Sarah Hall: A novice on the campaign trail

What is it like to fight an unwinnable seat? Sarah Hall, campaign manager for her brother, a Tory Tyneside candidate, gives her thoughts

WITH VIDEO........General Election and Local Election count at Sports Central in Newcastle Upon Tyne...Stephen Bates, Conservative candidate for Newcastle North, with sister and agent Sarah Hall....For Richard Kirkman.

I should begin by saying I am not a complete novice, that is to say I have some history of campaigning in elections, but have never taken on the role of a local campaign manager. My brother was a candidate for Newcastle North at this General election and so I had the opportunity to become more involved.

But what have I learnt from this experience as I reflect at the end of the campaign?

I could be really worthy and say it is a huge privilege to live in a democracy and be free to vote, it is. I could be flippant and say it was, at times, great fun, it was.

I could be optimistic and say it was a great opportunity. I could be pessimistic and say it was sometimes soul destroying. I could say it was always in the hope of a change in result, which didn’t happen.

Without doubt, it has been a joy to return to my home town which I left 29 years ago, but has never left me.

Generally the wit, humour and kindness of most of the folk I have encountered made it great fun as well as fascinating to be part of.

I will digress here and tell of two encounters with people who would no more jump off a cliff than vote for us. Firstly, “You’ll never get any votes round here, but don’t get cold pet, it’s freezing”.

Secondly, from a rather colourful lady outside Tesco’s “I hate all them, they’re all b******s.” I replied that wasn’t fair as it was my brother, to which she replied, “eeeeh pet I’m sure he’s lovely and all the best to you.”

I am painting a rosy picture. At times it’s hugely frustrating and actually it is really hard graft too. I found it hard to get business and organisations to talk to me. There are not many active association members (but those who are there are resilient and work their socks off) this makes the ground work hard going, but it has been a real pleasure to be a small part of their team. I also have new respect for postmen. Fundraising is a slog.

I have no problem asking people for sponsor money or to donate to our local hospice but much harder to a political party.

I will be forever grateful to a small number of very special family and friends who supported the cause whatever their own political views, because it was me.

The press have a massive job to cover all the candidates in the North East and in a fair way, but it’s a nightmare getting on anyone’s radar. However I am nothing if not a talker, and was happy to talk to anyone I could!

My own personal highlight was going into the BBC in Newcastle and Made TV in Sunderland and seeing how some of it works. And so I have left this one until last for a reason, it is still horrid if someone is abusive to you.

Thankfully it hasn’t happened often but someone swearing at me or giving me the finger still, honestly, makes me want to cry (a political career?) I know it is invasive to a degree, stopping or calling on total strangers and engaging them in a discussion they would rather not have. So we take the rough with the smooth, smile, and trade war stories in the pub at lunch time to make it all better.

I’m aware I haven’t actually answered the question I posed at the start (ah-ha, the political instinct IS there). So let me organise my thoughts and try to make a list of what I have learnt:

Democracy is a privilege.

You do need thermal underwear campaigning in the North East in February.

Most people are totally bored out of their minds if you ask them about politics.

Smiling is good.

It is never a good idea to drink wine until 2.30am whilst planning the following day.

Proof read at least 3 times before you Facebook, tweet or add to the webpage (six times if you just did the last point).

Give thanks for amazing, supportive family.

Ditto friends.

I genuinely believe we can make things better (that might be a bit close to a previous election and is not intended to make you sing).

So in the end the result was a move up to second place, a modest increase in votes, but no change in the outcome.

However whether or not I made a difference to the result was only part of what this was about. Certainly it was to support my brother, but also that I genuinely believe that the freedom to campaign and express any political opinion is our right in a democracy.

If there is anything to be taken from my experiences, then don’t be afraid to get involved, as even without a guarantee of success you will learn much about the political process, your local and national issues and not least, yourself.

My thanks to:

Daughter no 1 who is unfortunate to be at university in the city, and was therefore co-opted in to help (but has been well fed and watered for her efforts).

Daughter no 2 who has put up with the TV always on the news channel, a mum attached to her I-pad and breezing off to Newark station with a “bye sweetie see you tomorrow” (I’ve turned into her dad)

And the Dad, who truly deserves a medal, who has been ready to floor the guy who slammed the door in my face, has rearranged his life to let me be in the North East so often, and who has never said “give it a rest” even though he was really entitled to at times.


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