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 much time will online campaigning take?

As much time as you’re prepared to give it!

This is especially true of social media, which just consumes time. Be careful with that one.

Online campaigning will be a much bigger part of this Election than it was in previous Elections. In district-based Elections, you prioritised door-knocking and face-to-face events, and dealt with emails and social media in the corners of the day (or on the bus). I think that will be basically flipped for this Election.

I would recommend making time for any face-to-face events that will bring you into contact with multiple voters – hustings, ‘meet the candidate’ events, and so on. If you have time, I would still try to do some door-knocking, but that is a lot of time for quite little return, so it can’t be what you prioritise.

Apart from that, I think most of your contact with voters will be mediated by a computer. It won’t necessarily all be “online” – in the sense that, for example, you might be asked to complete questions for a Press supplement. You’ll probably receive those by email, and sit at your computer to answer them; but the supplement (if there is one) will be printed and arrive in voters’ home in hard copy.

But there will no doubt also be a range of online surveys, voters’ questions, and social media engagement which will be purely online. This will be your main way of reaching the majority of voters, so I would make sure that you prioritise your time so that you can do it justice; and then fit in other things depending on the time you still have available.

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How important will social media be at this Election?

I have mixed views on this.

If I were standing again, I would definitely make sure I had a presence on social media. I used Facebook and Twitter at the last Election. I would certainly add Instagram, and possibly Youtube too (on the basis that I would try to do a few audio pieces, if not videos, and would need somewhere to put them).

But I think social media can be misleading, too. The people you engage with on social media tend to be people who are more-than-usually interested in local politics. In absolute terms, the number of people you engage with may not actually be all that high. You can be fooled into thinking social media is representative, when it really is not. (That was what door-to-door canvassing taught me in the last Election. That’s why I’d still encourage some door-to-door work, if you can fit it in.)

Also, social media eats up time that you could be using on other campaign activities, and I’m not convinced the impact is necessarily that great. If you are going to use it, be strict with yourself about how much time you’ll give it, compared to other things.

There is no doubt that this Election campaign is going to happen online, to a much greater extent than previous Elections. But how much of that is going to be social media, as opposed to, say, checking the Election website or media websites for candidates’ answers to key questions? Voters will have a lot more candidates to consider this time than they’ve ever had before, and I think that, as a voter – especially if I’m not the kind of person who uses social media regularly – I might prioritise the places where I can evaluate candidates side-by-side.

I guess what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t be bold enough to run a campaign without a social media element (I use social media out of habit, anyway) – but that’s hedging my bets. Even under island-wide voting, I think it might well be possible to make an impression without social media. Just make sure to be accessible to your voters in plenty of other ways.

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What other campaign materials might I need?

If you want to reach as many voters as possible, you might need to engage with them in a variety of different ways. These are some of the things you might want to think about.

Do you want to use the materials provided by the States? If so, you will need:

  • Content for a two-page manifesto (in one of five possible templates)
  • A script or outline for a 3-minute video, and
  • Content for a candidate page on the Elections website

There is more information about how to prepare for each of these in the official candidates’ guide, towards the end of the document.

Do you want somewhere candidates can find out more about you? If so, you might want:

  • A separate personal manifesto (online-only, or printed)
  • A personal website

Do you want to drop something through people’s letterboxes, or have something to hand to people you meet face-to-face? If so, that could be:

  • A separate personal manifesto (as above)
  • A postcard or calling card, telling people where they can find out more about you

Do you want to connect with people on social media? If so, you might want to set up accounts on:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Youtube
  • or any other platform you’re comfortable with

Do you want a variety of ways of connecting with people online? If so, you might consider:

  • A personal website (as above)
  • A blog
  • Graphics with your key messages – you can post these on social media
  • Audio recordings
  • Videos
  • Livestream events

Do you want anything visual? If so, how about:

  • Posters (think about where these might be displayed, and how big they’d need to be)
  • Banners (if you’re arranging a face-to-face event, for example)
  • Something more creative?

There are probably plenty of other things I have forgotten about, but hopefully this is a good core of campaign materials to get you thinking. You won’t use all of these – some of them are more costly and time-consuming than others, for little gain in terms of impact, so if you have a limited budget, don’t try to do all of this! Focus on a few things, do them well, and take advantage of every free opportunity (media supplements, hustings and face-to-face events, and so on) to raise your profile.

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What if I don’t have a thick enough skin?

Thick skins are overrated. Being able to be moved, even saddened, by other people’s experiences, is a great asset in a policy-maker. It will help you to make more realistic, more human decisions.

You don’t need to be stony-hearted or thick-skinned. But you do need to be able to cope. So it helps to have some tactics to keep yourself from being crushed by the seriousness of some of the decisions you’ll have to make, or from being needlessly hurt by some of the hate that’s out there.

If you are on a Principal Committee – especially, I think, Health & Social Care, or Home Affairs, or Employment & Social Security, but probably many of the others as well – you will often come face-to-face with really difficult decisions.

This kind of difficult decision-making has played out at top speed during the pandemic – we’ve had to impose major limits on Islanders’ freedom, in order to keep everyone as safe and well as possible.

In normal times, government decision-making isn’t so dramatic or fast-paced, but it still deals with matters of life and death, with questions of whose freedom should be restricted and why, and with issues of poverty, inequality and deprivation. When you are involved in making these decisions, you’ll see that there is often no single good decision. Almost every decision has trade-offs, and you are trying to navigate towards the best possible outcome at the least painful cost.

It helps to talk about it. At least on a Committee, or in the States, you know you are not the only person grappling with the ethics of a problem. All your colleagues are in the same boat. That doesn’t make it easy, but it can make it more bearable.

But the other big challenge that comes with politics can be harder, and more lonely.

It’s this: Some people hate you now!

People you’ve never met, people who don’t know you at all, are all too willing to think the worst of you. They’ll post rubbish about you on social media. They’ll question your motives and your integrity. Once you are a public figure, people have a free hand to criticise and insult you, and many will do so, generally in pretty reductive and ignorant ways.

It took me a while to realise this, but – you simply don’t have to listen to it.

It is important to communicate with constituents, but you can communicate in ways that are constructive, for you and for them. People go on social media forums, or the comment pages of the local media, to vent and let off steam. Those are generally not places where you are going to be able to change anyone’s mind.

But if you prioritise one-to-one communication – whether that’s emails, phonecalls, or face-to-face – you can usually have much more productive and mutually respectful conversations. Sometimes even with the same people who are slagging you off in public online!

If someone has taken the time to call or email you, it’s a good sign (not a perfect one, but there never is) that they want to have a dialogue with you; that they’re not just playing “devil’s advocate” online for the sake of it. It is helpful to hear and speak with people who disagree with you, but you can choose to seek out the productive disagreements and avoid the places where people simply want to vent.

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Can I cope with the stresses?

Most of us get to the end of four years and find it has taken some toll on our weight, our general health, and our happiness. It helps to come into this knowing it’s not an easy job (whatever people may think), having a good support network in place, and making time to take care of yourself – I am writing a section on self-care, which I hope will be useful, too.

One really tough aspect of the role, and one that’s fairly unique to being a politician, is the fact that you become “public property”, and that it’s generally publicly acceptable for people to be rude or dismissive of the States, or individual Deputies, without necessarily being in possession of the full facts (or indeed any of them!).

One way or another, I’ve seen that hurt a lot of my colleagues, and I’ve been hurt by it myself. If you have a deeply-felt sense of honour, you’re going to be dismayed by the general public assumption that you, because you are a politician, are acting without integrity. If you take pride in doing a good job, you’ll be rattled by the view that we’re all careless and stupid. If you know you’ve been working your socks off for the good of the Island, you’ll be hurt by the nasty comments on some online forums. You’ll be astonished by how one-sided even traditional media coverage feels.

Those challenges aren’t insurmountable. Each of us learns to cope with them in our own way. But they’re real, and there aren’t many other jobs or life experiences that can prepare you for them, so you deserve to know about them at this stage, and to think about how you will deal with them in turn.

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