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.