Not long after the 1987 General Election, I volunteered to help, as a full-time member of the team, for the Mid-Staffordshire By-election.
As it was a by-election not long after the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party, the campaign team was quite small, with a continuing SDP candidate opposing us. We, however, had an excellent candidate in Tim Jones, who was a barrister and one of the best public speakers I have ever heard.
As the team was small I was given the job of being the candidate’s aide.
This job basically entailed managing the candidate through their diary and running their work when out in public. This also involved running the canvass operation for the candidate.
It was towards the end of the campaign and we were joined by one of the party’s Members of Parliament, Charles Kennedy. Although now a former leader and well known public face, he was one of only two SDP MPs to have joined the new party, and had been an MP for 7 years, by this point.
As we marched down our first street, in Lichfield, Charles leant over, out of the candidate’s ear shot, and said;
‘I’ve never been canvassing before, what do I do?’
Having been an MP for 7 years, I must confess I was flabbergasted at this revelation. I think he saw the surprise in my eyes, and quickly continued;
‘Well, with such a large constituency canvassing isn’t very useful, we just do a big tour of public meetings in all the towns and villages.’
Satisfied he wasn’t having me on I showed him a canvass card, and ran through the questions he should ask to try and find out how people intended to vote.
He was really good at it. But the moral of the tale is, don’t assume, however experienced the person campaigning with you is, that they know how to canvass. Train them, or listen to them, before you let them lose on the public.
Full details of all the candidates who fought the Mid-Staffordshire by-election, can be found here.