When the Copeland by-election was called, I looked at the constituency and thought its time I put my UKIP ambitions to the test and stand in the Hustings to be their PPC, I had been through the PPC vetting process just before Christmas, it was held in Nottingham and was painless, clearly you had to be at the ‘top of your game’ and the various interviews including a well-run and believable mock press interview was challenging.The most fun was the five-minute speech you had to give followed by the questions from the floor, bearing in mind the questions came from the other guys and girls going through the process, all in all a thoroughly worthwhile day which I recommend to everyone who has thoughts about standing as parliamentary candidate.
Something which I enjoyed on the day was chatting to the other 24 candidates going through the assessment centre, there was a lot of down time which enabled us to have some great debates about UKIP and politics in general, unbeknown to me at the time two of the chaps I spent time with on that day were to become ‘competitors’ in Whitehaven on the Hustings day, small world!
Anyway, back to Copeland when the note came through from the candidate’s office advising of the by-election I dutifully filled in the application form to be a candidate for the Hustings and waited as they say for the call, the process for applying is on line and accessible though MyUKIP and could not have been easier.
The e-mail arrived advising me of my successful application and gave details of where and when the Hustings for Copeland would take place, Friday 13th! Which to some would have been an omen.
But for me it was when the starting pistol was fired as it immediately set a date by which my research had to be completed and this is the point of my little story, you should never just turn up at a hustings without researching what the local issues are, we all know the national ones, but in most instances local issues will be more important to most electors, none more so than the worries in Whitehaven regarding the reduction in services at the local hospital, another big issue was the lack of jobs.
So, I went over from Leeds for two days ahead of the Hustings and spent time in Whitehaven to fully explore the area and familiarise myself with all the key local issues, I stayed overnight to ensure I could chat to some locals in their local, if you follow me. Just like anywhere else in the country just chatting to local residence in the big Tesco in town was invaluable, buying all the local papers is worthwhile as it helps to gain a broader vision of what the community is about, reading the local news on-line does not really fulfill the brief, an example is that one of the days I was there all the staff at the local academy where on strike over poor teachings conditions, as I was in town I popped over the picket line and quizzed the teachers, they were surprised I am sure to see someone from UKIP on the picket line with them.
The day of the Hustings was a long one which started with a four UKIP member panel interview which lasted over 30 minutes and was extremely testing as you would expect, be aware that they want to know about your campaigning skills and your knowledge of broad UKIP views on key political matters, also a lot of questions on local issues, thankfully I breezed them as I had done my ‘homework’. This was followed by a mock press interview which again was very challenging but I guess very necessary if you want to be a full-time politician.
Once all eight of us went through the interview process we had to wait to see who was to be short listed for the evening hustings, only four of us were to be allowed to meet the local party members and sell ourselves in what for me was an enjoyable if not nerve racking evening, a five-minute speech by each of us followed by questions from the floor ending with your closing address, and then the vote by the local members.
The PPC winner was Fiona Mills a wonderful local candidate who will undoubtedly run a great campaign and win the constituency for UKIP, for me it was a useful learning opportunity and I relished the experience which has made me more confident about my own public speaking skills.
What is the purpose of my story, it is to try and persuade more of the membership to apply to go through the PPC vetting process, sure its hard work but it is immensely rewarding and if a snap election is called we want to field as many parliamentary candidates as possible?
What about me as I did not get selected for Copeland? Bring on Stoke Central!