The Candidate’s Aide’s Briefing – Lesson 3 – Open topped Vehicles

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Cornish lanes are very narrow - battle buses can get lodged between cottages by their tannoys!

No election campaign is complete without the health hazard that is a ride in an open topped bus.

Roaring along the roads of Littleborough and Saddleworth, during the 1995 by-election, on the top of an open topped Southport bus, was something to remember.

Chris Davies’ campaign needed a bit of razzmatazz and so I was given the job of organising a whistle stop tour on top of the bus.  It was a great day with David Steel, Liz Lynne, Chris and a local brass band. 

The only problem when whizzing along Lancashire lanes was that overhanging trees can be quite a hazard at high speed, and on more than one occasion the advice to ‘duck’ was roared by one, or other, of the team.

This did not compare to my first experience of an open topped vehicle, a flat bed van, with Nancy Seear, during the Mid-Staffordshire by-election.  I am sure this would no longer be allowed in public due to health and safety, but the sight of Nancy on the back of a lorry, bellowing over a public address is the nearest experience, that is possible, to getting to Boudica charging into battle.

However the 2005 election, in South East Cornwall, explains perfectly the hazards of open topped buses in election campaigning.

The election was going well in Cornwall, but the public lacked enthusiasm for our campaign, so we decided on a bit of high profile, ‘visibility’!

We did a grand tour of the constituency with a set route, and the ubiquitous brass band.  Having visited Torpoint we set off for Saltash.  Now those that know the area will tell you that the shortest route, without going into Devon, from one to the other can go through a village called St Germans, but knowing the size of the vehicle we had decided to take the long way round.

Thinking he knew better the candidate decided that a diversion, via the village, and a quick blast of the tannoy, was the perfect route.

Cornish lanes do not lend themselves to large vehicles, and unsurprising to the organisers a large ‘CLANG!’ rang out from the front of the vehicle as we drove through the village.

On inspection we discovered that the bus was jammed, via its tannoy horn, to a cottage wall and due to the way it had stopped the bus could not move either forward or back.

After a lengthy impromptu speech from the MP to vote for the Liberal Democrats, and several bursts from the brass band to cover up the swearing and heaving,  the bus was released from the cottage wall, but not after a lot of red faces and apologies from the candidate to both the cottage resident and party staff.

It was a great day!

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The Guide for Canvassers – Lesson 2 – Assume Nothing

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Charles Kennedy had been an MP for 7 years but needed canvass training!

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.