Suddenly, it’s all got real

11 May 2001

At bloody last – that’s all I can say.

The election’s been called and I’m not a prospective candidate any more, I’m a candidate. After so long correcting myself whenever I speak or write, it feels odd to be able to say the ‘C’ word without looking nervously to the heavens and waiting for the thunderbolt to strike.

A few other things have been changed by the official start of the election. The number of e–mails I get from the party has tripled, for one thing.

But I now discover despite them, and despite the good luck letter from Charles Kennedy, I’m feeling a tad cut off from everything.

I hadn’t actually realised this – I’d just been plugging away designing, reproducing and delivering leaflets, writing press releases, printing labels, taking and posing for photographs, dealing with lobbying letters, and absorbing endless briefings.

Somewhere in there I’m finding time to eat (occasionally), sleep (erratically), and iron shirts (inefficiently), and there’s still the day–to–day stuff to deal with like paying the milkman.

But I’m finding it’s possible to do all that and feel isolated at the same time.

This was brought home to me when I went to the press launch of our London manifesto where I met some two dozen of my fellow London candidates.

We were a pretty eclectic bunch. Although the platform was dominated by men in suits (plus Mayoral candidate Susan Kramer – in a suit, of course) the candidates were what you would expect from a party that has ‘resist conformity’ hard–wired into its constitution.

There were ear–studs and ponytails (among the men) and the sort of punky peroxide hair that you need sunglasses to look at among the women. In deference to the need to include minorities there were indeed a handful of middle–aged, white, apparently heterosexual men among us, but the young, the ethnic, the female, and the openly gay or bisexual candidates far outnumbered them.

London is a diverse city. I can’t believe any other party will come close to us in representing that diversity among its candidates.

But the funny thing was, almost everyone was talking about the same things. How to run a solo campaign while all your activists are committed to the nearest target seat. How to get your local papers to take notice of you. How spookily good everyone’s canvass returns are.

Leaflet layout was the most popular topic by far. Half–finished prototypes, complete with blank spaces labelled ‘pic of candidate on Tube,’ were compared. Candidates broke off in mid–conversation to take mobile phone calls peppered with cries of “what’s the deadline on that?” and “has the Post Office approved it?” and “can I get spot colour?”

And as I sat back with a coffee and watched and listened, I realised that I’d been shut away in my corner of London on my own for too long. Time to plug myself into the election machine and have some fun.