A turbulent year

It is said that most political careers inevitably end in failure. I seem to have turned this statement on its head and started my journey with a series of defeats!

I’ve been reminded that it is a year since the local government elections. This made me reflect what a year it had been and how the events within it impacted, not just on me, but on the family as a whole. The last 12 months involved a gruelling local election campaign, of which being a candidate was only one aspect, followed by a challenging General Election and lastly, in my day job as an ASLEF union Health and Safety Representative, the impact of dealing with the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.

All three of these events have resulted in me effectively ‘self-isolating’ from my family for lengthy periods. This blog covers the various positive and negative aspects of political campaigning and the effects on personal relationships. I hope it will be an insight for people wishing to tread the same path, hopefully with a little more success than I have achieved – to date!

Being a candidate in the local elections was actually the easiest part and took up the least of my time. Most of my time was spent on either social media, creating infographics, assembling the manifesto or creating the printed material for the fifty nine Labour candidates standing across Central Bedfordshire.

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One of our infographics for the May 2019 local elections in Central Bedfordshire.

However, despite the fantastic work undertaken by the campaign team the results were disappointing both across Central Bedfordshire and on a personal level. Politics is all about numbers and 588 votes was nowhere near enough to get elected. However, our post election bash, was a far more cheery event than you might expect, and gave my wife Juliette a new perspective. Not the more familiar one of absence and detachment, but an insight into the dynamics of my political ‘world’. As the campaign team kindly gave me an impromptu thank you for my (fruitless) efforts, she became emotional as it was the first time she had actually seen what my work had meant to people, much to the embarrassment of our daughter.

Next up of course was the General Election in December 2019 and I was delighted, after a hustings alongside two other candidates, to again be selected as the Labour candidate for NE Bedfordshire.

The dynamics of a General Election campaign are completely different from a local election as there is only one person to focus upon, but the need for collaboration between colleagues is even greater as there is much more work to do. I was so fortunate to have a brilliant team and an amazing agent. What makes a great team? A variety of abilities is of course essential, as well as the candidate being able to delegate – I think I managed this in most cases! Probably the most important quality is to be able to communicate with complete honesty, at the same time as treating all with respect and valuing the different qualities brought by different members of the team. Further, everyone must be clear about what their role is, the decision making must be clear and ideas must be judged on merit, not on egos. Is the above easy? No it isn’t, but I think in most cases we managed it well.

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I was proud to receive this endorsement from Bedfordshire Fire Brigades Union during the December 2019 General Election campaign.

Like the 2017 General Election, which I’ve written about previously here the campaign involved me spending many hours either away from home, or being at home spending many hours on the computer – and virtually no time with the family. Juliette knew what to expect, but as it was the second time within a year that I was in an election, a metaphorical rolling of eyes was fully justified, actually I don’t think it was metaphorical! I’ve yet to master the art of feigning interest in domestic affairs while in the back of my mind thinking of an answer to a potential hustings question, whether the latest leaflet delivery had actually taken place or the wording of a press release. As I said in my speech on election night, your family don’t choose to get involved in politics, but they are significantly affected. I was very aware that I was pushing the boundaries to a limit – I now have a greater understanding why the marriages of politicians fail.

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Speaking at the last of three hustings during the 2019 General Election campaign.

Of course yet again, locally and nationally, we experienced defeat and this was a defeat that hit particularly hard. I remember just after ‘that’ exit poll being asked by one of my colleagues if I was ok. In truth I was ok as it had yet to sink in. I never used to understand how sports people could speak to the media just moments after some agonising defeat, which from my perspective had turned my world upside down and left me an emotional wreck. I now believe they are so deeply involved in the game that they are in a virtual state of shock, the realisation and the pain comes later. The defeat completely floored me and it was difficult to motivate myself to do anything pre-Christmas. I know the last thing Juliette wanted after weeks of campaigning was someone moping round the house, unfortunately that’s exactly what she got!

As we moved into the New Year I gradually got my motivation back and, in addition to my role as an ASLEF Health & Safety Representative, got back into campaigning mode on public transport and step-free access issues. Of course as we know, everything was again to change very quickly as the last week of normality was in mid-March and Juliette’s birthday, followed by a meeting at the the local Conservative H.Q. (an away leg if ever there was one!) with the new MP, Richard Fuller and various rail user group members the next day.

What has happened since is a workload which has completely outstripped that of a General Election campaign, involving effectively starting work literally before I’d got out of bed and often ending around midnight with text message conversations on the latest developments of that particular day. As part of a small team of H&S Reps looking after around 2,500 drivers across London Underground, we had to look at different ways of working and find a balance between running a service for essential workers and keeping our members safe. It was, and continues to be, a seemingly never ending game of ‘whack-a-mole’ where as soon as you find a solution to one problem another one pops up. Yet again, for the third time within a year, Juliette had an ‘absent husband’ in attendance as work took over home life.

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A deserted London Underground concourse at Kings X during ‘rush hour’ on 24th March 2020 as the lockdown took effect.

Life is going to be very different post Covid-19 and there will no doubt be a significant financial shock to endure. We can’t have ‘Austerity 2’, this time the pain must be shared by those who can most afford it – not the most vulnerable in our society. Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is worth reading for a view on how the fallout from disasters can and has been manipulated to entrench economic inequality. The political dynamics of the pandemic have yet to play out, but the importance of the work carried out by often low paid staff is clear for all to see. We’ve also seen the crucial roles played by the NHS and social care staff, supported by immigrant workers from across the world.

What lies ahead personally on the political front? Although currently feeling drained, my motivation for ‘social justice’ and fairness remains undimmed. Political opponents have been generous in their comments privately and publicly (although victors of course can always be magnanimous!) and my team have been incredibly supportive. It’s clear that I’m going to have to look further afield to achieve success, but two General Election campaigns within the last three years have been a good grounding for a political novice.

Former NE Beds MP Alistair Burt gives me a namecheck during a Westminster Hall debate

I’m also aware that I’m now a member of a political party that is in huge transition. I supported and voted for Jeremy Corbyn in both leadership elections, but voted for Keir Starmer in this one. This was not due to a lack of principles, but because of pragmatism. Political purity is all well and good, but in politics like in a relationship, compromise must take place. As Juliette and I approach 20 years of marriage in June, we have had to make many.

The findings of the leaked report into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party must be dealt with head on and not kicked into the long grass. The contents of the report have caused a great deal of anguish among many members and supporters. However, for the Labour Party to return to power we must end the ‘tit for tat’ factionalist battle and work together to enable us to enact our values in government. If we can’t work together within our party we have zero chance of working with our political opponents to get issues resolved. In-fighting, particularly in public, is not attractive behaviour, but a gift to those in power, as evidenced at the last election.

I believe I have the qualities to both work with others and the determination to take on the challenges ahead. I couldn’t have done any of the above without Juliette; her unwavering support and patience has been a constant. Yes, I think I really should put the bins out more often!

Julian Vaughan

6th May 2020

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