What are the dos and don'ts of the campaign period?

Paul Smith, 31 May 2024

The starting pistol has been fired and the election is off.

I am sure that NHF members are rushing home each night to avidly catch up on the latest election news, particularly listening out for any mention of housing. With such a short time to go, how can housing associations make an impact with candidates? What are the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the campaign period?

Set out below are a few thoughts based on my previous experience of twice being a parliamentary agent and once being a candidate. Agents will often run the show (candidates are sometimes described as a legal requirement, however more experienced MPs will see this differently!). Part of their job is to keep the candidate busy talking to as many voters as possible and to stop them worrying – all candidates are eager to meet with voters, even those with enormous majorities.

So a few dos and don’ts. The don’ts are more interesting so the best place to start.

  1. Don’t show allegiance to any candidate or party, this is to safeguard you and your organisation. Your private views should remain that. ‘Your’ candidate may win this time, but the others may come back in the future or be on your local council or somewhere else where they can impact your organisation.
  2. Following on from this, keep off your high horse, criticizing their party, their leader, their campaign, even in jest will be remembered. Keep your witty asides for the family dinner table for all the reasons set out in the previous point.
  3. Don’t lecture them on policy or get preachy, they are not naughty school children in your classroom. It is better to highlight the things which you think they have got right, use NHF material to promote the #PlanForHousing.
  4. The constituency boundaries are 100 metres high and built of steel for candidates. Make sure you know what they are and if taking them to visit a scheme, project or site make sure its in the right constituency.
  5. Don’t over run on time, they are on very tight schedules and will get fidgety if you keep them from the next thing and their agent may get violent (exaggerating here for effect).
  6. Don’t lock them in a small airless room with nothing to drink or eat while you take them through your fantastic 100 pages of PowerPoint. You are seeking to influence them not hold them hostage (except in exceptional circumstances).

So a few dos:

  1. Do research on them, their interests, background. Do you have something which provides a link between you, your work and them?
  2. They want to meet voters from their constituency, don’t be surprised if the first question they ask you is where you live. They don’t want to waste valuable time with people who aren’t in a position to vote for them. If possible get them in front of voters from their constituency (I can’t emphasise this enough which is why I keep repeating it). This can be residents or staff, all votes are equal.
  3. Keep to time.
  4. Provide refreshments (even if they don’t take them it's best to offer a minimum of a drink and some biscuits – check they aren’t gluten intolerant when you do your research).
  5. Give them a factsheet relating to their constituency to take away, avoid national or regional data, they want good reliable information about their area, they may even use it in their leaflets. If it's not constituency based it's less likely to be kept. You can access constituency level data on the NHF’s campaign page.
  6. Provide a good photo opportunity. These tend to be something involving a hard hat and hi-viz (much beloved by politicians) or talking to constituents. Make sure you have their consent so they can use them in social media or leaflets.
  7. Be as empathetic as you can manage.
  8. Find out from their agent if they have a party ‘housing day’, most politicians are working to a grid, (if this is Tuesday it must be care). You have much more chance of an encounter if and when you match a good grid day.
  9. While engaging during the campaign is the best time to establish your relationship, it won't be the only chance. If you aren’t able to meet with a candidate, don’t panic. Invite the successful candidate after the election to visit your organisation – remember it will need to be on a Friday or in recess. If you are not part of the campaign, you can be part of the induction.