May 12th – We’re off!

Last week parliament was dissolved, and this week nominations opened. So after two weeks of not-quite-an-election-period we are officially into the general election.

The local party has agreed our campaign budget and election expenditure rules apply. Not much chance of us needing to worry about breaking the limit here in Gateshead – it would be nice to have that much money to spend!

But our main election leaflets are now approved and I have just ordered over 100,000 leaflets in various versions. I wish we could give more of the printing to local printers, but timescales and prices are critical and that often means we need to use the big companies who have large high speed presses, rather than small local printers.

My agent and I handed in my nomination papers, duly signed by 10 local electors on Tuesday. I think Labour’s Ian Mearns beat me to it, and by Thursday UKIP and the Conservatives had joined the fray. Three of us are from Gateshead, but the Conservative candidate lives in Westminster. She stood in Glasgow two years ago – so I suppose Gateshead is a bit closer to home for her! I know the Tories aren’t strong in Gateshead, but you might have thought they could find a more local candidate. Or maybe Central Office appoints candidates by drawing constituency names out a hat. I wonder if they give maps to the candidates?

So the election is officially started, and my team have their first leaflets to deliver at the weekend – but as it happens I’m off on a long planned (but brief) visit to London for the Convention on Brexit.(speakers include Nick Clegg and Michael Gove – but in different sessions, which is probably just as well)

The first weekend (22nd, 23rd April)

In elections, weekends are more often a time when work intensifies, rather than relaxing, because that is when more of our volunteers are able to help, and because more people are at home. My colleague Jonathan Wallace, in the next constituency has used this Saturday to get his first election leaflet delivered to several thousand homes.

For me, Saturday meant a previously arranged trip to London for a meeting of the national body of a pressure group I have become part of. Unfortunately much of the agenda was no longer very applicable – a report on the political situation for the next few months, written just a couple of weeks ago, and eclipsed by the election announcement. It was still a useful meeting, and it was interesting as the discussion turned to how can the group best interact with candidates during the election. I’m more used to thinking about the process from the other end – how the candidate interacts with voters and pressure groups and the different perspective was quite revealing. Elections are meant to empower our voters, but how do they actually influence the choice issues that are being talked about?

Sunday, and its a photo-shoot in central Gateshead, getting some new photos of me, and some group photos of the three Lib Dem candidates in Gateshead. Afterwards a brief visit to the Baltic – the “Mare Nostrum” exhibition about the experiences of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe was very moving. I can understand why people do this, but can’t imagine the pressures and difficulties they face that drive people to hazard themselves and their families on these desperate journeys. And whilst we in Europe struggle to deal with the influx (or in some cases refuse to do so), its worth remembering that countries such as Turkey and Lebanon are dealing with far higher numbers – around 2 to 3 million in each country.

The first week …

In the Liberal Democrats we’ve had prospective candidates on standby since last summer, in case of a sudden general election, but the likelihood seemed to be receeding … until about 11am on Tuesday morning when someone said “Are you able to watch a television?”.

So for me this week has been about having internal party discussions & emails to confirm who is standing where, contacting printers, building this website, and clearing out of my diary a range of things that I was expecting to do in the next few weeks. There is more of the same to come, as we get a campaign organised and up & running and seeing which bits of “normal life” can continue (some of it has to!).

Articles and leaflets need writing, and party headquarters are wanting information and contact details for their website and email lists.

Meanwhile email traffic is rising as candidates are now getting copies of press releases from HQ. We could really do with having the manifesto, and I imagine in every party HQ there is currently a group of people crouched over keyboards trying to get that finished – or maybe at least getting drafts ready for party leaders.

Its a long time since we had an election campaign where we are needing to get so much organised as we go.