Last night was our first Horsham election meetup, and while very useful, it’s left so many thoughts swirling around my brain that it’s hard to get them in any kind of order. These, I think, were the main outcomes for me:
There is a growing movement of independent candidates across Horsham, with myself at national level, and a number of others at district level. With all the seats up for election at the same time next year, there’s a lot of possible cooperation to be had. There is a general disillusionment with our representatives at all levels, that they are not representing the concerns of residents, which plays into the hands of independents.
However, a danger here is that if there is a movement of independent local councillor candidates, that I get drawn into that too far, and don’t get enough focus on the specific needs of the MP campaign. This is dangerous, not least because Horsham district and constituency are not the same shape; some of my constituents are in Mid Sussex District, and not all Horsham District residents vote in Horsham constituency.
But, it will be helpful to have allies; we’ve set up a mailing list for independents in the Horsham area - if you want to join, visit the Horsham Unparty google group.
We discussed the most important issues to Horsham right now, and I’m glad to say that they were pretty much in line with my expectations. Gatwick expansion is a biggie, but the main concern at the moment seems to be around the planning and development going on around the town. Housing needs to be built, but it’s not being built in a way that local people are happy with. They feel that their views are ignored, and that decisions are being taken behind closed doors.
Both these play nicely into my national stance on greater transparency at all levels, environmental issues around airports and vehicles, and fixing the democratic process. It’ll be important in the campaign to keep my focus on the national-level trends and laws that make local problems worse, while trying to facilitate solutions to local problems. The advantage of having a group of independent candidates for the council is that we can have good coverage of whatever level is actually responsible for an issue.
My action from this is to start creating a set of local issue pages on openhorsham.org.uk and set out my views and how they link to national legislation, etc.
We discussed how to engage with people during the campaign. We threw around ideas of town centre engagement on a Saturday morning, and running local surgeries around the constituency. We talked about engaging with influential local groups (and being explicit about getting endorsements!), and also about increasing the number of election hustings meetings - last time round, there were two, both run by church groups. We need to improve that this time.
We also talked about getting a team together to help. Volunteers for leaflet dropping are essential, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I need other people involved on my campaign to help run and organise it. How to find all these people? I’m not sure.
Engagement with local media is important. I need to be writing opinion pieces and letters on a regular basis. I have no problem with writing (I don’t think), but my instinct is always to publish immediately online; I will have to restrain myself slightly to get anything visible in the local paper.
Too Much Information
There is always a danger that as a new entrant into the democratic arena, there are many many people out there who know a lot more than you about the area, the process, and the politics. These people are great, but they do leave your head spinning. It’s important to take what is useful on board, but not allow yourself to be subsumed into the stream of information.
At the end of the day, to be a genuine candidate, I have to be myself, and not try to turn myself into an expert politician. So far, while there are massive gaps in my knowledge, my instincts have been confirmed, so I feel like I’m on the right track.
It will be an interesting year. Balancing the different aspects will be hard, but I need to make sure I remain focused on representing what the constituents want from their MP, and making sure they understand what I have to offer. Everything else is negotiable.