(Pause for joke about how short this post will be.)
I’ve written about some of the things the Liberal Democrats got wrong in the 2015 general election – see the lessons in Liberal Democrat Newswire #65, my piece on what went wrong with the Lib Dem polling and the repetition of the mistakes of 1992.
There are many lessons to learn from what went wrong. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t also lessons to learn from what the party got right. So here’s a brief interlude in the dissection of mistakes to highlight the other, smaller, set of lessons for the party to learn too.
1. Serious targeting, without exemptions for MPs
It’s often been a bone of contention during previous general elections that the party had strict targeting criteria and levels of activity expected for seats to receive central party support. Right up until the point when an incumbent MP didn’t meet them, when all the criteria went out of the window and party resources were taken away from other seats to try to bail out the MP, regardless of how much they’d previously failed to do.
This time the party certainly got targeting decisions wrong (see my post again on the polling mistakes), but one thing it did get right was the willingness to decide that some held seats had not done enough work and to stick with that decision.
2. Team 2015 and virtual phone banks
Despite lower support and less enthusiasm for the party than in previous general elections, the party – especially thanks to the great work of Team 2015 – did much better than before at recruiting new volunteers and turning those volunteers into direct extra help for target seats, especially via the virtual phone banks (VPBs).
Even Cleggmania – despite producing far more support for the party in 2010 – was turned into far less help on the ground in the key seats. That’s a very impressive result by Jonny Steen and colleagues.
3. The dedicated candidate portal website
Widely praised by candidates, even those with long lists of other complaints about the campaign, the PPC/candidate portal website was a simple yet very effective innovation and one which we don’t have to wait five years to copy.
4. Online fundraising
Lower support than ever before for the party yet online fundraising records smashed. Very effective online fundraising.
There are lessons to learn about better integration of data so that people are bombarded to the point of maximum financial return but not beyond – and I suspect there were a few data selection errors or bugs somewhere along the way given some of the individual reports of multiple repeat messages through different mediums.
But overall, a brilliantly effective operation. Well done Austin Rathe and team.
5. Connect and MiniVAN
Connect during the campaign repeatedly showed its many advantages over the party’s previous systems, especially for ‘power users’ who are familiar with all its options and who have handy extra utilities such as Andrew McLean’s householding program to hand.
Great too were the smartphone options, both for canvassing and for different polling day tasks – and you can already see how the whole traditional structure of polling day operations based around fixed geographic points and moving around pieces of paper will need to radically change as the spread of technology continues
Connect did not have a good polling day, that is true, with some very slow performance for extended periods. However compared to the multiple polling day problems of its predecessor, even those were better than what activists at times have had to put up with in the past – and they were problems that are fairly straight forward to fix.
(By the way, one tip if you’re a Connect user: I’ve done a rough tally of messages I’ve seen from people saying ‘It’s awful Connect can’t do X’. I make it that about nine times out of ten, Connect can in fact do X. It’s well worth checking.)
6. Operation Manatee
The party’s online advertising technology, Operation Manatee and related initiatives worked extremely well at a technical level. The messaging they were used to promote? Less so. Changing the messaging bathwater, however, should be done whilst retaining the baby Manatee.
7. Integration of messaging
On that point more generally, the party integrated messaging across press, digital, national campagning and local campaign resources better than in previous general elections. Again, shame about the message, but the successful integration is something to build on for future campaigns.
Jokes cut through to ordinary voters in a way that worthy policies don’t. The jokes were not always to everyone’s taste, but episodes such as the cat on the website generated far more online sharing and traditional media coverage than most pages of the party’s manifesto. Being less straight-laced works.
9. Signing up members on recurring payments
An important logistical point for the future: nearly all the party members recruited during the campaign and in the post-election burst have been signed up to recurring payments of one form or another. They can cancel and leave the party if they wish, but this makes it much easier to renew their membership and much more likely that they will.
Cleggmania’s membership surged petered out for several reasons, but one was the failure to do this in 2010. (Interestingly, the Green Party seem to have made the same mistake with their recent membership surge, which will make their membership figures by the middle of 2016 an instructive read).
10. Complementary rather than repetitive agents and election law manuals
A final point close to my heart. For a variety of historical reasons, the party’s election law manual (from ALDC) and the general election agents manual (from the Agents Association) have often heavily overlapped in content, even when sharing a co-author – viz, me.
This time the two were complementary rather than repetitive, and with the agents manual available electronically for free. That was a much better setup and hopefully one we can further evolve during the non-Parliamentary elections over the next few years.
So there’s my ten. What would you add?
Apologies, by the way, to the several hundred Liberal Democrats who got elected successfully in local election for focusing on the general election only in this post. From what I’ve seen so far of the local results, the lessons on what worked in local elections in 2015 were similar to the last few years rather than throwing up something new, which is what makes the general election the more fruitful area for lessons this time round. But do let me know if you think I’ve missed something new from the local election results.