The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

2019 General Election: A campaign tale from Tooting

As a small pro-Brexit party in a London seat with a big Labour majority, we knew that it wasn’t just a hill we had to climb, but a whole mountain range!

By: Roz Hubley

Every so often life throws you an opportunity that is just too good to turn down. Mine occurred one dark and stormy October night after a couple of glasses of Merlot in a backroom at El Vino’s in London’s Blackfriars.

At an SDP London meeting, branch chair Patrick O’Flynn was outlining how he thought a General Election was imminent. Patrick said he felt it was the right time for the SDP to make a soft launch in London and was looking for two volunteers willing to stand as SDP candidates.

Why did I put my hand up?  Well, there were three reasons:

Firstly, I was disappointed with the way Brexit had been mishandled by David Cameron and Theresa May.

Secondly, an indecisive Brexit position, rife anti-Semitism and Jeremy Corbyn made me fear a Labour win.

Finally it quite simply felt like the opportunity of a lifetime to be involved in a process I was brought up to believe is the single most patriotic act a citizen can do for their country.

That being the case, my sense of panic kicked in about two minutes after my hand went up and my anxiety continued to rise and fall till about 4.30 a.m. on 13th December when the final count was given!  Truth be told, I had no idea what I had let myself in for.

I stood for the constituency where I live, which is Tooting in south west London which has a voting population of 77,500. In the 2017 election, Labour achieved a majority of 13,500 and it’s in a borough where 75 per cent voted to Remain.

As a small pro-Brexit party we knew that it wasn’t just a hill we had to climb, but a whole mountain range!

Our biggest task would be explaining to under-40s who we are and to the over-40s where we’d been since 1992, which was the last time the SDP fought a seat in London. Our assumption proved to be correct because throughout the campaign the most common doorstep response to our introduction was “I didn’t realise the SDP was still going”.

We had limited funds and few London supporters. Our only resources were copies of the A-Z, 10,000 leaflets, stunning rosettes, comfortable shoes, a sense of humour and loads of optimism!

Where I was extremely lucky was to have two totally committed members who knew their way around a campaign. They were life-savers. We dubbed ourselves The Three Leafleteers and thus began our charm offensive.

For six weeks we pounded the streets, deftly wielding our spatulas — a leafleting technique designed to get past the more difficult letterboxes and snarling dogs. We spoke to anyone and everyone who opened their door, listened to grievances, agreed with those who “just wanted to get Brexit done”, admired front gardens, attended a Jewish Hanukkah party and even sang with a Christian revival group outside St. Georges Hospital!

I’m the first to hold up my hand and say I’m not a natural public speaker and I found the one hustings I attended terrifying. My brain turned to mush and my hands were shaking so badly that I had to turn to one of my opponents — a charming candidate from the Green Party — to help me turn over the pages of my speech. It will stay with me as one the most nerve-wracking three hours of my life. But much to my amazement people came up to me at the end to say how good it was to hear somebody who “sounded normal”.

We knew the odds were stacked heavily against us. Our opponents seemed to have a bottomless supply of money and activists when it came to producing and distributing publicity material. Labour delivered a different leaflet daily not to mention a ‘newspaper’, extensive advertising hoardings and videos — which appeared to be a bit of overkill given they already held the seat with a substantial majority.

Did we achieve our objective? Some might say that a return of only 71 votes does not look promising but we’ve taken the first vital steps in re-building the SDP in London.

I loved my experience and would heartily recommend it to anyone who is thinking of standing.

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All Comments (8)

  • I somewhat echo your comments being a first time candidate too. I found one of the hardest issues I had to deal with was time, or more accurately the lack of time. I didn’t think it was appropriate to be knocking on people’s doors after dark and working full time really meant campaigning at the weekend. I too had some fantastic help with running stalls and leafleting. I was extremely fortunate to have Paula and Kirsty delivering leaflets during the week and helping out on the stalls at the weekends for which I am extremely grateful. I was also fortunate to have William on my campaign stalls and leafleting a couple of times, despite running his own campaign in Leeds, Ian and Andy also come out to give assistance.

    One of the more curious things was when William took my voice around the constituency in the tannoy car. I had many people poke fun at that until I pointed out that it worked as they had remembered it. Whether they voted for me or not was irrelevant the fact was it got both my name and the party name out there.

    I did get one media endorsement which meant a lot to me and that was from Rod Liddle I the sun newspaper, thanks Rod.

    I would never have stood in a general election as my first election if I had the choice, but the timing was not of our choosing and we had to capitalise on it.

    At the outset the result was unimportant to me as the task was to raise the party profile. I know that this was successful and to be part of the team around the country that did that was

    From my position the general election allowed us to be familiarised with the process of election and get our names recognisable for future elections. I hope to take full advantage of this great work in the local elections in 2021 and hope our other general election candidates will consider standing locally too.

    Good luck to all our future candidates.

  • I’m proud to say also stood in the election, and I heartily endorse Roz’s encouragement of people to stand. My experiences were in some ways similar to hers, although mine was a single-handed effort in a geographically huge constituency, so I had to ration and target my door-time carefully.

    I have a couple of observations. First, it took me some time to muster up the courage to go from leafleting to door knocking. But I found the intense listening and meeting process moving and rewarding in itself. I thought I knew my home town – I know it better now. The welcome I (usually) got told its own story of how taken-for-granted most people are in ‘safe’ constituencies like mine. It left me feeling grateful and beholden to the 127 voters who supported me. I don’t want them let down by me or by the SDP.

    The second observation is more disturbing: I did four hustings and altogether I was shaken by the level of candidates’ disinterest about verifiable facts, and the willingness to – how shall I put this – ignore inconvenient facts. Maybe ‘safe seats’ throw up sub-standard electoral candidates?

    And the third observation: the old established parties may be fairly useless, but they have distinct advantages not only in name recognition, organization and finance, but also because they know their way around the electoral system. They know what they are doing. In the general election, novices like Roz and I had to waste time ‘learning’. We’ll not have that excuse next time.

  • Why do Working class People still bother with the Labour Party I have found even more snobby and rude than the Tories the SDP could be the real opposition to the Tories ending the duopoly of the LibLabConSNP regime is long overdue

  • Dear Roz,

    Your courage in fighting Tottenham was simply awe-inspiring. Bearing in mind the vertical cliff of an up-hill struggle you had on your hands – (few helpers, no publicity, little money, etc) you did very well.
    Congratulations on giving us all such a positive example.

  • does the SDP have a office in Havering where I live I would like to stand as a candidate for You at the next election

  • In 2009 I joined UKIP. We fielded a candidate in my constituency of the Forest of Dean in the 2010 General Election. On my own, I leafleted about 5000 households. The people who I spoke with had no idea who UKIP were or what they stood for. We did a couple of public meetings and had some street stalls. Amazingly, we polled over 2500 votes and saved our deposit. Over the next few years, we built up the branch and started to stand in local elections. Eventually in 2012 we had a candidate elected to a town council. The following year , myself and two colleagues were elected as county councillors. In 2015, we fielded 30 candidates in district elections with 7 people elected. in the General Election, UKIP polled over 6500 votes.
    This demonstrates that a small party can grow if it appeals to the public.
    I am not pretending that it is easy and being a single issue party can assist in some circumstances but it can be done

  • Honestly I didn’t know the SDP still existed until yesterday – thought it had been wound up when the Lib Dems were created. Reading up as much as I can on it now though.

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