Political

Lib Dem leadership contest: Ed and Jo should take a lesson from Chapter 11…

You may have heard that I’ve written a book.

Here’s how Chapter 11 starts:

Define the election as being for a job your candidate and only your candidate can do.

As Ed Maxfield and I went on to say in that chapter:

A winning campaign … needs to convince votes that the post you are competing for is one that you, and only you, can do … Liking you is not enough; you must be preferable to the other candidates on the ballot paper.

I was reminded of this during the first hustings from the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, with Ed Davey and Jo Swinson debating Friday night in Islington.

It was their first outing on the hustings circuit and, it’s fair to say, it showed rather. Both their stump speeches and answers to obvious questions didn’t show the sort of consistent polish and sharpness they will (or should) in a few weeks. It was also though possible to see how both are shaping up to make their pitches, with Ed Davey majoring more on the environment and Jo Swinson more on building a liberal movement, for example.

But what struck me as missing from either was much of an attempt – whether successful or not in these early oratorical showings – to do that basic of an election campaign and frame it as being for a job that they and only they can do. It was notable, in particular, how nearly everything either said the other one could have said too, save for some specific mother and son references.

Nor was that lack of attempted distinction between the two merely my take on it. Chatting to a variety of people afterwards – Ed, Jo and undecided voters – that was a consistent theme across what people said. They seemed pretty interchangeable much of the time.

Whichever of them first manages to have a real run at defining the job as being one that only they are the right answer for will have a big advantage in the contest.

Highlights from the Lib Dem leadership hustings

UPDATE: Footage of the Lib Dem leadership hustings is now online.

The 2019 Lib Dem leadership election is being covered by me both in podcast form with Stephen Tall in Never Mind The Bar Charts (subscribe here) and in email newsletter form with Liberal Democrat Newswire (sign up here).

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