Standing for election isn’t just about winning

As there are no principal authority council by-elections this week, here’s an expanded re-run of my post about why it’s worth standing in as many elections as possible, including council by-elections, even if victory looks a very long way off in them.

The obvious reason to stand for election is that you want and hope to win. A related common reason is that you want to win and hope that standing this time means you can win on a future occasion. But it also makes sense to stand even if winning isn’t on the foreseeable agenda and you are what is often called a ‘paper candidate’*.

I’ve written before about the advantages of standing in unwinnable council by-elections. (The brief version: even an unwinnable contest is a chance to practice, to learn, to experiment and to raise the odds of winning somewhere else, sometime in the future.)

It’s slightly different when it comes to standing in non-target wards in the usual run of council elections. Different, but still the same basic point: standing still brings many benefits.

First, it’s good for democracy. Having different parties put up candidates is the necessary condition for voters to make choices between them. The mere act of having your name on the ballot paper is a contribution to making democracy function – and democracy could do with all the contributions we can give.

Second, it’s good for voters. It’s deeply frustrating for many voters when they turn up to vote and see their preferred party isn’t on the ballot paper. They may just feel frustrated (and boy, do they feel frustrated as I know having had the job of fielding such complaints from voters in the past). Or they may also blame the party for, in their eyes, treating them with disdain for not giving them a candidate to vote for. Frustration or frustration and disdain; either way, that’s not how we should be leaving voters feeling.

Third it’s good for the party. One of the biggest challenges the Liberal Democrats face is to build up a large group of loyal supporters who persistently support us. Our core support is tiny compared to that of our main rivals – and we suffer for it. It makes us more vulnerable to bad times. It means we have further to go and harder to work to get to the winning post than rival parties with larger core votes.

Yet the one sure way to ensure people don’t become persistent supporters is to insist that they should not be allowed to vote for us thanks to not putting up a candidate. No Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper means us saying to voters: ‘we refuse to let you be loyal supporters of us’.

Standing also helps the party identify better where its support currently is, and isn’t. Having a full slate of candidates across the board helps spot areas that can be promising to target and try to win in the future.

All of which is why even if being a candidate does not mean more than getting a name on a ballot paper, it’s still a valuable contribution to make.

Hundreds of party members do that every May – thank you. With next May’s elections nearing, it’s a terrific contribution you can make if you join them and ensure another vacancy has a Liberal Democrat name next to it come May.

And in the meantime, lets contest as many council by-elections as possible – something made much easier with a bit of preparation.

P.S. If winning is indeed your reason for standing, there’s a book I’d recommend…

* More accurately, a paperless candidate really as a ‘paper’ candidate doesn’t then go and put out lots of leaflets.

9 responses to “Standing for election isn’t just about winning”

  1. Beware however that even “paper candidates” can get elected. It happened to me in Wansbeck District Council election in May 1999. I got exactly same no of votes as third Labour candidate and was elected on toss of a coin!
    ( it was a 3 member ward)
    I think it has happened elsewhere but it is a consideration when putting names nomination papers: if elected would person be able to do the job to the credit of party. I think I have.
    But if they have to stand down shortly after it is a hard message to manage well.

  2. It definitely gives an air of defeatism if a candidate is not put up in a local election. Where it is Parliamentary the loss of the deposit is always to be considered.
    I do not like the term ‘paper candidate’, all Lib Dem candidates can do something in their campaign to increase the Lib Dem vote, even if it is just spending a couple of hours outside of a polling station as people go to vote and greeting voters.

    Standing as a ‘paper candidate’ will only ever give an experience of being a ‘paper candidate’, doing some door knocking, which costs nothing other than giving up time, produces some good results and enables one to put party policy forward. That is where it is always incumbent on the ‘paper candidate’ to have at least read up an memorised our policies.

    Preparing the ground for future candidates, that may have access to greater resources, is always a positive.

    I am a candidate where people would say, “I have no hope of winning’, but I like to reflect that even in that statement is the word hope.

    I and my fellow Lib Dem candidate for the 2018 local election, will be out knocking doors in weather dry or wet, warm or cold, shoving leaflets through letter box after letter box. We are never disheartened always have a laugh, always forgive those that slam their door in our faces and get that uplift when, and it’s usually one our older residents, asks us in for a cup of tea. The other party may have the person power, the finances and their special ways of campaigning, but we are and always will be putting forward what we feel is best for the country and our people. It maybe that only a few people will vote for us, but we cherish each and everyone of those votes and those that cast them.

    • It helps to have a full slate of names on a ballot paper. But I agree that ‘paper candidate’ is a self defeating concept. Ultimately, voters see through it. If you stand, do ‘something’. In the age of social media, it isn’t hard to create some form of presence.

  3. For paper candidates – social media, YES. This has the aditional benefit that the effects are unlikely to be restricted to just that ward. Also at the very least paper candidates need their nomination papers signed and if the party has enough members in that ward to provide the necessary signatures, it probably won’t be sticking at a paper candidate – so the keen paper candidate can at least go out and get signatures. But standing outside the polling station on election day? It’s unlikely the party doesn’t have a target ward where the outcome is in doubt and an extra helper could swing it. The case is different where this is a development ward – not being fought seriously this time, but might well be next. Then a modest amount of high-profile work is worthwhile.

    We should all remember, though, that there will be many local parties which despite trying hard, can’t get enough volunteers to fill all the slots.

  4. To be honest, I didn’t know what was meant to be a paper candidate. I did it last year and got about 78 votes. I have put up this year and was worried ‘what if I actually won……’. This has eased my mind for tomorrow now. Wish I had read it before. Thanks.

  5. There is one point that Mark did not make when writing about standing ‘paper’, or as I prefer to call them, ‘paperless’ candidates. This is that someone still has to get the 10 signatures on the nomination papers. Sometimes, this is easy because we have 10 members in the ward (although I have experienced one occasion as an Agent where a Party member refused to sign a nomination paper for a paperless candidate); sometimes the candidate is local and can get the nominations themselves (I got most of my own nominations from fellow church members in one election, when they would not have signed the paper for anyone else); sometimes, as in ‘black hole’ wards, the responsibility to get the signatures falls on the Agent. In this last case it is important to ensure that the Party locally records who signed the nomination paper to make getting future signatures easier. The nomination paper is a public document (you can see all the nominators’ names on the notice at the polling station), so there is no issue with data protection.

  6. Hello Mark,. I just stood as a paper candidate and polled 180 votes. I was amazed. I was distraught that the Labour party candidate polled just 5 more votes than myself but I now have the ‘bug’ and hope to stand as a proper candidate in the future.

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