Sunday, May 25, 2008

A response to Chris Rennard on Crewe & Nantwich

Chris Rennard has responded to my recent blog on Crewe and Nantwich making some interesting points and I trust they will spark off further debate on our future campaigns. I am interested in what the learning points are for us as a party in the aftermath of C&N. Chris refers to the ratio of support (Con:Lab:Lib Dem was probably 4:2:1). Now that is a fascinating ratio, I would be interested to know how it compares with other by elections. If there was a drop off in traditional Lib Dem support I wonder why, or is this the normal ratio?

I don't accept that most of the criticism has come from armchair critics, but there has to be consideration of the alienation created by some of the campaign techniques. I have heard from a couple of people, one of whom is one of the best campaigners we have, who were very disturbed that whilst in no way competing with Labour, some of our literature in the campaign appeared to pander to anti immigrant sentiment. I trust this won't happen again.

I do accept a lot of the points Chris makes though, not least that not to have fought hard would have attracted further criticism of the party, but sometime we do have to consider the changed landscape and how we should respond to it.

I also acknowledge his points about the successes we have had (and all credit to him!) BUT that doesn't answer the point I made about a resurgent Tory party. Let's not forget this is their first by election victory in 30 years - if they maintain their momentum the world is a different place isn't it?

One issue Chris doesn't respond to is that of PR. Next year in the European elections we have another opportunity to develop our techniques in PR elections. Sadly these elections are left to the regions to fund and fight - yet the outcome will have a wider impact than just regional - this after all is likely to be the last national election pre the next General Election.

Yes, the Tories have learned from us bigtime - the difference being they have copied the packaging with none of the substance. Sadly, in a passive consumer age we are dealing with a situation where people don't often get beyond the packaging before it is too late. That is my real fear with what is happening and why I believe we must learn and learn fast, from the results of the past few weeks.


Anonymous said...

Picking up in a comment from your previous post
"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!"
It appears that the party has failed to learn from last year's appalling Welsh Assembly results. In that contest leaflets relnetlessly concentrated on constutuency candidates...even in non-target seats. No real attempt was made to promote regional list candidates who had a far greater chance of success. This was explained away with arguements such as "local campaigns want to promote their own people" and "it's designed to help us win target wards in next (ie this)years local elections".
There is some truth in both those assertions but the reult was a third consecutive election where the party stood still on six seats.
It was clear that the party had no real strategy for a PR elections and replacated FPTP tactics and hoped for the best. It was frustrating that the other parties (particularly the Tories and Plaid) seemed to have thought things through properly pouring their efforts into promoting local candidates in target seats and list candidates elsewhere

Paul Walter said...

Apart from the immigration thing, which was rebutted very effectively anyway, can you specifically say what precise elements of our by-election techniques are wrong and what precise suggestions of concrete campaigning techniques you have?

Linda Jack said...

"Apart from the immigration thing" actually, perhaps I am in a minority but I for one am not part of this party to play the race card, so it is a big issue for me. On techniques, I am questioning whether in a post New Labour era, with a resurgent Tory Party, they are right. Maybe they are, but it is worth thinking about it isn't it? We have relied (very successfully) on tactical and negative voting, but will this continue to work. I have heard from a pal that he once heard CR imply that those who focus on policy are naive. But policy is surely critical to our campaigning? So, what would I do? I think I have made some suggestions in my previous post. Consolidate, choose our battles carefully, have a clear strategy, develop a strategy for fighting PR elections, be more radical so that it is clear to see what differentiates us from the other two Tory parties, build coalitions with the vast number of unaffiliated people in this country who care about the issues we care about (be that civil liberties, defence issues, human rights, youth justice, child poverty etc). As Neil Stockley keeps reminding us, we need a clear narrative, backed up with distinctive policies. One of the nettles we absolutely have to grasp is whose ground we are planning to take - the complaint that we try to be all things to all people depending on where we are fighting has at least a little substance in it methinks. But if I am a voice crying in the wilderness on this, maybe we should just carry on as we are then?

Anonymous said...

I think you are completely wrong about the immigration issue.

The line we took in C&N was completely right - acknowledging that there is a problem but putting the blame firmly on the Government for their poor handling of the problem, and not on the immigrants.

Just because immigration is a difficult issue doesn't mean we should shy away from it.

I also think it is wrong to suggest that we don't have a strategy for fighting PR elections.

We do - and it is based on what we can realistically achieve with the resoucres and organisation we have.

I've heard suggestions that we shoudl ditch our normal targeting for the Europeans and target voters based on those most likely to agree with us about Europe. However I haven't yet heard HOW this can be done with the resources we are realistically likely to have available.

Linda Jack said...


You cannot say I am wrong about the immigration issue since you have not been in touch with the people I have who were cross about it! Maybe it doesn't bother you, fine, but it bothers others, myself included.

Also could you enlighten me as to what the strategy is for fighting PR elections, I must have missed something!

Anonymous said...

My previous comment having fallen into a cyber black hole somewhere I'll try again.

Where is the evidence of a "race card" being played in C&N by the Lib Dems?

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with saying that the government has failed to fund public services properly to deal with the rise in local population following immigration? Particularly if at the same time you attack nasty right-wingers who blame immigrations personally instead?

Or do you think all possible mentions of immigration should be banned from our leaflets because only racists and bigots are allowed to talk about the issue?

Anonymous said...

The Charge of the LibDem Brigade.

There's a bye-election ! Chaaaaarge ! This pretty much sums up Lib Dem strategy in Crewe ...or is it tactics masking as strategy ? And if there are any voices in the Party who think our blind rush to bye-elections is as mad as the Charge of the Light Brigade, I have news for you. It's the only strategy we have.

Tactical voting is our 'strategy' even if the circumstances don't suit it - for example, if we are third in polling data and the main strong challenger is not us ! In Crewe our message was err....'vote for us because we'. After we came third, our main pronouncements were in effecr 'hooray, Labour got a pasting because it increased taxes on the poor' and at the same time 'people voted Tory as a protest but they don't want a Tory government'. To describe this as unclear for the public and limp as a position, (whether deliberate or not) would be euphemistic. What's worse is....well...let me put this as a question; what percentage of the voting public now identifies us with which policies ? That is a more important question than what our main 'headline' policies actually are.

Tactical voting as an approach can help us in some circumstances, even in a general election, but it has come to dominate. Some might say it filled a nearly-empty space. Blind Charges of the LibDem Brigade, need to be stopped however. This will force us to face an uncomfortable truth. At the root of the 'strategy deficit' are the fragmented policy development & implementability processes across the Party. By this I mean the actual, not theoretical, system.

There is too much (often poor quality) detail on issues of low importance, and not enough focus on practicalities & potential unintended consequences. Often we live with very weak & unclear narratives - for example those that describe succintly the problems we are trying to solve. Local income tax is a classic example.

Our policy processes are thus wasteful of resources, and often work on the basis that senior Lib Dems in the various party cliques have somehow aquired a monopoly of wisdom on UK society. We have a perilous combination of too much policy driven by vested interests, and too many MPs and inner clique members moneymaking from their positions; and I write from personal experience. The Party puts often enormous energy into short bursts of top-down policy activity, as if suddenly from nowhere. Trident is the best known example, but there are many others. All of our many policy systems - both the formal and the less formal - need to work more coherently together, and they should be based on good 'quality' rules, for example with systems for ensuring the analysis and problem-definitions are clear, that consistency or otherwise with other policies is known, and so on. Clear themes, and consistency with themes (or not as the case may be) should always be spelt out.

It's not easy for sure, but it is time for Nick Clegg's leadership campaign promises of policy process reform to be iniated...thoroughly and speedily. No more blind 'charges' please !

Prof Paul Reynolds.

Paul Walter said...

But surely our by-election campaigning is largely based on choosing local issues and fighting on those ?

Did you do any work for the C&N campaign? ...Telephone canvassing for example? And have you been to Henley yet?

I can understand your friend's reaction on the immigration point but have you considered that the letter in question actually said:

"The right wing parties will nastily try to blame this on the people
that have come here to live and work. [in bold] They are wrong [endbold]"

I think you are right to raise our tactics at by-elections. However, I have found your criticisms rather vague. There is a pile of about 800 different methodologies which we use at by-elections which could be summed up as "Rennardism" so taking a swing at all of them is rather vague and generalised - though I appreciate your clarification in these comments. I think you are absolutely wrong to sum up our by-election technique as relying "on tactical and negative voting". This is just nonsense when you look at the acres of leaflets we give out which have positive stories about the candidate/local councillors doing things. Yes, we spearhead literature often with knocking stories about the opposition but there is an awful lot of positive stuff behind that.

Linda Jack said...

You selectively edit what the letter said (as you know) it was not 1 friend but 3 who objected (one of whom is one of our best campaigners). Re going to C&N no I didn't, as you may deduce from my blogging history the short campaigning time coincided with a time when I was snowed under and travelling a good deal. I will be in Henley though as much as I can manage (as well as helping out with regional by elections). But, the logic of your argument is a) if you weren't there keep your trap shut b) keep your trap shut anyway, everything in the garden is fine and dandy! I am quite prepared to accept I am wrong and we should carry on doing what we have always done - I would just like to be reassured that this is the right policy in a changed landscape which is what my point is. In the army we had something called strategy - you didn't use the same strategy for every battle....:-)

Paul Walter said...
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Paul Walter said...

"You selectively edit what the letter said" Crikey...was I supposed to quote the whole blinking letter? Surely a quote is by definition "selective".

"Keep your trap shut". Of course not Linda - you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't even dream of trying to get you to shut your trap - mainly because I know it is the best way to get you to open your trap even more! No, the logic of my argument is that if you actually attend by-elections you get a better feel for the campaign than not attending them - you see the HQ, the people there, the organisation, you see and feel the literature, you feel the surroundings etc etc. This then better informs any subsequent pontifications.

I am not concerned about whether you are wrong or right - I am concerned about concrete specifics - what the heck are you complaining about - apart from the immigration letter ??????!!!!!!

It seems to me that our strategy is reviewed and modified. For example, I see a very different campaign in Thame than I saw in Ealing and Southall. The literature is decidedly different both in look, feel, style and specific issues written about.

Paul Walter said...
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Paul Walter said...

The fact that they sent the immigration letter is considerable evidence that the by-election strategy was reviewed and revised prior to the C&N campaign. You might not agree with the letter and I have misgivings about it myself, but it was the first time, to my knowledge, that we have entered the realms of immigration policy as a major element of our by-election campaign - so this very letter disproves your point about the same strategy being employed mindlessly by-election after by-election.

I repeat that I welcome your foray into this subject, as always. I welcome energetic review and revision of our by-election strategy. But I find you very low on specifics, apart from the immigration letter. Please give some specifics. What was specifically wrong with the campaign in C&N and what can be specifically changed in future? And please try to keep the words "establish a narrative" out of your answer as they have been so overused that they are almost meaningless and in any case we had a narrative in C&N it just might not be one you agreed with.

....trying to get you to shut your trap.....that's a good one!!!! lol!!! :-)))))

Linda Jack said...


My point isn't just about immigration - if you read my post in conjunction with the last one all I am asking for is a review of our strategy. Will the strategy that has worked in the past, work in the future? Any army has to review strategy on the basis of the strength of the enemy, the position of the enemy, the terrain etc etc. Now, it could be that everyone is really happy with the C&N result, but we will lose credibility if we go round saying we can win when we know we can't. I am not a campaign strategist, but I am a strategist in my job and I have to continually review my strategy in the light of what else is going on - sometimes that means being an opportunist, sometimes recognising that I am barking up the wrong tree, sometimes building alliances with people I wouldn't necessarily have first thought of, a constant SWOT review. It may well be that this was a blip and we have nothing to fear from a resurgent Tory party whose bubble will burst all too soon. I don't know, I just know it worries me, maybe Henley will cheer me up!

Paul Walter said...

Fair enough. However, I think you are doing a grave injustice to the by-election team to imply that the strategy isn't constantly reviewed.You only have to observe the differences in the literature between E&S and Henley to see that. There is a debrief after each by-election and I see changes and differences in each campaign. The campaign we ran in Newbury in 1993 was monumentally different in style substance and strategy to the campaign we ran, for example, in Bromley and Chiselhurst.

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

er, I'm still waiting for an explanation of WHY three people were upset by the 'Crewe byelection letter'.

Anybody care to enlighten me?

By way of explanation I was very involved with the byelection, and have stuck my (political) neck out on the subject of migrant workers locally.

Linda Jack said...


one of them is likely to go public about it at some point, but was waiting until the by election was out of the way. The objection as I understand it is to appear to be pandering to xenaphobia and anti immigrant sentiment. I am interested as to what you made of it if you have stuck your neck out - presumably in support of migrant workers.

Anonymous said...


I received one of the "immigration" letters - and it obviously didn't upset me at the time, because I don't seem to have kept it !!

If somebody out there is sooo offended presumably they will be placing it into the public domain?

Until then there's not much more I can say !!

(Except that I was happy with the campaign)