I handed in my election expenses forms this evening. A staggering £10.50 was spent in a vain parish council by-election campaign.
Not in my wildest dreams when contemplating life in Devon did I think I’d ever be standing for public office.
But, my attitudes and priorities have changed since moving out of the London rat race 4 years ago. I’m now, in contrast to my first 49 years, passionate about communities and, by extension, local politics.
Within a year of the big move, I’d objected to a planning application, become a minor wheel in community life through the local gardening club and started attending parish council meetings. For the first time in my life I was getting involved in the community where I lived.
Having worked – off and on – close to Westminster politicians, cynicism aside I guess I’ve got some admiration for those who serve in public office. So much so that I’m probably one of the few people to have a grain of sympathy – or maybe understanding – for MPs in light of the expenses scandal…er, I’ll move on…
Anyway, I came to the conclusion that I might be well suited, qualified even, to serve on the council. Vanity, maybe. Sure, I’m a policy junkie; I understand how government works; I’ve had a lot of lobbying experience. Did that make me electable?
When the second vacancy in 6 months came up in November I felt it was time to have a go. The previous vacancy had attracted only one candidate so I figured there might get in without competition. I didn’t really want to trigger an election as it costs the parish about £800. By the day before nominations closed there were already two candidates, so that question became moot.
I like to think I ran a good campaign. My platform focused on a couple of key issues with four key, achievable pledges. It’s a big area so I walked a lot of the country lanes, got barked at by many dogs, spoke to over 70 parishioners and wound up with muddy jeans and cold ears. I enjoyed the experience.
Voting day came along and I knew victory was unlikely. It was a three-horse race. I was the least known: odds of 20-1 against in the pub. One candidate had just organised the very successful village Christmas fayre. But, at least I’d come second…
Coming third was humbling. Strangely, I’m not downhearted. It was as much the experience as getting the votes. And, on reflection, getting those votes was important, a small achievement.
I will reflect further and talk to friends. There’s another election in May. That’s another chance for me to try to make a difference.
I think £10.50 is a small price to pay.