Friday, 6 May 2011

Campaigning 101

I find myself unsurprised by the shellacking doled out to the "Yes" campaign in the AV referendum. While all the results are not as yet in, 70% of the electorate decided they didn't want AV. And who can blame them?

Were the virtues of AV talked up? Not really.

Was the trouble with the current system explained? Not to me.

Did the the 'Yes' campaign, such as it is, concentrate on celebrity endorsement over substance? Reportedly - I never actually heard from them.

Was the whole thing a total shambles? Like Shambo the Holy Cow with bovine TB.

Today I chatted with my dad about AV. He is not a political animal and is open to a certain amount of persuasion on such matters. I gave him the run-down on my reasons for my vote of 'Yes' yesterday. We had a reasonable conversation about it.

The 'Yes' campaign failed to sell this conversation around the country.

"Vote for AV because celebrity no. 4 thinks its great" is not a conversation sane people are going to have.

The key to successful campaigning is leading the discussion. If you can't do that, you are lost.

Blair did it (by saying 'New' a lot, as I recall).

GW Bush did it (with a swagger, "trrrist evil doingers" and smear campaigns).

Obama sure as Hope and Change did it.

Major didn't do it (or anything at all of note).

Kerry didn't do it (he was a war hero who got painted as a coward and didn't fight back).

Kinnock couldn't get her done ("balding Welsh bloke wants to charge you more tax" is not a great slogan).

Neither did anyone in last year's general election, leaving us with no one in charge.

Central to any successful campaign is an ethos that can flower into an actual conversation between ordinary people who do not have all the facts at hand.

The Lib Dem's started their campaign for this referendum by saying to the British people "We know you're not going to get excited by or particularly like this...". When you start like that, nothing else you say is going to be relevant. Not to me, not to anyone.

AV was the big promise to their base, a wild gamble to secure more seats at the next general election and finally become a real party. AV was why they went into coalition in the first place.

They completely screwed the pooch.

Over the coming years, the Liberal Democrats are going to fall apart, fracturing along fault-lines created, not by this loss, but by going into coalition with the Tories, who are a party with an ideology they are diametrically opposed to.

Without any hope of redemption at the ballot box, the Liberal Democrat party is going to shatter like the teeth of some cartoon cat who just got hit by an anvil.

We may laugh: it is, after all, pretty funny.


  1. I'm sorry, but the Liberal Democrats are not and never were diametrically opposed to the "ideology" of the Conservative party. No party has been since either 1987 or 1983 (take your pick). If you wish to read the Liberal Democrat's concession to Thatcherism, look at "The Orange Book", which makes very clear that the Lib-Dems are a free-market party.

    People talk about "the party of governance", that is, the party which is seen as somehow naturally fitted for ruling the country. In my lifetime that has mostly been the Conservatives. 100 years ago it was the Liberals. For a while in the last decade it could have been Labour.

    The Liberal Democrats have survived, and even flourished in recent years, by being "the party of opposition". Whilst posing as constructive critics, they abandoned all coherence. Their greatest asset in the eyes of the voters was that they would never be in power, and that they weren't either Labour or the Conservatives.

    The "betrayal" of Nick Clegg's deal happened long before the 2010 election. It started when the Lib Dems embraced a manifesto which they did not actually expect to ever be called to implement, either in part or in whole.

    Nothing so exposed the vacuousness of commenters like Libby Purves at the last election as their insistence that there was a "progressive majority" of the Lib-Dems and Labour in the UK. In what possible way are Labour and the Lib-Dems "progressive" that the Conservatives are not?

    Have we not already had 13 lucky years of Labour "progress" which appeared very much like dithering and stagnation, thinly disguised by condescending PC speech? My hope is that the next election gives the Conservatives a chance to do away with the coalition. I have my doubts about Cameron, but they go double for Milliband. Clegg is a busted flush for the moment.

  2. There you go again, looking into history, intellectual honesty and all that other stuff that doesn't matter at all.

    Liberal Democrat voters vote for the Liberal Democrats on the understanding that they represent policies like scaling back the military, doing away with tuition fees, dismantling Trident, radically redirecting our collective energies away from fossil fuels, etc. Each one of those policies will find its polar opposite in their coalition partners.

    To say that they hold diametrically opposing ideologies may on the one hand be an unnecessary rhetorical flourish, but on the other hand it represents the view of most Liberal Democrats.

    Do correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that Tories see the Lib Dems as duplicitous and without an ideology to be opposed to, which seems to be reflected, partly, in your comment.

    However, the central point of the piece was about campaigning. If I'm not wrong about that, I don't care.

  3. @Lot - the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives are not opposed on the issue of reducing military spending, or moving away from fossil fuel. On the remaining issues - unilateral disarmament and tuition fees, the Lib-Dems are as much at odds with the Labour party as they are with the Conservatives.

    As for your main point, that of campaigning, Clegg has caught a lot of stick for failing to win the referendum which was the biggest concession won from the Conservatives in the 2010 deal. However, Milliband was the largest political figure supposedly in charge of the "yes" campaign, yet little meaningful was heard from him.

    As for the Lib-Dems lacking an ideology, I think it's pretty clear that either all parties have abandoned ideology, or at least they share the same one to differing degrees - that of the free market. The difference for the Lib-Dems was that, having never been in power, and having little expectation of achieving power despite their public statements to the contrary, they made a lot of promises in opposition which they could not expect to keep.

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  5. Never argue about facts; research them instead.

    "Saying no to the like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear
    weapons system, which could cost £100 billion. We will hold a full
    defence review to establish the best alternative for Britain’s future
    security" (Liberal Democrat Manifesto, P.17, Sub-heading "Dealing with the Deficit". Also in that section... "Cancelling Eurofighter Tranche 3b") The Tories will be saying yes to Eurofighter tranche 3b and renewing Trident.

    Milliband said "don't reject AV because of Clegg" - Labour were really agnostic on the matter, with many of their leading figures coming out against it. It was a Lib Dem led campaign with Milliband chiming in to half-heartedly support it and attack Clegg. The public saw it as Clegg's campaign, not Milliband's, and Milliband was quite happy for that to be the case.

    There is a world of difference between radically reducing carbon emissions (by 30% by 2020 - Lib Dems) and moving towards a reduction in the use of fossil fuels (aiming to produce 15% of energy from renewables by 2020 and cut emissions by 80% by 2050 - Tories). One is a radical position with wide-ranging, immediate affect and the other is a sop to the scientists and the eco-worriers like me.

    The green economy touted by the Tories has not emerged as yet, with spending cuts having affected them as well as everything else.

    FOARP you should realise that this is not a political blog - I hate the idea of identifying myself with one party or another.

    This is a politics blog, an exploration of form rather than substance, if you see what I mean.