Like getting blood out of a stone

21 March 2001

My campaign for Parliament had a launch that most would-be MPs would kill for: my photo staring out of every local newspaper in the constituency, front page coverage in some, journalists hanging on my every word.

Not a bad start for the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrats’ 458th most winnable seat, Feltham and Heston in west London – a very long way from the corridors of power.

Unfortunately, this is likely to represent a high-water mark in my media campaign, and I wouldn’t recommend other Westminster wannabes – however desperate for column inches – follow my example.

For the start of my campaign coincided with the sentencing of two thugs from a group who had attacked me a year previously, leaving me in hospital with 17 stitches in my head. As methods of publicising the liberal approach to youth crime went it was a bit drastic, and it left some of the more cynical members of my campaign team speculating what I would do to top it as the campaign drew on. But at least it meant people in the constituency discovered my existence.

And that’s the reality of this general election for all but a few of the thousands of prospective candidates currently lining up in expectation of Tony Blair firing the starting pistol. Our battle is not to see who can win the most votes or kiss the most babies or score the most direct hits on our opponents. It’s simply to be noticed by the people we seek to represent.

Even without half the countryside being shut up at home, all the signs are that this general election will continue the trend for ever-decreasing turn outs. More and more people say politics has no relevance to them and view politicians with contempt. Most voters have never heard of their MPs, let alone the challengers. All parties agree it becomes ever harder to find volunteers to deliver leaflets or put posters in their windows.

The contenders in the marginal seats are the ones who attract a trail of camera crews, spin doctors, hassled-looking aides, and placard-waving protesters wherever they go. But that’s not the picture in the vast majority of the country, where candidates labour in obscurity and consider 40 words in their local paper to be a major success.

One of them will be me, fulfilling a lifelong ambition by flying the flag in a Parliamentary election for a party that I have been actively involved with since my schooldays. I’m excited, and proud, and a little bit scared. And not quite as obscure as I might have been.

Which is worth the loss of a little blood.