By Carolyn Lochhead
“Is the Queen dead?”
Heads down, frantic googling.
“Nope. The palace announces that. It’s either a general election or we’re at war”.
“Is it wrong to hope for war?”
This was the scene in my office on Tuesday, and if you are a fellow public affairs professional, it may have taken place in yours, too. As a Scottish PA pro, this will be my seventh poll in three years (though I missed one due to maternity leave. These days it’s impossible to time babies according to election cycles, since they have apparently ceased to exist).
Of course, I love elections. I’d be in the wrong job if I didn’t. I love new polls, I love dissecting the campaign leaflets that come through my door – “Well THAT’S an unverifiable stat” I trumpet happily as I pass the letterbox – and I absolutely adore a good old-fashioned neighbourhood hustings. I am terribly upset that there isn’t one taking place in my constituency in the upcoming and now-totally-overshadowed local elections.
But come on. Geeza brek, as we say up here. We’d only just got into our stride combing the parties’ council manifestos to see how many of our policy points had got in, when suddenly we had to start dusting off our 2015 manifesto and rummaging about in the publications budget to see if we can afford a reprint.
It’s tough. And it’s tempting to fling up our hands, accept that the whole thing is going to be a repeat of the Brexit referendum and write the whole thing off as a waste of time.
Tempting. But wrong. This election matters, as all elections matter. Look how strongly Theresa May is emphasising the need for her own mandate – and how, equally robustly, Nicola Sturgeon cites her 2015 and 2016 triumphs as mandates for indyref2. These results have substance. They will shape our future.
It follows that pre-election debate must be serious and wide-ranging, despite the few weeks available to engage with candidates and the public. MPs are preoccupied by Brexit, it’s true. But they must not be allowed to forget their responsibility to maintain our defences, benefits system and equality laws across the UK – as well as the NHS, social care and education in England. These are mighty topics and they do not deserve to be forgotten.
PA professionals – particularly, if I may say so, those of us working in the charity sector – have a responsibility to represent the people for whom we work. In my own field, people with mental health problems have seen their benefits attacked in recent years, with promises of more to come. I can’t stand on the sidelines and watch as politicians get enmeshed in endless debates on the single market while people who need help are ignored.
Every election matters. Even those we didn’t see coming.
Carolyn Lochhead is Public Affairs Manager at mental health charity SAMH. You can follow her at @theshooglypeg.
Image courtesy of flickr user secretlondon123