There’s a certain sameness to the messages coming out from the 11 candidates for the Liberal Democrat London Assembly list. They’re pretty much all telling us how they are good campaigners (aka ‘I’ll be like Lynne was’), that they’ll do the job full time (aka ‘I’m not a member of the Lords’) and that they are a London (aka ‘I’m the local candidate’).
The trio of messages has a remarkably similarity with the platform that Lynne Featherstone used for the first selection campaign for the 2000 London elections. However, at the time (and I ran Lynne’s selection campaign) Lynne’s message was a distinctive one which deliberately differentiated her from other candidates. It was also dramatically successful, catapulting her from from being a first-term councillor in a group of three from a small membership party into third place on the list and only a small margin behind the two who were expected to run away with the selection.
Since then, both in Lynne’s re-selection for 2004 and in some other people’s campaigns since then too (most notably Caroline Pidgeon’s for 2008) similar messages have been repeated and with great success.
This time it’s almost as if the candidates have looked back to what worked in previous elections and adapted that for themselves this time round – which makes sense, until you realise that everyone is doing the same. Imitating success has its logic, but dramatic success usually comes from being braver than that. It comes from setting the agenda and defining the job as one that only you can and are doing. Pretty much any candidate can say they’ll do the job full time, for example – that doesn’t set you apart.
Hidden in the details of different people’s manifestos are some hints of how the job may one that they and only they can do but overall the picture is of each candidate telling party members energetically just how much like the other candidates they are.
Huge chunks of the manifestos from the eleven could be swapped around between them and still make sense, or indeed swapped with parts of those 2000, 2004 and 2008 successes. Obviously Caroline has a pretty good reason for the similarity between her 2012 and 2008 messages (and has updated it with strong references to her record over the last four years).
But overall the candidates who will impress me the most in the next few weeks as I decide how to cast all eleven preferences will be those who manage to define the job as one that they, and none of the others, can do.
(I’ve also tried to take this approach to my own campaign for the Interim Peers Panel. We’ll see next weekend whether I’m as good at taking my own advice as at dishing it out…)