In December 1976 Paddy Ashdown put to the local party in Yeovil a plan for winning the constituency for which he had been recently selected and where the party was third at almost every election. Thirty-five and a bit years on, it still reads as a pretty good plan.
1. We should adopt a three-election strategy and should plan on that basis that I would probably not be in a position to mount a genuine challenge for the seat until my third attempt. [It took him two rather than three attempts as it turned out.]
2. I would need to stay full-time in the constituency. So I had to get a job locally and could not afford to get distracted by anything other than the single task of winning Yeovil (i.e. I could not afford to allow myself to get interested in national Liberal Party affairs).
3. Our immediate aim at the next election was not to beat the Tories, but to beat Labour. Once we were the clear challengers for the seat, we would be able to squeeze the Labour vote in subsequent elections.
4. Our effort, therefore, should now be not in the rural areas, where we had traditionally concentrated, but in the towns – and especially in the Yeovil estates, where Labour’s traditional vote was based.
5. We needed to build up our base from the bottom, concentrating first on local government elections.
6. We could not rely on any newspapers, either locally or nationally. So we would have to find other means to communicate directly with our electorate if we were to succeed in getting our messages across.
7. We would nevertheless need a strong Press effort – we should aim to get at least one story, with genuine news appeal and about a local issue, into the local Press every week.
8. The national Party’s standing was not very high, so our key messages should be about local service not national politics. What was subsequently to be known as ‘community politics’ would be our battleground.
Taken from Paddy Ashdown, A Fortunate Life.
Some of the steps in his strategy are very specific to particular local circumstances. The general principles are however sound, especially having a political strategy and then shaping your campaigning to fit it, rather than simply campaigning where you are used to working or are comfortable with working. Still very relevant too is the need to make your own channels for getting out news, one which these days involves the internet alongside the traditional printed local Focus newsletters.