I am mostly enjoying my new life as a small-time politician. The campaign takes me back to the early days of Speaking Up. All volunteers, young and old, all in it together. I love the challenge of working out people's skills and melding together a team that clicks. I also relish the buzz of the campaign.
My `Campaign Crew' is a motley group ranging from 82 to 22. I have senior professionals, I have call-centre staff, pensioners and students. Unusually most of my crew are not Lib Dem party members and three are members of other political parties. I've not worked with this kind of diversity for a long time. After years of working with only with my senior team and board this is actually a refreshing kind of challenge. Fortunately I am loving it. Mostly.
This week the campaign had its first hiccup. One of the team, a prominent member of the local party, wrote part of my second leaflet and included in it an incorrect fact about one of my opponents' voting record. 3500 of these had been printed and 500 delivered before I got an angry call from the gentleman whose good name we had besmirched.
Understandably upset, he demanded that we withdraw the leaflet and apologise. Then the paper called and suddenly I am part of a story about the depths to which local politicians will go to gain petty advantage.
My more experienced colleagues tell me, like kindly uncles, that this is all par for the course. Local politics is, they say, pretty aggressive and personal at times (my opponent pulled no punches in his communication). It all left me a little...unsettled, if I am honest. Which I am sure was the desired intention.
Where does this leave me? Do I accept that local poltiics is a bit of a knockabout and give as good as I get? Or do I seek to act in the way I do in other areas of my life where I try, wherever possible, to seek the common ground and get things done through trust. A path I have always found to be the most productive.
For now, I am going with the latter, whatever people tell me. The people I really admire in politics - Frank Field, Vince Cable etc - are all `real people' as much as they are professional politicians. The public actually like this about them. While I am sure they are superb operators, they are smart enough to realise that the highly adversarial means of doing politics in this country are actually not particularly effective at achieving its ends. And that they are a turn off for voters, especially the young.
If elected, I will seek to work in the way I always have to make good things happen. And, yes, this includes a personal note of apology to my opponent, despite his reaction, which was not what I am used to in such situations. When I look back in a few years time at this blog I may laugh at my naivety. But is there any point doing this if you're not going to be yourself and bring to the table what has worked well so far in your life? If that's the case, why bother?
The lessons of this week have been harsh ones though. Check your facts. Be in control of your message. Anticipate how opponents might try to convey not only what you stand for but how you operate as a person. This is, I am learning, a tough game, even at local level. The gloves are off and if you leave yourself open, as I did, you will get one in the head. I don't believe there is anything inherently `personal' in any of this stuff (candidates apparently have great fun together at the count, once the war for votes is over), but, in the meantime, anything you do which can count against the way voters perceive you is fair-game.