Despite the challenges of the role, a lot of able people still want to become MPs – so what are the five things you need to get straight right now to land that safe seat?
Faced with hundreds of CVs, the local selection committee need a way to make the numbers manageable. In the past anyone without an Oxbridge education might have been excluded but commitment is now seen as most important so the key factor is experience of fighting an unwinnable seat.
Almost everyone – even Boris Johnson – has had to fight and lose before being allowed to fight again and win, so if you have not contested a safe Labour seat perhaps you should lower your sights and get the ordeal out of the way. You can put up with anything for six weeks…
Of course, life is unfair and two groups of people can get through the sift without gaining the scars of losing in Liverpool:
First, Local Candidates will often be shortlisted for safe seats – but they fail more often than they succeed. This is because they are a known quantity and bring their own opposition with them. And the local strategy is a risky one as it is ‘all or nothing’ – you can only be truly local in one place.
Second, Celebrities will often make the cut because they are known widely and the selectors are interested in them. Sometimes their CVs aren’t even all that commanding because name recognition is doing their work for them. Becoming a political celebrity is hard work but it pays off at selection time.
A POLITICAL BRAND
Celebrities all have a really strong political brand, built up through years of media appearances and public engagements. You may not have a strong brand and there certainly isn’t any time to develop one now, but you should have a clear idea of how you present yourself.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence? You should take time to consider this because it is the foundation of a brand you can work on and amplify between elections. Meanwhile, you can place the description at the start of your Candidate CV.
Political Branding is important – both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn get this. A strong brand will create expectations and help to manage setbacks. Remember when John Prescott punched a demonstrator? The incident did him no political harm because such behaviour was already priced into his unique brand. ‘John will be John’, as Tony Blair put it at the time…
WHY ARE YOU A CONSERVATIVE?
The question ‘Why?’ is the most powerful one in the interviewer’s arsenal. This goes to the heart of your motives and is almost certain to be asked in some form at every selection interview.
Being rational thinkers, we tend to come up with some quite dry answers about value for money, economic freedom and aspiration. It’s good stuff but hardly in the heart string tugging league of most socialist responses. Many replies to this question are well considered, accurate – and entirely unmemorable.
You are going to need more, particularly as this question tends to crop up early in the process, whilst the panel are trying to decide if they even warm to you. So, consider how you came to join the Conservative Party. What experience brought you here? What was powerful about it? How has it changed your life and the lives of others?
A storyboard like this is more memorable and it has the bonus of sharing a common experience with the interview panel members. Interviewers tend to like people who are like themselves…
WHAT MAKES YOU A GOOD MP?
This is such an important question that it usually forms the terms for your initial speech. ‘Why are you a good MP for this seat?’ is almost always asked. They key is to realise that the question comes in two parts:
First, what traits and experience make you a good politician? Second, how will they benefit this seat?
The temptation is to present yourself differently on every CV. I have seen some applications for different seats that present exactly the same candidate in unrecognisable ways.
But the first part of the answer should never change – because you remain the same person. How are you going to build a strong political brand if you can’t present yourself consistently and honestly? You need a crystal clear understanding of your own unique strengths to answer this question, but it is worth taking the time to do the background work because the question is ALWAYS asked.
For the second part, you need to understand how those strengths will help to resolve problems for this particular constituency. If there is very little overlap you should avoid forcing the matter and apply elsewhere.
HOW WILL YOU CAMPAIGN?
If you are selected, what is your plan? How much time will you devote to the campaign? Will you live in the seat? How will you manage your other commitments?
Again, they will ask you this – so you need a clear answer with specific commitments. General waffle and even begging won’t cut it.
And as the question invites you to explain your current activities, a well planned answer might even give you the opportunity for some stealth boasting about your achievements.
I am coaching candidates right up to the close of the selection process so get in touch for help with your CVs, speeches and interview questions.