The future of the party's campaigning

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.

A secular society does not just protect those without faith – it protects those with faith too

Earlier this evening I spoke at a Stonewall / DELGA meeting, along with Chris Rennard, Sarah Ludford and Ben Summerskill on the theme – ‘A safer Britain for all’.

Today I would like to talk about what fairness mean to us as Liberal Democrats and more importantly how we can achieve it.

As liberals I think we have instinctive sense of what equality means. This doesn’t mean we have all the answers or always get it right, but equality is one of the main reasons we get out of bed and fight the political battles we fight we do.

As a country, I think we’ve come a long way from lesbians having to hurl themselves off the House of Lords gallery to get their point across.

I know Chris is going to touch on the Conservative Party’s dodgy attitude to gay people in his speech, but publicly even they claim to have realised the error of their ways and eschewed the bigotry of social conservatism.

Indeed, the political consensus appears for the most part heading in the right direction. The post–1997 Parliaments have piece by piece removed many of the anomalies that saw gay, lesbian and transgendered people treated unfairly in the eyes of the law. There are still some laws that need changing, but Labour majorities with the willing support of Liberal Democrat parliamentarians have brought British law into the 21st century.

But when it comes to fairness for the LGBT community, does this mean we can hang up our capes and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done? Of course this is not the case. Unfair treatment sadly still remains an everyday experience for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The discrimination they face is perhaps not as blatant as before, but the consequences can be just as harmful to those at the receiving end.

To illustrate the challenge for fairness that faces us I wanted to choose three examples. They are:

1. The teacher that ignores kids calling each other gay as an insult
2. The Islington registrar who refused perform civil partnerships because of her religious belief
3. The BP boss Lord Browne being forced to resign because of his long-term affair with a male prostitute

Firstly the teacher. In some respects, education is the very much the last bastion of the worst of how society perceives and treats the issue of sexual orientation with the ‘not in front of the children’ mentality persisting.

I am sure many of you could imagine several racial or religious insults that would rightly be severely punished if overheard in the playground. So why is the word gay as an insult not treated with the same severity in so many schools?

And it’s not just about the immediate hurt caused by bullying that is let pass as acceptable – it’s also the longer-term message to children, as they are forming their views of the world and of how people should behave, that it’s ok to view gay as something objectionable and that it’s ok to make casual insults based on sexuality. That’s not a happy society we’re creating.

I know Stonewall has been hot on the case in tackling homophobia in education and our very own Stephen Williams has been leading the charge in our own campaign.

Changing attitudes must start in the playground and the classroom. Homosexuality is not an unmentionable awkward topic – and to treat it as such compounds the prejudice that there is something wrong with being gay.

The second case I wanted to discuss involves a registrar from Islington in London who won a case for unfair dismissal after she was dismissed for refusing to oversee civil partnerships because of her religious views. I don’t know if we have any councillors or activists from Islington here this evening that would be able to give their perspectives, but for me this case revealed a major fault-line in the battle for fairness.

Please don’t get me wrong – I am just a likely to be plucky and stick up for the right for one person’s religious freedom. But for me this freedom is guaranteed in the framework of a secular society. We could argue until the cow come home about the extent of religious freedom, but for me one thing is clear – when the freedom of the individual comes into direct conflict of religious belief of another, then individual freedom takes precedence.

There are many who see this issue differently, even within our party – a point demonstrated by a minority of MPs in all parties who voted for the amendment to impose the need of a male role model for women seeking fertility treatment in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Whilst some Parliamentarians wrangle with this issue and their moral compass, the practical implications of religious conviction undermining the rights of gay people are very real and act as an obstacle to fairness.

If we fail to combat erosion to principles of a secular society, it will not only be the rights of the LGBT community that will suffer. Millions of people rely this protection to live their lives in the way they want – from the women who has freedom over own body in deciding when she will have a child to couples freed from a loveless marriage because of the freedom to divorce. Not forgetting too those who – by being protected for the imposition of any one religion’s views – are therefore free to practice their own religion too.

A secular society does not just protect those without faith – it protects those with faith too.

So, I have looked at two bastions of the state – schools, religion. Finally, I want to look one last arm of the establishment –that of the press.

“Complaining about the press is like complaining about the weather.” Wise words reportedly whispered from Tony Blair to his wife. And to some extent, I agree with him. A free press is a sign of a healthy democracy. However – sometimes what is in the public interest is a far cry from what sells papers.

Look at the case of Lord Browne being forced to resign because of his long-term affair with a male escort, over which he told a white-lie about how they met. Hardly the stuff of resignations, particularly when as the dust settled we saw allegation after allegation about alleged misuse of BP resources disintegrating under the microscope.

The truth is that the heart of the story was simply that the Mail on Sunday was able to out an extremely senior business leader after 40 years of him keeping his sexuality private. As a result he felt compelled to resign.

Decriminalising gay sex in the 60s prevented gay people from being the victims of blackmail. But it still seems to have some way to go before sexuality ceases to be a newsworthy for those who choose not disclose it.

Clearly we have some way to go until we reach complete fairness. As leaders in the communities we serve, Liberal Democrats must act to challenge and to change systems that are inherently fair – whether it’s the schools we govern, the registrar offices we control or the laws we can influence.

Public service providers need to be proactive in dispelling the perception from gay people that they will get worse treatment. Hopefully the next major steps in their transformation will come with the extension of the duty of public duties to promote equality for people of different sexually orientations.

And in the private sector we need to give force to their complaint, speeding up tribunals and making sure those who practise discrimination fear redress.

So we have gone a long
y on this journey to equality and fairness – but equality under the law does not reach into all hears and take away the prejudice and hatreds which rest beneath well-behaved exteriors. That has to be the ultimate goal.

LibDem leadership rules

There’s been a bit of chatter over the fact that the party’s leadership election rules mean the candidates don’t get given copies of the party’s membership lists – this was a decision made by the party’s conference when it voted on the rules a few years ago. Ah democracy … !

All the leadership candidates are understandably wary about talking about the rules – as it can so easily sound like special pleading. But there is clearly widespread unhappiness with this rule. In public elections, candidates get to know who the electors are and their contact details (from the electoral register) – so why shouldn’t the same apply to Lib Dem internal elections? In fact – it does apply to many of our internal elections, such as for Parliamentary candidates, but not for leader. Giving the candidates the list of members would also mean we skip all the worries (and sometimes down right silliness) over what records different people can or can’t use. What’s a personal record that is ok to use and what is an official party record this is not ok to use? Is my address book on my computer at home ok to use, but not the one in the party’s office? Etc.

So – just a quick suggestion to anyone who thinks the rules don’t make sense. Doubtless there will be a review as ever afterwards as to how the rules went – so don’t forget to let the Acting Returning Officer (Chris Rennard) know your views, so they can feature in any review. In fact – why not tell him your views now, so you don’t forget afterwards? You can write to him at 4 Cowley St, London, SW1P 3NB or use the Lib Dem feedback form.

I’m sure Chris is very busy with both the leadership election and the very winnable Dunfermline by-election campaign – but sending in comments which don’t require an immediate reply but can instead be complied after the election is over would be a good move I think.

PS You can get details of all the leadership candidates – including websites etc – on the main Lib Dem website.

Campaign rally

Off to the Purcell Room on the South Bank for an Election Summit – a last gathering of the Lib Dem clan to rally us for the election.

First off is the photo op with Charles. We are meant to stand in a diamond shape of human beings whilst the cameras shoot us from above. TV and radio and lots of papers in attendance. The Lib Dem star is definitely rising at the moment – as we are the ‘Real Alternative’.

I am placed next to Charles at the front of the diamond shape. It’s all very interesting where you get put – I surmise from the number of times I have found myself next to Charles in photo-ops recently that I am either absolutely gorgeous (unlikely) or that the party wishes to promote me as a good thing (quite right)!

Photo over – we go into the hall for a speech from our Charles. The media are allowed to stay for this – and Charles gives it a good send off. It is a confidence thing I think – our policies are good, out position is better than ever before – and the others are less than edifying with their various negative yah-boo style of politics – all giving us a feel-good factor. Let’s hope it translates into votes.

A few of the senior MPs have sidled up to me to say that the buzz in Westminster is that I will win in Hornsey & Wood Green. If enough people vote for me this is undoubtedly true – but I am too much of a grass-roots campaigner with feet firmly on ground to pay too much account to the village gossip (although I think they are right). But it is better than the gossip being in the other direction!

We then move into private session to hear from our campaign genius Chris Rennard and our election campaign manager Tim Razzall.

It’s a good session followed by our various spokespersons giving a three-minute speech on their area and then taking really nasty questions from us. We are all going to face this at hustings during the election – so seeing our spokespersons under heavy fire rehearses the arguments.

I come out to lunch, switch on my phone, to find 15 missed calls. I hate that – I always feel under surveillance and guilty for not attending at moment of call. Too dutiful by far. Most are media – including the Evening Standard who are showing an interest in Hornsey & Wood Green. But there is also an urgent comment needed on the Mayor’s mad proposition to bring powered two-wheelers into the congestion charge regime. We have spent recent years encouraging people to get out of cars onto public transport or onto bikes or scooters – now the Mayor wants to charge them for the change he has been promoting.

Ken has turned into a money-grabbing government lackey. He was great on many issues before he went back into the Labour party. But now his whole joie de vivre has disappeared as he toes the party line and agenda. I think he is unhappy. I don’t know why – but he just doesn’t seem to have the spark he had before.

Back into the lecture hall to be lectured. Several more sessions, our secret polling and campaign advice and then off home to more paperwork and more emails.

End of conference

Am aiding Simon Hughes (Lib Dem president) who is chairing the finale at conference. This is Razzall (campaign head), Rennard (chief campaign guru) followed by three rousing ‘get the activists excited’ speeches by key people, with Charles Kennedy to finish off.

Everything went smoothly – and the choreography went extremely well. Whew!

Leicester South

I find that my 10.00 am meeting has been cancelled and so instead of going to City Hall, I carry straight on to Leicester to help in the by-election.

I am sat stuffing envelopes in an upstairs area near to our by-election guru’s office, Chris Rennard. As he spies me he asks if I will speak to a Muslim caller from the Muslim Council of Great Britain who is concerned about a motion going to the GLA the next day. I also have to speak to another representative of that organisation following a message from my office.  The hoo-ha is over a motion put by the Greens condemning the Mayor for receiving the Prof Al-Qaradawi at City Hall etc.  We (LibDems) have put down an amendment to the motion to basically say that The Assembly should be a forum for robust debate and we condemn all acts of violence, including suicide bombing, homophobia, Islamaphobia and domestic violence. The Muslim Council want us to withdraw our amendment and simply vote against the motion. They phone a number of times during the day and apply pressure. Totally resisted by myself. I am sure that our amendment is true to ourselves – and stick to my guns. See MQT for what happened next.

Finish stuffing envelopes around 4pm and wend way back to London on Midland Mainline – pretty punctual and pleasant I thought.

Election press conference

Press conference with Charles Kennedy, Simon Hughes and Chris Rennard (campaign guru and mastermind of LibDem successes) at Lib Dem HQ.

We all walk in and sit – lots of journos and a couple of TV stations in attendance.

Charles kicks off with a stirring piece about our chances of success (good). He takes the national angle.

Then Simon speaks about what he will do for London and then I have a go at Ken Livingstone.

He has his own agenda – not really London’s. And he will spend on his pet projects, areas and his own publicity. If you cross him, he is vitriolic and vengeful. Given the piece the Guardian G2 ran quoting me on Ken’s nastier aspects – I hope and pray

Simon wins – or Ken will be out to get me. Nasty business – hey?

Then Chris Rennard does the real business of the day – revealing the new polling showing that Simon is really closing on Norris and that if he pulls that off – the second preferences that come his way once Norris is out the race put him within 1% of beating Ken – too close to call.

Really exciting now!