Political

5 lessons from my 1993 election leaflet: LDN #137

Back in the early days of the lockdown, I caught up on filing old election leaflets and found one of my own. Liberal Democrat Newswire #137, which came out last week, explains the lessons for politics in 2020 from it.

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Back in the early days of the lockdown, I caught up on filing old election leaflets and found one of my own. It’s from the North Yorkshire County Council elections of May 1993. It had some minor notoriety in the party for a while when people used to gently mock, ‘Mark once put Bosnia on the front page of a local election leaflet’. It’s true, I did – and the reasons I did still have relevance today.

So this edition of LDN takes a look back at that leaflet, not only to give you the chance to smile at an old photograph of myself, but also because it’s packed full (sorry) of lessons relevant to the Liberal Democrats in 2020.

Happy reading,

Mark

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BBC news story from the 2001 general election
An opposition party getting it wrong.

5 things an opposition party must do

Expert in opposition politics Professor Tim Bale appeared recently on Never Mind The Bar Charts, setting out five key tasks for opposition parties, based on research into the Conservative Party in opposition. The five are also very applicable to the Liberal Democrats and you can listen to our discussion here.

As a bonus, we also work out the best question to ask a Lib Dem leadership candidate during the forthcoming leadership election. Feel free to steal the idea and put the question to use…

If you’d like to know more, take a look at Recovering Power: The Conservatives in Opposition Since 1867: the book from which the list of five tasks came: Amazon / Waterstones.

🎧 Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here, along with links to subscribe in your favourite podcast app.

📱 Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions or ideas for future shows at @barchartpodcast.

Please do post a rating or a review on your favourite podcasting platform – thank you!

Mark Pack 1993 election Focus leaflet - front
Mark Pack 1993 election leaflet back

5 lessons from my leaflet

My 1993 election leaflet – and not only the photograph of me – certainly shows its age.

But it also shows campaigning and organisational principles that very much still apply.

The first is the very fact that the leaflet exists. I was standing in a ward which used the same boundaries for city council and county council elections. It was a Labour-Conservative marginal. An unwise local party would have said, ‘not a target seat, you’re not allowed to do anything’. A wise local party (thank you Andrew and co!) recognised that I was not near a target ward and so, in-between helping in a target ward, I could usefully learn something about how to campaign in the ward that I only had to step towards the front door to reach. By being allowed the fun and experience of campaigning a bit for myself, I was pushed along the path to long-term, sustained activism to the party.

Getting the balance right between getting new people doing things in their own patch and making targeting work can be tricky. Or at least, that’s what I used to say. But the more I’ve seen people try to do this over the years, the more I’ve realised it’s very simple.

You just have to watch out for some very telling warning signs. If someone is so sure of themselves that they can’t see any benefit from going to help in – and learn from – a target seat campaign, that’s a big red flag. If someone is so focused on their own prospects that they aren’t interested in helping us maximise our number of seats overall, that’s a big red flag. If someone is so convinced they’ve got a real chance of winning that the absence of canvass data showing that to be plausible doesn’t stop them, that’s a big red flag.

With all those red flags, whether or not someone goes to help in a target seat at the last weekend before polling day is the least of the problems. There’s huge trouble awaiting somewhere down the line anyway.

Yet if none of those red flags exist, then it’s not that hard to work out a sensible balance between doing something on your doorstep, learning the trade and helping win a target seat – a balance that of course shifts more and more to the last one of those as polling day gets closer. (Note that there was no eve of poll, good morning or knock-up leaflet to go with my Focus leaflet.)

The second lesson from the leaflet is the bar chart. In a Conservative-Labour marginal where the Lib Dems polled 5.9% last time, it took a bit of thought to come up with one. But the one that’s there was accurate, honest and millimetre perfect. It also helped communicate one of the key messages that bar charts can be about – that we were a party on the up and so worthy of switches in people’s support. (We were: I doubled our vote to 12.1%.)

It’s an example of how we can and should always stick with responsible bar charting – responsible, because that’s right, and bar charts, because when done well, they work.

The third lesson about the leaflet is the story above the bar chart. It’s making the same point as the bar chart, but in a different form. A bar chart is not some mystical all-powerful tool that does its job on its own. The messages it is trying to convey should be conveyed through other means too. (Missing from this leaflet is a photo of a large crowd of Liberal Democrats out campaigning locally – another good tactic to show that a party has growing popularity in an area it has been weak in.)

The fourth lesson comes from that Paddy Ashdown story about Bosnia. My logic was simple. I had done very little casework or similar campaigning in the ward. So I didn’t have my own local record to tout. What did voters in the ward know about the Lib Dems though?

At the time, Paddy Ashdown was one of the most popular politicians in the UK, with a net plus 32% rating in the April Gallup poll, for example. More voters in the ward knew him than me, so it made sense to remind them of the thing that they knew and liked about the party.

As for Bosnia? It was what he was most known for at the time, and if I didn’t have local campaigning or tactical vote messages to win people over, I could at least win over some people by our values. After all, being regularly in the national media talking about Bosnia had worked darn well for Paddy’s popularity.

Long before I first started thinking about it, there was the glimmers of the logic behind a core vote strategy and the need to win support for our values as well as our casework and our tactical appeal.

And the fifth lesson? Sure, I doubled our vote. But I didn’t come close to winning. Much more than a little bit of activity in the last few weeks before polling day is needed to win.

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Pedestal for Edward Colston statue in Bristol
The Edward Colston statue pedestal in Bristol after the statue was removed. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Hobbs (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license).

The rule of law and removing statues

Here’s my latest piece from the Liberal Democrat website:

It’s no surprise that reactions to protesters’ removal of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol have included liberals worrying about the rule of law. The outrage, not at the statue honouring a slave trader, but at its removal by a ‘mob’ rather than by democratic means without visible legal ramifications, has been notable.

The rule of law, after all, is central to liberalism. Right? Not quite.

What is vital is the equal application of fair laws. And these protests were born out of anger that the law and police treatment have not been equally and fairly applied to many black people and communities of colour.

Since 1990, there have been 1,741 deaths following contact with the police in the UK. This, of course, is a problem in itself. But when paired with the fact that black people are twice as likely as white people to die in police custody, the very unsettling reality of the unequal policing of black people is hard to ignore.

Of course, not all of these deaths will have involved wrongful or illegal behaviour by police officers. But even if you assume that a very low proportion of those 1,741 deaths were in some way caused by police misconduct, you would expect a fair number of cases to have resulted in the successful criminal prosecution of an officer.

So how many officers have been prosecuted following the investigation over 1,741 deaths?

Zero. Not a single prosecution, for the loss of 1,741 lives.

Where’s the rule of law in those situations? Why aren’t we, as liberals who believe in the fair and equal rule of law, up in arms about this?

This is why we need to care about the rule of law all the time. Not just some of the time, or when it matters to us, but as a critical, non-negotiable part of our beliefs. The contrast between shouting about the illegal removal of an offensive statue, whilst staying quiet about the unequal treatment of black people by police and in the legal system, has made that clear.

We need to be honest with ourselves – about how easily we liberals can slip into only worrying about the rule of law some of the time. I’ll be the first to say that, scrolling back through my website and social media postings, I’ve made a mistake in how little I talked about the unfair legal and penal issues facing people of colour.

If that’s true for you, too, let this be the start of a learning curve. Across the globe, we’re seeing Black Lives Matter protests, the largest protests against police brutality and racism since the civil rights protests in the 1960s. This is a pivotal moment in history. There’s never been a more important time to reassess the connection between the rule of law and race.

We certainly need to get our history right. Many have claimed that the removal of Edward Colston’s statue is a whitewashing of history. In fact, Edward Colston’s statue itself was an attempt to rewrite history long after the events, not being put up until over a century and a half after his death. Those who put it up knew full well the horrors of slavery. Yet they put on a plaque that he was, “one of the most virtuous and wise”. They were not trying to preserve or explain history; they were airbrushing history.

Campaigners have long tried to have the statue removed through democratic channels, with little success. Overwhelmingly white decision-makers may not have felt the urgency or desperation of those campaigners. For a white person, Edward Colston might just have been a statue. For a black Bristolian, it might be a daily reminder of the suffering generations before them had faced, a monument to the racism that unfortunately persists in British society.

A key part of reassessing our relationship with the rule of law is acknowledging the lack of diversity in those who make, change, and uphold the law.

In all areas of society, we need to foster diversity. The Edward Colston statue debate is a prime example of why this is so important. Outside of the specific democratic bodies that should have allowed for the statue to be removed legally and safely, a debate has been sparked about whose voice is heard in the retelling of Britain’s history. Many institutions are now reassessing the historical figures they choose to honour with statues and other commemorations.

It’s vital that we have those conversations, but what’s even more important is that we make a range of voices heard in them. We need to ensure that our museums and public spaces properly record and explain all the parts of our history, not just those in power in the past would like us to know.

Whatever mix of new statues, removals of old or relabelling of remaining statutes that may mean, in making those decisions, the voices of those – such as the chair of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality Roderick Lynch, whose ancestors were enslaved people from the Caribbean paradise island of Saint Lucia – must be clearly heard.

Cast your mind back to those shocking police figures. 1,741 dead. Black people being twice as likely to die in police custody. Every one of us needs to evaluate what the equal and fair rule of law means to us. Think about what those protesters were aiming to achieve; action on disproportionate policing of black people, to take a stand against global systemic racism, to raise awareness of the persistence of the scourge of racism in British history and its lingering effects in today’s society.

I hope that all of you, like I do, want to be more voluble about the laws protecting the lives of black people and communities of colour than the laws protecting inanimate stone.

So yes, as a liberal I believe in the rule of law.

But no, that’s not the thing to focus on about events in Bristol.

I’ve also written two other pieces on this important topic:

I also very much recommend reading the Gladstone Library’s response, which hits just the right note.

What do you think? Do let me know direct or join the conversation on Facebook.

The Houses of Parliament
Image by David Mark from Pixabay.

What are the Lib Dems doing in Parliament?

I’ve always included in my email digests the party’s Weekly Whip round-up of news from the Westminster Parliament. But given the popularity of those pieces in particular, I’ve now broken them out into an email of their own. Sign up here.

I’ve also relaunched my free 10-week email course on political campaigning with Ed Maxfield. If you know anyone else who might enjoy it, just point them at www.CampaignMasterclass.com.

Josh-Babarinde in an Eastbourne supermarket
Josh-Babarinde in an Eastbourne supermarket.

Congratulations to our Community Champions

In case you missed them the first time around, here are highlights from my websites since last time:

Congratulations to our brilliant Community Champions.

Liberal Democrats present bill to extend Brexit transition period.

Government pledges to look into Lib Dem mental health plan for NHS and care staff.

⭐ The most trouble Jamie Stone MP has ever been in.

UK’s top statistics expert criticises government’s coronavirus test data.

👿 Seven thoughts on Dominic Cummings. (Crikey, a lot has happened in politics since the last edition!)

Conservatives lose council majority after Cummings-inspired resignation.

If you can work from home, you should – and that includes you, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

🎉 The most implausible way to enjoy spending 25 minutes.

What the voters are saying


Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 14 June 2020

To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked or follow @PollingUnPacked on Twitter.

To see all the historical trends for voting intention polls back to 1943 see PollBase.

Local government moves

No council by-elections to report still, though after last time reporting councillors switching to the Liberal Democrats, this time it’s news of a councillor switching to Labour in Merton and two to independents in Uttlesford.


Josh Babarinde tweet about the Mail on Sunday

Other Liberal Democrats in the news

Excellent news: Council leader Vikki Slade survives confidence vote (called outrageously by the Conservatives after a councillor died and coronavirus meant they could not be replaced via a by-election).

Jamie Stone has given a very moving account of why he was so opposed to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plans to require all MPs to turn up in Westminster once again.

Coronavirus hotline would help prevent workplace safety breaches, say Lib Dems.

There’s a leadership contest on… so here are the campaign sites for Ed, Layla and Wera.

Thank you for reading

If you enjoyed reading this, please do share the sign-up page with other people you know. Thank you!

Best wishes,

Mark

P.S. This time’s inbox search phrase to help find this newsletter buried in your emails: Green Sand.

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