Life's a Verb - the Testament of a losing Labour Candidate

On election day, I found myself running round in the searing heat knocking on doors encouraging our supporters to get out and vote in Trinity Ward, Wimbledon. Though I lost, it was an amazing experience and there are many positives and lessons to take.

This time last week I found myself running round in the searing heat knocking on doors encouraging our supporters to get out and vote in Trinity Ward, Wimbledon. Whilst campaigning I had also been tasked with 3 hefty essays in the spring term of my masters in political economy. Though I lost, it was an amazing experience and there are many positives and lessons to take. 

For starters I had two excellent candidates to run with me. Becky Hooper, an ex-police constable raising her two daughters in the ward and Billy Hayes, ex-General Secretary of the CWU. Becky was a natural, so personable on the door right from the start and her organisational skills were vital in the latter half of the campaign. Billy is probably one of the funniest and most insightful people I have ever met. He brought a wealth of experience for us to learn from. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been able to run the fundraiser which paid for the campaign. They would have both made exemplary councillors who worked their arses off right up until the final hours. We were also blessed with the endorsements of as wide a range of people as Hugh Gaffney MP, Owen Jones, Alan Johnson and Eddie Izzard – a truly broad Labour campaign. Let alone the wealth of personal support from family, friends, our excellent activists and the 900 or so residents who voted for us. 

As one activist told me in the final hours of the count: “if you become a councillor GREAT, and if you lose and you don’t become a councillor – GREAT”. Though it would have been a great achievement and something I worked incredibly hard to achieve, entering local government at this time is increasingly difficult. Budgets have been cut year on year and Labour councillors have been forced to make very hard decisions. In Merton where Labour have been in power for 8 years, the incumbent party was at some point or another going to face a backlash given the circumstances. 

A local Lib Dem candidate who ran a strong campaign to keep the local police station open won, along with two Tories in a ward we really put our all into. We came third, nether the less the infrastructure is very much in place to challenge for the ward next time around. We campaigned incredibly hard from selection in the autumn, meeting residents who had never had a labour activist knock on the door. Others hadn’t been contacted since the Atkins diet was popular. There was a London swing towards the Lib Dems in SW London, the ward was very pro-remain and the labour party’s current position on Brexit wasn’t good enough for some. 

Contrary to some opinions, Jeremy Corbyn only was mentioned as a reason not to vote labour by those very close to the party, or those who have visions of him praying to Lenin as he sells trident missiles to pay for vegan food (and therefore wouldn’t vote for us anyway – I’m thinking of you man with the yellow trousers). For every voter for whom Jeremy was a problem, there was another who no longer voted Green or Lib Dem because of him. The issue of antisemitism made one or two appearances, and rightly so given the obvious problem in the party and wider society. Ultimately we lost because of cuts to public services and concerns over Brexit. 

There is much from the campaign I will miss, though I will savour having an easier Saturday morning. The routine of getting up at 9, getting my stuff together and putting on my election Spotify playlist was quite enjoyable. Less so if I had the chance to go out the night before or if I needed to quickly set up that day’s canvass session. Going out and speaking to the people in my community was something,  is something, I thoroughly enjoy. The opportunity to have a real project, an operation to run was certainly a pleasure too, if stressful. 

There is however much I have missed. Several friends and family members I haven’t seen in months need to be reminded I’m alive. I think I have only left Merton once since March. I’ll probably have to watch Infinity War on my tod, which could actually be quite nice. I’ll need to remind my girlfriend that we can spend time together without a list of names and pieces of paper with my face on. I need to find a day job whilst I complete my masters, book a dentist appointment and make my house somewhat habitable. I also have some weight to lose, don’t let anyone tell you a campaign will help you lose weight when you’re eating a young’s fish at 11 o’clock at night the day before polling day. 

After some time to recuperate and basically stare at a blank wall, I will return to campaigning. Wimbledon has 3 new excellent Labour councillors who need support. We lost 2 of our 36 seats from 2014 last week and the aim is to restore that number at the very least in 2022. This will require organisation, analysis, graft and some soul searching but we have the personnel equipped locally to make a success of it. 

For my fellow travellers not just in Wimbledon but across London, if you have lost your seat or narrowly missed out on winning, firstly have a lie down. Then after some you-time don’t shy away, I hope you get back involved. There will be by-elections, the Mayoral election and at some point a general election. Your experience will be vital for the party moving forward on those fronts in testing, interesting times.

In the words of Billy Hayes, life’s a verb, not an adjective. 


Ryan Barnett is a Young Fabian member

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