In May 2018 Shelly English stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate for Island Gardens in Tower Hamlets. This is her reflection on the highs and lows of candidacy, and gives her advice to other women thinking of standing for the first time.

My first time standing for office

This piece looks at my first time standing as a council candidate – and not winning the seat. It looks at the highs and lows, and offers some advice for those standing for the first time around setting boundaries on your time and expectations.

On 24th June 2016 the result of the EU referendum brought me to tears. Coming so close to the shooting attack in the US at the pulse nightclub it felt like bigotry was on the rise. Having spent my teenage years in the shadow of Section 28 it felt like the world had taken a step backwards. I, like many Londoners, had never comprehended that a leave vote was possible. I spent the next few months feeling at a low with politics in the country. Then on 18th April 2017 Theresa May announced a snap election. I joined the Lib Dems within half an hour.

My local party welcomed me with a call and I signed up to help on an action day, figuring I would deliver some leaflets and do my part. Arriving to help for the first time on the Saturday I was greeted by lots of new members. I was put as part of a small team and I found myself knocking on a door to canvas. Like most people doing this for the first time I was incredibly nervous but found most people either welcoming or just not interested. Spending the next few weeks as part of a fun, friendly and supportive team I decided I’d stand as a candidate at the local elections the following year.

Being a new member and fairly naive about council elections I didn’t realise the paid campaign organiser was only there for the general election. Like many local parties mine did not have paid staff and therefore the organisation of a campaign, writing literature and delivering literature became the responsibility of the candidate. Secondly the number of volunteers fell dramatically when out door knocking and delivering on alterative nights of the week. The group becomes small, your energy levels drain, and the campaign begins to take over your social life. In reality this is preparation for being a councillor.  The speeches at conference when people tell stories of paper candidates surprisingly winning is not the case in the Labour strong holds of East London.

I finished 6th in a 2 member ward, with my running mate coming in 4th (just 2% behind winning the seat!). At this point I was exhausted and felt incredibly disappointed. I felt like I’d let the local party and my running mate down. The come down from the campaign left me feeling incredibly lonely. I’d sacrificed my social life for a year and therefore was incredibly isolated.

Looking back now I’m very proud of the campaign and have learnt a lot. My advice for anyone standing for the first time:

  • Set your boundaries on your time, limit the nights and weekend days you’re prepared to do in the long campaign
  • Consider standing as a non target candidate on your first campaign
  • Take care of yourself during and after the campaign
  • Prepare yourself for the reality you may not win – have draft emails to send out either celebrating or just to thank people for their help. Have someone who is not on vote count do this.

Though disappointing I’m glad I put myself forward. The experience and team work is something I look forward to taking into the next election – whenever that may be!


Shelly English is Secretary of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, and sits on the exec of Liberal Democrat Expand.

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