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Day: February 23, 2015

On needing a thick skin in politics and why it isn’t for many of us…

I was reminded by someone the other day that to be involved in politics, to whatever degree, you need a thick skin. You put yourself out there and people will take shots at you and think that pretty much everything is fair game. The line seems not only be be blurred but indeed it doesn’t exist at all.

Indeed I’ve seen people go trawling through others social media accounts from months and years previously to when they were adopted as candidates to try and find something to trip them up. Some will call this good thorough journalism, I call it cheap. In this social media era, so much of what we say is recorded for everyone to read, years later in some instances and people change, circumstances change, yet people will find whatever they can to use against them, is this the world I want to live in?

For months I have told family members that in my next stop it is very unlikely that I’ll get actively involved in local politics. That sense has only become more hardened in recent times.

I’m reminded of an MP, I can’t remember who off hand who was going hammer and tongs with one of the ‘celebrity’ panellists on Question Time one week. The MP was a Tory and the ‘celebrity’ was well known for their left wing views. After recording he turned round and said to them that it was all part of the show and a bit of fun and walked off. It just goes to prove that politicians are often playing characters and aren’t being totally open and honest. They are playing up to their core vote.

Ian Swales, Lib Dem MP for Redcar didn’t plan on winning in 2010, deep down he didn’t even want to. He is a one-term MP who is standing down. He called the thrill of it all a bit like a game, you want to win because winning is good but winning means you have to do your best to represent your electorate. He said his ideal result was to lose but closely, then hand over to a younger person to win the next time round. Having spoken to people from all parties, this isn’t a totally isolated viewpoint. Winning is like a drug and winning is great but with winning comes long-term responsibilities.

On the other side of the ledger is losing. Losing is not fun, most people don’t want to lose but losing badly is a different thing altogether. The only time I’ve personally stood I got a battering and in all honesty it was mostly fair. I also knew it was coming and it didn’t effect me one jot.

The only thing from the campaign that jawed with me externally was being woken up at stupid o’clock by someone demanding to know why I thought the hustings should have free for all entrants. After the best part of half an hour of pretty much being shouted at I told her that it didn’t matter, I was going to lose handsomely anyway and she really shouldn’t worry too much about my thoughts that the ability to hear politicians speak should not be influenced by having to pay money to do so. I stand by my PoV that all hustings events be free but I know it cost me not only votes (I might have broken 100!) but it also cost the party some good will.

Thinking about it, I also recall an incident where at the hustings I was asked a question, I can’t remember exactly what it was about but I think the crux of it was along the lines of some children get cheaper bus travel than others and some poorer kids were being disadvantaged by this. It was something along those lines. I said that a possible answer was to make the discounted rate for the journey higher by 10p or 20p a journey but allow all students to get the discounted rate.

Another candidate from another party and ward came up to me afterwards and wasn’t happy with my suggestion as they had kids and get the discounted rate and that would make that family worse of and they couldn’t afford anything extra. Interestingly enough I have seen that person buying their groceries in M&S on many an occasion. That same person offered me ‘information’ on a Tory candidate in last years elections but didn’t want their hands on it but wanted me to run with it. I declined the offer. This is the way politics works folks. In all fairness the Lib Dem candidate had the information as well but also declined to use it and for that, I applaud them.

On to politics in general, what I find most disturbing is how people revel in the defeat of others. People win, people lose, you just get on with it but some people want parties to lose badly as they think it would be funny. When you get people wanting the Lib Dems for example to get battered by UKIP but they in fact despise UKIP but their hate for UKIP is less than their dislike for the Lib Dems then you have to stand there and think, ‘really?’ They see it as part of the game and this happens across all parties. I don’t see how people can see it as a game and that the aim isn’t just to win but they want to win and see someone else lose badly because it will give them more personal gratification.

I know I’m dumb and idealistic that people should only concentrate on themselves and what they have to offer to the electorate but so many people from across the political spectrum seem to want to console themselves that a person or a party they don’t like lost – and not only that – the severity of their defeat. In my dumb mind it is all very simple, candidates put forward their cases to the electorate, the person with the most votes wins and the others take what they can and either regroup, regress or re-up their efforts to win the seat next time.

May is very much going to be a tale of two stories for the Lib Dems. The vote is going to collapse but yet the number of MPs won’t collapse to anywhere near the same degree. The power of incumbency is going to do well for the party in many places, including some that the bookies have written off as Lib Dem losses.

Internal polling data shows that the strong grass-roots in these areas are holding up and not collapsing. A great seat to watch will be Redcar which should go Labour easily but with all the trouble they are having at council level and the fact the Lib Dem MP is well-liked, that seat isn’t a given to go (although the fact Ian Swales is stepping out negates the incumbency somewhat).

Jenny Willott in Cardiff Central looked a shoo-in to drop to Labour but internal polling puts it neck and neck. I’ve consistently said that 30-35 MPs is where I think they’ll stand and if you forced me to go higher or lower than that range, I’d go higher. Another good example is Cambridge where Labour opened up as favourites and now all the bookmakers with a book open have the Lib Dems at odds on to hold. Of course they’ll be losses and the gains will be minimal but Watford is a genuine three-way marginal, in Maidstone & Weald the Lib Dems are live dogs as they are in a handful of other seats that they are looking to take from other parties.

On the other side where the local party have either collapsed or become disillusioned and their is neither an incumbent MP nor an energised local party then the vote will just tank. This will happen in many places across the UK. It won’t be pretty but that is the way it is. Such is life as it were.

I made a decision to not blog about local politics for the rest of this campaign. I did the same in 2014 but this year I was teased out by people writing things that were either plain wrong or laughable and it has only brought me anguish and sadness. I blog because I love to write, not to be right. I struggle every day with the idea of being right or knowing whether or not I’m doing the right or the wrong thing. If writing about certain subjects is only going to bring me anguish and sadness then why should I do it? I feel that way about politics in general to a significant degree.

I would love to help make the world around me a better place, a fairer place, a greener place, a happier place but sometimes you just have to be selfish and worry about your own peace of mind and happiness. My skin is neither thin but nor is it thick. I’m just a guy who enjoys a quiet and peaceful life. Politics brings with it a lot of baggage and that is baggage I thought would disappear if you weren’t actually a candidate, seemingly I was wrong.

So there we have it. To all people who want to get actively involved in politics I tell them to think long and hard about it. You will meet some good people, you’ll win, you’ll lose, you’ll meet some less good people, you’ll have good times, you’ll have bad times but you have to ask yourself whether you want to put your head above the parapet. People will shoot you down even if you make valid points because your point of views contradict with their own and you’ll find in politics there is far too much testosterone flying about to get actual debate flowing.

People want to be right and not only that, they’ll believe with every fibre that they are right. This is something I’ve found from across the political spectrum. To hang in there you’ll need not only a thick skin but a complete confidence in your own abilities and your own mind. If you are like me and struggle, not with your inner-beliefs but with what is actually the best thing to do and the best way forward then it will be a hard slog and one you may want to avoid if you want a happier, less stressful life. You’ll meet people who will have such a strong sense of self-belief that you’ll cave under their sense of gravitas and self-belief.

Active politics will be without a shadow of a doubt be the most frustrating thing you do in your life if you do choose to get involved. I look forward to walking away when my commitments are done with but I have them and will continue to fulfil them to the best of my abilities but when I up sticks and move on to pastures new then I will enjoy watching from the sidelines – at least for a while.

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