THE BLOG

General Election 2015 - As Seen by the Candidates

22/04/2015 16:28 BST | Updated 21/06/2015 10:59 BST

Okay, everyone, it's time to attempt the impossible. Can I make you feel sympathy for politicians? Here goes nothing...

There are two weeks to go to the General Election and the pain is really starting to kick in. You're counting down the days and adding up the calories as you binge on Mars Bars to keep the energy levels going. You can hardly face another voter and simple tasks like getting in and out of the car result in aches and pains like never before. It's just not fun anymore.

What the above is trying to say is that if you're getting fed up with the incessant pre-election campaigning, spare a thought for the candidates. They might all be declaring publicly how they love to campaign and get out and about, but behind the scenes the truth is brutal.

Personally, I've stood in five parliamentary elections and they're rough. You have 7am to 11pm days that go on non-stop for four weeks and the emotional and physical demands are endless.

My team, for example, would have a 'daily grind' set up for me to hit a certain number of houses and voter visits each day, spread across Winchester and 56 surrounding villages. On top of that you have to fit in public meetings and school visits and the demands of the media. Plus if you become a national spokesperson, you're expected to travel the UK and simultaneously juggle keeping your own constituency happy.

The key to survival is a good team around you that you can trust and that know when to give you space. They need to judge your moods - and in my case have a ready supply of chocolate on tap as well.

Food is actually the key to any campaign and sadly it tends to be fast and unhealthy. Each day candidates probably have a pub lunch with volunteers and by night it's a takeaway in the early hours while you draft leaflets and letters. When I stood as MP for Watford the campaign HQ was next to a KFC and buckets of the stuff were consumed each day. At least, they were until we spotted a rat in our waste bin inside the office. 20 years on and I've never had the Colonel's chicken since.

Getting around can also be a hazard. The powers that be don't let candidates drive just in case you end up killing a voter or yourself, so you're given a driver. That might sound like a great perk, but in my by-election things got off to a bad start with my driver: after accidentally locking me in the car on day one he then proceeded to reverse over the family Springer spaniel.

That said, he was a great driver who kept below the speed limit for four weeks. Pretty much every driver slips over the limit now and then, but for a candidate to get caught speeding is political suicide - even if you're not behind the wheel.

It's not that much safer outside the car. Canvassing is a hazard - and wild dogs, naked voters and on one occasion a gun in my face can really keep you on our toes.

Plus with spring elections you never know what's going to hit you when you go outside, from sunstroke to snow. For sure you will be soaked to death at some point, juggling soggy canvassing cards, umbrellas and pens that don't write as you try to record the don't knows and undecideds on the door.

Canvassing is easier when you're the sitting MP as people tend to be pleased to see you, but the ego takes a hit when they just blurt out "Oh, you're fatter than on TV" or "You're going bald" or "Didn't you used to be Mark Oaten?"

Smiling, shaking hands and making small talk non-stop for four weeks is, let's be honest, a strain. It's no wonder poor Gordon Brown got caught out at the last election as he expressed his frustration 'off air'. It's emotionally draining to listen to all the voters' problems and be asked the same question hundreds of times, trying not to sound bored as you answer the same way.

I'm not trying to suggest running for Parliament is the toughest job in the UK. Far from it. But the next time you look at a TV interview with a candidate or one shows up at your door, don't be surprised if he or she looks a bit tired.