Chris Park: Here’s to the election losers

Writer and former local government candidate Chris Park says the losers are just as important as the winners for our democracy

I RAN in a hopeless seat in the recent council elections, lost spectacularly, and we’re all the better for it

Democracy only works because we have losers – so many losers. So many beautiful and inspiring losers who know they have no chance but stand in elections anyway because they want to fight for what they believe in, to have their voice heard, and because they know there’s a (possibly tiny) group who feel the same way and need a champion.

Between the local and general elections in the space of just over a month, thousands of ordinary men and women will stand for a party or as an independent, and lose spectacularly. As I did.

Every party has constituencies where they don’t have a look in but nonetheless the local party prepares candidates, drafts leaflets and press releases, and maybe braves the doorsteps - all in the spirit of democracy.

My return in the council election was meagre, but the experience was humbling and fascinating. Every party has constituencies where they don’t have a look in (especially in a General Election with first past the post) but nonetheless the local party prepares candidates, drafts leaflets and press releases, and maybe braves the doorsteps - all in the spirit of democracy.

They do their best but prepare for the worst because democracy isn’t really about who wins. Democracy is about representation and democracy is about choice, whether that’s choosing who we elect to represent us in parliaments, assemblies, councils; or being a representative on the ballot paper so people actually have a choice in the first place.

I discovered that people understand this.

I was nervous about heading out on the campaign trail because I knew that politics was contentious, but when I spoke to people the most common response was "good for you". 

I was pleasantly bemused: some told me they weren’t going to vote for me but thanked me for the leaflet and promised to have a read; others told me they were glad to see a young person getting involved; everyone seemed to appreciate being able to talk to a candidate.

Whether they intended to vote for me or not, people liked the idea of someone from their community putting themselves forward to represent them.

Whether they intended to vote for me or not, people liked the idea of someone from their community putting themselves forward to represent them.

I even got to attend the count. Although it sounds like a dinner time quiz show, being a contestant at 'The Count' was democracy in action. Seeing the votes pouring out the black boxes, being sorted for scanning, watching them appear on the computer screens and the amazement at seeing (occasionally) my name with a 1 or even a 2 – incredible to think that strangers put their trust in me.

There was an atmosphere of friendly competition, well-wishing and handshakes. Party politics is vitriolic but it doesn’t have to be. If we promote a positive political climate more people will participate and discover more about their values, communities, and themselves.

We need them. The countries that only have political winners are not democracies.

Isn’t it odd to think about the people who stand against the prominent politicians – Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May, cabinet ministers – who all probably have safe seats, but they don’t go uncontested; indeed, Lord Buckethead is running against May at the upcoming General Election, and I wish him well. 

The losers fill the void between the political establishment and the people because they remind us that most politicians are just ordinary folk as well, our neighbours in the community.

You see the videos and the photos of these politicians in the sports hall, making their acceptance speeches, with their 25,000 majority, and the other candidates staring at the ground. It takes guts to put yourself forward, especially if you know it’s hopeless.

So here’s to them - the losers!

The losers fill the void between the political establishment and the people because they remind us that most politicians are just ordinary folk as well, our neighbours in the community; though the political elite would do well to remember this.

The losers remind us where politics (at least should) begin and end: with people.

Picture courtesy of Juan José Richards Echeverría

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