Roger Evans sets out how aspiring politicians should plan for a turbulent 2019.
The New Year stretches ahead, filled with excitement.
2019 promises to be as turbulent and unpredictable as its predecessors with Brexit expected in March if the current timetable can survive attempts to extend Article 50 or stage a second referendum. A period of uncertainty is likely to follow as the UK and the EU adjust to our new relationship – a relationship of friends and equals rather than master and servant.
Looming over everything is the possibility of another General Election. Whilst it looks unlikely, the political parties are gearing up for a campaign and putting candidates in place.
For ambitious would be MPs the coming year could see opportunities to build their reputations, enhance their skills and achieve their dreams. It’s worth devoting a few hours to planning for the coming twelve months.
Campaigning experience is a must have for all MPs. From the Prime Minister to backbench councillors, everybody puts in those hard yards of leafletting and door knocking. A solid track record is required before selection so now is the time to be putting the work in and keeping a record of achievements.
Parties often look for candidates with an interesting back story so it is worth considering your career path and how the things you learned and experienced can be brought to life in your CV and personal publicity.
Three dimensional candidates are sought after so some solid experience outside politics and work is useful. Volunteering is a great way to keep your feet on the ground and demonstrate the ability to reach out to people and understand their problems.
And it is worth remembering that success in business on its own very often doesn’t translate to success in politics. Your campaigners are volunteers who can walk away if they don’t like your leadership style and you need the support of elected colleagues if you are going to get things done once in office.
Over 100 applicants regularly send in CVs for the best political roles so you need to stand out from the crowd. Already having a profile can provide a flying start at the initial stages of selections and of course it helps to be recognised by voters.
So you should be grabbing opportunities to write pieces for political magazines and websites even though these are rarely paid. Likewise those very valuable radio and television interviews. Social media makes it much easier to build a profile from scratch, using blogs, Linked in and even Twitter but there is also the potential to make mistakes in public and these can haunt you on the internet.
Opponents will often look for historical statements which can be presented in a bad light so you need to overhaul your social media profile before stepping into the political limelight. The good news is that these attacks don’t seem to impress voters who focus more on what candidates can do for them, but they can provide reasons for risk averse parties to sacrifice candidates at a more junior level.
Politics is a varied activity that requires lots of different skills. Most people will have some of them but very few politicians can claim to have them all. So a skills audit and some coaching from Barndoor will probably be in order.
Communication skills including speech writing, public performance and media skills are all essential to successful MPs and councillors. Remember that a politician who claims the public don’t understand is really admitting that they can’t explain – and a politician who can’t explain should find another job.
Committee work is also a valuable skill particularly if it has not featured in your professional environment. Being able to recognise the agendas – official, political and personal – of fellow committee members will help to make your own contributions much more effective. Of course actually chairing a committee can be very challenging particularly if it is taking place in front of a large audience or it is making contentious decisions.
Some grounding in law is also useful for would be legislators. There is a reason that so many lawyers become politicians – the skill sets are very similar. These include advocacy, negotiation, client meetings, case preparation and a basic grounding in constitutional law and the principles of natural justice.
Modern politicians operate in the spotlight so mistakes are accentuated and they remain to haunt your history. They also need to be able to embrace variety, dealing with different specialisms, demanding situations and people from all backgrounds. Politics is fun and there are great opportunities to achieve results for constituents and the country.
But good politicians never stop learning and they know that it is never too early to start.