In any party, or indeed any organisation, a strategy will struggle if it’s seen as something for other people to do. Successful strategies are embraced throughout the organisation, and that’s all the more true in organisations heavily dependent on volunteers, let along those, like the Liberal Democrats, which also believe in grassroots power.So although much of the 20% core vote strategy David Howarth and I set out is about what the party ‘centrally’ or ‘nationally’ should do, to succeed as a strategy for rebuilding the Liberal Democrats it also needs to be taken up by local activists in their own areas of direct influence too.
One aspect of building up a larger core vote that our pamphlet only briefly touches on is the power of habit. A loyal core vote comes in part from people getting the habit of repeatedly voting for the Liberal Democrats – and that requires repeatedly giving them the chance to do so.
It is therefore welcome news that for the next round of Police and Crime Commissioner elections the Federal Executive has abandoned the party’s previous hesitations and this time is out and out encouraging local parties to contest every single one.
But the big gap in the opportunity for people to get a habit of voting Liberal Democrat is the patchiness of local council candidates. So here is an opportunity for local activists to take the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle and otherwise deploy metaphors and set themselves and their colleagues a simple challenge:
Stand a record number of candidates at the next local elections in your area.
Returning to our previous best performances at putting up candidates would still leave work to be done to get to the ideal of full coverage, but it would be a huge step forward – and with the massive surge in party membership providing many new potential candidates and helpers to get nomination papers completed, now is an excellent time to do just that.
So why not set the challenge locally and get your local party to agree to aim for a record?
If you’re on the Exec, email your colleagues now, get the idea rolling and follow up at your next meeting. If you’re not on the Exec, ask the local party what they’re going to do (you could share this piece with the local party).
And if you’re one of those areas which does always manage 100% coverage, after a pause for deserved self-congratulation, why not offer a little help to a neighbouring party before Christmas, well ahead of your own contests, to help them get their plans rolling?
Whether your next local elections are in May 2016 or later, there are immediate steps that can be taken this year to help set up a record-breaking slate.
Take the time now to explain to members, helpers and regular supporters why standing more candidates is a good thing, what it involves and how it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. For someone new to all this it may take a long phone conversation and then a face-to-face chat to explain, reassure and encourage – all of which is hard to do if left to a mad rush a few weeks before nominations close and when campaigning is at full tilt.
Talk too to neighbouring parties as people can stand not only where they live but also where they work. So there may well be people who can and are willing to stand who are members of another local party than your own. And why not reciprocate by asking your own members if any of them work in another council area and might be willing to stand there if asked and needed?
Finally, if there are wards where finding enough nomination paper signatures will be a challenge (not a problem in Scotland where the 10 signatures rule was axed but often an issue elsewhere), you can start early by asking members of the public to commit to nominating a Liberal Democrat candidate when the elections come round.
A few may move or change their minds, but that still means the bulk of the work can be done in advance – with the added bonus that you’re also identifying people to keep in touch with about our other campaigns.You could even just these pledges to nominate a candidate as the genesis of a local ‘friends of the Liberal Democrats’ network to help reach out beyond formal membership and deepen our links with a wider network. (Even if you don’t go as far as the Tories in 1950.)
It also makes for a satisfyingly pleasing telephone canvass or doorsteps session if you know you have to hit the magic number 10 in an area. It gives canvassing a tangible measure of success. Rather than canvassing being an endless slog, it becomes something with achievements along the way.
So are you up for it? Will then next local elections in your area see a record number of Liberal Democrat candidates?
And here’s an offer: if you have a key activist locally who isn’t persuaded about the value of putting up as many candidates as possible, put them in touch with me. I’ll happily make talking to them my contribution to your efforts.
If you are taking up this challenge locally, do let me know: it’ll be great to share stories of people getting stuck into doing this – and that will encourage others too.