‘You’ve got no chance.’, is the advice that politics experts gave me when I told them that I wanted to run for the ACT Legislative Assembly.
‘Don’t do it. You’ll look weak.’, is what my campaign manager and friend said when I proposed writing about exactly how it felt to enter politics as an independent.
Oddly enough, I pretty much agree with them. However, perhaps it’s a common trait among independents that we tend to do the opposite of what we’re told. So here I am, as a freshly announced candidate in the ACT election, setting out the top three reasons for why I’m absolutely sh***ing myself.
Number 3: The pressure of exposure
Being an independent means it’s all about you. It’s your reputation and resources that are on the line. There’s no party platform, apparatus or expertise to draw upon or hide behind.
Your heart, mind and soul are utterly exposed.
One screw up or misfortune could not only end your campaign, but dictate how everyone remembers you and maybe even your family. Always.
Much more probable is the prospect of nobody noticing you. Most of the electorate just want to get on with their day and view campaigners – and politics in general – as getting in the way of that.
So I look at them with good will and anticipation. Most of the time they turn away and shuffle on. Already I’ve come to realise that what can mean so very much to me means almost nothing to everyone else.
Running as an independent is to accept the prospect of feeling like the kid who’s never chosen for sports teams or invited to parties.
Despite having a great deal of support, so far I’ve found politics to be an intensely lonely experience. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it.
Number 2: The pressure of campaigning
During a campaign, independents have to be ministers for everything without having staffers or bureaucrats to draw upon for assistance or cover.
Moreover, despite the fact that the chances of any independent winning in the ACT are marginal, people and the media (if one attracts any) immediately put you in the hot seat: ‘What will you do if you hold the balance of power? Are you for or against light rail? What about abortion? Should Canberra become the seventh state of Australia? Who will you make king or queen?
Number 1: The pressure of winning
What if I actually won?
Suddenly the need to have an informed position or persuasive opinion becomes a weighty and direct responsibility. So says the electorate, because of you my pension is shrinking while my living costs are rising. Because of you my child has special learning needs, but has no access to qualified teachers. Because of you we don’t have affordable housing options.
Now that’s some serious pressure. The sort of pressure that can’t be bucked and that leads you to ask whether your shoulders are broad enough, your back strong enough, your hips sturdy enough.
And if you don’t question yourself in this way, your opponents certainly will. Do you have the ticker?
Independents and politicians in general need to have incredible self-belief. But that does not mean obscuring one’s doubts or somehow disregarding all that pressure.
Indeed, my observation of politics over the last decade leads me to believe that one of the most difficult challenges of being a public figure is tempering one’s self-belief with a self-awareness that comes with doubt and that militates against egotism.
The advantages of being an independent relate not so much to the electoral system, but rather the thrill of starting something from scratch and calling it your own. So too there’s satisfaction in being able to say that there are things that are wrong and false that I tried to make right and true.
And despite all the pressure and anxiety, it’s also pretty fun.
Do you have to be crazy or on the verge of it to enter politics, especially as an independent? Have you considered having a go? What’s holding you back? Why are there no independents in the ACT Legislative Assembly? What if anything should change to make it easier for them/Kim?
Kim Huynh is running in the hotly contested electorate of Ginninderra. Check him out at GoKimbo.com.au