A week is a long time in politics; Elections and the democratic process

While I am a bit of a political anorak I have never actively been engaged in politics.  In the last week however I have had several discussions with people regarding nominations to stand for election, canvassing for support and the development of policy which would form the basis of future manifestos.  As they say – “A week is a long time in politics”.

The discussions focused on two extremes of the democratic process.  Some related to elections to the steering group of a hyperlocal (to NI), highly specialised association; the others ultimately lead all the way to Westminster.  The discussions for both democratic processes were equally passionate and engaging and were equally relevant to the future success of this wee country.

They focussed on areas such as galvanising a community, setting out a vision for the future, enabling entrepreneurship, economic policy, inclusion, politics with a small p, politics with a big P, personalities and the like.

I have spent this evening reflecting on what we should demand and expect from those who would seek our X on a ballot paper or click in a radio button/check box on an electronic poll.

In the past I have had the fortune (or misfortune depending on your viewpoint) of being in the position to observe both local and national politicians at the highest level in their working environment.  During that time I was able to see past the mask of the election posters and manifestos; it enabled me to form an opinion of many which wouldn’t necessarily reflect the persona they present in the media interview, election hustings or on the doorstep.  Some pleasantly surprised me, others not so.

So what do I feel you should look out for in a representative of your choice?  Here are a few thoughts;


First and foremost the candidate will be passionate about the cause, industry, their beliefs, their policies.  That passion manifests itself in truly believing they can make a difference for the people they serve rather than raising their own profile and making personal gain.  This passion should be infectious in that it attracts both people and resources to a cause.  That passion should have been evidenced three, six, twelve months ago and not just on the hustings.

Pragmatism, consensus

Passion is all well and good but if someone is over zealous in an angry shouty way they’ll never be able to deliver diddley squat.  Remember it is easier to oppose something than it is to come up with solutions and deliver them.

Your representative needs to be able to build constructive relationships with others both within the body elect and with other stakeholder groups.  They should be able to go into meetings with not just one option but two, three or four others up their sleeve.  They shouldn’t just roll over however.  Everyone needs a red line.

In putting forward their views they should have the ability and a willingness to re-prioritise those views as others give theirs.  They will show that they value other peoples views by making use of them to develop their own arguments.  Ultimately they should have the ability to respond positively to challenges with good humour, to maintain relationships and gain the support of others.  They will not monopolise a discussion but encourage others to take part.

Consensus means getting another step on the road to where you want to go.

Decision making

A perfect candidate will be able to draw on experience and information from various sources and various viewpoints, assimilate it and be able to make decisions quickly.  They should be able to communicate the reasons for those decisions clearly and in a way that supports their arguments.  Quick wins are not a basis for fruitful representation nor are they in the long term interests of the electorate.

Ability to deliver

Achievements are important.  They show that a candidate is more than just a list of empty promises as they have a history of delivering.  What has the candidate achieved in their professional life? If their role hasn’t afforded them the scope to deliver tangible achievements have they taken steps to deliver in their personal life which are equally important?  Do they have the stamina to deliver for you?

Learning and improving

Everyone has skills gaps, everyone lacks experience and everyone has failings.  A perfect candidate will recognise that and take steps to address it.  Remember that good decision making comes from learning from bad ones.  I would rather have someone represent me who had made a few mistakes than someone who professes to have made none.

Communication skills

Does the candidate communicate with impact in language that is appropriate for the audience concerned?  Do they make clear arguments based on evidence rather than hearsay and innuendo?  In rejecting others viewpoints do they alienate people or persuade them to consider theirs?

The democratic process

The democratic process is vital to ensure that all views are represented.  It should not be taken for granted.  Remember to use your vote and use it wisely as you only get the representation you vote for.