for election brings candidates to the edge of nervous collapse

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Campaigning for election to the city council has its torments, writes Dave Wilson

At this very moment, somewhere in the Canterbury district, a candidate for the local elections on May 2n is fretting about some piece of news, gossip, rumour or innuendo.

Now that the candidate lists for next month’s City Council elections have been published all of us can see who is standing for other parties or independently.

This means for the next four weeks each of us can indulge in the pointless pastime of trying to work out how the votes will fall, worrying to no good effect whether X is true, or whether Y is going to seriously campaign or is just making up the numbers.

This tendency to engage in feverish speculation has been dubbed by one of my friends as “candidate-itis”, and it does indeed infect every serious candidate, turning normally sober-minded people into angst-riddled nervous wrecks.

This is a good sign, because it demonstrates that the people on the ballot paper actually care about what they are standing for.

Those of us who want to win, whether in order to bring about change or to deploy our skills for the benefit of the district – or both – have to hope that the wisdom of the electorate brings the right result.

We know that blind faith alone isn’t enough. Nor is hard work, even though many of us are slogging ceaselessly around the streets of the districts towns, villages and cities – one of my friends, standing in a rural area, has been delivering leaflets to far flung homes on his bike, in all the recent cold and wet weather.

No, what we all have to bear is the unpredictability of the electorate. And that unpredictability, that glorious refusal to conform to stereotypes, is what brings candidates to the edge of a nervous collapse.

It is, after all, almost impossible to communicate in any meaningful way with every voter in the area you are standing in. For example, Barton ward, where I’m standing, has over 7,000 electors. Even though we three candidates will have knocked on every door by the end of April, many people – more than 50% – have the temerity to not be sitting at home waiting for our call.

So although we have some idea of how the people we have spoken to will vote, the margin for error is huge. And that’s assuming people have actually told us the truth about their voting intentions. I think we can at least trust those who give us a brusque “no”. But what about those who say they haven’t decided yet? Or even those who say they’ll vote for us – are they really telling the truth?

The space for speculation is, you can see, considerable. Then we have the concern about whether what we say and do is in line with what people want. Is it authentically us? Is it bold enough to make them change their vote? Or is it too scary?

Does it matter what they think of Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn in a strictly local election? (Vince Cable never gets a mention, by the way). Does the ongoing torture that is Brexit have an effect? And if it does, what is it going to mean – low turnout from disaffected voters, or high turnout from people who want to make a point?

Then there are all the other things that can affect the campaign. Bad weather, both while we’re trying to canvass opinion and on election day, has a clear negative effect on voters and on our volunteers, who despite their commitment don’t find spending a freezing Monday afternoon knocking on doors all that attractive.

Will the Government or opposition do or say anything spectacularly stupid between now and May 2n? While you may think that you probably know the answer to that, who will be the more stupid may be the question you want to ask.

So there we are. Three weeks on Thursday it will all be over. The fever will subside. Some will win, some will lose.

Hopefully the city will be better as a result. But for committed candidates, the one thing we can be sure of is that this disease can’t be inoculated against.

Exposure to candidate-itis, to the fear and stress of standing for public office, won’t prevent most of us from subjecting ourselves to it all over again at the next opportunity. Politics, it turns out, is a disease with no cure.

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