Originally written in 2012, this advice is still very relevant and so I’ve given it a slight update before republishing it.
Boris Johnson has twice won a contest for a directly-elected Mayor. George Galloway won the Bradford West Parliamentary by-election in 2012 with a 37% swing.
That is why, for all the many reasons Liberal Democrats have for criticising both, smart Liberal Democrats also know that there are lessons to be learnt from their electoral successes.
- Let your personality hang out. Boris, Gorgeous George – whatever the nickname, the point is the same: they have enough of their character on show to be a character. Only occasionally is being dull a virtue – usually when a predecessor’s personality has become so tiring voters that want a break (think John Major and François Hollande – and remember how quickly things turned sour for both of them).
- Be different. Their defeated rivals will probably treat this as a compliment, but in truth it’s more double-edged than that: Johnson and Galloway were very different from their defeated opponents. Too many of their defeated opponents were too much like ‘politics as usual’ candidates.
- Fight a campaign that maximises personal contact. Ken Livingstone also got this right in his 2000 London Mayor victory with his campaign bus tour. If you have the distinctive personality to win, you need to show it to voters – and that means a campaign focused on getting as many voters as possible in close touch with that personality.
- Use social media well .“Galloway has done a lot on social media. Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative – they’re just old school to me” – so said a youthful Asian to the BBC after Galloway’s victory. By 2015 using social media will be more popular with the electorate than voting, making it not only a major, mainstream medium which lets you display your distinctive personality, but also a medium that makes those who ignore it look old-fashioned and out of touch.
- Oppose the right opponent .In his by-election victory,Galloway fought Labour and Labour fought the Tories. Galloway got the choice of opponent right and won; Labour got it wrong and lost.
- Get the public involved .Whether it is Galloway and his public meetings or Johnson and his army of small donors giving via text message the point is the same: a large grassroots network of supporters who are actively involved in a campaign makes it much more effective.
Of course, if you want to know more about how to implement any of these half-dozen lessons, there is a certain book which will help…