In October 2009 I got the welcome and surprising news that, following a tough evaluation day, my application to join the approved list of parliamentary candidates was successful. I could now apply to represent the Liberal Democrats in any UK parliamentary seat.
There was only one seat I wanted to have a shot at – my local seat of Sittingbourne and Sheppey – and I knew our local party were looking for a candidate. I immediately completed the application form, put together my manifesto, and submitted it to the executive committee. (I also got details of the almost-next-door Chatham and Aylesford seat in case I was not successful).
I was the only applicant! The local Labour party criticised me for this point but I am not sure what I could have done about that. The party had advertised in Liberal Democrat circles and press etc but only I had come forward. There was another possible candidate from the local party but he had by now defected to Labour.
Of course it was not a foregone conclusion. The approval of the committee and the local party members was still required. If not successful, central office would have sent a candidate and I would have applied elsewhere. After an interview with questions coming from all places, the committee approved me to go to hustings. The first hurdle was crossed.
By now both Labour and UKIP had selected their candidates, the Conservative candidate had long been in place, David Cameron posters were appearing all over London, and there were rumours of a March 2010 election. So I was keen to get on with things.
The Hustings were confirmed for 12 January 2010. A room was booked, invitations sent out to the 95 local party members, my speech was drafted and re-drafted (my wife was the audience), I put on my smartest suit, prepared for the questions I might get, marched to the hustings with confidence to face all-comers – and seven people turned up!!
This tiny turnout was a bitter disappointment. Admittedly it was in the middle of all the snow we had in January and the roads and pavements were in a bad condition, but two of the seven were over 80 years old – if they could make it why could so few else? The Labour party criticised me for this as well and here they may have had a point.
But anyway we went through the whole process which went well and I got a unanimous 9-0 approval (two were postal votes). The paperwork was all signed and witnessed etc and I gave my first interview as a parliamentary candidate to a group of students from London.
I was eager to get going and get myself known to the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
First idea: let’s print and deliver a leaflet to everyone in the constituency to introduce myself. Sorry, no money to do that.
Second: write to all the non-active local party members to introduce myself, set out my plans and ideas, and ask for their help in the campaign. Only two replies.
Third: send press releases to both local newspapers announcing my candidacy. They both ignored it.
I knew this campaign would be a hard task but already I could see it was going to be much harder than I had imagined.