Knocking on doors via Shutterstock

Column I call bulls*** when people say to me 'we only ever see you at election time'

In the first in a series of columns in the build-up to the local elections, The Secret Candidate takes credit for something they didn’t do.

I’LL TELL YOU a secret. Well, actually, I’ll tell you a few over the next few weeks. But I’ll start with one straight away: sometimes, maybe one in a thousand times, I get credit for something I didn’t do. I can’t help it.

Let me explain: if you knock on enough doors on enough roads and a query comes up on each of them, perhaps a tree needs trimming, well then every now and then, before you even pass the query to the Council, you might walk past a day or two later and notice that the trees are being trimmed.

A tree has to be trimmed at sometime, somewhere, right? So, the odds are that this will happen somewhere you’ve knocked just after you’ve knocked there. Bar writing to the constituents and saying “I had nothing to do with this”, there’s nothing you can do about it.

It’s one in a thousand though, the other 999 you have to solve yourself with graft, mettle and letter writing. And that’s what this week’s piece is about: politicians, elections and activity.

One quote about politicians that drives me crazy: “We only ever see you at election time.” When aimed at others, it is of course true. No other Councillor has called to my road in the last five years. Perhaps that’s a testament to me, though I doubt it, as they haven’t called to the next road. Or the next one. Or the next one.

When people say the phrase to me though, I have to call bullshit on it. I’ve been knocking on doors, appearing at public meetings, holding public meetings, making representations and – in general – getting stuff done for my constituents for years. I produce at least four newsletters per annum. I’ve balanced achievement and visibility as best I can, as one asset without the other rarely works.

If you’re visible without achievement, you get found out. If you’re achieving with no visibility, you can be electorally gazumped by somebody else taking credit for your work. Whenever I hear “we only ever see you at election time”, it drives through me like a dagger.

The amount of newsletters, letters, leaflets, door knocks, posters, public meetings in the intervening period – for some people – count for nothing and have now put you at level pegging with the chap in the other parish who has done feck all for five years, and may well get away with it. And that’s the thing: they often do get away with it. Incumbency is one of the strongest forces in Irish politics.

‘I won’t be able to relax’

When it comes to the elections though, constituents have a point, with all Councillors and a sudden rake of earnest competitors suddenly becoming much more visible, a multiplier effect takes hold and suddenly constituents see you coming.

At this stage, if you’re not under pressure 24 hours a day, or you haven’t been doing stuff steadily throughout your term, or you haven’t got a constant queue of work to get done and never have time to breathe then you’re doing Council politics wrong. There’s always more to be done: a path to be fixed, a tree to be cut down, a road to be canvassed, a follow-up letter to be printed and distributed, a match to attend. That’s the thing with an election: it’s never over until it’s over.

A metaphor for start-up businesses is that it’s like “assembling a plane in mid air before it hits the ground”. Local elections are sort of similar – it’s “fly or die”, though somebody described them to me recently as “rowing in the dark, never sure where your competitors are though you can hear them, and when first light hits, it’s too late to speed up or slow down, it’s over”.

That sounds about right to me. It’s an intense kind of pressure, having a very public race for a job. If you’ve ever been rejected for a job, and know the person who got it, then you can maybe empathise – though it’s a little bit more intense, as you have to look at your face on lampposts for another few days afterwards. That’s not pleasant.

I read a quote some time ago about the Sunderland manager Gus Poyet in The Observer and it chimed with me: “[He] laments a new-found inability to relax and lose himself in the novels he once adored. “The words don’t go in any more,”he says. “I won’t be able to switch off until we’re safe [from relegation].”

It’s the same for me in a sense, maybe for all Local Election candidates, until we’re across the line in May I won’t be able to relax, won’t be able to sleep, won’t be able to stop.

There are too many projects half-completed, too many things in progress, too much work has been done and, so, my volunteers and I keep rowing in the dark, knowing that we only have a few weeks left to go.

‘The Secret Candidate’ is running for a city council seat. Their identity is known to

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The Secret Candidate
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