How should I organise my time during the campaign period?

That depends on how much time you have got to dedicate to campaigning. A lot of candidates will still be working during the campaign period, and will be trying to juggle family responsibilities as well – it’s a lot!

I think you need a blend of face-to-face contact with voters and virtual campaigning (answering emails, being active on social media, responding to media enquiries – activities which reach a broader audience, but with less of a human connection). If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, then door-knocking is probably not much of a realistic option, but you can still manage face-to-face contact by going along to hustings, or even by standing in a public place with a banner identifying you as a candidate, and talking to people as they pass by.

Be careful with social media – it can really draw you in, and you can find you’re spending a lot of time on there, but only actually talking to a small pool of people. Be reasonably strict with yourself about how much time you’re going to give to social media, and how much time to answering emails and other virtual campaign activities.

Where you don’t have control over the timing of an event (hustings or presentations, for example) do get those in your diary nice and early.

Aside from that, I think it helps to have a plan for how you’re going to spend your time during the week ahead. You probably don’t want to plan much more than a week at a time, because it’s a really intense period and you want to give yourself enough flexibility to respond as things change! A plan isn’t a promise – don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to schedule – but it helps you to think through how much time you want to give to different campaign activities, and to make sure you’re balancing your time sensibly.

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How can I prepare for voters’ questions?

Read a lot, and talk a lot. In particular, seek out existing States Members and ask them about the issues that have been debated this term, and the different angles that concern people about them. Talking is helpful because you cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time, and you get a window into aspects of the issue that aren’t necessarily going to be obvious in writing.

Even if the deadline is a long way off, you might want to start preparing answers to the various candidate questionnaires that exist. Doing this will help you to think through where you stand on a variety of issues, so you’ll be able to answer more naturally when people ask you similar questions face-to-face.

Finally, don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to everything. Be honest with voters – most people respect that. Show that you’re willing to learn. Explain how you would go about solving a problem, if you don’t know the actual solution yet. Don’t shut the conversation down – I don’t think many voters would be impressed by a candidate who says “that’s outside my comfort zone, so I’m not going to talk about it.” But feel free to acknowledge “that’s something I need to learn more about”, and even to ask “what do you think I should know or do?”

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Can I help to solve people’s problems?

If you’re talking to people about the States, a lot of people are going to tell you about public services that don’t work well for them, or about times they feel they have been treated wrongly or failed by the system. Some of these will be desperately difficult problems which are a real issue here and now – and you’ll want to try and do all you can to help fix it.

If you are a first-time candidate, I would just be a little bit cautious about what you promise. People’s lives are complicated, and you may not have the time or the ability to get fully involved in sorting out a problem while you’re on the campaign trail, however much you may want to.

If there is an obvious, immediate need for outside help, then you might want to point the person in the direction of someone who can offer it. The Citizens Advice Bureau is usually a good place to start, or another voluntary organisation more directly related to the person’s needs. It is probably wisest to pass on contact details, and leave it up to the person to choose if they want to get in touch.

If there is an injustice which needs addressing, but it isn’t urgent, you can say to the person: “I don’t think I’ll be able to address this for the next few weeks, but I’d be glad to pick it up with you after the Election, and try to get things sorted for you.” If you say this, make sure you mean it. Give the person a way of getting in touch with you that will work after the Election, whether or not you’re elected; or make yourself a diary note to get back in touch with them again after the Election. If you’re not elected, you might not be in a position to do what you hoped – if that happens, try and connect the person to someone else who might be able to help.

Ultimately, you’ll handle this in the way that feels right for you. I think it might just be useful to know that the campaign period is a conundrum – it’s the time when you’re most likely to find out about people’s problems, but least likely to be able to take any meaningful action to address them – and to have some ways of managing that, so you don’t leave people in the lurch, but you also aren’t making promises you can’t fulfil.  

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What are people going to ask me about?

Everything! Each person you speak to will have their own ideas about what issues are most important for us here in Guernsey, and their own view about how those issues should be addressed.

You don’t have to be an expert on everything, though. If you’ve been in the States before, you’ll be expected to know more than if you’re a first-time candidate. But even returning Deputies get to say “that’s not a topic I’ve had much involvement in, so I would need to do more research”, or “actually, we’re looking into that at the moment, I want to see what the evidence says.”

If you can’t tell people what the solution to a given problem is, then try and tell them how you would go about solving it, or what kind of things you would be looking for in a solution.

And also – don’t forget to listen. People who ask you about a given topic are probably doing so because it’s something they care about. It may well be something they have a professional background in, or have thought about carefully themselves. Don’t be afraid to say: “this is how I think I would approach it – but what would you do?” Take the opportunity to learn from the people you meet, as well as to share your views.

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How do I stay safe?

When I was campaigning, I took the view that door-knocking in Guernsey was likely to be pretty low risk, but not “no risk”. So I took a few sensible precautions to try and stay as safe as possible.

One of those was avoiding houses that felt unsafe. I only came across a couple of those – places with fierce dogs, or places up little alleys, invisible from the road where you had to make your way through an overgrown garden filled with rusted cars before you reached the front door. Places that set off a little alarm bell in your head, for one reason or another.

I know that I might have completely misjudged, and those places may have been perfectly safe. But you have to decide for yourself what level of risk feels tolerable, when you are out campaigning by yourself, and I chose not to risk it.

The same goes for actually going into other people’s homes. My starting position is “don’t do it” – at least if you are talking to someone on their doorstep, and you start to feel unsafe, you can walk away if you need to. (And you can be seen by passers-by, which probably helps to keep things civil in the first place.)

Having said that, I broke that rule several times myself, and had some lovely chats with people in their front rooms, over generous (and much-needed) cups of tea. It’s always a bit of a gamble – some people who seem lovely can turn out to be completely different. But certainly don’t go inside if your inner alarm is already going off. Politely but firmly insist on continuing the conversation on the doorstep – or if it’s obvious the other person needs to sit down, offer to take a phone number, so you can call and speak to them when they’re more comfortable.

A lot of the risk of canvassing comes from visiting strangers’ houses, alone. I mitigated this by not being entirely alone. I arranged to have someone who knew where I was, and I would text them every half hour or so to confirm everything was OK. (If they didn’t hear from me, they would call me.)

I know some other candidates were even less alone – they’d have a friend or family member walking the route with them, and the other person would wait at the top of the road during door-knocking, to give the candidate and the voter a bit of space. This is a lovely solution if you have people with the time and patience to do this with you.

Alternatively, you might want to look into downloading an app like HollieGuard, which allows you to share your location and call for help if you’re in danger.

Finally, don’t forget that you are canvassing in the middle of a pandemic, even if we have been exceptionally fortunate here in Guernsey. Use hand sanitiser, minimise physical contact with other people, and respect people who are shielding. For public health advice on staying safe and healthy while canvassing, you might want to refer to the official Candidate Briefing (slides 18 onwards).

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Should I try to walk the whole Island?

No. It will be physically impossible to canvass the whole Island on foot (or even by bike or car) in the time you have available.

If you try to do that, you will have no time left for other methods of campaigning, which are likely to have a more substantial impact, and that will put you at a real disadvantage – as well as leaving you exhausted!

But I think it is worth doing some door-to-door work if you can fit in the time, and if you are able to do so. I’ve written about how you might want to approach that, here.

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Should I knock on people’s doors?

Yes – if you can afford the time. (And obviously, so long as you respect any “no knocking” signs – whether people are worried about the pandemic, or for any other reason.)

In past elections, door-to-door canvassing was a central part of almost every candidate’s election strategy. When you were only trying to reach one-seventh of the Island, you could just about plan to knock on every door in your district during the campaign period.

That’s not going to be possible this time – you will not be able to get around the Island in the time you have available. So if you plan for door-knocking to be the only, or the central, way you reach voters, you are probably going to put yourself at a disadvantage. You need to think about how else you can get your message out there.

On the other hand, if you can fit in some door-knocking, you will probably differentiate yourself positively from other candidates, in the eyes of the few voters who you meet face-to-face. Voters will be pleased that you’ve taken the time and made the effort to show up in person.

I am enthusiastic about door-knocking because I found it such a positive experience myself. When you canvass from door to door, you discover that, on the whole, most people are fairly friendly, fairly moderate in their views, and pretty supportive and respectful of the fact that you’re doing a job they would never want to do.

That’s completely different from the picture you get on social media (after all, social media is a place where people go to let off steam when they’re angry or dismayed). You genuinely do meet the “silent majority”, and they’re pretty nice, reasonable people. You don’t agree with them on everything, but (to borrow Jo Cox’ words) you have far more in with each other than the things which divide you.

And, of course, you’re out and about, walking along the streets of this beautiful Island, and more often than not, seeing Guernsey at its natural – and human – best.

I remember thinking, at the time, how much I wished I could bottle that experience and keep it with me for the difficult times ahead. I think in the end I did, metaphorically speaking. I tend to remind myself of what I learnt by going door-to-door, when things are politically hard, or when media or social media debates show the bitter side of our community, and I feel disillusioned about it all.

Before I sound too rose-tinted, a couple of notes of caution:

It isn’t quite the same for returning candidates. Once you’ve been in the States a while, you can be blamed for all sorts of things you’ve done (and plenty of things that were nothing to do with you, too!). I know that if I were canvassing again this time, I wouldn’t be painting such a sunny picture of it.

And it’s hard work. Physically and mentally. Physically, you could be covering miles a day, on foot or by bike. If you’re not used to that, it’s going to take a toll. Make sure to rest, and if you’re injured or unwell, give yourself time to recover. If you push it, you risk putting yourself out of action completely, and you don’t want that.

As for the mental side: like a surprising number of politicians, I’m pretty shy on a personal level. I’ve got no problem standing up and speaking in front of crowds of people – the part of this job I find the hardest is the schmoozing and small talk. So you can imagine, knocking on strangers’ doors did not come naturally to me. I had to take a deep breath (or several), psych myself up, then put on my Friendly Politician Face and knock on that door. If you’re like me, you might also find it heavy-going; but if you can find the courage to do it, it really is well worth it.

That leaves the question of – if you can’t canvass everywhere, how do you decide where to canvass in an island-wide election?

As I see it, there are basically 3 options:

If your friends and family are willing to volunteer to be part of Team You, you might be able to cover the whole Island between you. This would require a huge amount of time and dedication on their part, though; and it would probably have quite limited impact, because they won’t be able to answer every question a voter might have on your behalf. However, this might work if your main aim is to drop off a manifesto or a postcard at every house.

Or you might feel that island-wide voting is, ironically, a great time to adopt a parish, and focus all your canvassing on that parish – whether it’s the place you live, or another parish you have a particular link with. It’s not necessarily as silly as it sounds. A lot of people regret the loss of parish Deputies as a result of island-wide voting: you could make a favourable impression with those voters by trying to maintain some form of link. But it is a bit of a gamble – will you alienate voters from other parishes by doing so?

Or, finally, you might pick a few streets at random from each parish, and try to canvass those. Randomness is important – consider picking addresses from the Electoral Roll, rather than defaulting to streets you already know. Door-knocking opens your eyes to ways people live, often very different from your own experience (or your immediate social circle). It’s likely you will see extremes of deprivation and ill-health, and of luxury and comfort, that you were oblivious to beforehand. When you face policy issues in the years ahead, you’ll be better placed to think about their consequences for the lives of people, from all different walks of life, that you have met.

This last approach is the method I’d probably choose, if I were standing again. It gives you a snapshot of island life – far from a complete picture, but something useful. And it allows you to make face-to-face contact with voters from across the Island, and hopefully make a favourable impression by doing so. If you have the time and ability to fit in any door-knocking, it is a powerful experience, and one I have always valued immensely.

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How do I know who is on the Electoral Roll?

Only people who have signed up to the Electoral Roll will be allowed to vote in this Election.

(Voters – even if you have voted in past Elections, you need to sign up again this time! You have until Friday 21 August to do so. You can do so online via the Elections website.)

You only have a limited amount of time to get your message across to people in the month between nominations opening and Election Day, so you will probably want to concentrate your efforts on people who are actually able to vote.

This matters less if the majority of your campaigning happens online. If you’re putting information out in a public forum, it’ll be accessed by people who aren’t voters and people who are, and that’s fine – it doesn’t cost you anything extra in terms of time or effort.

If you are answering emails, I would just take people at face value and assume they are potential voters. You’ll waste more time in a back-and-forth email exchange – “can you tell me if you’re on the Electoral Roll before I answer your questions?” – than if you just get on with it and answer them.

(If it turns out they’re not on the role, just chalk it up as useful practice! Other voters will have the same kind of questions, and you’ll have spent a bit of time knocking your thoughts into shape in order to reply to this person.)

Knowing whether or not someone is on the Electoral Roll matters most if you’re planning on going door-to-door. Canvassing this way can be very time-consuming, so it matters that you focus the limited time you have on households that are actually signed up to vote.

You can do this by requesting a copy of the Electoral Roll when you submit your nomination. There’s more information in the official candidates’ guide. If you do this, you will essentially be receiving a set of 30,000 people’s contact details, and you will be responsible for keeping that safe in accordance with Data Protection requirements. (You mustn’t pass it on to anyone else, you mustn’t use it for anything other than canvassing, and you’re not entitled to keep it after the Election.)

If you are planning to canvass a particular street, you can use the Electoral Roll to check which of the houses on that street are home to a potential voter (or voters). You can then focus your time on knocking on those doors, rather than stopping at every door and just hoping for the best!

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Will I have the chance to meet voters face to face?

Yes! And I think it’s worth taking every chance you get to do so. This will be much more of an online Election than any of our past Elections, but there is a human connection that comes with meeting people face-to-face, which can build trust far more quickly than any amount of online campaigning.

According to the official candidates’ guide, there will be a Meet the Candidates event at Beau Sejour on Sunday 20 September at Beau Sejour. Get that date in your diary now, and watch the Elections website for more information.

You might be invited to various hustings events. These will probably take a very different format to previous hustings – it isn’t going to be possible to have a hundred candidates sitting at a table, taking turns to be quizzed by voters. But it will still provide an opportunity for you to engage with voters on a subject of interest.

I think the only hustings being advertised so far is the GDA’s Disability Hustings, which will take place on the evening of 16 September. Look out in the media (traditional and social) for other hustings being announced over the next couple of weeks. When you have formally submitted your nomination, you will probably receive formal invitations to all sorts of things, but if you can spot them coming up sooner, you can plan that time into your diary.

There has been a general assumption that parties might also organise their own events for voters and candidates to meet, which you’ll probably take part in if you belong to a party.

Even if you are standing as an independent, there is no reason why you shouldn’t consider organising events of your own (if you have the time and budget to do so), or grouping together with a few other candidates to do so.

(If you can’t fit in a face-to-face event of your own, but you want to do something, what about doing some kind of Q&A session for voters via livestream, and recording it so other people can access it later?)

Finally, there is always the option of going door-to-door. I don’t think that can be the main part of your campaign this time around – there just isn’t time to reach enough voters that way – but it can be a really positive part of it, if you’re able to fit it in.

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