Wallpaper, Flying Bricks and the Red Wall

By Phil Briscoe

But what about the candidates?

Since 7am this morning, millions of people across the country have had the opportunity to go out and vote in the biggest round of local elections we have seen for almost half a century.  Set against a political news backdrop that has focused on wallpaper, the future of the red wall and how we build back after the pandemic, you might be forgiven for taking a wrong turn and heading to B&Q (or should that be John Lewis?!) instead of the polling station.

But looking beneath the media varnish, polling day is a chance to reflect on the army of individuals who make an election possible. I’m not talking about the thousands of electoral staff or campaign volunteers who all make a huge contribution, but those people who put their names on ballot papers as candidates and go off in search of local votes – today, that band of people numbers a staggering 21,370, and that is without the thousands who put themselves forward at parish and town council level.

Of those candidates, 16 are running for the parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool, 88 are challenging for a directly-elected mayor position (including 20 candidates for the London Mayor), 165 candidates are attempting to be Police and Crime Commissioners, 249 contenders are in the running to be members of the London Assembly and 19,160 individual candidates will be on ballot papers for county, district and unitary council seats across the country. In addition, 1,058 candidates are competing to fill the seats in the Scottish Parliament and 634 candidates are hoping to make it into the Welsh Parliament.

There are candidates of all political persuasions and descriptions and if you look far enough you can almost certainly find a candidate who reflects your interests, even appropriately for this theme, The Incredible Flying Brick who is running as a candidate in Hartlepool! Aside from a few well-documented examples, candidates generally are putting themselves forward for the right reasons and all want to make a contribution to positive local outcomes. If you are seeking fame or fortune, try another route!

Few events in life can be compared to standing as a candidate in an election campaign – around five weeks of all-encompassing dedication bordering on obsession, where every waking hour (and a few sleepless ones as well) is occupied by self-promotion and trying to convince voters to go out and put a cross next to your name. For many, those few weeks are the culmination of months and even years of local pavement politics. Then polling day arrives and the decision is out of your hands, as the long wait follows for the votes to be counted and declared, with a result that doesn’t necessarily reflect the amount of effort devoted to the campaign – rather like training for a sporting competition before letting someone else run the race for you.

What follows is a mix of elation, deflation and an overwhelming sense of anti-climax that must surely rank up there with the end of Line of Duty (promise, no more spoilers!) Followed of course by the paperwork, election returns and thankyous, coupled (for around 25% of those candidates) with the work of being elected.

I should also declare my interest that I have been a candidate several times (for four different authorities), and although I have served as a councillor, I’ve lost more elections than I have won!

Many people know about the elections and will go out to vote today, others know and are not interested and some people neither know nor care about the elections. However, whatever you think about elections, it is worth reflecting on the contribution candidates make to our democratic system – we would all be poorer without their commitment and sacrifice.

The elections today carry much more significance than previous years though. On a day when you still can’t drink in a pub, eat in a restaurant or go and visit a friend in their home, the elections represent the first truly national event as we emerge from the pandemic and lifting the national mood in a collective sense is as important for the individual voters as it is for the government, and will really signal that we are on the road to normality.

The over-riding task for most elected authorities after today will be to build back from the impacts of the last year. Today is about everyone exercising their democratic do-it-yourself prerogative and electing the representatives who have to respond to that challenge. But in doing so, spare a thought for the candidates who made it all possible, even if they are destined to just be another brick in the wall.