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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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 should I reach voters?

This is island-wide voting. There are about 30,000 people on the electoral roll. Every candidate is trying to reach every one of those 30,000 people and trying to make a good enough impression to win their vote.

How do you do it?

In truth, you probably can’t. But here are some things to think about, in terms of making an impact:

You have the opportunity to include a two-page manifesto in the States manifesto booklet. This will be delivered to all households on the electoral roll. I reckon that many voters will use this as their one-stop-shop for finding out about candidates. So:

  • Don’t miss out
  • Make an impression
  • Use it as a springboard

If you want to be in the combined manifesto, you will need to use one of the five templates set out in the candidates’ guide (pages 42-46). Choose which one you want to use now. Think about text and graphics. It’ll be a big book – what are you going to do to catch people’s eye?

You’re going to need to have your manifesto submission ready on the day you put in your nomination, and – trust me – writing a good, short piece is much harder than writing a long piece. So make this a priority for now.

Keener voters will want to find out more about you, so give them the opportunity to do so. Include links to your website and/or social media accounts in that combined manifesto. You won’t fit everything into two pages, but you can use it to stir people’s interest, so that they want to discover more about what you stand for.

Use the other States-provided services, too – the 3-minute video, and the dedicated web page. The content for the web page is much the same as for your short manifesto, so don’t worry about that.

The video is harder – 3 minutes is not a long time. You need to plan what you want to say, so you don’t fumble and lose the chance to communicate. But you don’t want to be reading from a script, either – you’ll come across as wooden and unsure. You’ve got a slightly longer deadline there, according to the candidates’ guide: recording slots will be available on 5-8 September. But that’ll be upon us soon, so don’t leave it to the last minute!

If I were standing, I would take every opportunity available for face-to-face contact with voters. It’ll be different to previous elections – no traditional hustings, little if any door-knocking. But there is a human connection you make when you see someone, which isn’t quite the same as just engaging with their words. So use the opportunities that do exist – go to the “Meet the Candidates” event, take part in any hustings that are set up, and so on.

And if you have the time, I would always say it’s worthwhile to do a bit of door-knocking. As much for what you learn from it, as for the voters. I’ll come to that later. But if you are short on time during the campaign period, then you need to know that door-knocking is a big investment of time for a very small return, so it’s probably the least efficient thing you can do.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, if you’re not seeing many people face-to-face, online videos might be the next best thing. Video-recording is an art (and not one I know very much about, so take my recommendation with a pinch of salt), but I think that at least being able to see you while you speak might help you to make a connection with some voters. You could put these on your website, if you have one, or share them through your social media account.

Another, similar alternative might be to offer a livestream event where voters can listen in and ask you questions. At the very least, you’d probably want to do this with a friend, who could read out questions for you, and screen out the trollish ones. And you’d probably want to have some pre-prepared material – “lots of people are worried about X. Let me tell you my views about X!” – in case the questions run dry.

As you might guess, if I were standing, I would definitely have a website. You need somewhere to put more information about what you stand for, than you can fit in the two-page manifesto. For me, a website is the obvious thing. You can keep it updated throughout the campaign period, and you can have it ready to go live from the very beginning.

An alternative is to write and print your own physical manifesto and post it through people’s doors. It’s an option, but it’s expensive and slow, and I reckon most people will just recycle it. Maybe I’m wrong. But if I were re-standing, I’d have a lot less than £6,000 to spend on my campaign, and I don’t think that would be how I would choose to spend it.

You will probably want to be present on social media, but I would suggest being strict about the amount of time you’re prepared to spend in social media discussions, and be upfront about that. Although social media feels like you’re reaching a broad audience, I have usually found that, in fact, a disproportionate amount of time is spent in discussions with the same small group of people. In terms of efficiency, it may not be all that much better than door-knocking!

Part of the reason why I suggest being strict with yourself about social media is because I think you will have to allocate a fair amount of campaign time to answering questions, and I think that could be a far more effective use of time. You’ll be asked to complete surveys by the media, by various interest groups, by individual constituents. You’ll probably receive significantly more emails than we did, and we received quite a lot. (You might want a dedicated election email address, so you can easily keep track of things, by the way.) I’m guessing this will be the main substitute for what parish door-knocking used to do – that is, let you have conversations with lots of different people about their main areas of interest – so I’d make plenty of time for it in your day.

Of course, these are just my predictions. The reality might be quite different. Within a day or two of submitting your nomination, you’ll already have a better sense of that than I do! Don’t be afraid to adapt your strategy to match your experience. Good luck!

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