• General Election 2017 – my story

    17th June 2017 | News | Claire
  • I am not suggesting that Mr Swire didn’t get a hard time on Twitter, but his reaction to the challenging remarks, has been completely over the top.

    For the record, once again, I have never ever asked anyone to, nor do I know of anyone, who damaged his posters.

    And to respond only to these false allegations cheapens my campaign and the spectacular level of support my team and I received from a huge range of people right across the political spectrum during those six magnificent weeks.

    It undermines the energy, the passion, the clear sightedness, and the unswerving determination that gripped so many of us during that frenetic time.

    There were times that I felt (and I think many of us experienced) real joy at being involved in something that meant so much to so many people.

    So you can see I see things very differently from our MP. 

    Here’s my story.

    I was campaigning for the Devon County Council elections in Otterton which has a patchy mobile reception, when I reached the top of a hill and my phone suddenly started pinging with messages.  I quickly learnt there was to be to be a general election on 8 June (eight weeks from that point).

    Having previously hoped to run for a second time, my initial reaction was a deep groan.

    I had no team, no funding and no structure. I didn’t even have a parliamentary bank account.

    The only thing I had was the result from the 2015 general election, where I finished in second place with over 13,100 votes.  It was a great first time result, but a successful new campaign in such a short timeframe seemed impossible….

    …. Within an hour I was mentally planning a campaign.

    There were two immediate priorities. First, I needed to know whether I had public support to run. Without this, I would not even contemplate running.

    Secondly, if there was public support, I urgently needed a core campaign team.

    I knew that I also needed significant funding for any campaign but I was confident that this would be resolved with crowdfunding, should I decided to stand.

    By the time I had returned home, I had received dozens of messages urging me to run. For two days I kept my counsel before putting out a press release saying I was considering standing in the general election but if so, I would need an army of helpers if I had a chance of winning.

    After this, I was deluged with offers of help. Hundreds of people offered their time, their expertise and their energy.  I had thought a few might come forward but this was an amazing and inspiring reaction.

    So it was settled. I would mount my second campaign for the East Devon Parliamentary seat.

    While my gut instinct was powerfully present, I knew I was taking a risk. There was a possibility I could receive fewer votes than I had in 2015 due to the short timeframe and rumours of a LibDem resurgence. Fewer votes would have been humiliating, but the urge to run was very strong.  I decided to take the risk.

    I scanned the offers of help carefully, searching for potential core campaign team members. I also contacted a few people who had previously expressed an interest in helping me and who had excellent skills. 

    A meeting at Ottery St Mary Football Club was booked for on Monday 24 April. About 20 people with key skills attended.

    By the end of the meeting we had agreed all the key posts.  The core team of 12 and the skeleton of a campaign was created.

    I had been advised by the County Solicitor that I could not publicly declare as a General Election candidate until the Devon County Council elections were over, so to ensure we were fully ready for the launch on Monday 8 May, my team and I quietly beavered away on our preparations, including:

    – setting up systems for volunteers, maps and canvassing
    – drafting a campaign plan and writing campaign literature
    – ordering publicity materials
    – setting up the crowdfunding arrangements and a bank account
    – reading the Electoral Commission guidelines to ensure we met them on all aspects of the campaign

    There were also things like insurance and data protection issues to consider and comply with.  It isn’t easy to get insurance as an Independent!

    It was a hugely busy time. And many of us were getting to bed well after midnight and getting up again at around 5am to stay ahead of the work.

    My caffeine drought ended immediately. Without copious cups of tea and coffee every day I couldn’t function.

    My manifesto, which had been put together in 2015 based on a survey and conversations with thousands of people, was updated to include my position on Brexit (a proper parliamentary vote on the final deal) the NHS latest atrocities meted out by the Conservative government and the appalling slashing of school funding, which is causing massive problems for teachers and pupils across Devon and the country.

    With years of obfuscation and lies drip fed to this country by the Conservative government often about ministers own record on our NHS and public services, I was determined I would tell people the truth about what was happening.

    My manifesto addressed this in the space that was available. I enlarged on these remarks at my public meetings and at hustings.

    Austerity has done terrible things to this country. Those of us who always believed that there was another way are now angry yet vindicated following the Prime Minister’s declaration that there will be no more austerity.

    Because of course, she knows she cannot force more cuts through with a hung parliament.

    This is good news, but the NHS is already on the verge of being sold off wholesale to developers. That’s what The Naylor Review and NHS Property Services have already started doing across the country.

    Some of us have campaigned against this in our local communities. I have held two public demonstrations at Ottery St Mary Hospital and held the slippery managers of NHS Property Services (which now owns 12 community hospitals in Eastern Devon) to account as a member of Devon County Council’s health scrutiny committee.

    One would have thought the local MP might be concerned about the risk the ownership of NHS Property Services posed to 12 local community hospitals, but instead Hugo Swire gatecrashed a demonstration I held in May last year.  He asked me if he could address the 200-strong crowd which I agreed to. But rather than expressing his concern, he used this time to accuse me of scaremongering and being politically motivated.

    In his follow-up blog post he disrespectfully dismissed the Ottery residents who were present at the protest as a “pack.”

    There are many other examples I could give of Hugo Swire’s desultory record of fighting for local people but that one pretty much sums it up for me. 

    Although I might just give his dreadful record in parliament a quick mention. He has never, by his own admission, voted against the party whip.

    In 16 years.

    Back to my manifesto, I was confident that the 2015 pledges were still valid after knocking on hundreds of doors in the recent Devon County Council elections.

    On Thursday 4 May the Devon County Council elections took place. I learnt that I had achieved 75 per cent of the vote with 3,638 votes, which is the biggest majority in Devon, once again.

    I was over the moon with the result.  But there was no time for a break or to celebrate. We had an announcement launch to prepare for on the Monday (8 May)!

    I gave a speech and we Facebook live-streamed this event, which was held at Exmouth Rugby Club. I found the ability to stream straight to the internet and interact with residents at my events enormously exciting.

    It prompted at least two members of the public to turn up speculatively at the Rugby Club and ask for my A1 boards!

    We launched my manifesto at Sidmouth the following week to an audience of around 80 people. Once again it was live-streamed on Facebook and as with all my events I took questions from the floor without knowing what they would be in advance.

    The campaign funds soon came flooding in and by the end of the campaign we had secured almost £13,000, in over 200 separate donations – nearly as much as we raised in a whole year during 2014/15.

    With hundreds more volunteers, we were determined that every house (within a village and town at least) would receive a copy of my manifesto.  This includes around 5,000 in Exeter and Topsham, so it was a tall order. Around 60,000 copies were printed so we had some spares.

    And before the postal vote deadline, our 600 (by the end of the campaign we had 700) volunteers had managed to deliver to most houses in the constituency.

    Aided by our teams of volunteers we then embarked on an enthusiastic four weeks of leafleting and door knocking.

    The best way I can describe the way my campaign felt to me was as though I was caught up in a maelstrom of energy. It was a whirlwind of positivity. A force of nature, caused by a desire by many people to elect someone they believed would stand up for them in parliament, someone they already knew would work hard for them and who they could trust to put THEM first.

    I simply had to keep up with the amazing momentum.

    It was clear at the first hustings and from the tweets from the LibDem parliamentary team that their strategy appeared to be to target me, in the hope they could claw back some of the votes they lost to me in 2015.

    Their claims that I could never win, nor have any influence in parliament were political slurs and were levelled at me so often on Twitter that I was forced to block one of their team – a first for me.

    I should add here that I have worked alongside the LibDems on the district and county council for years, just as I have the other parties. I have always worked with them productively and in a friendly manner. It was quite a shock to be the target of such hostility, albeit limited to their team of three.

    My campaign brought people together from across the country. A friend visited from Nottingham and someone I had never even met before travelled from Kent and assisted us in Exmouth for a few hours.

    It motivated a bright young man from Sidmouth to record a touching video outlining why he was working so hard to get me elected.

    And it prompted a reconnection with a valued friend I haven’t been properly in touch with for two years.

    There were countless emails from younger men and women who expressed a belief in me that I found extraordinarily moving and motivational. 

    I heard from disenchanted lifelong Conservative voters and people who had never voted before in their lives.

    All were saying that they intended to vote for me and that I had offered them hope.  It was so uplifting.

    There were countless emails from residents with views across the political spectrum who said they would vote for me because I was already a hard-working councillor and they had confidence that I would be a hard-working assiduous MP.

    If there were times when I felt exhausted and under pressure, it only took an email or Facebook comment along these lines to reinvigorate me.  The big picture was endlessly present.

    And I have made new friends. People that I hope to stay in touch with forever. My campaign team shared a rollercoaster experience that we will never forget. It wasn’t all plain sailing and at times the pressures were overwhelming. But we all gave 150 per cent to a cause we believed in passionately. And I will never forget their generosity of spirit and belief in me.

    Although disappointed not to be East Devon’s MP, I was absolutely thrilled with the result of 21,270 votes – a 35 per cent share, up from 24 per cent in 2015. 

    Apparently the result is the best of any non Conservative candidate in East Devon ever!

    Before signing off I must talk briefly about the Conservative national campaign, in which the behaviour of the Prime Minister allowed Hugo Swire to wriggle out of any hustings. Mrs May apparently could not even cope with the idea of a live interview on Woman’s Hour, which is a level of control freakery not seen in any prime minister that I can remember. 

    The Prime Minister’s inability to answer a straight question, instead sticking to a rehearsed script earned her the deserved label “The Maybot.”

    But what I found most distasteful was the campaign of fear and negativity which the Conservative Party perpetuated against the opposition. There was no hope, no inspiration and no positive policy announcements.

    Instead, the slurs against the opposition were nothing more than a stream of spiteful vitriol.  I was quite shocked at how low the Conservative Party stooped in its vain attempt to retain seats.

    The election result was 100 per cent deserved and my own view is that although the country is in unchartered waters right now, already we have seen that the worst excesses of the Conservative Party’s determination to shrink the state and force more people into abject poverty, somewhat thwarted.

    What Mrs May isn’t confident of getting through parliament will be dropped.  Despite the involvement of the dubious DUP, this new more consensual approach can only be a good thing for every single person living in the UK.

    After six months of election campaigning I am relieved not to be knocking on doors any more, replying to thousands of messages and feeling as though my life consists of rushing at breakneck speed from one place to the next. 

    I am very happy to be reconnecting with my Devon County Council work, attending my dancing classes, enjoying the sunshine, the stunning East Devon countryside and our local beaches in the company of my daughter or my lovely friends.

    As for another election…. whether it is this year, next, or in five years, Hugo Swire can be assured that I will be ready.

    Pic. A photo that symbolises the energy of the campaign. A group of us canvassing in monsoon like weather at Westclyst. The camaraderie made it surprisingly huge fun!