Friday, May 23, 2008

C&N - Not so much a disaster, more a wake up call

Last night's result, though disappointing, was quite predictable. With a resurgent Cameron, the Tories with their tails up, Labour rapidly falling into the hole of their own making, us in a poor third place, we were in for a classic squeeze. So why did the party insist on continuing to "big it up"? OK, don't be despondent but be measured. Last night will not be a disaster if it leads to some clear headed re thinking about the whole of our campaigning strategy. What worked in a different political climate (and all credit to Chris Rennard) may not work now. I fear we are in a post Rennard era, the techniques of the past may be past their sell by date. Most telling were the London Assembly results, a clear demonstration that the party of PR hasn't a clue when it comes to fighting PR elections!

What happened last night demonstrates that people are hungry for change, the innate optimism of the people believes that any change has to be better. The perennial cry of "you're all the same" is replaced with "well anyone's better than that lot". So the natural inclination is to look to who has the most chance of delivering change. When the Tories were all over the place (and let's not forget, it was only last summer Cameron was really shaky) we did well, now we have a different animal to contend with.

So, what to do? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to return to my "Risk" analysis. If you have a small army the stupidest thing to do is to try and take over the world - it ain't gonna happen! But, if you are prepared to consolidate, to lose some battles for the sake of greater gain elsewhere, to play a long game, to identify and exploit your opponent's weaknesses...........

I hope this will push us in the direction of really taking some chances, of living up to the promise of a radical alternative and to have a far more distinctive message. Chides of Cameronlite or Blairlite are very unfair on Nick Clegg, but until and unless the electorate understand what distinguishes us from the other two Tory parties, we are in danger of having reached our high watermark. I applaud James Graham's optimism, I want to believe him, but at the moment I need convincing that his analysis is sound.


Anonymous said...

You're spot on there!

I really really hope that Nick Clegg and Cowley St pick up on the fact that throwing money and trying to ape the duopoly parties will fail - they can throw more money and they get more press.

Even the most bland of labour or tory announcements will make the headlines - there is no point in making our own equally bland announcements or watered down policies that hardly differ from the other two.

It is time to be radical, Kennedy won respect for the party, despite his faults, by kicking up a fuss about some big issues, not backing down, and taking a firm stand on Iraq - totally opposing both Tory and Labour.

We really need to focus on how and where we differ.

No ammount of "hey we can be tough on crime too!" leaflets talking about fiddling around the edges of issues and avoiding tackling difficult issues like prostitution, drugs, corruption, fraud in the city, etc will get us elected.


Nick Clegg is in Cornwall today, apparently I could get to meet him (for a few moments, long enough to get fobbed off with a platitude) at the Fund raising Sossidges and Mash do, but I really don't think it's worth the effort - nobody in a position to do anything about these problems is listening, and any money I throw at the party will be wasted printing a gazillion bland leaflets or on a crappy party political ad that even the BNP managed to deliver better than.

Wit and wisdom said...

Your post is excellent and I agree entirely. I think we need to look forward to a new style of campaigning and I am actually quite optimistic that many in the party are doing so.

I would like to see some really radical thinking, including, controversially, looking at our name, our branding and our policies to see what works and what does not. We should consider everything now before politics moves on without us.

I also don't share 'liberalprovocatur's' negativity about Clegg. He's doing okay so far and I think his message on 'broken politics' is quite good. He needs time to establish hiomself - just as Charles Kennedy did.

Alasdair W said...

At the moment we've only been able to sustain ourselves. The local election results didn't exactly show large swings in our favour, we came above Labour but only because they did so badly. We aren't quite moving forward enough. We should be winning support of dysolutioned labour supporters but we're not, they're going to the tories! That's crazy. However hopefully by the next general election we may have picked up some momentum. If we were really able to pick up and labour stays in it's current situation, it would actually be possible for us to get more seats than labour. That would be a huge turnaround, and is perhaps sky high thinking. But labour are incredibly low in opinion polls.

Chris Rennard said...

I'm happy to discuss some of these issues privately - and some of them in a more public forum such as this.

Two different issues are raised here: techniques and rsources.

Linda suggests that our classic by-election techniques might not work any more. The fact is that they appeared to work when we won Cheadle in 2005 (when the Tories expected to win after we lost Patsy Calton), in Bromley in 2006 (when we reduced a Tory majority of 13,000 to just 600), in Ealing Southall in 2007 (when the expected Tory win didn't happen and 'Cameron's Conservative' came third) and in Sedgefield on the same day when we pushed the Tories into third. A senior Tory admitted to me at the count that the Tory campaign was crudely based on copying the Lib Dem campaign text book and, whilst they made some bad mistakes, these techniques did not appear to do their campaign any harm.

The problem for us in Crewe was largely that the Tories had already reached a level of 45% - 50% in the local elections there in 2007 and 2008. Our campaign techniques were unlikely to overcome this early advantage (backed by three opinion polls) in just three weeks.

On the question of resources: were we right to try hard ? The alternative would have been to ensure headlines about our failure and yet another crisis in the party etc. in addition to the inevitable headlines about Tory success/Labour failure. Some of us really did try hard and we avoided those headlines. When we have been challenging Labour (eg Hartlepool) we pushed the Tories in to fourth place behind UKIP. When we have subjected the Labour vote to squeeze in Winchester, Newbury, Romsey etc. we got them down to as little as 2%. So I am not a great admirer of the (mostly) armchair critics who think that we should have opted out of this one.

There was a chance that we might have got into second place (we didn't because the remaining Labour voters still thought that Labour's candidate was better placed to try and keep out the Conservative). But we avoided the sort of squeeze that we have inflicted on other before and our vote was still the 2nd highest that we had ever achieved in this constituency.

Much is owed to the few people who worked hard to achieve this. The ratio of helpers in the campaign (Con:Lab:Lib Dem) was probably 4:2:1. In spite of our justifiable attempts to try to mobilise the party effectively, we did not receive much help compared to our opponents.

We can put this right in Henley.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

I find it fascinating that so many people seem to think my CiF article on Friday is "optimistic". All I said really was that the C&N results didn't mean that much from the party's POV and that there is growing evidence that we have decoupled ourselves from Labour's electoral fortunes. If that makes me an optimist, the rest of the party really must be down in the dumps.

Linda Jack said...

should I issue a correction....James Graham wasn't being optimistic?! Actually I am not at all down in the dumps - I think we have some great opportunities, but perhaps we just need to do a bit of regrouping in the light of the clearly changed political landscape