The choice to come together to contest local elections as a Ward Platform is bold but we can only hope to win if we out-organise the political parties.
A community candidate doesn’t have the benefit of the party machinery and advertising to get out the word. The only way to win is to build a participatory campaign that welcomes as many people as possible to help out. We have to rely on the hard work of committed and skilled volunteers.
We can’t rely on word of mouth or social media to get our message out. What we are trying is new and many people won’t understand how it might be different and how it could work. We have to speak to as many people as possible across the ward and canvas their support. Spending time with people one on one is the most effective way to win support but it doesn’t mean people will actually register or vote.
To win the Ward we would need to convince some residents who would normally vote for a majority political party to vote for a community candidate, motivate voters who are discouraged and don’t pitch up to vote to come to the polls, and ensure a significant number of eligible voters register to vote – and make sure everybody goes to the polling station on the day of the election.
We can’t do this without a serious strategy. It will be necessary to prioritise areas where we have the most potential of winning and ensure that volunteers visit every single home to speak to residents. This is hard work but we can print maps of voting districts and divide up areas into different sectors with local volunteers.
It will be necessary to hand out pamphlets so people know why we are knocking on the door. If they are interested in supporting the campaign we can collect their telephone number to ensure we can stay in touch. Don’t forget that there may be more than one voter in each household with different political views and we need to work safely at all times. We can of course also collect the details of potential volunteers and supporters online.
Ultimately we are going to need to decide collectively who in the ward are the most likely to vote for the community candidate, bearing in mind that we will need a plurality to overcome the majority party and this inevitably means that we will need broad support across a range of people and not just the most vocal or politically active.
We’ll need teams who are good at: organising events to fundraise, motivating residents, recruiting volunteers, raising the profile of the campaign and getting the word out. There will be a need to organise local assemblies to flesh out community manifestos and more formal primary elections or ward caucuses.
Figuring out the issues and making commitments in a community manifesto is one thing – but it can get confusing for people if our message is complicated – winning a campaign requires us to focus on one or two issues that are the most important and drive home a compelling message.
Canvasing the support of existing organisations, local businesses and people with a public profile will be essential to maximise our exposure. But we will need a team who knows how to manage press relations and produce snappy social media.
We rarely see ward candidates go head to head and we should definitely challenge the other party candidates to public debates. We face serious issues so we should point them out and explain the solutions but stay away from negative campaigns. Remember that hope inspires and mobilises people. Cynicism doesn’t.
But most important – we have to get people to register and to vote on the day. We can do it!