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Good communication with the people you are going to ask to vote for your is essential.
The good news is that social media makes this task a whole lot easier than it was even ten years ago. Whereas you might have had to be delivering newsletters through peoples doors regularly at that stage, you can do so much more with social media than you could then.
Before I say any more about the positives, we have to recognise the negative impressions that we have of social media and why.
Chances are that you might not want to use Social Media at all, because you have heard of things like Twitter trolls, fake news and all sorts of other problems that come with using services like Facebook and Twitter.
The news makes using these free services sound very risky if not bad, and there is always a risk that you will have a bad experience in some way.
The upside outweighs the downside however, and if you stick to a few clear rules about what you post or publish yourself, what material you republish as something you like or repost – which can be taken by some as a recommendation by others – even if you didn’t mean it to be, then you can be reasonably safe most of the time.
We have all heard the jokes and horror stories about people publishing posts about their underwear, what they ate for breakfast or when they went to the toilet. Yes, some people want to share their entire lives with the online world, but there are no rules saying that you have to do that, and to be a good political communicator, all you need to do is publish material which is going to attract your voters, keep them interested and better still, make them want to get involved.
Some basic rules for social media:
- Have a separate account or accounts for your political work and campaigning – voters will recognise you as being your role in the community and will not find value in hearing about your day-to-day activities as a normal person!
- Never publish material that you cannot be sure to be accurate or true – unless you make clear that is your position. If you there is any possibility that you could be linked with material which is potentially untrue or misleading by publishing a link – DON’T!
- Never attack anyone personally in any way. Politics is actually about the work of politicians and the results of what they do – not about the people who do it, who are just as human as you (even when they don’t act like it!). Always remember the mantra ‘play the ball, not the man’ and you will be fine.
- Never take comments made by anyone personally. Once you start publishing as campaigner, activist or candidate, there will be people out there who just want to disagree with you simply because of what you do. Take it as a compliment and bear in mind that they wouldn’t be attacking you if they didn’t feel the work you are doing is a risk to what they themselves do!
- When you do feel you are justified in criticising something, focus on what is wrong and explain why it is wrong.
- Use facts to back your arguments whenever you can
- Focus your material on action
- Do not make promises you cannot keep.
- Be aspirational but keep it real – Talk about your vision for something better, but acknowledge the obstacles at the same time
- Be positive
- Avoid gossip and hearsay
- Always report threatening behaviour to an appropriate authority – as if you follow the rules above, you will not have anything you need to apologise for.
- ALWAYS REMEMBER that as soon as you publish something online or to the Internet, it is likely to remain ‘out there’ in some way for good. Even if you delete something, it is possible that someone, somewhere will have kept a copy. There are accounts which specialise in publishing deleted Tweets and Social Media entries. It’s always best to avoid publishing something which has the potential to embarrass you later, rather than being embarrassed by something before you accept that this is true.
Social Media options:
There are a range of Social Media options for you to use. I am going to focus on the ones that are more mainstream. That’s the ones which are more likely to reach the people who are likely to vote for you, or support you in some other way.
My best advice and suggestion would be to use all of them. That way, you will access a wider audience and find that they compliment each other.
Please follow the links to find out more.
One of the key aspects of becoming a good campaigner, councillor and politician is giving a voice to others who don’t have one – whatever the reason may be.
In it’s most literal interpretation, this means that you must be prepared to speak in public, or to groups of many people, and work to become an effective communicator when you do.
Before you are elected, public speaking opportunities may be limited to asking questions at meetings, giving an overview of yourself and why you are standing, or perhaps taking part in a hustings, if one has been organised in the area where you are seeking election.
The same principles apply to public speaking, no matter the circumstances – and this includes interviews.
So if you consider your approach and prepare yourself now, you will be ready when you know an opportunity to speak may be coming up, or when you find yourself asked to speak without any time to prepare.
Ideally, your aim should always be to speak to other people the same way. So whether you are talking to ten, a hundred, a thousand or many more people through a television camera, the very best you can be will be when you speak to them all as if they are alone and you are talking to them in a one-to-one.
I did say ideally. But reality is rarely ideal and when it comes to public speaking and interviews, just about everyone you can imagine suffers with nerves before they begin to talk.
If they don’t, it probably means that they don’t care about what they are about to say.
If you follow the principles of How to get Elected, you will always have the understanding and knowledge to answer questions appropriately off-the-cuff, even when you find them challenging.
In terms of writing a script, the only time you should really do this is when you are literally giving a speech, or providing a formal response or question in an environment where getting the form of words across accurately is the primary aim.
For example, when I was a Borough Councillor, writing a script to follow was what I would do if I was addressing the Planning Committee about a contentious issue, or talking to a large group of people about a subject where it was essential to cover all the details and not get any facts wrong.
When you know you are going to be in a situation where you might have the opportunity to speak or ask a question about a certain topic, you should always prepare by reading up and researching the topic I detail first.
Identify some key facts and numbers from a source or sources you can legitimately refer to.
Either try to remember them, or write yourself a small prompt note that is easy to see or you can keep on the top of your notes or in your hand. (But away from other peoples view)
If you should find yourself caught out with a question you cannot answer, don’t ever be tempted to lie. Be honest and tell people that you don’t know the answer, but will make it your priority to find out. (You can always use it as an excuse to follow up if it’s appropriate to do so).
REMEMBER that when you are in a room speaking or debating with other people, it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that others are getting their messages across more effectively. They don’t even have to try. It’s just the way that listening to other people speaking about the same subject can affect you emotionally, when you are putting effort in to what you are doing.
The best way to deal with this kind of experience is to simply focus on what you are going to say yourself and make sure you say it. Even if it sounds like someone else has said it before.
Also, never be put off by the behaviour of other speakers who use ridicule of others as a way to try and enhance their own performance.
These are usually the worst offenders for having little to say of any value to anyone but themselves. This is a very important thing to bear in mind that will help you keep perspective.
At a time when we have so many TV and Radio stations to choose from that you can easily lose count, it is very easy to assume that you have got to be prominent in the media if you are going to be a success in politics.
Many existing politicians already mistake media relevance as a key priority. They focus their best efforts on policy announcements, events and making associations with others that will be considered ‘newsworthy’. They consider getting their picture, a story about them or even an interview with them in the news as being more important that achieving real results for the people who elected them.
In many ways it is because so much media chasing goes on in politics, that so little good work actually gets done. So when we consider that the news is probably more than 95% opinion, it is easy to see how coveting media attention can become a trap of a very special kind.
Locally, the rise of the Internet and Social Media has been a game changer in just about every respect, and it is sensible to see the change for what it really is.
The Regional Press has been decimated virtually overnight. Not because of news moving online. But because classified advertising and the massive profits that it once generated have.
Local, Evening or Regional news was for a long time subsidised by this advertising. But as news at a local level really doesn’t ‘sell’, this benefit has now gone, and so has the opportunity to get the same consistency of journalism at a local level.
This isn’t a ‘forget local media’ speech. It’s a ‘local media has its place’ approach, with the suggestion that you focus on doing what you have committed yourself to do – putting your community first before going up blind alleys, chasing the beginning of a media rainbow.
If you are doing your job in the best way that you can, the media will find their way to you without you ever having to chase them*.
- Focus your primary effort on connecting with the people you are going to ask to elect you. Do this through canvassing, questionnairesand attending local public meetings where you can and should take the opportunity to speak and/or ask questions.
- Utilise your Social Mediaaccounts at every turn. Blog about local issues, making sure you use and include words which are like labels for your area, such as street names, estate names, bus route names and numbers, the local council name etc. Make it a conversation and talk about things that matter to local people. Things that are real.
- Write, print and deliver a regular newsletter and put it through every door in the Ward or Division where you hope to get elected. It is easy to think that everyone has easy access to the Internet, Twitter and Facebook, but they don’t. Put your news in forms which are accessible to everyone, and you will pick up support from people who may not even read it that way!
- Comment on articles which are relevant to your campaign, which are published by the local papers online. Use your name and contact details, and talk positively about how things can be done differently, rather than focusing on why what you are reading may seem so wrong. Always link your comments to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that your followers can see that you are active and also read what you have to say about issues as they arise.
- Facts are your friend. When you do have a story which isn’t just exciting for you, but has a genuine feel that it is going to be important to more people, along with some interesting and quantifiable facts to support it, drop the newsdesk at your local not-for-profit and smaller community focused Radio stations a line. (BBC Local Radio is as ambitious as you need be. They will pick up far more local news of the kind which matters in a local election than the commercial stations, who appear to behave like they are national stations with a local presence. If your story really ‘has legs’, a bigger news channel will soon pick it up from there)
REMEMBER: News is a consequence of what you do, not the reason for doing it. Focus on the important things and the unimportant things will take care of themselves.
* In 2007, I was a newly elected Councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, when Gloucestershire experienced an unprecedented flooding event one July Afternoon. In itself, the speed and nature of the flood which followed was something extraordinary in itself. But those very same floods inundated the Mythe Water Treatment Works on the banks of the River Severn at Tewkesbury, and polluted the supply of drinking water to massive parts of Gloucestershire. When supplies ran out that Sunday, I took to my Ward delivering bottled water to residents, then spending over two weeks coordinating and delivering supplies across the area. That same Monday, I was surprised to have a call from Radio 5 Live asking me if I could spare a few minutes to be interviewed live on air…
It’s very easy to overlook the role of your contact information when you begin working with your wider community and the general public.
It is an essential part of good communication that you keep your potential electors aware of what you are doing and why. It’s also vital that people you want to vote for you have the opportunity to contact and interact with you effectively.
Get both right, and the circle of good communication between you as a representative, and them as those you will represent, will be complete.
Becoming a politician isn’t about you, it is about the role that you will fulfil.
From this point of view, it is sensible to treat your campaigning and election activity, and then what you will ultimately do as a councillor as being like a job. You wouldn’t use your personal contact details to advertise the company you work for, and your political work should be no different.
There is no need for you to put your home address on the material you publish at any time outside of a formal election campaign period. However, you do need to provide people with a telephone number and an e-mail address to make the interactive process work.
Rather than use your own phone and the e-mail address that you use for things like your banking and online shopping, it is a very sensible idea to get yourself a pay as you go phone, and a free e-mail account with one of the well known platform providers.
A separate phone number
You may be thinking ‘I already have a phone… what’s wrong with using that’.
Well, in some respects absolutely nothing. But if you are out having a drink or a meal with friends, taking your children to school or on holiday with your family, you might not want to take a call from an angry resident who has just had his flowerbeds trashed by a car cutting across a verge or corner.
Keeping things separate is just a sensible and helps you to be professional with all the community work that you do.
Most of the main mobile phone networks and the well known supermarkets sell basic mobile phone packages with some airtime to get started for around £20 or even less. This is a very good investment and a cost effective way to add a simple layer of personal protection to what you are doing in public.
You wont need to make many calls, and those that you do can usually be made from your normal phone because they will be to formal or official contacts or people you know or have a developed relationship with – the people you will feel comfortable asking if its ok to call them back.
A separate e-mail address
Just like having a separate phone number, having a different e-mail address for your campaigning and election activity is really a must.
Even better, its very simple to get another e-mail address and you can set up an additional account for free with providers such as Google and Outlook, and can either use your name or as with social media, include a reference to your area or something like that in your new address.
By having a new e-mail address just for your campaigning, you can choose when you pick up the messages which come as a result of your political work, and keep your community work separate from every thing else that you do.
The most important thing – for practical reasons – is that a separate e-mail account will make keeping your records much easier.
It doesn’t matter what kind of communication, whether you sent or received it. Keeping copies of everything is essential to what you do.
You don’t know when you might need to return to conversations you had or information you were given in the present moment at a future time, and when I say future, I literally mean something you do now could only become relevant in a few years time.
To put it in perspective, when people get upset about something, they can quickly develop a long memory. Emotional upset and anger can lead anyone to remember events very differently to how they actually were. It may not be deliberate or intentional on the part of someone who might have a grievance with you, but all the same, you need to protect yourself against all eventualities.
Use your separate e-mail account to make sure you keep clear and documented evidence of everything which was written, sent and received, and can access at any time.
Records are most definitely one of a politicians best friends!
Canvassing, Questionnaires and Social Media are really effective ways to get yourself known in your community and to maintain a presence with the people you will be asking to vote for you.
However, people are not always at home when you call, and during the election campaign itself in particular, you need to be sure that your story has reached as many potential voters as possible – even if for some reason it is not possible for you to meet.
Leaflets are a great way to achieve this and support your efforts both before the Election Campaign and during it too.
You will need to take a different approach before and during the formal Election Campaign itself. During the Election period, what you spend is very important and this is why you must plan what you are going to produce, along with every detail of who will produce it and what it will cost you too.
The upside of producing literature is that it will make your campaign feel much more real to you. So enjoy writing, designing and producing it!
For your Election Campaign, you really should produce and deliver a higher quality and preferably colour leaflet which has been printed professionally.
A good size for this purpose is an A5, four-page booklet, which if you were producing yourself would be rather like folding a page of A4 and using it like a book.
Always use a type size no less than 12pt and an easy to read type face such as Arial or Times New Roman.
Producing an Election Address is the ideal opportunity to tell people a little bit about yourself and your background. Be sure to do so in a way which will explain why you are running and asking for the support of local voters in a way which will make sense to the reader.
Your Election Address is also the best way to ‘go public’ with your Election Pledges or ‘Manifesto’. Once published, you can also publish your Pledges on your Blog and Social Media accounts, where you will have room to provide more information if it will help others.
A good time to get your Election Address delivered will be about a week after the Candidates List has been confirmed.
This way, when people begin to compare the election literature from all the candidates who have delivered to their address, they will be equipped with the best information possible.
Standard photo-copied or home printed leaflets:
With no election coming up in the near future, a two-sided black and white leaflet in a newsletter form is a great way to keep in touch.
Ideally your leaflets should be sized A4, but A5 would be fine.
As with an Election Address, always use a type size no less than 12pt and an easy to read type face such as Arial or Times New Roman.
This type of leaflet outside of an election period is an ideal way to produce a newsletter to keep everyone up to date with what you have done, what you are doing and what you are planning to do.
During an election period, it is an ideal quick-to produce format that you can use to pick up and highlight new or recurring issues which have come to you attention whilst out canvassing.
During the Election Campaign, this leaflet would go out ideally in the last week to ten days before the election.
Not everyone will be at home when you call.
Sometimes you will not find a way to return when you might like to, so leaving a calling card is a great way to let people know that you have visited.
Whilst they are referred to as ‘cards’, an A4 sheet cut into four parts with the same information and design on each part is a great way to produce something simple which will do the job very well, and is very cost effective to produce on your PC.
Using the same principles with size and font for your typeface as Leaflets and an Election Address, your message need only be very short.
Let your potential voters know that you called and were sorry to have missed them, but will be happy to answer any questions if they would like to get in touch. Just remember to have all your contact details on the Calling Card too!
Get out the Vote cards:
If you have any money left in your Election Expenses Budget, a great way to support your final push for support on Election Day is to deliver a ‘get out the vote’ card.
Much the same size and design as your Calling Cards, a ‘Get out the Vote’ card needs to be very simple and written as a very polite and gentle reminder that it is literally Election Day ‘today’, and that the Voter taking the time go to the Polling Station and supporting you will be greatly appreciated.
If possible, your ‘Get out the Vote’ cards should be delivered to everyone who does not have a Postal Vote.
The best time to deliver them is first thing in the morning on Election Day, before everyone has left for work.
If you have no experience of using design software, designing a leaflet will probably sound like a very challenging task.
The good news is that most computers that have Microsoft Office Software loaded on them will have a programme called Microsoft Publisher.
MS Publisher is easy to use and ideal for producing high quality and easy to read leaflets which will get your message across. If you are unsure how to use MS Publisher to complete a specific task, just Google it, remembering to start your question with ‘How do you get MS Publisher to…..’
If you are getting leaflets printed professionally, you MUST ask if the printer is happy to produce political flyers and/or leaflets.
This is particularly important for an Election Address or any material you have printed by them for use during the formal campaign, as you will have to include their details.
All of your leaflets will need a blank margin around the edges. Printers call this the ‘bleed’, and if you are setting up a design which is going to a printer, it will be a good idea to ask them what bleed will be required BEFORE you begin your design.
You should be able to find a low-cost printing company on the Internet. Just search for low cost printing or something similar, and see what pops up.
Most printing companies of this kind will do a quick turnaround and should be able to get your finished leaflets back to you within a week.
Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to get them planned, checked and printed in good time and you would be well advised to not leave creating an Election Address until the election has been called!
When you are printing leaflets at home, it will be a good idea to set up a test page with a picture, diagram or type across it. You can then check what margins you will need to leave available as a bleed at the top, bottom, left and right of the page.
Things to do:
- Plan your leaflet, Election Address, Calling Card as far in advance as possible
- Write your material first, whether its news, election pledges or notifying people of an event that you have planned.
- The only leaflet you really should get produced by a professional Printer is your Election Address. The others will be much quicker to produce on a printer at home or at a reasonably priced photocopy store.
- Use a design programme like MS Publisher which you are likely to have on your PC
- Set up your leaflet, either testing the print area on your home printer or checking on the margin or bleed area you will need with the printing company first.
- Use a Font which is easy to read, such as Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana or Gill Sans
- Use a font size of 12pt or greater for any part of the main body of text – that’s the part you want people to read.
- Leave plenty of space around your articles, pictures etc.
- Check on the information you MUST include for material you publish and distribute during the election. If you print the material yourself and have no agent, it will only be you. But if a printer and agent are involved, you MUST recognise them with appropriate wording too.
- Either way, ALWAYS include your contact details so that people can get in touch.
- Check your draft design with a few people before you get it printed. Pay special attention about how easy it is to read and whether the first impression is either busy or that there might be too much space.
- Check the spelling and grammar and get someone else you trust to check it too. Innocent mistakes like these are very easy to miss, but can be very costly further on!
- Add pictures where you can. Have a portrait picture of yourself which sits alongside your name.
- Have your Election Address ready in time to distribute at the beginning of the Election Campaign – that’s once the Candidates list has been confirmed.
- Print at least one leaflet later in the Election Campaign, say in the last week to ten days, which covers up to date news and issues which you have identified as you have been campaigning.
- When Canvassing always carry a calling card so you can let people know you have been to visit when you call at their home or business and they are out.
- REMEMBER that anything and everything you produce to be used during the Election Campaign MUST be accounted for financially. Your Election Address will almost certainly be the most costly expense you will have and you should budget for this FIRST before you think about other leaflets or anything else you might like to spend money on.
- YOU MUST NEVER EXCEED YOUR ELECTION EXPENSES BUDGET!!!
Things to remember and bear in mind:
- You shouldn’t publish opinions, gossip or anything personal in nature about anyone – even if they are another candidate.
- It’s ok to mention people in a factual way i.e. about what they have or haven’t done – as long as you can produce evidence to support any facts that you mention.
- ‘Play the ball, not the man’
- Hearsay or word of mouth is NOT factual evidence!.
- Never lie or create stories.
- Never make false promises, or suggest you will be able to influence matters that you will not.
- Be sure that the information you are discussing is relevant to the work you will have the ability to do and the authority you are working to be elected to.
- If you are going to refer to someone else’s work, reference the work openly and the source it came from.
- Always ask permission to reproduce work and/or pictures which have/has a copyright and acknowledge that it does.
- Where possible, ask the permission of the copyright holder first and remember that even as an Independent, some people will not be happy to be linked directly or otherwise with a political campaign.
Probably one of the things that anyone new to politics will fear most of all is canvassing – or going from door to door, speaking to residents and finding out what they think.
Believe it or not, once you have started to gain some experience, canvassing can be a lot of fun. It gives you a genuine opportunity to speak one-to-one with the people you are asking to vote for you, and also to find out why other people might be seeing you in a different way and possibly getting you wrong.
As a rule, you personally and if that’s not possible, a reliable member of any supporting team that you have, should knock on every door in the Ward or Division where you hope to get elected during the Formal Election Campaign at least once.
If at all possible, you should visit doorsteps more. When I was first elected, my running mate and I had knocked on every door twice and in some cases three or four times right up to 9pm on the day of the election itself.
You don’t have to wait until its actually election time before you canvass.
If you want to be taken seriously by voters of all kinds, you would do well to visit everyone, every few months as an absolute minimum, before you are elected, and once you are elected too.
Suggestions for canvassing during an election campaign:
- Make a plan for covering certain areas and giving yourself enough time to cover a set part of it every evening or Saturday during the election campaign.
- Knock on every door and wait long enough for someone to answer.
- When you do get an answer, always try to smile and be polite.
- Introduce yourself and tell them what you are doing briefly. (You should devise and remember a sentence that says something like ‘Hello, I’m Adam Tugwell and I’m running for Tewkesbury Borough Council as an Independent Candidate in the Elections on 4th May, when I very much hope to be elected to represent you’.
- Ask them if they are planning to vote and who they are planning to support.
- At this point, you should know if pursuing a conversation where you can discuss your manifesto is a good idea. Basically, if they tell you they are voting for another candidate in a very clear way, wish them a nice day and be on your way!
- If they are open to talking, don’t immediately see a green light to grandstand your ideas.
- Ask them how they feel about the area and what they would like to see being done.
- DON’T criticise or talk negatively about the other candidates – no matter how you feel about them. You are running your own race!
- DON’T make promises you cannot keep.
- Do run through your commitments, but keep them brief and to perhaps no more than 3 to 5 ‘bullet points’.
- Be prepared to talk through any or all of your commitments.
- NEVER lie if you feel cornered by a question or comment in any way. Be honest and say you will research a topic if you have found yourself challenged by what someone has said – it’s a great way to open up communication if you offer to go back or contact them by e-mail or by phone – and they will feel really valued if you do.
- Make sure that they have a copy of your literature if you have already delivered some, and your contact details for if they wish to get in touch.
- When you have left the property, make a note about how many votes you believe you can expect from that household.
- If possible, use a copy of the Electoral Roll to do this.
- The Electoral Roll will provide names of the people in each house, but it is safest not to use the names to address people when they answer the door, just in case it isn’t them! Names appear on the Electoral Roll which may not be the names people use in their day-to-day lives. You will avoid feeling red-faced or silly, if you happen to stumble upon someone like this by greeting everyone in the same way.
REMEMBER: You must not refer to yourself as being a ‘candidate’ for any election in any way, written, spoken or otherwise, unless and until you have been formally recognised as being a candidate for that specific Election by the Democratic Services Department at the Council which is managing the Election you plan to run in.
Suggestions at other times:
- Make a plan for covering a certain area, giving yourself enough time to complete it on a Saturday morning.
- A week or perhaps two weeks before, visit each of the houses and deliver a small leaflet outlining the issues you are working on and making clear that you would like to know what residents think about these, or anything else which might be of concern to them.
- On the leaflet, tell them when you will be returning, and ask them to display the leaflet where it can be seen on the day you are going to return. That way you will only knock on doors where people want to talk – which wont by any means be all. But you will also save yourself a lot of time too. (People will remember that you have been to their house and have given them the opportunity to speak to you, even if they don’t take up the offer)
- When you call at a house, like when you are canvassing at election time above, be polite, smile and introduce yourself, making reference to your note. (Which will hopefully be easy for you to point at)
- Ask them what they would like to talk about, let them speak and make sure you listen!
- Be open about your thoughts about what you can do.
- Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
- Always be prepared to signpost someone who can help them if you genuinely know that you cannot.
Once you have learned a routine and the best way to interact on the doorstep, the experience will be incredibly useful.
One thing you should never do is get involved in an argument on somebody’s doorstep, especially over your policies. It is important to be aware that you don’t always know who you are talking to on a doorstep, and if they support another candidate, they may consider it an investment in supporting the other candidate by wasting your time. The logic being that you will have less time to spend with people who might support you, if you are on their doorstep fruitlessly trying to convince them to change their mind!
If you are new to politics and campaigning, probably the very best way to open up communication with the people you are going to ask to vote for you is to distribute a questionnaire.
Questionnaires are a very effective way of opening up dialogue with people in your area, allowing them to tell you about what concerns them and how you could represent them better, whilst starting the long-term job of demonstrating that you not only care about them and what is important to them, but you are also prepared to listen and find out how you can make a difference.
The process is simple, but must be seen through if you are going to get maximum value from the process.
- Design a questionnaire
- Test your questionnaire
- Print enough copies for the area where you are planning to seek election
- Deliver your questionnaire
- Knock on every door to collect your questionnaire
- Collate your results
- Communicate your results
Design a Questionnaire
Probably the most important part to get right, is designing your questionnaire.
You will probably already have a good idea about the issues that the community is experiencing, whether its speeding traffic, development, antisocial behaviour, regularity of bin collections or any one of a number of many others – some which will almost certainly be very specific to the area.
Even if you are certain you know what the issues are, it is always a good idea to ask people for their opinion – whilst being sure that you are not attempting to influence them with your own.
What is very important, is that you should not attempt to mislead people in the area you will be seeking election, by drawing attention to issues which will fall outside the scope and responsibility of that which would be your own as an elected councillor – if you are successful.
This is why it is essential that you understand what the authority you hope to represent is responsible for.
Yes, you might get elected by promising to deliver results which would never be within your control or sphere of influence, but people are not stupid, and will learn not to trust you in a heartbeat – the moment they understand what you have done.
REMEMBER – this exercise is about learning how other people feel about issues affecting their lives. It is not an opportunity to preach or grandstand your own views. Doing so will just annoy people and switch them off to what you can do.
Think of questions which are closed – i.e. they can be answered with a simple yes and no.
Questions should be about local issues, not ideas.
Use a simple word-processing programme like Microsoft Word, and a type face no smaller that 12pt.
Make sure it is easy to read and remember that it is likely that at least some of the people who will read your questionnaire will have difficultly reading, so keep plenty of spaces between questions.
DO NOT write anything that is defamatory about anyone – even if you believe the information to be true.
DO NOT ask for personal information of any kind.
If you do ask for people to provide any information about themselves, you MUST ask them to confirm that they are happy for you to keep their data. Add a check box to be sure.
Do not try to lead people with your questions – if you want an honest response.
Avoid attempting to influence people in the way that you write your questions. A simple test is to look at your question and check if you are using a word or words like because, or have edited what you have said to remove them.
ALWAYS provide an opportunity for people to tell you about issues you have not raised with your questions.
ALWAYS tell people who you are and what you are doing.
Provide an e-mail address at the very least at all times, and ensure that all contact details required during a formal campaign period are correctly available on your questionnaire.
Invite people to contact you to ask you questions and tell you more.
If you would be uncomfortable asking any of your questions face-to-face, DON’T ASK THEM – as they are likely to be received in the same way.
Make clear when you will be calling around to collect completed Questionnaires.
Collect your questionnaires personally.
Test your Questionnaire
Even the best politicians can get things wrong.
What we write and how it sounds as our internal voice may not be how it comes across to others, so it’s always better to check.
Before putting ANY literature through doors, ALWAYS get a few different people to read through and feedback on what you have done.
If the people you ask to review your work are honest, you may feel prickly to what they have to say, but take it on board – and always act upon genuinely advice from people who do not have something to gain by influencing you to go a different way.
Print enough copies for the area where you are planning to seek election
It’s really important that you visit every house in the area where you are seeking election.
You may not want to for as simple a reason as you know a Councillor lives in the house next door and as such feel its almost certain that the people who live there will not vote for you.
The funny thing with politics is, that it doesn’t work like that. The person who lives next door to a Councillor could end up being your greatest supporter – and as one vote could be all you need to secure a win, you should never let any kind of illogical fear rule out visiting just one house!
The Democratic Services Department at the local District Level Authority should be able to provide details of the numbers of properties in the Ward or Division you are going to target. However, there may be restrictions upon how much information they will give you outside of a formal Campaign period, and even then, you may have to provide certain commitments to how you will keep any data secure and what purposes you will use it for.
Get in touch with them to find out about how you can get a copy of the Electoral Roll.
Deliver your Questionnaire
Delivering a leaflet is one of the quickest ways to get to know your patch and the people within it. It gets you seen by people who wouldn’t otherwise recognise you, and putting a name to a face will be one of your greatest allies in securing votes from local people to fight for local issues.
If you have decided to run in an Election that is coming up quickly, you may need to get some help. Just be sure that whoever is delivering leaflets is someone you trust to represent you wherever they may go.
Knock on every door to collect your Questionnaire
Developing a relationship with people is essential in local politics.
When there isn’t a national election of some kind on which coincides with the date of the Election and people are not so tribal with their votes, the people who know you could really make all the difference and in some cases give you a significant win.
When you speak to people and ask their opinion, they will feel that they are important. This can apply to people who might even vote for one of the main Parties at other times. People not only like to know they can access the people who represent them – but that those people who represent them are ready and waiting to listen to them too.
When you call, it is really important to be polite. Introduce yourself and who you are, and tell them that you recently delivered a questionnaire.
Some people will have thrown them away. Others will simply be too busy with life to want to talk. Some will be rude (remember its not personal – most people have a very low opinion of politicians these days). But many will be only too pleased to talk.
Once you have spoken to a few different people on the doorstep, you will get an idea of what really works.
When you are collecting a questionnaire, just keep the focus on the information you are being given and leave telling people about what you plan to do until another time.
Collate your results
When you have collected ALL of your questionnaires – that means all of those you have had returned completed AFTER visiting every address, you need to collate your results.
The best way to do this is on a spreadsheet with a programme like Microsoft Excel. A good idea is to set up a box for yes and a box for no against each question. Then put a 1 in the next space in the column or row against the yes or the no for each question for every form.
You will then be in a position to use the spreadsheet formulas to count up the numbers.
Using a spreadsheet is a very safe and simple way to manage your results. You can easily check that you haven’t missed anybody or have any misleading information as the number of no’s added to the number of yes’s for any one question should always add up to the number of questionnaires.
As you work through the questionnaires, you will begin to see patterns emerging. Some might not be what you were expecting – and its here that you will define yourself against many others, by doing the right thing.
Never try to manipulate data to suit your own needs. Whether that means ignoring the results of a question, or trying to read the information in a way that helps an argument, but which you know is misrepresentative or simply untrue, you will do yourself no favours and immediately fail the people you want to represent.
Always be open. If real data tells you the majority of people want things to go a certain way – that’s what you must go with.
Communicate your results
If you are in the build up to an election, a good questionnaire and the results from it will serve you very well as the basis of your Election Manifesto.
Ideally, the best time to do put a questionnaire out for this purpose, will be a few weeks before the Election is formally called – in perhaps February or early March – if your election is part of the normal cycle, and isn’t a by-election.
ALWAYS give yourself enough time to complete the process!
If you do, you can use the data you have harvested to support your campaign, knowing that your words will resonate with the majority of people AND have the added bonus that they will know you have been listening to them too.
At other times, the best way to communicate what you have found will be through a newsletter, by social media or through a blog – which believe me, local people will soon begin to read when you are talking about the real issues which are important to them.
The nuts and bolts of any political campaign will be your understanding of what the authority you are running for has been doing; has achieved and where it has not been doing as well.
The key facts that you will require, along with the history of how decisions have been made and who was involved will be available as a public record.
There is an expectation that government at all levels will be transparent with its decision making and policy development. As such, the records of public meetings and those involving committees and sub committees are usually available on the website of the authority.
This means that you can access the information you need very easily and usually with just a few clicks.
Suggestions for reading:
- The Agendas of Meetings
- The Minutes of Meetings
- Reports for Public Consultations
- The Council’s Strategy Documents
- All other documents which have been publicly released.
- The attendance records and voting history for any sitting Councillor you may be running against as a candidate in a future election
Local Authorities may now have many years worth of historical documents available online. As a sensible rule, just read up on documents covering the work of the authority during its past 4 year term, unless there is a significant issue which you would like to see addressed, which has been ‘active’ for longer and it will help to obtain research from the start.
If information you need to access is not available publicly, it may be protected, or otherwise available through a FOI Request. (Freedom of Information) for which an administration fee may be payable. If you wish to access information in this way, you should contact the authority involved.
As a good councillor, making it your business to be aware of everything going on in your area at community level is essential to help you be the representative that you need to be.
Issues often overlap, and if you don’t ensure you are equipped with an objective view, the issues that you are passionate about will suffer from an unintended form of isolation, because you have no knowledge of how gaining success with one issue will impact upon others if you do.
Information about what’s going on, what’s upsetting people, and what you can potentially do to help the people you plan to represent is available from many different sources.
My best advice is that you introduce yourself to all of them, build links and relationships with and within all, and never close yourself off to any source of information.
Just bear in mind that every organisation or business has agendas of its own and it’s healthy to have this at the back of your mind when you are considering their news.
Council Meetings, Minutes & News
Whatever council you are aiming to run for, it is really important to be aware of what ALL the local authorities are doing in the area where you will work.
You can and should attend meetings of other councils covering the area where you are seeking election as often as possible, whether they are above or below the council you have targeted within the tiers of Government.
Even if you go straight for a County level seat, the information from a Parish Council meeting can be invaluable because Parish & Town Councils are the most accessible form of Government and therefore the most likely to be accessed by the voters who are important to you.
Equally, if you are going to be a great parish representative, it really helps to know what your District and County level authorities are doing!
If you can’t attend, it’s not the end of the world. Minutes, Reports and Agendas are available on the websites for District and County level authorities as a matter of course, and most Parish & Town Councils are now in the position to do the same.
Make sure you follow all the Councils representing the area you will be working in on Social Media, and check that you follow each department that is communicating its own news too – e.g. Education at a County Council. Planning, Licensing, Refuse collections at a District level authority.
It’s really important to have and maintain a realistic view of all media, and particularly your local newspapers, online news and radio stations.
They are all highly discerning about what they consider to be news, and their view of what makes good news is likely to be very different to your own – particularly if you are looking ahead to how issues can and might grow as time passes.
What the news sees as current affairs in political terms is often the tip of an iceberg that grew from the bottom up.
Nonetheless, listening to, reading and following all of your local media on Social Media is a very good idea, because it will help you see how the developing bigger picture in the wider area around you, and see how events elsewhere may contribute to shaping strategic level policy nearer to home.
BBC Local Radio is probably one of the best sources for the news that you will need to be aware of most. If you cannot listen regularly, follow their Social Media and keep an eye on the BBC Local News web pages too.
REMEMBER TO THINK CRITICALLY. The news provided by the media is often much more opinion in content than news. Facts, figures and even stories themselves are frequently presented to encourage a particular reaction or certain point of view and in this sense, local media is often no different to the national channels.
Probably the easiest way to focus on as many news sources as possible, Social Media is a great way to find out what all your stakeholders are doing, planning and thinking about the issues which they are specifically facing.
Follow all the key organisations in your area.
- Council Departments
- The Police
- The Fire Service
- The Ambulance Service
- The Environment Agency
- The Highways Agency
- Local Travel Companies
- Prominent local businesses – especially those with a high profile in the local community
- Charities such as Food Banks, Rotary, Lions, RSPCA
- The Hospitals serving your area
- Local Interest Groups – particularly those focused on local issues
- The local branches of the Political Parties
- Councilors representing the same area from the other tiers of government
- Your local MP
With at least one school, if not several in almost every Ward or Division, keeping an eye on news from any of them in the area you are targeting will be very useful.
Schools usually have communities of their own which can be very vibrant, and naturally focus on educational issues.
Education based issues will be a key focus for County council candidates. However, other community focused matters do come into focus such as road and community safety, and the use of community buildings or recreation resources, which might be important if a school has limited space of its own.
Most Schools have a Social Media presence, and it will be in your interests to follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and also keep an eye on their websites.
Once you are elected, it will then be to your benefit to introduce yourself to local head teachers and possibly the boards of governors too, so that you can open up a clear channel of communication and help them with any issues that relate to your areas of responsibility as a councillor.
Local Charities, Voluntary Organisations & Interest Groups
You will probably be surprised by just how many Local Charities, Voluntary Organisations and Interest Groups there are around you, particularly in Cities, Towns and built-up areas.
Some will already be known to you for the work they are doing in the community, or the campaigning that they are doing.
Others will be in the background, but be mentioned in the minutes and agendas of council meetings, on notice boards and in a broad web search of charities, voluntary organisations and interest groups in your area.
When you find them, check out their websites. If the work they are doing is community focused, follow them on Social Media and look for opportunities to attend events that they might be holding, and which you will be able to attend.
Surprising as it may sound, just attending events and taking the time to say hello to people and introduce yourself is a very effective way to get yourself known and pick up useful information on current and upcoming issues.
You don’t need to speak, grandstand or try to force your way into the limelight. Just being there is usually enough.
When you have been seen a few times in different places, people will begin to get more interested in who you are and what it is that you are doing.
Social Clubs, Pubs & word of mouth
Just talking to people from the area you are hoping to get elected is always a good way to pick up information on what issues are on the minds of potential voters locally.
Canvassing and Questionnaires are probably the best way to get direct intelligence from your potential electors. But it is nonetheless a formal process.
A more relaxed way to get to know people and find out what they think is to visit local social clubs and pubs, picking up information by word of mouth as you do.
Once people know who you are and what you are doing, many will take the opportunity to tell you what they think about things when you find them in a social setting. Barriers often come down and there is that feeling that you all have something in common and might actually be friends.
Just having a chitchat with people can reveal an awful lot about what’s on the minds of people locally and this kind of insight can help you no end.
You do need to be cautious with this approach however.
Remember that you will also encounter a lot of gossip and one-sided truths. So if you do hear something that is of interest, use it as a guide to investigate further and check the facts, rather than seeing it as an immediate opportunity to get carried away with a new approach or course of action.
Drinking with potential voters – even if the circumstances appear friendly and convivial, can also be one of the quickest ways to remove the respect that local people might have for you.
Always remember to focus on asking questions and listening to what you are being told. This is not the time to preach any kind of plan or manifesto!
The Emergency Services
Always follow the Police, Ambulance and Fire Services in your local area.
They are all very active on Social Media and will have informative websites for you to read too.
The news from the Emergency Services will often be incident led. It may not even be massively relevant on and event-by-event basis.
However, you will pick up common themes with incidents that they all report and may also pick up useful pointers about strategic issues which could have a broad impact across the responsibilities of different local authorities across the area.