Libby Local, Episode 5: “Angst”

Melissa was gentle in her criticism. She is after all my campaign manager – despite being born a Tory. As we supped glasses of Pinot Grigio in the Market Tavern, she spoke softly to ensure that no one else can hear.

“You are my best mate, Libby. But these days you talk about nothing other than the next election. It has begun to take over your life!”

Mel of course was right. In recent weeks, I had become a bit of a Lib Dem bore.

“You know,” I said quietly. “I swing from excitement to frustration. But there are days like this when frustration wins hands down.”

Mel replied gently. “You need to unpack that for me.”

So I did.

“Today I spent six hours locked in a room at the Kickstart meeting for the 2013 election. I heard a lot about tactics. Knocking on doors. Pushing leaflets through doors.”

Mel shrugged. “Isn’t that what the Lib Dems do? Focus on delivering that garish leaflet they call Focus?”

I glared at her. “Look, Mel. If you are to be my campaign manager, you must stop calling the Lib Dems them. They are us.”

“I take that point,” she said diplomatically. Then she delivered the barb. “But I simply don’t get the impression that you yet think the Lib Dems are part of you.”

That hurt. A nod to Kirsty behind the bar ensured our glasses were refilled. Mel sat back and waited for my firestorm. It came.

“Becoming a candidate for Libbyshire Council is like starting a new job. But you are not told what the job is! I know what being a liberal is, but after two months I still can’t find out exactly what the Lib Dems stand for in Libbyshire.”

“Surely, all their policies are on the web?” she asked with rather too much false innocence.

“No!” I was getting worked up. Melissa clearly wanted me to pour out my angst and I was ready to do so.

“They know what they believe in, I am not sure that I even begin to. They – we! – complain about potholes, condemn litter and criticise executive pay. Detail after detail. But where is the big picture? If the Lib Dems ever take Libbyshire Council, will it become a Council for Dog Dirt? Or will it have policies that will make this place a better place live?”

Melissa interjected. “Clearing the dog dirt would help!”

I chose to ignore that remark.

“Just as bad, they think that speaking in a council committee is communication with the electorate. As though anyone is listening! An occasional article in the Libbyshire Bugle is a high point for them. As though anyone reads it! There is simply no public relations operation.”

I spoke with growing exasperation. “Just as bad, they don’t have any understanding of social media. They have a way backward website. How do we reach young voters, if we don’t Facebook or Tweet? No wonder voter numbers are falling!”

Mel drained her glass and asked: “Anything else?”

“Much!” I cried. I slugged the last of the Pinot Grigio from my glass. “But maybe not so much,” I admitted. I was running out of steam. As my despair began to overwhelm me, Melissa was calmness in perfection.

“Solve it Libby,” she whispered. “You won’t change everything. You won’t know everything. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed. You will be elected. Mad Max hasn’t a chance against you. Trust me.”

I glowed with her support. “We’ll solve it, Libby,” she whispered. “We’ll solve it together.”

“Thanks! Well, I guess that what a campaign manager is for,” I said with a grin. “And talking of solving problems. It’s your round!”

* Libby Local is based on real events. Details have been changed to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty. Libby’s passion and determination, along with her angst and frustration, are set to be a regular feature of Lib Dem Voice as the May 2013 elections approach. You can catch up with all Libby Local's episodes to date by clicking here.

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29 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Dec '12 - 2:31pm

    I feel a need for Lord Bonkers here.

  • Gareth Jones 2nd Dec '12 - 3:20pm

    I’m really enjoying this series.

    “They – we! – complain about potholes, condemn litter and criticise executive pay. Detail after detail. But where is the big picture? If the Lib Dems ever take Libbyshire Council, will it become a Council for Dog Dirt? Or will it have policies that will make this place a better place live?” – it’s not just me thinking we need to promote a Liberal vision then?

  • “They know what they believe in, I am not sure that I even begin to. They – we! – complain about potholes, condemn litter and criticise executive pay. Detail after detail. But where is the big picture? If the Lib Dems ever take Libbyshire Council, will it become a Council for Dog Dirt? Or will it have policies that will make this place a better place live?”

    It will become a council that promotes a sweetish Pinot Gris. It will not, however, promote the government drinking guidlines.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Dec '12 - 8:33pm

    At this point Big Bruiser Dave from Slough burst through the doors with his gang of Teds and started beating the sh*t out of Libby. His sidekick Ed the Economist stole Mel’s purse and grabbed at her watch, while Ellie the Environment went gas-green with excitement and Hugh the Health Freak delivered a half-digested meal to Libby and Mel’s feet.

    Kirsty disappeared and Larry arrived from Another Place and started laughing and couldn’t stop. Two of the four Eds aatarted congratulating each other and were soon flying high up into the clouds. Someone cried “Where’s our Leader?” as Lynne arrived with her Muscles from North London and announced she was posting herself via Royal Mail to Zambia. Vic the Spiv turned up with his Knife, his Usual Agony, and a plant growing out of his head, but the fight continued since no-one really believed he was there. .

    Libby cried “Ignore them! They only exist if you think about them!” as Mel collapsed into an internal argument about voting systems. The Landlord cried “Time!” as two Land Value Taxes hit him squarely in the mouth. “Just another day in the Palace of Westminster” sighed the guard, and went back to sleep.

  • Get a new campaign manager!

    Seriously – I don’t think a best mate who is gentle in their criticism are good qualities for anyone’s campaign manager.

  • Paul Holmes 2nd Dec '12 - 9:19pm

    A candidate who hasn’t a clue.

    A Campaign Manager who knows even less.

    A Local Party that (last episode) seemed to let them go out canvassing , for the first time, with no training/no experienced mentor.

    And the pair of them seem to be border line alcoholics.

    This must be for the training manual on how not to fight an election.

  • Interesting choice of image…..

  • Paul Walter 2nd Dec '12 - 10:39pm

    X
    It’s meant to represent a generic market town without being anywhere specific or recognisable.
    In fact, it is a photo of Bekonscott model village.
    Or did you mean the land army girl?
    LDV “Photo fairy”

  • David Rogers 3rd Dec '12 - 8:10am

    Two references already in the comments above to potentially excessive drinking – whoever writes this should not overlook local government’s returning public health responsibilities – legally from 1 April 2013, but already getting underway in practice! At least the Market Tavern is smokefree, and neither character seems to be going outside to litter the pavement…

  • Situs McRame 3rd Dec '12 - 10:07am

    Surely the Lib Dems have training manuals and online guidance for new candidates? Or are they just given a pile of leaflets, a few wise words and sent forth to meet the electorate as this series suggests?

  • Steve Griffiths 3rd Dec '12 - 12:04pm

    “…but after two months I still can’t find out exactly what the Lib Dems stand for in Libbyshire”.

    I think in all my 30 – 40 local elections, either as candidate or agent, we never embarked on a local campaign without agreed policies for the local council elections. What is the local party up to? Have they not told her or discussed it with her? This is crucial for a new or inexperienced candidate who may not have developed other campaigns soley affecting their ward or interests . Or is she sharing in the national angst about what the Lib Dems now stand for, in the mind of the whole elctorate? Something which us former old Lib lefty campaigners have been wondering for a while now.

  • Simon Titley 3rd Dec '12 - 1:41pm

    Given that September’s Liberal Democrat conference voted in favour of medically assisted dying, might I suggest that LDV’s editors buy Libby a one-way ticket to Switzerland. It would certainly end our suffering, if not Libby’s.

  • Excellent – great argument in comments promoting exactly what I think the series is for – to make us think about what and why we are doing things. Impressed to see number of comments creep up as well. Keep it up – really enjoy this series.

    Hwyel – got to disagree with you here, think there’s altogether too much macho nastiness around in politics – think there needs to be a good balance between the two – tough talking when need be, and support (certainly at the beginning, which is where Libby is). Not that I disagree with you in general, just I’ve never been aware of TOO LITTLE tough talk, certainly not with candidates.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Dec '12 - 3:43pm


    “Just as bad, they think that speaking in a council committee is communication with the electorate. As though anyone is listening! An occasional article in the Libbyshire Bugle is a high point for them. As though anyone reads it! There is simply no public relations operation.”

    I am surprised that there IS Libbyshire Liberal Democrat group if that’s what they really think. Liberal Democrats don’t get elected unless they have developed an effective way of communicating with the electorate. There simply is nowhere where most of the people naturally vote Liberal Democrat without being prompted to do so, so would do so even if there was no sort of campaign. That’s what makes use different from the Conservatives and Labour: we don’t have “safe seats”.

    But that last sentence, I smell a rat. Yes, here we go, we’ve had this for as long as I’ve been involved with the party. People with some sort of Public Relations background thinking they know oh-so-much more than anyone else on how to play the politics game, so jumping in telling those who’ve been around a bit longer “You’re all sleepy, you need wonderful me to tell you how to win elections”. So far, whenever we’ve listened to these people and done what they’ve suggested, we’ve lost votes. Quite a lot of the disagreement between the Liberal Party and the SDP was actually about this sort of thing – the SDP insisting that glossy centrally produced leaflets with a professional style was what wins elections. What they didn’t realise was that the contrived amateurism of Focus was actually part of its success, it made the people it was promoting look like “one of us”, ordinary people from the community, it overcame the barriers people have towards political involvement of thinking it’s about this alien species called “politician”. ALC was actually VERY professional and organised in the way it pushed the Focus idea, but that was not recognised by the SDP great and good, because it wasn’t London national media based organisation, it was something different, it was actually (as we might now call it) “thinking outside the box”.

    Given that our party’s national image is now very much made by people with a professional PR background, they seem to emerge and surround any leader we have and infect him with their ideas even if he wasn’t already infected, I have no confidence in the idea that this is the way forward. Indeed, the more our party relies in such people the worse its standing seems to get. Perhaps these people are very good at selling consumer products, but politics does not seem to work that way. The growth of a professional PR attitude at the top has coincided – or rather not just coincided as I don’t think it’s coincidental – with a slump in political involvement, with more and more people taking on the idea that politics has nothing to do with them, with a terrible lack of involvement and detachment from the political process that leaves me afraid, and I mean that as I fear what it will eventually lead to will be something very nasty indeed.

    I saw this with the “Yes to AV” campaign, I talked with some of the PR people running it, and from that realised we were going go lose it and lose it badly – thanks to the disastrous way these people were running it, and their arrogance of thinking as PR people they knew oh-so-much-better than anyone else how to sell a product. Except, politics isn’t about selling products,and treating it as if it is doesn’t seem to work – instead it increases alienation by losing the idea that democratic politics is first and foremost about ordinary people getting together and challenging established powers.

    We have the PR mentality at the top of our party to thank for the national image making which has made the difficult situation of the coalition worse. PR people and ad-men always seem to think the way to “sell a product” is to exaggerate, to make out it is the best thing ever, to use superficial “it’s super-duper wonderful” lines (ok, modern equivalent, but I think i prefer the honest of the retro ad-man style). And it hasn’t worked, has it? Instead by exaggerating what we can really achieve in the current coalition, by making out the compromises we’ve had to agree to are our ideal, a supreme achievement, the fulfillment of our dreams, we’ve actually fed the propaganda of our opponents, we’ve given them the lines they are using anyway to kick us, we’ve made ourselves appear in the eyes of most of our ex-voters as all they feared we would be, the fulfillment of their nightmares.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Dec '12 - 3:54pm


    I spoke with growing exasperation. “Just as bad, they don’t have any understanding of social media. They have a way backward website. How do we reach young voters, if we don’t Facebook or Tweet? No wonder voter numbers are falling!”

    Hmm, it wasn’t long ago that we might be saying what we needed was to get a presence on Second Life. Can someone point me to any REAL political success coming through use of these things? I’m afraid it sounds to me a bit like “trendy vicar” stuff – you know what I mean, “The Vic” tries hard to “get with the kids”, but the harder he tries the more ludicrous he appears.

    Apart from the fact that e.g. Twitter seems to be signing up to get yet MORE junk electronic communication – why on earth should I want to do that? – I do also have concerns about this idea we must all accept without question the use of proprietor controlled products. I preferred the old days of the internet when it really was self-made, not controlled in these ways.

  • Paul Holmes 4th Dec '12 - 10:24am

    But Louise, a Campaign Manager (and I think the clue is in the title) is supposed to manage the Campaign. Not spend every evening in up market pubs getting the candidate drunk on battles of wine.

    This Campaign Manager clearly has not got the faintest idea what a Campaign is let alone how to manage one.

    I repeat -this series of articles must be a spoof designed to teach candidates (and Campaign Mangers), how NOT to run for election. Any day now I expect Mark Pack and Ed Maxfield to pop up and announce that they are really the authors and the whole thing is a trailer for their new book ‘A 101 Ways to Lose an Election.’

  • Paul Holmes 4th Dec '12 - 10:28am

    A Battle of wine is of course a Libbyshire term for a Bottle -but a bit more like a Jeroboam!

  • Steve Griffiths 4th Dec '12 - 12:31pm

    Matthew

    “But that last sentence, I smell a rat. Yes, here we go, we’ve had this for as long as I’ve been involved with the party. People with some sort of Public Relations background thinking they know oh-so-much more than anyone else on how to play the politics game”

    Yes I wondered where this rather facile saga was leading and I suspect your guess is not far from the truth. I am the sort of sad person that used to collect Focus leaflets from around the country to compare with the sort I was producing in my wards. They did not look like the glossy corporate sheets produced by the Tories and Labour – we didn’t want them to. Many had a distinct regional appearance which enhanced their readability and acceptability by the elctorate outside of the South East. Matthew makes the point that our leaflets look like they came from the local community and voters took time to read them, and more importantly we won seats with them. Sometimes with the early SDP glossies it was not possible at first glance to tell which party it was.

    I have made the point before that you have about 2 or 3 minutes from the time that a resident picks the election litterature off the floor, to the waste-bin. Make yours look like a community circular and you may at least have a chance of getting your distinctive point across. Modern PR types of the sort that now surround the leadership and party headquarters do not understand this. Elctoral success nationally starts with hard work and winning seats locally and that is how the party got where it is today. Sadly, recent top-down driven campaigns from the very types described by Matthew and their litterature, are to the achievement of success, what the late ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev was to non-ferrous sheet metal welding.

    PS I would love to know how to get italics when writing on this website.

  • Andy Boddington 4th Dec '12 - 8:52pm

    Matthew

    You say re Twitter: “why on earth should I want to do that?”

    The reason is that communications technology moves on and multiplies. Campaigners who refuse to use the full range of technologies just get left behind.

    People used to be primarily informed by newspapers, then by radio and newspapers, then by TV, radio and newspapers. Now social media – mainly Twitter and Facebook – adds to the information stream.

    I, like my younger friends, no longer buy a regular newspaper. I grab the headlines from the main news websites, TV and radio. I see recommendations from friends on Twitter and Facebook about what I might read. My news is a collated from dozens of sources, some of which have no print or broadcast identity. This collation shapes my political and professional knowledge.

    In turn, I use Twitter and Facebook to communicate my views, tell people my news and to campaign. I cannot conceive of any campaign that does not have social media at its heart. Leaflets through doors, shaking hands, TV, radio, the press – all these media are also needed. But if you are not online in social media, do you really exist?

    Long gone are the days when newspapers can boast: “It was the Sun what won it!” maybe, who knows, at the next significant election it will be “It was Twitter what won it!”

  • Richard Swales 4th Dec '12 - 9:52pm

    Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    ” Perhaps these people are very good at selling consumer products,”

    Perhaps they are good at selling themselves. Whether or not they are good at selling consumer products is difficult to measure. Certainly my own experience from running a business (the nature of which allows me to ask all new clients at registration how they found out about us) is that pretty much no kind of advertising that advertising agencies try to sell me works at all, and the most cost effective way to get new clients is (after free stuff like word of mouth and making sure the webpage comes towards the top on google) is to go round houses and blocks of flats delivering leaflets printed onto white office paper myself (now with two university students helping me as a summer job). Of course for the advertising agency I am the end-user of the advertising they have to sell to, they don’t care or know how to get the end user of the actual service I am selling.
    So perhaps selling political ideas actually is like selling products after all :-)

  • Richard Swales 4th Dec '12 - 9:54pm

    - to continue the above – and I have measured the stuff printed on white office paper to have a higher response rate per leaflet than glossy full colour – which also corresponds to Matthew’s experience.

  • Richard – if your a Lib Dem member (I’m guessing yes from the context) – could you join the members forums and post something about this as it would be interesting to know but not something for a public discussion

  • Paul – to me it’s a look at how things are happening not how things are supposed to happen.

    I know how several techniques are supposed to work and ALDC have a lot of literature / training on this – good on them! This certainly exists. I’ve been to Kickstart & I’ve also worked on several campaigns of varying effectiveness and have a good idea of what a campaign manager is supposed to do. That’s not my point – I’m thinking this is a series to encourage us to look at ourselves and the way we do things – not pull the thing apart and say we definitely shouldn’t be doing this or that.

    Also, to stick up for a fictional person (!) Libby’s campaign manager is offering emotional support, so what if it happens to be in the pub? Could also be in a coffee shop or round someone’s house for an informal supper! This is a good thing. I certainly would prefer that over blank looks when you said yet another person had abused you or followed you down the street harassing you. Let’s look at what campaign managers can improve about their role rather than defending themselves against all comers…. There is always room for improvement.

    We’re human beings, not campaigning machines – THAT’s the lesson I’m taking from this particular episode. Here’s a thing –perhaps having a more human approach might get us to deliver more leaflets/knock on more doors rather than less. It might even encourage more people to help us.

  • Richard Swales 5th Dec '12 - 10:00am

    @Hywel, I am an ex-member (I am more libertarian than “liberal” as it is defined in English-speaking countries) but I would still like to help anyway. If you want to see my actual data then you can find my email fairly easily by searching my name and the country where I now live (Slovakia) or asking Mark Pack for it, but I doubt the data would be that useful anyway, as it is for a consumer service (English as a second language evening classes) which people are hearing about for the first time and deciding to shell money out for, rather than a political party people have heard about many times before and have to decide to vote for, and the data is also from a different country. However, the general principle that advertising which gives off the feeling the company is “bigger than thou” (for example we commissioned professionally produced radio adverts one year for the cost of about 50000 leaflets and got zero new students from it), does not work for companies is going to be even more applicable to political parties in my opinion. The other general principle, that advertising men must first sell themselves (this is why Mad Men is a great show), and then as a secondary matter sell the product, possibly explains why they are so good at maintaining influence despite not producing tangible results.

    In any case, I know of one Lib Dem MP with good results from campaigning in his consitutency who said the same about the AV campaign as Matthew Huntbach , virtually word for word, and if he didn’t get things changed I don’t see why my dodgy stats are going to change anything. But as I say, you are welcome to have a look if you want.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Dec '12 - 12:29am

    Andy Boddington

    I am not “refusing” to use the new technologies, I am looking for a convincing argument that the investment in using them pays off more than the investment in putting forward one’s views in other ways. For example, how many people are REALLY going to subscribe to Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of their local Liberal Democrat candidate? If you can persuade me that half the ward will do so voluntarily, maybe you have a point. If (as I suspect) it’s a couple of dozen people, I feel I’m still more likely to get people’s attention by putting printed hard copy through their letterboxes.

  • Richard Dean 7th Dec '12 - 1:01am

    … in the next episode, how Libby and Mel’s lives were totally transformed when they stopped drinking Starbucks coffee!

  • Paul Holmes 7th Dec '12 - 9:37pm

    Mark, I don’t bemoan the efforts of inexperienced campaigners/candidates I offer to train, help and advise them -and have done so with many over the last 26 years (ever since I first learned how to campaign as a total novice by studying a manual written by some young chap called Rennard).

    I bemoan this series of articles though which some will take as a serious representation of what goes in in LD campaigns.
    After all It claims to be based on real events. No one has to be this clueless with all the help and advice that is available.

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