Elections Are Challenging Beasts at the Best of Times

Cathleen Clarke writes on World Mental Health Day about the struggles and pressures on a candidate in internal Labour Party elections, and the need for the party to be better.

Elections are challenging beasts at the best of times - but without mental health support and safeguarding, our candidates and our movement will continue to suffer.

In external elections, like council elections or general elections, Labour party members and activists put the beef aside to work towards a Labour government. In-fighting is usually suspended, and the wings of the party come together for the chance to take power off the Tories. During #GE2019 I travelled around the country and saw first-hand Blairites and Corbynistas campaigning together for a Labour Government. While comradeship and collaboration are seen in external elections, they are often absent in internal elections.

In the Labour Party, internal elections can bring out the worst in people. Throughout this internal election season, a range of candidates across the U.K make their arguments, explain their policies, and do their best to convince voters that they are the right choice. With that comes a huge amount of in-fighting, trolling, hyper-factionalism, one-upping, and shaming other candidates for their beliefs, their policies, or their ideas. This combined with inadequate safeguarding, inadequate candidate support, and a code of conduct which is rarely enforced, leads to a toxic election culture. I have felt this first hand. From young candidates being sent death threats to members bullying candidates off slates, internal elections are toxic and it’s to the detriment of the party and our movement.

Today is World Mental Health Day, where we come together as a society, share our feelings, and speak frankly about our mental and emotional health. In this instance, I thought I would raise my theory: If the internal election environment stays so toxic then it will turn potential candidates off from standing on masse (as it currently is). We are not going to find the best politicians, the best policymakers, or the best leaders if this goes on.

The ones that will stand and win will not actually be the best, they will just be the ones who stuck it out for longer than anyone else. A toxic game of “last candidate standing” won’t help us revitalise our movement, find “the next AOC” or overturn a huge Tory majority. Instead, it will keep the best of the best away from our movement or keep them sitting on the side-lines – watching the chaos unfold.

In my view, safeguarding processes in the Labour Party are not especially clear to members and many don’t realise all of us adults in the party have a duty to safeguard and look out for one another. In some of the previous jobs I have had, it has been made clear to me who I can speak to about problems I have had internally and who I can talk to if I feel I need to. Despite having over 500,000 members, including over 100,000 young members, it seems to me that Labour currently hasn’t got the resources to adequately support members and perhaps isn’t willing to invest more in safeguarding and support. Without supporting candidates running in internal elections - how do we expect to find the next generation of frontline politicians that our movement so desperately needs?


She tweets at @cathleenc_.

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