Thursday, 18 June 2009

*Anniversary of first election contest.

Today is the 40th anniversary of my first election contest –The 1969 Irish General Election.

I stood as an Independent – there was no Green Party in those days. I’m not sure whether it is a matter of pride or of sadness, but the issues that I campaigned on then are mostly issues on which I’m still campaigning :-)

After the events of the previous year both in Ireland and abroad I decided to have a go.

Always with an eye for a publicity angle, I got my father to ask his second-cousin to nominate me. Since he was the bishop’s brother it got some useful media attention.

The West Limerick constituency is huge – almost the size of London, but with the population of Finchley. Since canvassing the whole lot was out of the question, we decided to concentrate on the towns.

Each day my cousin Dan O’Brien and I would head off and canvas a local town, while my brother Liam, who was also my election agent, would handle things at home.

Then in the evening we would have a outdoor public meeting in the area. My uncle Dick Carey would arrive with his flatback Volkswagen pick-up to use as a stage. Liam would also arrive with more supporters to make a crowd.

The weather was fabulous. I remember once coming back to the car after a few hours canvassing and we could not sit on the seats as they were so hot.

Another feature of Irish electioneering is the after-Mass speeches. There is a good reason for this – it’s the only place where you can get a good crowd together. You make sure the Mass has finished and as the people come out you stand on a wall or chair and start making a speech. One funny point is that it is where my future wife first saw me - making a speech outside a small church in Dromin. Her father said to her “Come away and not be listening to that idiot” He was a Fianna Fail supporter. Seven years later we were married in that church (and divorced ten years later).

It was also my first time on TV. Myself and independent candidates argued that since the big parties had PEBs, we were being discriminated against. Irish State TV, RTE, came up with a solution which was to make a few films of all the independent candidates. I was filmed doorknocking and canvassing. Naturally, we picked a supporter’s house.

It was an exciting time. Naturally we got steamrolled by the huge electoral machines of the big parties. The result was 232 votes, not far behind Labour. I was not a good year for Independents.

It is a bit sad to remember all those who campaigned for me who have now passed on, some who were much younger . My father and mother gave me great support, even if, I suspect, they did not quite approve of politicians:-)

And so, many election campaigns later, I am marking the anniversary by attending a meeting of West Central London Green Party, where we are facing a Kensington & Chelsea Council by-election.

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