‘Best local election campaign’

Campaigners in Kingston upon Thames are rightly proud of receiving the ALDC award for the Best Local Election Campaign in 2018, especially given the high quality campaigns in many other areas including our neighbours in Richmond.

We’d love to share our story with you and maybe offer some hope and inspiration.

In May this year we increased the number of Lib Dem councillors on Kingston Council from 18 to 39, out of a total of 48. Of those,

  • 26 were new Councillors, all of whom stood for the first time
  • the majority (22) were female, with at least one woman standing in every ward, two with newborns!
  • the age range is 22 to 74 years old, with every decade represented
  • 23% are BAME (matching the Borough as a whole) and include the first Councillor of Korean heritage
  • between them they speak 10 different languages
  • we have strong LGBTQ and disability representation.

We are fortunate to have gained a significant number of new members after the general election in 2015, and again after the referendum in 2016. However, we did not sit on our laurels and we actively looked for local community activists who support Liberal Democrat principles as potential candidates.

We also set up our campaign team early. Our determination to win back the Council from the disastrous Conservative rule helped fuel an increase in activity as we progressed with the campaign. Last year’s snap election proved a golden opportunity to develop our strategy. Losing Sarah Olney in Richmond Park (a third of which lies in Kingston Borough) by 45 votes was a tragedy, but we regained the Kingston & Surbiton seat and battle hardened our new activists – and picked up a few more along the way. This was of course exciting, and fun, and enormously energising, but it was also demanding and resource intensive having to train lots of new campaigners and canvassers.

All wards, and candidates, were given goals to achieve by the New Year and were told that there was no room for passengers, with required activity increasing towards polling day.

We started the campaign without an organiser. However by undertaking several skills audits of our members, especially those who had joined post 2015, we made sure we used everyone to their best. Our digital campaign team was set up from these mostly new recruits.

We held several candidate away days and training sessions. I took candidates through the draft manifesto, to get new ideas we could incorporate and to allow them to sign up to the overall themes and the collective decision making we would need to take in group, if they were elected.

When Jack Chesterman became our organiser and subsequently our agent, our campaign was able to go much further. He was able to produce quality literature, monitor ward activities and bring together all the parts of the campaign and much of our momentous win is down to his skill and hard work.

We integrated print and digital campaigning from the start, with regular Focus deliveries and online activity. At that stage we concentrated on campaigns to build our support both online and offline.

During the short campaign  we aimed to reach households through a number of different pieces of literature including  Borough wide tabloids and Focuses, ward Focuses, a variety of target letters based on issues, and a full set of blue letters (postal voters receiving them early).

We also circulated a summary of our manifesto (cover below).

Our digital campaign made extensive use of emails, Facebook (including Facebook ads), Twitter and Instagram. Through social media we were able to extend the reach of our campaigns, react rapidly to newly emerging issues and generate a buzz around our activities.

Through our emails we reached tens of thousands of residents, and could keep our activists, members and supporter volunteers up to date.

We erected more stakeboards than ever before for a local election campaign.

On polling day, we made sure that we used our resources to maximise the number of Lib Dem councillors elected, running out of several committee rooms with a central co-ordination.

Making it fun is central to our purpose and vital to our success. You’ll see a lot of smiles, find plentiful cake and hear a lot of laughter here.

* Liz Green is Leader of Kingston Council

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This entry was posted in Campaign Corner.
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15 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Sep '18 - 6:10pm

    This is terrific and good to see that Liz is able to spread the news.

    As someone from the area, born and bred Wimbledon, Putney, Wandsworth,Richmond, Twikenham, Kingston, as much a stomping ground as ever before, a decade and a half recently in Nottingham, so nice to read abut an area I am involved in myself when in London, for my extended family and campaigns in the party.

    The strategy of Expand cannot happen too much ie a way of bringing on our lot at every level, I and my two colleagues for council in Nottingham, pre coalition, came last but still got good votes, friends stand now and get one or two percent!

    The move towards our party in this system is based on tribalism, in that, our tribe has past and present experience of being one of the main contenders.

    I have tended t live in the areas where it is Labour or Tory, no matter what or who is up against them as an alternative.

  • Terrific article Liz. Inspirational. Should be required reading for all local parties. It’s especially nice to see some of your literature. So many comments on here are along the lines of ‘How do we improve our poll ratings? What’s the elusive secret of how to make the party recover?’ Well you (and South Cambridgeshire, Kingston and others) have proved there is no great secret. We know perfectly well what works. We just need to get out and do it.

  • Sadly TonyH it is a lot more difficult in most places than it is in South Cambridgeshire or Kingston. My estimate is 40 years before we get back to where we were in 2010, certainly in Labour areas.

  • @Old Liberal

    I don’t think anyone is saying it is not difficult in Kingston or in South Cambridgeshire. Clearly the next 6 months in politics are going to be interesting to say the least. But Kingston does show if you have a strong clear message on what you ARE doing for your local area and what you will do then wining at a local level is possible.

    It is also likely that if we get and WIN a parliamentary by-election then our rating will increase towards 15% – but not before. And Labour and the Tories are not doing great and are drifting down towards 35%. Clearly Labour areas – understandably – have been tough but there are signs in Liverpool, Manchester etc. that with a lot of work we are regain ground there.

  • OnceALibDem 25th Sep '18 - 3:07pm

    “Well you (and South Cambridgeshire, Kingston and others) have proved there is no great secret. We know perfectly well what works. We just need to get out and do it.”

    So across the north and the rest of London bar Kingston and Richmond were they not getting out there and doing it? The LIb Dems had net losses in both those areas in May. More Councils have no Lib Dems in London than 4 years ago. And no seats were won in former bastions like Islington, Lambeth and Brent despite some reports of intensive campaigns.

    If it is as simple as ‘we know what works’ then why is that happening?

  • @OnceALibDem

    Clearly there are always many factors. How much you can move the electorate locally and what our and the other parties’ national rating is. And how the electorate view the local elections – sometimes it is very clearly about sending a message nationally – on the poll tax for example. Just before the 1997 were difficult for us in Labour areas but got considerably easier the longer the Blair government went on. And different “national” issues can play differently in different areas – Brexit clearly does.

    But I would suggest that a large number of local parties and campaigners could be doing more. And this is not a criticism it is tough in most areas – especially if the pay-off is not going to be that immediate.

    And clearly fighting Labour in traditional Labour areas especially in the North is tough – with a Corbyn led Labour party and after the coalition. But focussed, hard-working Lib Dems in areas like Liverpool and Manchester are making progress – albeit slow and from a very low base.

    But we should be going out and practising community politics – throwing metaphorical stones at the conservative/labour council and getting things done for the local community – just because it is a good thing to do – but it will also lead to electoral success in the medium term.

    Your stat on London is highly selective even if most of our progress was in SW London. And I suspect a large number of wards in London did indeed have very, very little if anything done in them.

  • OnceALibDem 25th Sep '18 - 7:19pm

    “Clearly there are always many factors.”

    Indeed. However what TonyH said was “you… have proved there is no great secret.” which are two very different things.

    Large areas of London have been historically weak. However parts like Islington, Lambeth and Brent have not been in that category. And all reported large membership increases and are heavily remain voting. Assuming there were intensive campaigns – and the reports I saw were that there were – why was success so limited

  • @OnceaLibDem, I’m sure people worked very hard in lots of areas, and I don’t know why some didn’t get the results they wanted. I do know – thanks to this article – that the team in Richmond fought a fantastic campaign and got great results. So I hope those other local parties are talking to Liz and others to pick up some tips so they win next time. That’s my point.

  • Take away Remain-central SW London and South Cambs and we made no gains in the local elections at all. It was right that made the best news story we could out of the gains we did make, but let’s not delude ourselves that there was any recovery at a national level.

  • Alex Macfie 25th Sep '18 - 8:32pm

    Yes, take away the areas we gained and we made no gains at all. Funny that.

  • @OnceALibDem

    Um….

    I appreciate the point. We did do well in Haringey – up from 9 to 15 – and held our ground in Ealing and Southwark. Those councils where we had 3 or fewer councillors we didn’t make progress and indeed often lost our last remaining councillors on those councils but it is obviously a very, very tough ask getting going again from zero or 1.

    I would doubt whether any ward or council area had a level of intensity of campaign equal to that in the SW London councils and of course they would have had intense parliamentary campaigns in 2015 and 2017.

    I don’t know London local politics at all well but looking at the figures I would hesitate to say that Lambeth, Islington and Brent were particular areas of strength recently or much different to the rest of (Labour facing) London recently. We have been able to strike tactically in these areas when the Labour messed up in these councils|. But in general in the 2010 elections they were showing similar levels of Lib Dem councillors as other councils and all had Labour overall control. Lambeth for example was left with roughly the same number of councillors as nearby Lewisham after 2010.

    We had a double whammy in London in both 2010 and 2014. We lost ground in London in 2010 – I suspect with a higher turnout of Labour voters on GE day just as Tory shires have proved difficult on the same day as a general election. And obv. 2014 was tough during the coalition.

    Of course it helps when everything aligns but I think too many local parties think there IS some magic secret to local election success – but it really is a very clear message and massive massive hard work as Kingston shows.

  • Old Liberal 26th Sep '18 - 3:49am

    No Michael1, it really is much more than just a very clear message and massive massive hard work as Kingston shows. It is having a history of massive, massive hard work stretching over decades. You have to remember that except for 2014, Kingston has not been Conservative controlled since 1986 and was Lib Dem in 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

  • @Alex The point, which you clearly missed, is that there were elections in dozens of councils across the country, yet our net gains arose purely from very good results in just four. Everywhere else, in net terms, we stood still.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Sep '18 - 8:13am

    @Ian: Better that than a national uplift that just causes us to uselessly pile up votes in unwinnable seats but doesn’t help us in our targets (viz 1983, also 2010). The most effective way to get back to where we were is going to be to win locally, council by council, seat by seat. Your comment seemed to suggest that because we “stood still” outside the areas we did very well in, these gains don’t count. You’re wrong, because under our voting system, the localized gains are the only ones that are going to be useful for us in the short term.

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