Matthew Mathias asks you to spare a thought for the candidates on the campaign trail today.
Some of you purveyors of the high arts may have seen Only Fools and Horses. If you have, you may also remember the exasperation of the characters when hearing Uncle Albert begin one of his stories with ‘During the war…’. I have my own saying and it also raises the eyebrows and hackles of my friends. Mine is ‘When I stood for Parliament…’ They are jealous, yeah? Probably? Possibly? Probably not.
I stood in 2005, the heady days of the Iraq war, a first Wales Grand Slam for ages and who can forget the repercussions of Jar Jar Binks moving the senate to hand sole authority to the Emperor and create a clone army thus plunging the entire galaxy into chaos and destruction. Yes Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005 and no I have not forgiven the Gods for Jar Jar Binks. Anyway in the beginning of 2005 I had another Imperial Senate to think about.
For all intents and purposes I was a paper candidate on the campaign. I was told it would be fun and there wouldn’t be many scary hustings to do. Why was that important? I was ‘out of my pants’ scared of doing one. Look, not all candidates head into an election with a ‘born to rule’ attitude, rosette festooned and strutting around town centres like John Travolta on his way to the disco circa 1977. Yes it is fun but many bits are terrifying.
The thought of sitting out front in a town hall with thirty people scrutinising everything I say turned my legs to jelly so you can imagine my reaction when, the day after the announcement of the election, I was phoned by Party HQ saying that my first hustings would be an hour long live BBC Radio Wales event with Vaughn Roderick. Yeah, speaking to not thirty but thousands of people; not in a town hall but over the airwaves to the entire nation. I had to do it, I couldn’t escape and I wanted to. I wanted to run away.
It was the first hustings of six, all as terrifying as the previous one. They didn’t get easier; I am sweating even typing this.
What I am trying to say to you is if you are watching the election night coverage, spare a thought for those candidates on the campaign trail. Some of them will have been working for years for tonight and some of them without any real hope of winning. Not all politicians are the same, not all political parties are the same. These are hackneyed lazy comments borne from pig headed ignorance from people who think it’s somehow cool to drop out but still ok to snipe from the side lines. These Boo Boys (or Girls) can go boil their heads.
Even if they hadn’t been targeting the seat for years, the last few months will have been hard. It’s not easy knocking on people’s doors selling yourself and an idea. The first time I ever canvassed someone was in Carmarthen. The woman stopped me, dragged me in and made me fold laundry while I talked. I panicked after that thinking that I would have to do chores in every house I knocked on; a sort of Bob-a-job without pay but with political persuasion. Leafleting is just as dangerous, after the first hundred letter boxes you start to dislike the people with shitty letterboxes that cut skin of your knuckles but love those with the large easy ones.
Then there are dogs. Not the loud manic ones that go bananas the moment you open the gate. That’s easy – you just don’t put a leaflet in. It’s the silent buggers you watch out for. The ones with that forest animal instinct to know someone is going to come to their house that day and stick their fat West Walian paw through their letter box. They were bastards.
Look at those candidates on the stage waiting to hear the result. All that door knocking, glad handing, sleeping on Party members floors, buying raffle tickets with money they haven’t got so they aren’t considered to be a tight git and lose two votes from people that wouldn’t have voted for them anyway. That vote is seen as an indication of their hard work, but is it? You could be the best candidate in the world, but if someone from your own party on the other side of the country makes an arse of him/herself YOU also take the hit. Your leader makes a quip that is leapt on by everyone? YOU also take the hit.
There are almost 4000 candidates standing for 650 positions. There are more losers than winners but sometimes standing up for what you believe in is winning in itself. Yes it’s not really the done thing to envelop our would-be politicians with love and understanding but I don’t actually care, I am not trying to get your vote. So election night, cheer your goodies and boo the baddies but appreciate the work done by them all and don’t forget their loyal teams of unpaid volunteers who leaflet, canvass and mither people to put up a sign. I flipping love politics and without all of these people I’d have to find another shitty hobby.
By the way, I loved and hated my time on the campaign trail. I made a lot of friends that still remain today, even amongst my opponents. I came fourth with 4,752 which is an indicator, not of my hard work but of how many family members I have.
Matthew Mathias is a contributor to Wales Arts Review.