Over the next few weeks, I’m taking part in a handful of training sessions about learning the lessons from May’s elections. There’s much to learn from May and from being in government, but I’ve also noticed that many of the old favourite, long-running lessons are very much still with us. So here’s my selection of the top five of those Golden Oldies.
Disliking the use of “fair”
Some Liberal Democrats love to hate the use of “fair” or “fairness”, decrying it as being meaningless, what everyone says and pointless. But it is also one of the values that the public says it most wants from political parties:
A recent YouGov poll for Policy Exchange asked people what values they most want a political party to reflect. “Economic responsibility” came out top with 59% mentioning it and “fairness” was not that far behind on 50%. No other possible value was mentioned by more than a third of people. Amongst Liberal Democrats, fairness was rated even higher…
It also did far better than some of the other values that are particular important to Liberal Democrat members (freedom/liberty – 20% overall, 22% amongst Lib Dem 2010 voters; tolerance and diversity 14% / 22% and environmentalism 11% / 17%). Those findings are a good example of why smart campaigners think not only of what matters to them but also of the evidence as to how best to present that to voters. Values such as tolerance may score low on their own, but present them as features of fairness and the ability to persuade the public is transformed.
Complaining about too many leaflets
It is certainly possible to deliver too many leaflets (and of course I’m in no way thinking of a certain by-election during which three Lib Dem deliverers met each other on the same doorstep…), but almost always the complaint about ‘too many leaflets’ confuses quantity and quality.
If you are running good local campaigns, if you have interesting news to impart and if the leaflets are written and presented well, then most members of the public has a huge appetite for them. If you’ve got nothing to say the public does get bored with leaflets pretty quickly, but the answer to that isn’t to do fewer leaflets, it is to do more community campaigning so you have more to say.
In fact, you should be in the position where you’ve always go so much you could report on that the big struggle is cutting it all down to fit into the number of leaflets you can get out.
Declining offers of help
This was most starkly illustrated by my mini-survey at the start of the year:
What happens if someone tries to join the Liberal Democrats?
No reply. That’s what happens a third of the time if a member of the public contacts a Liberal Democrat local party via the internet according to a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise I carried out earlier this month… The party is being far less welcoming to would-be new members than it should be.
This example is neither new nor unique. Being efficient and welcoming in response to offers of help needs to be more widespread than it is.
Keeping social and fundraising events secret
It’s fairly rare for a local party to deliberately set out to make one of its events a secret (though these days with ministers in government and resulting security issues, there is sometimes an appropriate level of discretion). Rather, it is that obvious groups of people who would like to attend the events are not told about them; i.e. the events are kept secret from them.
Group one are those who help but who are not members. Too often the invitation list for a local party social event is the members and not the wider pool that includes people who help without having joined.
Group two are members and helpers in neighbouring local parties. Particularly in urban areas, there are often many such people within easy travel distance of the event, if only they knew it was happening.
Why keep your events secret from people who would want to come, would help fill the room to make the event feel successful and who would hand over money for raffle tickets?
Not saying thank you
Two weeks after polling day this month, around half of the local parties I helped out during the campaign had not (so far) said ‘thank you’ to me. I’ll survive… but unless parties were specially picking me out to be excluded from thank you messages, that is a pretty grim picture of how we treat each other at times. Grim, but not surprising as overall as a party we’re often rather poor at saying ‘thank you’.
There have been some good initiatives recently, such as the Party Awards, and this is one of the reasons for me doing the Local Liberal Heroes series. But as with welcoming offers of help, there is much more that could and should be done.
Finally, if after that list of five mistakes, you’d like to leaven the mix with some positive tips instead, I can offer you that either in weekly email or book form.