Each week a different PPC provides us with an insight into life as a candidate and gives us a flavour of their own campaign and interests. If you are a candidate and are keen to be featured, please email Jonathan Isaby.
This week’s diary is written by Nick Hillman, who was selected in December for Cambridge, where sitting Lib Dem MP David Howarth is standing down and he has his sights on gaining the seat, which last held for the Conservatives by Robert Rhodes James until 1992 (at which election it was gained by Labour). You can read more about Nick's campaign on his website, donate to that campaign here and follow him on Twitter.
Monday 25th January
We welcome a new volunteer who is joining us for six weeks to learn about politics. Our first task is a canvassing session. We find many supporters, though we also find the Labour vote holding up. At least Labour voters often willingly say who they support, so we get clear information. We also chat with a former Lib Dem activist who complains his old party runs Cambridge like a one-party state. He may not vote for us, but he certainly won’t vote for them.
In the evening, I speak at a Burns Supper fundraiser. It is only my second full speech since becoming the PPC and my nerves show, but I get the chance to thank the outgoing PPC, who is an old friend. The dinner is to help get a second Tory councillor in Coleridge ward, and we have a strong candidate in Andy Bower.
In my speech, I express hope that election day 2010 will be more successful for me than the last one. In 2005, I was mugged while getting out the vote and – after leaving the police station – found the front wheel and saddle of my bike had been stolen! I also mention the time I met Margaret Thatcher which, as she was rather rude to me, won a laugh.
Tuesday 26th January
Our Association Chairman, Dr Sarah El-Neil, and I have been working hard to get our first proper piece of literature for 2010 ready. We are in essay-crisis mode. The biggest problem is that we have so much to say that it is hard to boil it down to the essentials.
As a member of a small party, it has not been easy for the retiring MP, David Howarth, to get Cambridge’s needs taken seriously at Westminster. Our local economy is like a delicate eco-system and Labour’s under-funding of vital services risks making the city less appealing to employers, workers and families. Given the fiscal crisis, it’s clearly not about spending more overall but we should treat each area fairly when divvying up the cake.
I attend an education lunch at the Centre for Policy Studies. The presenter says the DCSF has been taken over by people who expect teachers to focus on social and psychological issues rather than academic subjects. The end result is, apparently, lower academic achievement and amateurish support. One guest says he removed his children from school because of the counter-productive help they received when his wife died.
I link on my blog to ConHome’s excellent piece about how a vote for Nick Clegg is a vote for Gordon Brown. We have to emphasise that message, especially in seats like mine. The other electoral fact that needs to be more widely understood is how badly the boundaries are skewed against us. It would be outrageous, and a genuine constitutional problem, if we were to get significantly more votes than Labour but then be blocked from making the changes we have promised – and which people have voted for.
I like Polly Toynbee, but her Guardian column today is odd. She backs proportional representation but then argues for the (unproportional) Alternative Vote system. Her point seems to be that this would be good because it would lead to perpetual Labour/Lib Dem coalitions. But there is no permanent left-wing majority among the electorate and, as today’s Social Attitudes Survey shows, much of the country is crying out for change – not back door ways to keep Labour in office.
Wednesday 27th January
There is good coverage in our local paper of my visit to a homelessness charity, where I helped to prepare breakfast and heard about a new social enterprise building willow eco-coffins.
My mind is mainly focused on my day job, however, which means working for David Willetts on higher education and skills. David's new book, The Pinch, is about to be published and has just been described by Danny Finkelstein as ‘the best book I have read in the past year and the most important book for Conservatives in a lot longer than that.’ After this endorsement, we are inundated with media requests and the book rises rapidly up the Amazon chart.
There is a real synergy between my job and my candidacy in Cambridge, a great university city. Last time, the Lib Dems won a lot of votes here by promising to abolish tuition fees. This was Conservative policy too, but both parties have since reconsidered. While we are doing the responsible thing and backing the (long-overdue) expert review of student finance, the Liberals have adopted a vague – and uncosted – plan to abolish fees after the 2015 election. Even Nick Clegg is not a supporter of this policy (see here), but he was unable to get his party to adopt another one. With such a flimsy and confused prospectus, it is hard to see as many students being convinced to vote Lib Dem this time round.
When I get back to Cambridge at 9pm, I spend the next few hours, with help, finalising our newspaper. When I was selected six weeks ago, I had no idea how much I would learn about publishing and printing. Nor did I realise just how much sleep I would lose! I have regressed to the sleeping patterns (and the caffeine intake) I had as a junior teacher 15 years ago. I’m not complaining. Being a candidate has been the most fun I have ever had as I have met so many fascinating people. But it’s important not to burn out too early.
Thursday 28th January
Cambridge’s Lib Dem candidate gets an effective hit on page two of the local paper about the rise in unemployment here. It is an important story which shows the recession is causing human suffering. But the core political question is whether voting Lib Dem would tackle the problem effectively. Surely not.
Vince Cable has repeatedly criticised the idea of university expansion, so there would be fewer opportunities, not more, for people wanting to improve their skills under the Lib Dems. In contrast, we have a detailed Get Britain Working package that includes extra university places, more apprenticeships and training places and much more effective back-to-work support for unemployed people.
Friday 29th January
I spend the morning in the company of Vicky Ford MEP, who has been really supportive of our work, on a boat on the Cam to hear about environmental issues. It seems one of the best ways to start tackling green problems is to get the whole community involved, for example in monitoring river quality. This resonates with me and suggests David Cameron is on the right track in wanting to boost volunteering and non-state organisations.
We take delivery of 40,000 newspapers and by mid-afternoon have eight people folding and bundling them. In my opinion, politics should be fun and – as always – our Deputy Chairman’s wife keeps the spirits up with her warm hospitality.
In the evening, we go to one of the most interesting Cambridge colleges, Lucy Cavendish, which is for mature women. Our President, Baroness Perry, has organised a big fundraising dinner there with Clarissa Dickson-Wright and we have a good turnout.
The ‘fat lady’ is enormous fun, telling just the right mix of personal, political and cookery anecdotes. I am chuffed to see so many of my family and friends at the dinner, and we adjourn back to my home for port – and more leaflet-folding – afterwards.
Saturday 30th January
The snow-covered city looks beautiful as we deliver newspapers in Abbey ward, where I live and where both Labour and the Greens are strong. In the afternoon, our Chairman and student supporters run a market stall that raises our profile. Oliver Heald MP, a great supporter of our campaign, pops by to spur on the troops.
Sunday 31st January
A small team of Eric Barrett-Payton (our stalwart Deputy Chairman, who knows more about Cambridge politics than anyone), Stephen Oliver (a core member of our team) and I make an early start leafleting, before we all go off to spend time with our families.
In the past 20 years, all three parties have represented Cambridge at Westminster and all three parties have come third. So, as a busy week comes to an end, I ponder on how much we have left to do and how much there is still to play for.