How the cash strapped can win elections – the story of the UK Liberal Democrats

As a young Labour Party activist in the 1980s, the  British Liberal Party pulled off the most amazing swings in by-elections. Safe Labour or Conservative seats fell into solid Liberal victories.
One man was responsible for this. His name was talked of in hushed tones. The Liberal political campaign guru Chris Rennard. He has now written how he did it.
You should read this book if you want to understand the modern-day British Liberal Democrat Party. Rennard was there at the beginning of the start of the marriage of the SDP and the Liberal Democrats.
If you are serious about political campaigning you need to read it.   He literally wrote the handbook on how to win local campaigns.
His insights on campaigning deserve wider attention. Today, too many campaigners and lobbyists have never cut their teeth canvassing in general or Council elections. You learn a lot about campaigning by doing it.
Local Community Politics and Tactical Voting
Rennard perfected ‘local community campaigning election techniques ‘.  This amounted to an incredible amount of hard work
“to identify all the issues and the areas with particular concerns, and to decide how to campaign on them.”  I take this mean that your campaign is honed down to the people whose votes you need. You speak with them about their needs and concerns. You don’t lecture them about what your concerns. This is reverse of most campaigns.  This one insight helps explains why Rennard’s micro-targeted campaigns that spoke directly to individual voters worked so well.
He also developed ‘tactical voting’. Rennard persuaded Labour and Conservative voters to switch to the Liberal Democrats to keep Labour or the Conservatives out. It was not so much a vote for the Liberal Democrats but a vote against the powerful incumbent. Purists dislike this. People vote for you for reasons other than genuine support for your agenda. I disagree. If someone votes for you for reasons totally immaterial to your position you have done you job.
Other Insights
1. All scripts need to be agreed in advance
2. You use the latest technology to give your the campaign edge.  They used printers to make the letter to the voters look like  David Steel signed it.
3. You write down your ‘campaign bible’.  Have your game plan and messages written dow. You kid no-one if you think people really can remember it in their head.
4. You need to screen your candidate before they go out  in front of TV and the public. Screening the people who will speak for your campaign makes a lot of sense and will ease a lot of pain.
5. Make sure your candidate gets coaching and media training before he steps outside.
6. Make sure you have prepared all the answers for all the questions your candidate can get. And, don’t let them out the door unless you have rehearsed and know all the answers well before hand.
7. You need organisational discipline to win.
8. Have personalised leaflets, leaflet them often about the issues that really matter to them. And, even write to them in their own language if need be.
9. Use the personal touch – a hand addressed envelope shows you really want their vote.
10. You need the list of the voters, but more importantly, your  supporters, the others sides supporters, and those who may switch to you.
11. You need to train your people before the campaign starts. You need to train your trainers. This is a business for well meaning amateurs.
12. Use manuals – Every councillor who bought and read the  160 page ‘compendium of campaigning advice’ won.
13. If you don’t have the money on hand  to run a campaign you can’t do much.
14. You don’t need a fortune. Good preparation and execution is priceless. Very well-funded campaigns flop.
15. This section struck me ” There was clearly very little understanding amongst many of the Liberal members about what might be done to campaign more effectively, achieve greater political success and win influence or control over any of the local authorities.” Too often, campaigners and lobbyists are more obsessed about communicating their gospel than winning.  Many times, they just ignore the person who is going to vote. They carry on even though they know, or should know, it is not going to help them to win.

20 things NGOs can teach you about winning your campaign


If have just read an excellent talk by WWF’s Stefania Campogianni on ‘achieving Policy Change: Lobbying, Advocacy and Influencing’. What she says is worth listening to. She was behind the campaign to stop the roll back of nature and habitats law in the EU.

I agree with most of the talk.  Having worked for all sides of the table (except for a government) most of it is excellent advice. Indeed, I  think the fundamentals of good lobbying and campaigning are the same for whatever interest you are working for.


Indeed, I think many of the key elements of winning political and lobbying campaigns can be put down into a simple checklist.

The advantage of a checklist is that a NGO, donor, trade association, or company can have a good idea from the very beginning whether they stand a good chance of winning.

I don’t have any issue about anyone spending money on lost causes. Indeed, I rather liked the KLF’s burning of a million pounds. I just think it is useful to know if you are fighting a lost cause from the start, and maybe it would be smarter to just publically burn the money.


Success leaves clues that are worth following

There are some common basic rules, that if followed, will mean you stand a good chance of winning. This is the case if you are working on a discreet lobbying campaign or broader political campaign.

To be fair, the campaign play book has been written. Ex Greenpeace campaign lead, Chris Rose, in ‘How to win campaigns’ and ‘What Makes People Tick’ has written out the game plan to win as a NGO campaigner.

He also leaves less obvious clues on how to respond if you are the hit by a NGO campaign.

I have been asked for my own play book but always recommend Chris Rose’s work. I may get round to writing up a short book one day. In the meantime, here is my own checklist.

20 things you need to do win in lobbying and political campaigns

I know the list seems a lot.  It requires a lot of upfront work. It is not for the indolent. It is reserved for a small group of people who really want to make a difference and do what it takes to win.

  1. Do you have a campaign war book and message bible written out, or is your strategy, supporting evidence, key contacts, in 1001 power-points/ scraps of paper.
  2. Have you planned backwards –  do you have a plan to get to where you want to be?
  3. Base your expectations on the reasonable worse case scenario. Idealists and irrational optimists won’t like lobbying & campaigns.
  4. Do you know what success looks like?  For example, what would your “ideal legislative text” look like
  5. Have you done your prep work – the less of the list below, the less good your chances:
  • Do you have a a short justification to accompany your legislative text
  • Do you have a clear 2 page justification to support your legislative text
  • The technical/scientific case that speaks to technical experts
  • The necessary supporting studies at hand
  • The technical/scientific/ broader case for regulators – shorter and clearer than that given to technical experts
  • The technical/scientific/ broader case for politicians
  • The technical/scientific/ broader case for the trade media
  • The technical/scientific/ broader case for the  mainstream media
  • The technical/scientific/ broader case for the public

6. Dissect your case. What would the other side say about your case?

  • Get an independent expert to take apart your case
  • Adapt your case in light of the feedback
  • If your case does not stand up, can you improve it, or do you want to stop now.

7. Positioning your case to key decision makers and influencers

  • Who are the key decision makers – the key 250 and vital 20
  • Who are the key influencers – media, scientists, policy experts
  • How do they see your case

8. Do you speak their language: Re-package your case to speak to Settlers, Pioneers, Prospectors

9. Trial run your case

  • Test out your case on a few people
  • Refine your case in light of feedback

10. Patience and resources.  Changing legislation takes years. Plant the seeds of changes early. Do you have the resources on hand to play the long game.  Do you have the cash on hand you need?

11.  Where are you in the policy development process.

12. Be pleasant or banish those who can’t be they just harm your case.

13. Broad alliances work – do you have them?

14. What counts is votes in the College of Commissioners, Council and Parliament – do you have them lined up.

15.  Know the rules for adoption in the Commission, Council and EP. Too many lobbyists and campaigners don’t and loose.

16. Telepathy does not work. Go and speak to the 250 people who make the decision. People think this impossible. It is not.

17.  Have it written down in a war book and message bible and presume it gets leaked so don’t write anything stupid down.Nobody is clever enough to walk around with all this information in their head.

18. Play as if you are wearing Go Pro. It helps with ethics.

19. Use the media.

20. This is a lot of hard work. Most of it is done upfront. Get prepared to get burned out. If you don’t follow these core rules, get prepared to lose.


Microplastics – British Conservative Government and European Greens Unite

It is not common for the British Conservative Party and the European Greens to unite on anything.

Plastics in the oceans has united them. Their messages and communication agency are identical.

On the environment agenda, today’s Conservative government, or at least Mr Gove, seem to have moved from taking a page out of the Green Groups manifesto, and gobbled the whole book.