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.

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