OMG! People want to help – what do I do?

Election campaigns throw up all sorts of challenges, but one of the most pleasant and surprising this time round in many areas is the number of people offering to help. That is happening both locally and nationally, with the party’s main website, www.libdems.org.uk, seeing a 300% increase in the number of offers of help on the Thursday-Sunday of the first TV debate compared to the same period a week before.

Quite what you do with all these offers of help – many of which are coming in from wards and constituencies that were not in any targeting plan – is a nice conundrum to have. Two basic principles apply:

  • Don’t abandon targeting – big surges of votes in 1974 and 1983 did not turn into many extra seats. The party has since learned how to work the system far better – and the party’s targeting plans for this election were already massively more ambitious than ever before.
  • But similarly don’t think that the way to get a new person involved is to say, “Thanks very much, but we don’t really want your help round here.”

Squaring off both those points successfully is not always easy but it’s why we have had such success in Hornsey & Wood Green over the years – going from 0 councillors, 0 local deliverers and third place at the general election to 23 councillors, hundreds of deliverers and an MP. Ruthless targeting in council elections – but also a keen eye to building up the wider strength.

So here are my tips on what to do with all these offers of help:

  1. Window posters: a strong poster display helps feed the most important message – if people think other people are going to vote Liberal Democrat, they are much more likely to do so themselves. Getting a small public commitment to supporting the party from someone is also a good way of upping the odds of them becoming a long-term helper.
  2. Be social: some people like helping out on their own – whether it’s sat at home writing a cheque or out on the streets delivering on their own. But for most people saying, “Go away and do something on your own” ain’t the right move. There are two TV debates coming up: why not get people together in front of a TV to watch?
  3. Help elsewhere from right here: “Go away and help somewhere else” also ain’t a great message. But you can get people together for a session of phone canvassing somewhere nice and local – even if the phone calls are to a target seat elsewhere. Again, this has the benefit of being more social and fun – and most people prefer the chance to learn together how to do something new rather than being sent instructions on what to do on their own at home.
  4. Get writing to the local and regional papers: the day to day logistics of campaigning often involve too little politics and policy to really appeal to people who have been enthused by national coverage of the party. Encouraging people to write to the papers is a good way of combining publicity with thinking and talking about policy. As an added bonus, newspapers often cover both weaker areas and target seats – so you can help both in one go without having to choose.
  5. Take new people to go and see how a full on campaign works: seeing a full campaign at work can be tremendous fun, invigorating and educational. But don’t say “Please drive 30 miles away to go and find some fun with other people”; do say “Would you like to join us on our campaign trip on Saturday afternoon?”.
  6. Encourage people to join the party: it gives them more of a say in the future of politics and it gives the party greater strength in the long term.
  7. Share content online: rating Nick Clegg’s videos on YouTube, tweeting links to Vince Cable’s stories on the party website, saving to Facebook a positive newspaper story and more – these are all easy to do, can be done from anywhere and help the party’s message reach a wider audience, again in both stronger and weaker areas.

While you ponder that list, here’s what Nick Clegg has to say:

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