As of today the United Kingdom has no Members of Parliament. For the next five weeks the chamber of the House of Commons stands empty. If there is an emergency there is no Parliament to recall. Ministers remain in office, but are only permitted to conduct essential governmental business. The clash of political debate moves from Parliament out onto streets, studios and social media. There is no Mr Speaker to call for order, just the thunderous roar of the democratic process in action.
Today, and until polling day, what we have are candidates – thousands of them in the 650 parliamentary constituencies that cover every inch of the Kingdom. Thousands of candidates representing every strand of political opinion and tradition, all competing for a place in the great forum of national debate and decision making that is the House of Commons.
It is a wonderful moment and we should pause to think of the women and men who will be pounding the pavements and knocking on our doors, hoping to win our vote.
These candidates are our friends, members of our family, neighbours, and fellow citizens. Ordinary people, as caught by surprise by the suddenness of the election as everyone else, whose lives will be upended for the next few weeks. They are from among us – they are us. Politicians are not a breed apart. They are a part of all of us.
The hopes of most will be disappointed. Even most of the hopes of those elected will in the end face disappointment. The lucky few will have their hard work rewarded.
They will walk miles delivering leaflets and canvassing. They knock on our doors and try and keep a smile on their face whatever the response they receive. Whatever the weather they will work on. Away from the headlines and the pronouncements of the Party leaders, these candidates will be waging their own campaigns in their own areas.
I have been a parliamentary candidate and it is a unique experience. The worry and then elation of being selected is extraordinary. The hope of winning – mine was a marginal seat – drives you on. The privilege of working with a team that has often been active in the constituency for years, giving their time, support and encouragement in a common cause is one you do not forget. Talking to voters, listening to their concerns and hopes, and doing your best to respond. All this and more will be being experienced, no matter how safe a seat.
Standing for Parliament is an enormous privilege. Many who write and pontificate on politics never actually have the courage to stand in any sort of election. They are content to sit on the sidelines and take the easy option. Every candidate is a volunteer and knows what they are volunteering for, or should do. They willing put themselves into public view and endure that scrutiny, but we should remember too that it is often a huge sacrifice. As we enter the General Election campaign we should be grateful that so many of us want to stand in this great democratic process for our House of Commons.