Yesterday I gave a speech at a fringe meeting organised by Liberal Democrat Voice looking at the future of the party’s campaigning now our campaigns guru, Chris Rennard, has stepped down:
Well – it is hard to imagine campaigning after Chris Rennard as he has been such a major force and eminence – nee God – in our trajectory upward – and in my own trajectory upward
And we would be insane if we were to throw the baby out with the successful bathwater. So campaigning after Rennard is about using what was best and successful from those years and improving on that.
And it’s about moving forward to take that same benefit by capitalising on new tools available to us through the internet and new techniques for quote Obama ‘building the machine’.
Looking back – the number of votes I won in 2001 didn’t matter that much. What mattered, in terms of my mega win in 2005, was the number of deliverers, supporters, helpers, blue envelope writers, members, donors and email addresses I had gained.
As the Obama campaign proved – it’s building the machine that counts. And it’s about progress on the campaigns and it’s about the things that matter to local people – that really counts.
In Hornsey & Wood Green in 8 years – from when I started to when I won – we went from 150 members to over 400 members – and more importantly – my supporters and members now number around 2000. And we went from 0% delivery network to 85% delivery network. And of course – from no emails to around 7000 emails.
Those are the stats that deliver winning seats.
But wherever you are on the trajectory from black hole to held seat – the same is true.
So we must build machine – it is so often the case that we meet someone who displays an interest – however vague – in the Liberal Democrats and so we do one of two, no three things – we ask them to join, to deliver leaflets and to be on the executive – and if they’re really lucky – it’s because we can’t find anyway to be the local party secretary.
No – campaigning has got to be different, less using people as fodder – both those who might be active and those who might vote for us.
We have to be inclusive, make tasks fun, remember politics has a point but for many its light and social and we have to not be so dogmatic about how people would be involved.
An example – I met a guy at the Highgate drinks for deliverers evening – another good example of valuing people and making it fun. And one of the blokes there that I was talking to about funding said he’d like to get involved by helping as a fund-raiser.
So – I could have said can you come to the next exec. But what I said is that is fantastic – I’ll deal with the formalities and we’ll get together for a chat about how to take this forward. Thank you – you are a star!
He’d had been Labour before, I’d phoned him about delivery and having just retired from the City and wanting to lose weight he said he would deliver his road.
Now he is offering to fund raise for us. I don’t care if he’s a member. I don’t care if he was Labour – I care that he wants to help.
We will, for the foreseeable future, still be sticking what we do on a piece of paper and shoving it through peoples’ doors. But – campaigns need to be real and need to progress. People need to believe and to see progress.
I can give you two examples – both six or seven year campaigns – one for a new bus route and one to reopen the Muswell Hill Police front counter. Both started by residents whom I joined to help.
And over those six years – I built up the address lists snail and e – but I did things. I advanced the cause and campaign and fed back the next action to each person in the campaign – and over the years the numbers increased and both these campaigns delivered a few months before the election.
So I would say the lesson there is that campaigning has to be real and has to deliver progress.
My heart withers at the thought sometimes – when we start a different campaign for something new every couple of months – as if being seen to be against or for something is enough.
Because to campaign for something that is really important locally takes years and effort and constancy.
Keep the faith on a campaign – move it forward – and whatever level of success you have achieved in the cause – you will have a built a huge and real relationship with local people.
On our leaflets – it is probably the instant message from our bar charts that is the most significant of messages. So –bar charts will continue to be an important part of campaigning – that graphic is vital.
However – they are only one part of the message because if what the bar chart is telling people is not backed by the reality of local peoples’ experience of the party – we look like charlatans. Substance is important.
And that brings me onto emails. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful communication and campaigning tools of our day. As I said – I have collected around 7000 emails and it takes years to collect – but well worth it – as overnight and for free I can reach around one quarter of my constituents.
But I am very careful how I use those emails and what I send out.
Yes – a fabulous tool – but again it is about using it to bring people into contact, engagement, and activism and voting for us. It is not a tool for hectoring and lecturing and hoping the people will come or for sending out meaningless party messages.
But on emails and using them – every single local party should be doing this as routinely as it tries to collect voter ID.
And we are coming to an interesting time, where as Chair of the Technology Advisory Board one of my missions is to help everyone collect and use their emails for genuine campaigning and contact purposes.
The leadership has observed, as have we all – that Obama used email very heavily.
Those of us here, activists, may well already receive Nick Clegg’s emails. And rightly the leadership now wants to make better use of our local email lists – with proper opt ins of course. There has to be a protocol about how often and who uses such a centralised list.
We know that Obama’s reach and the outlets for his message were an incredibly important part of his campaign.
So the challenge is – collect emails and use emails.
And of course – the use of twitter, YouTube and social networking is still in its infancy – but growing and developing as we widen our potential for campaigning on the internet.
There are some great examples of the best uses at the blogging awards tomorrow night – fantastic campaigns.
No politician going into the future can afford not to build an email list.
So – campaigning after Rennard – will be about building on that legacy – a system of campaigning that has given us a route into people’s lives and homes when the political system and the media coverage have kept us out.
Because in the end – it’s all about communicating with people – and drawing them in. It always was – and it always will be.