If you want to be a good politician, never make it personal

To get a real idea of what it is actually like to be a local councillor and politician, it is important to talk about how you can very quickly make life unnecessarily difficult for others and make yourself very unpopular too.

Believe it or not, making things personal as a campaigner, activist or politician whilst working in the community and in public, is probably one of the worst things we can ever do.

If you genuinely want to take responsibility on behalf of others, you will need to understand and also accept that people who disagree with you will often see you personally as the problem, rather the quality of your arguments or the facts that you use to make your case.

Think about how you might feel if someone else has a platform to speak on. They might be saying things that you don’t agree with, or perhaps even know to be completely wrong.

It can make you feel angry. You might feel desperate to speak. Worse still, you might even feel that because they seem to be the one that people are listening to, that what you have to say yourself will actually be what everyone else sees as being wrong.

When that kind of feeling takes over – and I can assure you that it does for even the most confident public speakers and debaters you could think of, it is essential to keep your cool.

You should never resort to becoming angry and making what could be a knee-jerk response to what you are experiencing as feeling a type of pain. Reacting like this will almost certainly look and feel like you are making your response about them – and by that I mean about them personally.

Being good a good and effective politician is about allowing the strength and legitimacy of your arguments to win the day.

It might also help to understand that in most cases, those very same people who are upsetting you with what looks like ice-cold surety and confidence will be feeling exactly the same way as you do too!

Now that’s the easy bit. YES – THE EASY BIT!

Regrettably, that’s the proactive bit. The approach you need to learn and practice all of the time.  Unfortunately the political environment often requires you to be responsive as well as proactive.

Many existing politicians do nothing other than make their arguments personal and about the person they are thinking or talking about. When you are their target, never making it personal can be the last thing that you want to do.

However, this is the time when seeing such behaviour for what it is can really help you most of all.

Other politicians make it personal when they aren’t in control of their arguments. They deflect questions when they don’t know they are doing. And when they have no idea how to solve a problem, how something works or they don’t have any idea what they should actually do, they use name calling and abuse as an attempt to make everyone think that they are actually at the top of their game.

When you are on the receiving end of rudeness and even angry or threatening behaviour, it becomes very difficult to respond in a positive, calm and generous way.

But with practice and patience, you will soon learn that arguments using you as the target, rather than what you do are never actually about you. They are about how somebody else is feeling about what they are doing, and you will soon learn to respond in a very professional and understanding way.

Sadly, politicians who have built their success by being good at attacking others personally will rarely learn to do politics another way.

That’s why it is so important that politicians and community representatives who can take and exercise their responsibility in a better way, can work through these challenges and see them for what they are. They will then be taken seriously and be respected for what they are trying to do for all.

Always check the cap is screwed tight on the Tomato Ketchup

You are probably wondering what on earth ‘always check the cap is screwed tight on the Tomato Ketchup’ could possibly be about. We are discussing How to get Elected after all!

This page is about always having attention to detail and remembering  who you are.  A suggestion that you should never let your guard down in company wherever you might be. Some cautionary advice that you should always be minded that you never have genuine friends in politics and you must therefore keep yourself very safe unless and until you are absolutely sure.

The reason for the title, is it is perhaps the best way to illustrate the ubiquitous presence of otherwise meaningless opportunities for you to trip yourself up on a campaign, as a councillor or in politics if you lose focus and take your eyes off the ball.

Being a good campaigner, councillor and politician is about always being conscious of everything we do and the consequences thereafter. Not just in the big things, but in the small things too. Because in the reality which is politics, it can often be the detail which counts.

A cautionary Campaign Tale…

In the Election Campaign leading to my first District Level Seat with Tewkesbury Borough Council, I was fortunate to be working with volunteers and other candidates running for the same Authority.

We were working together on the principle that many hands made light work (Which in politics is not necessarily the case as the more people the actual candidate meets the better), and would spend evenings and Saturdays taking it in turns to cover significant parts of our respective target Wards.

After what felt like a successful Saturday morning covering a lot of the area which was soon to become my Ward, we all headed off for lunch at the local Hungry Horse.

When the meal arrived, I soon headed for the condiments table and returned with a glass bottle of Tommy K.

As I neared the table, I began to shake the bottle, firing the cap and much of the contents across a wall and over one of the other Candidates who had travelled some 10 miles or more to help.

I had been relaxed, excited about the feedback from our mornings work and not thinking about where I was or who I was with. I had let my guard down.

I didn’t really know the people I was with and had lost sight of almost everything, just because in that particular instance, we had all had commonality and been sharing an experience of just one thing.

How many other instances can you imagine where it would be easy for you to do exactly the same thing?

 

 

image thanks to unknown

Respond to Communication

From the moment you begin campaigning, it is likely that people will contact you by phone, text, e-mail or Social Media.

When you receive genuine enquiries – no matter who they are from, you should always respond.

If you cannot answer a question or provide the information that the person is seeking immediately, respond and let them know what you intend to do.

DON’T promise to respond by a certain date or time if speaking or obtaining information from other people is involved.

DON’T commit to delivering an outcome or to doing anything where you have no control over the results.

If you have said you will get back in touch with someone, make sure that you do.

If you cannot help someone, be honest and tell them why. If possible, signpost or introduce them to someone who can.

People will be very understanding when you communicate openly and are honest with them. However, they will soon lose patience and may even be happy to tell others how they feel they have been wronged if you don’t.

If any direct messages you receive are rude, threatening or clearly political in nature, there is no need to respond and you may be best advised not to do so.

If you feel threatened, you should report this to an appropriate authority.

Responding to proper questions or comments on Social Media can be difficult when there is an audience involved. If you receive an open message which other people can see, but involves providing a response which would be inappropriate for others to read – for instance if it involves contact details, names of others or private information, you should respond only by asking the person contacting you to get in touch in a direct or private way. You can then deal with the matter with due regard to privacy etc.

Unless you are very confident using Social Media, it is advisable to not get into any form of debate with anyone. There are many users of these platforms who deliberately attempt to ‘bait’ other users and draw them into making comments which could be embarrassing or used to paint others in a negative light. Avoid them and what they are doing whenever and wherever possible!

Make yourself available

If you are taking your responsibilities to the community seriously, you will need to accept that people will contact you at times which suit them, rather than times that ideally suit you.

People see councillors, community representatives and politicians differently to themselves.

As such, they have very different expectations and it is important that you always keep this in mind.

Using e-mail as a standard communication medium can be a great help. But there are still many people who prefer to speak in person or by phone, and they will expect you to make yourself available at a time that will work for them.

The idea of making yourself available is more frightening than the reality will be.

The times when you will have to go out on dark nights, early on Sunday mornings or at times you might think your community work could get in the way of other things in your life will probably be few and far between. But when they come, it will be essential that you allow as little as possible to get in the way.

The upside is that if you don’t put unnecessary walls in the way of providing access to people who want to take you up on the offer of help, people will rarely be ungrateful for the work that you do, even if it is not necessarily apparent.

If you do receive messages or requests for visits which you cannot immediately respond to properly or are for some reason unable to arrange, you should always respond and briefly explain the delay and what you plan to do.

Always know your stuff and come clean when you don’t

We have sadly become all too familiar with politicians talking around questions when being interviewed, rather than giving a direct answer or any meaningful facts. Worse still, it is becoming increasingly popular to ‘double down’, backing up or repeating such responses and the opinions which surround them, simply because some people think by doing so will make any difficult questions go away.
 
They don’t. And being seen to be deliberately economic with the truth, or ‘spinning’ news in a way which suits a politicians or their party’s needs has played a key part in the developing mistrust of those in public life.
 
Whenever you speak, write or even publicly discuss issues – whether difficult to address or not, it is vital to have researched, understood and retained as many of the key facts that you can, and to have developed a viewpoint or interpretation which fits with the information you have received.
 
Facts and the genuine knowledge that you have are the anchors which give you credibility in the public eye.
 
Writing & producing literature
 
When writing about topics, you will normally have the luxury of time to validate information and facts before you send or publish whatever you have produced. It is a very good habit to use it and ensure that you have included as much factual data as you can to support your argument or conclusions.
 
Speaking, debate & Interviews
 
The upside of public speaking, debate and scheduled interviews is that you will normally be aware of what you will be asked to talk about, or what specific points or issues you may wish to raise.
 
As with writing or preparing documents that you will later publish, you should research your subject well, prepare key facts to support what you will say and be comfortable that you can communicate your interpretation without losing your way or talking your way around the houses.
 
The downside of public speaking, debate and interviews of any kind, is that is likely that you will be asked questions to which you have not prepared a response.
 
If you keep on top of your subject, and think about the implications of all new facts as you do, your preparedness will allow you to provide responses that demonstrate how well researched you are.
 
Sometimes, you will get asked a question of some kind for which it was in no way possible to prepare. When you do, don’t bluff, blag or be tempted to lie or shift the focus on to something or someone else.
 
The best thing you can do is come clean; be honest and tell the interviewer or person questioning you that you don’t have that information to hand, that you were unaware of the events/actions that they have raised, or that you are not in a position to comment at that stage.
 
Even a Prime Minister, with all the support that they have can and will be caught out by questions that they were not expecting. It is human to not have the answers to everything and the people who might vote for you will think of you as being much stronger for being consistently honest, rather than if you lie in an attempt to cover up feeling momentarily weak.
 
Suggestions:
 
  • Be as prepared as possible
  • Research your subjects as widely as you can
  • Use credible sources for information
  • When you write, use facts and validated information as anchors to build your arguments and conclusions upon. Use links to your sources as much as possible
  • When you are going to be interviewed or speak publicly and know what you might be talking about, research the subject and have your facts and interpretation ready
  • If you are asked a question in which the questioner provides news or information you were previously unaware of, do not respond to the information it as if it were a credible fact
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, come clean and be honest. Say you don’t know and never be tempted to lie – no matter how easy it might feel to do so
  • If you feel put on the spot, don’t point the finger, start blaming others or make it personal about someone else in an attempt to get yourself out of bother

Make critical thinking your second nature

Sadly, critical thinking – or the skill of breaking down information and identifying the relevant points facts within a message is not something which is often taught in a way which really helps people to become discerning in respect of what they read, hear or see.
 
We’ve all heard of ‘fake news’. So much of the information we receive is now being questioned that we can easily fall into the trap of discounting or ignoring sources which we do not already know or use – just because they are unfamiliar, whilst we can also place to much reliance upon the sources that we have always used.
 
A significant level of the content of all news we access is simply opinion. Whilst an ‘angle’ makes us feel happy when we are reading a source with which we unthinkingly identify with (The paper we have always read, or a political blog which echo’s the particular brand of politics we follow etc), it is easy, even for the most intelligent of us to overlook key facts, events and possibilities, when the noise of the writer or speakers opinion has drowned out the points which are not a key part of what they want us to hear.
 
Giving a genuine voice and true leadership to voters requires politicians and community representatives to have an open mind; to be able to analyse information and pick out the relevant details or salient points – often in real time, which could be a conversation or a debate, and then effectively translate it in terms of its impact(s) and consequence(s).
 
In the local and national news
 
The good thing about critical thinking, is it is a skill which can be learned and developed.
 
Focusing on points of information about actions taken and events that have alraedy happened, rather than what a commentator thinks about it OR what they are speculating will happen as a result of an action or event is a very good place to begin.
 
Equally, information about planned or scheduled events is helpful to know. Whereas what a commentator tells us they think is likely to happen during that event helps nobody.
 
If you only follow news from one or perhaps two different sources each day, it would be sensible to start following other sources too, and definitely ones which you might immediately feel uncomfortable about planning to read or follow.
 
If you follow the headlines from all the main newspapers and magazines on your Facebook feed, or on Twitter for instance (No you don’t need to subscribe to them all), you will soon start to become attuned to the real content of the news and start disregarding the noise that you have no need to follow.
 
Word of mouth, gossip and the things that ‘people you know’ tell you
 
As a potential candidate, thinking about running in a local council election, it’s is easy to ignore the national news and to think the rules for the local information that ‘finds its way to you’ are different.
 
It isn’t. They aren’t.
 
If anything, you would be wise adopt an even more robust approach to dealing with the information which finds its way to you by ‘word of mouth’ and gossip – which in this sense means anything that ANYBODY in your community tells you, that you would not otherwise have been aware of.
 
Inhabitants of the political world, whether they are politicians, activists, officers or community workers can be some of the worst gossips you could imagine. It is easy to become snared in the elephant trap of assumed truth, trusting a source which has told you something that they heard from someone else, who heard it from someone else, who themselves heard it from someone else who was actually there when something happened…
 
Suggestions:
 
  • TRUST NOTHING YOU CANNOT SUBSTANTIATE!!!
  • Run your own race. DO NOT unwittingly become the voice or mouthpiece for someone else’s campaign – whatever it might be, as their words can easily invalidate your own
  • Always listen carefully to everyone, whether you consider them to be friend or foe. Filter out their opinion from what they say or write and translate the validity of the messages that they are really providing.
  • Do not repeat, resend or retain gossip or speculation in any form UNLESS you need to do so for purposes such as making a legitimate complaint about someone else’s conduct or behaviour to an appropriate authority
  • If news you are given could be useful, check out the facts and confirm whether the information is true.
  • ALWAYS validate information you are going to bade or build an argument on.
  • If you have ‘validated’ information, keep a record of the source and if possible, a link to any articles, documents or copies of the information that you have found.
  • Quote these sources when you speak or write, but only repeat or reproduce the information exactly as it was published by the original source. NEVER CHANGE ANYTHING YOU USE FROM ANOTHER SOURCE – NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING OR EASY IT MAY SEEM
  • Follow as many different news sources as possible on Facebook and Twitter
  • Watch the news and make notes of what the news actually is
  • Watch current affairs programmes and focus on the facts which guests use to build their arguments vs the opinion they wrap around them

Ethics & Principles for Politics

Regrettably, we live at a time when many people think that Politicians always lie and that they don’t have any principles.

Some of today’s politicians have adopted the principle that if they tell people things are different, that they will simply be different.

They won’t.

As you are here reading How to get Elected, I am hopeful that you are one of a growing number of public minded individuals who want to put aside self-interest, and work towards the goal of creating something better for all, whether that should be working alone, or working with other like-minded people – no matter what background they might come from.

Having rules that you stick to – a personal code if you like, is essential to have in your toolkit, if you are determined to succeed as a local campaigner and good politician, working towards the goal of delivering something better for all.

Ultimately, we all have the ability to make choices and decisions which rise above any form of bias and focus on the best results for all – even when those around us argue that we are being impractical, or suggest that we simply don’t understand how everything works.

Doing what is right can be a very lonely place. But you can always sleep at night.

If you always stick to what you know to be right, remain open to changing your mind when you realise you are wrong, and treat others with respect and courtesy at all times – even when their behaviour has upset you in some way, you will never go far wrong.

Here are the few basic principles I believe all politicians could benefit from adopting, using and ‘living’ in politics. If we all did so, this Country would soon become a very different place!

People before Politics.

Every decision that Politicians make should be focused on the benefit to the majority of people; not the priorities of the few or of the Politicians themselves.

Practicality before Perfection.

We all like the idea of living in a perfect world, but perfection can only ever be an aim in an imperfect world and Politicians must make decisions based upon their practical impact; not just on what they would like to see.

Policies made in isolation lead to isolationist Policies.

Just as one policy may be used as an excuse not for enacting another, new policies should not be created without consideration of their real impact upon or collectively with others.

Politicians now need to review the whole System and not use the size of this task as an excuse for not doing so.

Politics is better when it isn’t Personal.

Politics should never be about personalities and when it is, it is a sure sign that those talking are thinking primarily about themselves.

Fear is no excuse in itself.

Any policy made only with emotion and feeling in mind does not consider the wider picture and the full implications.

Too many decisions have historically been made by Politicians because of a climate of fear.

Over-reaction and under-reaction can be destructive in equal measure and however emotive a subject can be, emotions are personal and do not reflect consideration for what is best for the majority in its strictest and most comprehensive sense.

One size never fits all.

We are all different and policies must recognise and embrace those differences in all ways, but without recourse to any form of discrimination whether that be positive or negative.

Decisions affecting us all similarly should be made by Central Government, whilst decisions based upon Locality should rest in the Locality with Local People and their Political Representatives.

Central Government has as much responsibility to reflect, consider and act upon the decisions made by Local Representatives as it does have the right to ask others to respect the decisions which are made universally for us all.

Lifestyle choices should be for those living that life.

The preferences and actions of individuals should never be questioned or put in doubt so long as they do not compromise the physical safety, security, lifestyle and freedom of choice of others. A crisis of conscience for one, is no excuse in itself to prevent the lifestyle choices of another and Government should never support it as such.