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How to engage with local candidates during an election campaign

Elections can provide excellent opportunities to engage with politicians at a local level, but making sure you engage across party lines in an effective way can be challenging over a short period. For those wondering where to start, here are some tips.

1

Find out who your candidates are

Candidates are still being announced for the 2017 election, so it’s not always easy to find out who’s standing in your area. Party websites are likely to be updated soon, but unofficial party websites such as ConservativeHome, LabourList and Lib Dem Voice are regularly updating candidate information where selections are taking place - and TweetyourCandidate.com has comprehensive (and freely available) details and contacts for individual constituencies. Deadlines for nominations are due on 11 May, so local authority websites should have details of all the candidates standing in your area shortly afterwards.

2

If possible, look to engage earlier in a campaign

As we get closer to polling day, parties will want to focus more on door-to-door campaigning and getting their vote out, so will have less time to engage on policy issues. As such, if you have the time and capacity to offer engagement opportunities earlier in the election do so. If there is a particular topical reason why it makes more sense to engage with candidates later, think about holding events on Sunday mornings, or holding longer drop-in sessions.

3

Think about areas with cross-party support that will make it easy to engage

Candidates will be happy to engage with you on policy, but they are more likely to make time to meet you if you are talking about an issue they care about, and will allow them to talk about issues they are campaigning on. Finding topics that appeal across political divides will make it easier for you to attract candidates. For example, in 2017 Volunteers’ Week provides an excellent opportunity to work across party political divides in celebrating the work of volunteers.

4

Tell candidates about what you do, not just what you want

If you do get to speak to candidates, then by all means do set out any clear policy asks you have at both a local and national level, but it’s also really important to get across to them the work you do and how you make a difference to their local community. If candidates understand and appreciate what you do, they’re far more likely to listen to you when you want to influence them.

5

Offer the same opportunities to all candidates

Charity Commission guidance means that you must both be neutral on party political matters and be seen to be neutral. If you are holding a constituency-based event if possible invite all candidates standing, and if you are holding a regional event you must offer the opportunity to all parties contesting. If this presents practical problems, such as in hustings, you can limit the number of candidates/parties you invite, but this must be done on the basis of objective criteria eg current/past electoral performance in a constituency or number of candidates stood by parties in a region, not because you disagree with a party’s views. If you do this you must be able to explain how and why you chose these criteria.

6

Make your hustings worthwhile for candidates

If you are organising hustings, be aware that in some constituencies candidates get lots of invites which they often feel obliged to accept. They can often be talking to a smaller number of voters than if they were knocking on doors so try to make sure your hustings are as valuable as possible. For example, you could collaborate with other organisations to increase the likelihood of a good turnout. You may also want to make sure local press are aware so they can attend.

7

If you have lots of candidates, think carefully about the format

Once you have more than about 5 or 6 candidates, hustings can quickly get unwieldy so think carefully about having a format which limits the length of answers so that you can cover a reasonable range of subjects. The most important thing is to have a good chair who is fair to all candidates, but ensures that they don’t spend too long answering questions. 

8

Use the election as a first step, not one-off engagement

Elections are a great way to get to know politicians, especially when they become the MP, but bear in mind that you will want to develop this further after the election. Remember as well that losing candidates can also be important for your cause, particularly if they are local councillors, so don’t feel like you have to focus all your attention on the winner once the campaign is over.

Further information

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Page last edited Jun 23, 2017 History

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