Candidate Workshop for WEP Conference

At the WEP conference in Manchester in November, we were asked to prepare a short piece about our experiences. This is mine based on running in a by-election as the first Council candidate for WEP – it’s what I wrote not what I said but you’ll get the idea:

In September, when I was in the middle of a big project that had taken me a year to raise the funds for, a by-election was announced in the ward next door. WE had two weeks to get our paperwork in and a month to campaign.

My first instinct was we should stand. WE are a political party and we need to stand whenever and wherever we have the capacity to.

Lewisham is an active knowledgeable branch and 18,000 people voted for WE in the GLA elections. But I wasn’t available. And then there wasn’t anyone else available either and I had the best support I could have dreamt of.

Amy Killen, our Elections Officer understands how to run a campaign, Alison Proud, our Data Manager mobilises people really effectively , Madeline Petrillo our branch leader worked out all the routes for canvassing meticulously and we had a team every time we went out. We had no time and no budget (£600) so we chose to knock on every voter’s door in the ward and we did with help from volunteers locally and all over London. We were out nearly every day and we did 4,000 doors. And the people we met – including all the other parties – were very impressed with us.

Bear in mind I could walk to anywhere in the ward in less than 30 minutes. So that model of campaigning won’t fit everyone’s landscape. You have to work with what you have and set a realistic target. Every vote you get is one more than WEP had before. It’s one more calling card to say to the other parties, Women’s Equality matters. Nothing is wasted.

It helped that I’d done my research. I’ve volunteered on lots of local schemes and set up a few initiatives through arts and culture locally. This was all done before I dreamed of entering politics (seems odd to say that even now) I’ve been a small “p” political all my life. Quite a few people in the area know me  – it’s never too soon to start taking an interest and start turning up to things. I did it to make friends when we moved there.

So I know my area by eye, and I’ve studied it too. I go on my .gov.uk sites and Wikipedia, look at local blogs and news sites for every project I do when I’m touring. When I set up my theatre company I made a meeting with my local arts officer at the Council and got to find out about the local priorities and got invited to events. I’ve read council strategies and started to work out how they apply to our policies in the local context. I attend local assemblies and I have been awarded funds by them. I’m quite plugged in and this was because I was always small “p” political and never party political. And people understand and like that idea of taking the party out of local politics and bringing it back to people.

When asked, I could give a good account of why I’d be a good Councillor as well as being a representative for Women’s Equality. That’s worth thinking about. WE candidates are like independents plus – we have a network and a huge resource by comparison with most independents or small parties. It may not feel like it but you have a national network behind you.

We used the graphic from the GLA CAMPAIGN. It saved time, cash and still had some recognition value. I reckon it could go out again a few times before it’s worn out. The BE BOLD message works.(note that  BE BOLD FOR CHANGE was used for IWD this year).

It was exhausting and the timing for me was dreadful. I was still playing catch up professionally in November and the team were very tired because we had no warning and we wanted to go all out. –. I’m being honest. BUT I am so proud of what we achieved, especially the acceptance and acknowledgement of the Party locally by the other candidates and their teams. It has strengthened us as a branch and has given us confidence for the next set of council elections in 2018. Everyone who said they’d vote for us pretty much did and we can grown that over the next year.

The result of 7% of the vote had Central Office whooping. Small parties regularly poll between 2% and 3% nationally. I’ve been watching. My particular sense of gratification came from the fact that turn out increased. WE are inviting more people into politics. Our presence makes it more creative and inclusive. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m also proud that WE ran a decent, positive – what WE can do campaign.It worked and it’s important not to get mixed up in the politics of politics so that we continue to do politics differently.

My friends now call me a “sleeper’ politician – ready to go at a moment’s notice.

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About justRMJ

Theatre Director, Artistic Director of Just Jones &, a touring theatre company (www.justjonestheatre.org.uk). Co-Chair of What's Next?-Lewisham, part of a national movement to place arts and culture at the heart of public conversations. Inhabitant and co-creator of the Happy City, freecycler, gardener and Action Learning Facilitator. Governor at Sydenham School, Trustee at Oily Cart. Blogging about all and some of those things, not necessarily in that order.
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