“And they’re racing into the closing stages now.”
5 June 2001
Only a couple of days left now until I get my life back – not that I have any idea what I’ll do with it once the election monster hands it back to me.
Somehow I suspect the next three days will allow precious little time for reflection, so now is as good a time as any to take stock of how the campaign has gone. I went into my candidacy with definite plans in mind. Some of them I have achieved, or come close to achieving. Others look a bit shakier.
On the credit side of the equation I have recruited some new members, opened a new front against the Labour Party in a previously-dead ward, held my own in the local press and established our new local party website, including its message board. I also presented our policies sufficiently well that a pleasing proportion of the people I met, spoke to on the phone, or communicated with via e-mail said they would vote for me. And finally, I was able to take a stand on such human rights issues as asylum and the repeal of Section 28 in the face of opposition from the right, both inside and outside the Conservative Party.
The most positive thing I have done was actually something I didn’t do – my refusal to make political capital out of a planning row that dragged in the personal lives of my Labour opponent and his wife, the Labour candidate in the next constituency. That has brought unexpected and unplanned plaudits. A more turbulent reaction has come from supporters of Brentford FC. They are unhappy that I will not support a move by their club to Feltham, although some have given me credit for my insistence that the club deserves to be treated a great deal better by the local council than it has been. The fans (and a mischievous Labour councillor) now make up the bulk of the posters on the Hounslow Liberal Democrats’ website message board. Meanwhile residents near where the club wants to move to have welcomed my actions – most particularly my attempts to listen to their opinions, which is a bit of a novelty in Feltham politics. Some have even joined the party.
On the debit side I hardly answered a single lobbyist’s letter, allowed myself to get too sucked into the details of producing my freepost leaflets (thus distracting me from other things) and most significantly spent far, far too little time recruiting. This was my central aim in the campaign, but events kept knocking back my plans to go door-to-door among our supporters. When I finally started the response was encouraging, even though I deliberately picked the least promising area for which we had canvassing data. I wish I’d been able to start earlier.
A more personal disappointment has been my failure to adequately keep a promise to a friend who has an autistic son. Months ago I pledged that if Autism Awareness Week fell during the campaign I would use my position as candidate to raise awareness of it. Despite many long discussions with the National Autism Society and other experts I was unable to do anything. In an attempt to delegate, I left the arrangement of a press event to publicise a study by the charity in someone else’s hands and it fizzled out. A sentence in a round-up of candidates’ activities in one of the local papers, which said one of the things I had been doing was raising awareness of autism, was all the awareness raising I managed to do in the end.
But in general the campaign has gone well. I had a Black Monday where several supposed supporters turned out to have Labour posters in their windows and I got chased out of someone’s garden accused of trespassing, but it was immediately followed by a Terrific Tuesday where everything went right. Today, the final Tuesday, I’ll be participating in a second debate against my opponents, this time organised by the churches in Heston. After that I expect the last couple of days to disappear in a blur.
And then what? I become a throwaway footnote in the soon-to-be-published guides to the 2001 election, I suppose. Except there will be a bit more of a legacy than that, I hope. I have learned a lot through being a candidate and grown in confidence about standing up for what I believe in. And I like to think a few people have had their view of politics changed for the better by talking to me. Surely that counts for something?