Going negative on the Greens – losing votes and alienating people

It’s a mistake we’ve all seen people make. Having just lost your spouse to a rival, you call your now-ex girlfriend in the middle of the night, to politely request an explanation:

“How can you be going out with HIM? He’s a *****! He’s a ****ing son of a **** !!

Of course, such a display does not help your cause one iota, and in fact makes re-uniting with your girlfriend an even murkier prospect. Having just started going out with your rival, your girlfriend is unlikely to listen to anything bad you might have to say about him.

Moreover, your crude language and obvious jealousy will rightly cheese off your girlfriend, and add to the reasons why she left you in the first place! (Reasons which will also still be fresh in her memory!)

And why is this relevant?

Because it would seem that the Lib Dems – and indeed all three major UK parties – are in a similar situation. It appears that the expenses scandal is not going to be going away anytime soon. As many of you are no doubt aware, all three parties lost votes in Norwich North. Labour voters stayed home in droves, Conservatives shed votes mainly to UKIP, and the Lib Dems most likely lost votes to the Greens.

And it would seem that the instinctive reaction to this abandonment is in danger of taking place. Resorting to negative campaigning against the Green Party, our disaffected voters’ new “spouse” is becoming an increasingly discussed strategy.

Think back to the U.S election. If anyone can remember, both Hillary Clinton (when she was a rival candidate in the Democrat primaries) and GOP candidate John McCain attempted to go negative on Obama, and both saw their strategy backfire spectacularly.

It’s a simple rule – when there’s a new and popular trend, attacking it only serves to make you unpopular, and you will shed more votes to whoever the popular newcomer is – in this case, the Greens.

Now, back to the analogy.

If you really, really want to get your girlfriend back, there’s only one thing you can really do. Remind her why she loves you. Remind of all the fun you had together. The good times. The great times. Then the nostalgia will kick in, and you may just be in with a chance.

Of course, there’s a limit to the effectiveness of reminding your girlfriend about why she loves you. If, for example, you’ve been an abusive companion, routinely beating her, coming home drunk, lying to her, and so on – well, then, you’re New Labour! And you’ll never get your back, because she’s just too angry with you, and you have precious few “good times” to remind her of.

The Liberal Democrats, thankfully, are not in such a situation. The good times we and our “spouses” in the electorate have had together outweigh by far the bad. We were the only party that fully opposed the Iraq war. We were the party that argued in favor of curbing the liberty-infringing excesses of the War on Terror – even while bombs struck London’s underground and every politician worth his salt was succumbing to the hysteria.

We were the party that first took up the cause of the Gurkhas. And it was we who were pressing environmental issues in parliament long before the Conservatives made the oh-so-bold and drastic move of changing their party logo to a tree. Finally, it is we, who, through thick and thin, champion reform of our broken electoral system – a position that, despite being denounced as boring and unappealing by internal party pessimists – cannot fail to be popular if people (any people – old, young, rich, poor) are made to know the truth.

And we have the resources to inform people of the truth – a strategy that I feel would be much more effective than dubiously attempting to inform them of why the Greens aren’t to be trusted. The only result of that would be a loss of trust in us, not them.

I feel we do ourselves a great injustice by wasting energy on negative campaigning. We have so many positive things to talk about – far more than other parties. And it isn’t enough to say “people aren’t interested in Lib Dem issues” – if they aren’t interested, we ought to develop better strategies to make them interested.

My main experience in politics has up till recently been that of an observer rather than a party activist, so I am not as seasoned as others. But, as I’ve been hearing a fair bit of talk about going negative lately, I felt the need to voice my humble opinion.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in News.
Advert

38 Comments

  • While we need to publicise the good work we do, I don’t really see the argument for not contrasting that with the bad things the Greens do.

    I am now a councillor for a ward in central Oxford that was wrested from the Greens by a campaign that highlighted the Green’s opposition to life saving medical testing on animals. This was to the backdrop of a campaign of terror against the university by animal rights extremists, so our stance was far more popular.

    We need to identify and articulate both the strengths of our policies and the weaknesses of the Greens. Not alerting the public to the mistakes of other parties is a deriliction of duty on our part.

  • I think you’ve confused our responsibility to show the voters the truth about our opponents whilst promoting the strengths of our policies, with negative campaigning.

  • Well I am pretty fed up with the Greens really. They said they were not going to stand against me, then went back on this. I missed taking a local council seat by 8 votes. The Tories won by Greens splitting the vote, and they did nothing except put up the candidate. Oh, and I don’t even drive a car, but these ‘Greens’ have an expensive Toyota Prius, and go on holiday to France in a gas-guzzling van.

  • We are going to lose thousands of votes to the Greens in seats where we can’t afford to. We might lose hundreds of votes to the new Pirate Party in our university seat marginals.

    We can’t afford to lose these votes. There is no reason why we shouldn’t triangulate to the policies of the Greens and the Pirates, to appeal to the social liberals and the Orange Bookers respectively.

    So far I haven’t even seen any of the Liberal Democrat leadership give real answers about what happened in Norwich North, and how we can prevent it happening again.

    We wasted time trying to demonise Rupert Read, even if he deserved it. We probably lost many Lib Dem/Green waverers in the process. The real target all along was fed up Labour voters. That should have been given top priority throughout, instead of the sideshows.

  • I don’t know anything yet about the Pirates. But I think Kate is right. I was shocked to see how many seats the Greens are standing PPCs in this time, many in our target and uni seats – and sometimes where we hadn’t even yet declared a candidate. They are also standing in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling for the first time. They have the beauty of a clear and consistent message at least – even if we can pick holes in its flaws. And some of university MPs are also not best pleased on the change of tack on tuition fees either.

  • Kate the Greens came fifth in Norwich North not something they or many others were anticipating at the outset. To say we didn’t target Labour in Norwich North is also manifestly not true.

  • Simon I’m not saying that the Greens are going to start winning seats – just that we are leaking an unacceptably large number of voters to them.

    I’m also not claiming we didn’t target Labour and Chris Ostrowski – of course we did. I’m saying that should have been the central theme of our message, with Rupert Read (and maybe even Chloe Smith) relegated to the sidelines.

  • “could you provide an example of two of what you call negative campaigning?”

    Other than Norwich North, which Kate already mentioned – no. (This is understandable, considering the Greens-migration is probably a byproduct of the expenses scandal, and there have been few elections since then) There has been a lot of talk about going negative, however, in party meetings, around discussion groups on the internet – i believe there was also a letter in the latest Lib Dem news suggesting we go negative.

    “Not alerting the public to the mistakes of other parties is a deriliction of duty on our part.”

    Your case in Oxford sounds like an exception rather than the rule – attacking the university around which the city revolves sounds like an abysmally stupid move on their part.
    In most cases though, they are newcomers, and as Biodiesel mentioned, they have a nigh-untarnishable image of being “principled” in their devotion to the environment. As long as they’re called “the greens”, they’ll keep the impression that they’re the party that will keep all their promises and stick to their guns. Noting that some of them drive vans most probably won’t be enough to muddy that image. The only people who are likely to take note of such a campaign would be those who are already anti-green, who we needn’t worry about anyway.

    The “newcomers” part is also very important – letting fly against Labour and Conservative is strategically viable (and in the case of Labour, strategically imperative) because there’s so much material we can point to from their times in office, and a vast amount of people who will listen to us when we do so. Being newcomers, however, the Greens have few skeletons in their closet, and few people (except us!) who hate them.

    “I don’t really see the argument for not contrasting that with the bad things the Greens do.”

    The first is, I believe it’s wasted resources (except in exceptional cases like in Oxford, as I noted) . Secondly, contrasting our environmental policies with the greens – in effect trying to claim we’re “more green than the greens” – would be treated with natural skepticism from any member of the public, let alone those who are already in the green camp. Better to just say “we’re very environmentalist” and not mention the greens at all. Thirdly and most importantly, it has the potential to further disgust those who are already somewhat disgusted with us (and the 2 other main parties) for our role in expensesgate

    It should be remembered that a great deal of the lib dems-turned-green are “expenses scandal” protest voters, rather than die-hard environmentalists. And the only way to win them back is to emphasize the good things we’ve done and will do. Emphasizing the bad things other parties have done will only (at best) cause them to abandon both us and the greens, and not vote at all.

  • I don’t understand why the party isn’t pumping resources into the few seats the greens are fighting seriously. For example stopping Caroline Lucas winning in Brighton Pavilion is absolutely crucial to the party – otherwise we’ll find it harder and harder to get our environmental messages out in the media and in parliament because she’ll constantly get in the way because she’s so agreesive.

  • The Greens themselves have some negative campaigning going on –
    http://norfolkblogger.blogspot.com/2009/08/downright-dirty-campaiging-of-self.html
    Do check out Fear and Loathing in the Green Party at the Guardian, and Liberal England

  • If you want to see how the GP feel they did in the Euros, read former External Communications Coordinator Matthew Wooton’s blog (you’ll see what Kat means about negative too!) http://www.dailyplanet.org.uk/

  • ‘More fear and loathing among the Greens overnight. Yesterday we told of finger-pointing and vile slurs regarding the election for the post of external communications co ordinator. Hours later, the entire election was scrapped mid-campaign. The reason was a letter widely circulated by Mark Hill, who organises the freepost scheme allowing candidates to circulate their election literature, relinquishing his role and hurling more dung at the current communications chief, Tracy Dighton-Brown. This, the executive decided, broke the rules and effectively skewed the election. The aborted process will now be replaced by a vote at conference in September, which will more or less disenfranchise anyone who doesn’t attend. It also shows how easily contests within the party can be derailed. Trailing candidates take note. And as various battles rage, members await some intervention from the office of Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader. Thus far, silence.” Guardian. The Greens are having a few internal probs of their own. It seems supporters of Rupert Read of Clean Campaign Pledge fame are behind the dirty tricks. Just as the ‘Fear and Loathing’ story broke Rupert Read decided he needed a holiday so he’s gone to Europe were he can’t be contacted – so it may be very environmentally friendly, but it will help him avoid awkward questions about clean campaigning.

  • Jesus H … it’s time for the Lib Dems to get real. This debate is not about the Greens who are a comination of mad swivel eyed Trots and one earth smelly hippies, but about hand wringing Lib Dems who see a threat where none exist. We should just stand firm and campaign for our values. The Greens entire contribution to the political debate is for their London reps to persuade the equally barking Ken Livingstone to exempt the gas guzzzling Toyota Prius’s to be exempt from the congestion charge.

    Let’s be quite clear the Greens are the intellectual and political inheritors of the luddites and need to be rooted out and destroyed by all democrats and liberals.

  • Herbert Brown 20th Aug '09 - 7:44am

    Dan

    So – just to be clear – you think that there is no threat to the Lib Dems from the Greens.

    And that these “mad swivel eyed Trots and one earth smelly hippies” need to be “rooted out and destroyed”.

  • Dan,
    That kind of attitude will get none of us anywhere.

    What the article is pointing out is the uncomfortable truth that the greens are set to split our vote in a lot of places, something Labour have been complaining that we did to them for years. Meanwhile Camerons eurosceptic moves are going to reduce his leakage to UKIP. As long as FPTP rules we will probably lose seats to the Tories because of the Green split of our votes. As long as we fight the Greens and not work with them , we will both lose out. Its a similar situation in Wales where Plaid have nicked most of our policies.

    Allum – I love your line –
    ‘ If, for example, you’ve been an abusive companion, routinely beating her, coming home drunk, lying to her, and so on – well, then, you’re New Labour!’

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '09 - 1:48pm

    I commented before the Norwich North results that from what I saw from Nich Starling’s blog, our literature for the by-election was too full of party-political knock about and for that reason wouldn’t do well. Allum, has, I think a point, it is perhaps a useful analogy as to why attacking the other parties doesn’t always come across well.

    Of course, in politics we do attack other parties, but a good ground rule is that this should only be done when we have already won the sympathy of the electorate from positive campaigning, so our attacks are just building up the support we already have and re reinforcing people’s wish to vote for us, particularly people who want to but fear the “wasted vote” line the big two parties use to persuade tactical voting for them.

    I wish, however, we could Bloody Eliminate the Iraq War, which Allum mentions. Sure, we got it right (with a LOT of persuasion from activists to the leadership) on this issue. But it’s a political elite interest issue. For most people who aren’t politically aware, it’s a peripheral issue and going on and on about it sends the subliminal message “we aren’t really interested in you and your problems, we’re more interested in the welfare of people living in other countries”.

  • Mike Falchikov 20th Aug '09 - 6:27pm

    I don’t agree that the Iraq War is a rarified kind of issue, though in strictly electoral terms it is perhaps a diminishing
    asset. There is a serious debate to be had about Afghanistan of course and for the first time for many years, the
    public at large seem to be genuinely interested and concerned about how we treat and resource our armed forces.
    Over-riding that is Trident – now there’s an issue on which our leadership appears to be on the right side and which
    we should now take up vigorously. If we come out unequivocally against replacing Trident, I think we’ll find a lot of
    the public on our side.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '09 - 7:32pm

    The political parties as boyfriends analogy has been playing with me, and it sort of works further. So, here we go:

    Consider a girl who’s always been going between two boys. One is posh, has a good job, wlll bring in the money, but he can be a bit arrogant, and sometimes seems only to care for himself. The other is a regular guy, quite like her really, a working man, has a trade, will look after her, but maybe not in style.

    Now, she went out with the regular guy, but at times he really did seem quite rough, and the trade wasn’t doing too well. So she switched to the posh guy, but he turned out to be a bit of a spiv, not quite what he said and really quite mean and self-centred.

    So, she went back to the regular guy, who’d smartened himself up a bit, got an office job, and really seemed quite a good catch. But as time went on, he seemed to be getting more and more like the posh guy. Disaster struck, the office job went bad as it was all based on borrowed money, and he’d forgotten the trade he used to depend on, so he couldn’t even swicth back to that.

    All along, there was this shy guy she really liked, bit of a geek, sometimes she felt he was the one she really wanted, but she worried what her friends would say. Anyway, he put himself out a bit, and she got to know him and he really wasn’t too bad.

    Now, where we come in with Allum. By this time, she’s found the shy guy is just too much like the other two once you get to know him. So, she thought about some hippy guy who’s around. Maybe all that “peace and love” stuff meant something. I think you can see why the shy guy shouting down the phone at her “don’t go with him, he’s a rotter underneath” didn’t work …

    There’s another guy who turned up recently. He seems a bit wierd, and he’s always saying how all the other guys would go chasing after other girls, but he would stick with her alone (if she thought about it, actually he’d cut her off from her friends). Maybe if she went with him, it would show the other guys what she thought of them.

    Then there’s the thug. Everyone’s telling her, never go with the thug. And she knows they’re right. Only, wouldn’t it REALLY piss off those other boys if she did? And there’s a little bit of her which likes the idea of being with a thug who beats other people up.

    In the background, there’s some people who tell her she doesn’t need men at all, because all of them really only want to do one thing with her. There’s some funny religious people who say she should live a life of simplicity. And there’s some other funny types who tell her all she needs do is buy a vibrator (they’re really quite crude, they also hint if she ever needs money, no problem just sell your body). Plus there’s some lesbians, but she was never that way inclined, and though some of them seem quite sweet, she’s heard the lesbian commune that used to be down the road was all run by Big Sister and it wasn’t nice at all.

  • Andrew Turvey 21st Aug '09 - 12:23am

    Love the relationship analogy. However, I’m not sure that disillusioned Lib Dems who consider voting green are that keen on the “good times” you cite:

    “The good times we and our “spouses” in the electorate have had together outweigh by far the bad. We were the only party that fully opposed the Iraq war.”

    That’s an interesting re-interpretation of history. Actually the Lib Dems sat firmly on the fence until it was far too late to do anything to stop it. The biggest political demo in UK history had to be organised by an alliance of far leftists and radical Muslims. The Lib Dem leader speaking at that rally couldn’t help, even then, adding a caveat “we oppose the war… unless it’s supported by the UN” As soon as it had started rather than angrily denouncing this outrageous crime, Lib dems just shrugged and declared their support for “our troops”.

    “We were the party that first took up the cause of the Gurkhas”

    Shame Joanna Lumley got all the credit.

    “we were pressing environmental issues in parliament long before the Conservatives made the oh-so-bold and drastic move of changing their party logo to a tree”

    Unfortunately Lib Dem environmentalism has always been the comfortable middle class token environmentalism typified by recycling and green belts rather than the radical protest against airport expansion or road bypasses. Lib Dems backed the Newbury By-pass remember.

    “we, champion reform of our broken electoral system”

    You seriously think that supporting a change in the electoral system that _just happens_ to massively increase the number of LibDem MPs would actually win votes? The electorate aren’t as daft as that – they would just cynically say “they’re bound to say that, aren’t they?”

    Sorry, but if that’s the best you can do, I’m not sure it would work.

  • Liberal Neil hits the nail on the head well and truly for me.

    “The Green Party is not a group of nice, harmless environmentally friendly folk but a serious political party with an ideology whcih the vast majority of people, if they understood it, would oppose.”

    Sue Doughty,

    By all accounts you were a good MP and I was sorry you lost your seat. I hope you win it back even though Milton seems a capable MP as well I think it better to have a capable Lib Dem MP than any other politician. Concentrate on being positive as you are coming over as a bit bitter and a bit of a whiner in this thread blaming all and sundry for your loss when you need to shoulder some of the blame yourself. Also be careful what you post about the Greens here and your negative thoughts towards them If you are trying to attract disaffected Greens/floateres to win back Guildford ranting about the Greens who people perceive as cuddly, warm, friendly and harmless and stating how hated they are is not going to encourage floating greens or others to make the move. Blaming the Greens for your loss is not wise, it adds fuel to their fire.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Aug '09 - 10:32am

    Andrew Turvey


    “The good times we and our “spouses” in the electorate have had together outweigh by far the bad. We were the only party that fully opposed the Iraq war.”

    That’s an interesting re-interpretation of history. Actually the Lib Dems sat firmly on the fence until it was far too late to do anything to stop it. The biggest political demo in UK history had to be organised by an alliance of far leftists and radical Muslims.

    Indeed, the fact that the far left seems to be far more interested in striking poses on foreign policy issues than in doing and saying things which would have a direct appeal to working class people here demonstrates how useless and out of touch they are.


    The Lib Dem leader speaking at that rally couldn’t help, even then, adding a caveat “we oppose the war… unless it’s supported by the UN” As soon as it had started rather than angrily denouncing this outrageous crime, Lib dems just shrugged and declared their support for “our troops”.

    The real outrageous crime was the support the cruel dictator of Iraq gained from the rest of the Muslim world and from the far left who suddenly found him a good sort when he fell out with the US. My own feeling is that military action was taken with good intent by Blair (not necessarily so Bush) who genuinely thought it would be quick and soon lead to a reasonable democratic arising there, as had arisen on the fall of the Eastern European dictators. He was wrong to think it would work that way, very naive, but I do not think evil and so not criminal. The kneejerk reaction from the the Muslim world was part of rendering any action to bring down the Iraq dictator impossible, had Muslims been stronger in speaking out against Saddam Hussein and less willing to let their religion get tied up with anti-Americanism, it is possible he could have been brought down and yet in a way that was acceptable.

    The LibDem leader was asked if he would support troops sent by our country to war in accord with the democratic mechanism of this country. What else could he answer but “yes”? To suggest that the troops should have a political will of their own and so should disobey the instructions from the democratic system? To wish our troops received death and injury? His position was quite clear that he wished no harm to our troops and accepted they had to do what they were told to do – this is not the same as agreeing they should have been sent, and those in the anti-war movement who can’t see that are fools for not realising the implications of what they are saying.

  • “Lib Dems backed the Newbury By-pass remember.”

    If you support any sort of logical transport system then the Newbury by-pass was a necessity. The A34 ran as a fast dual carriageway trunk road from the M3 to the M40 and was part of the main North/South freight route – except when you got to Newbury where there were three junctions with roundabouts.

  • Under FPTP, the only sure way to marginalise the Greens and stop them taking Lib Dem votes is to make it crystal clear to the electorate that only the Liberal Democrats can beat the Conservatives/Labour in X area. That’s how we marginalised Labour in great swathes of the country, it is how we made the Tories irrelevant in cities like Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield.

    If the Greens really do look as though they might win seats at Westminster, we can be sure that the media will tear them apart (as they did in 1989). The contraditctions between the quasi-socialist leftists and the hardcore harishirters who think animals are superior to humans are irreconcilable and glaringly obvious. They won’t stand the slightest scrutiny. But let’s not waste too much time and energy knocking the Greens. There are much more productive things we can do.

    I have to disagree with Matthew about the Party’s opposition to Cheney’s Iraq War. This is one of the most important things that the Liberal Democrats have ever done. It shows that we are principled and independent, not the contemptible lickspittle of the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex, unlike Blair/Mandelson and Cameron/Gove.

    Now, before I sign off, I ask readers to share my joy at the sight of an innocent man released from ten years illegal incarceration in a Scottish jail. A victim of the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex and their vile, cowardly puppets in the UK establishment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Aug '09 - 9:57pm


    I have to disagree with Matthew about the Party’s opposition to Cheney’s Iraq War. This is one of the most important things that the Liberal Democrats have ever done. It shows that we are principled and independent, not the contemptible lickspittle of the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex, unlike Blair/Mandelson and Cameron/Gove.

    I am not saying it is not important. It’s one of many things which are important, but people with an interest in politics tend to get over-excited about them and don’t realise that those who are less interest find them a bit tedious because they aren’t directly and obviously related to their lives.

    Part of the reason the far left have made no electoral gains from the economic crisis, I believe, is because they seem obsessed with striking a pose against the USA rather than saying and doing things which would have direct appeal to ordinary working class people.

    So, it was great that we opposed the Iraq war, but if we think it will be a vote winner to go on and on about it, we’re wrong. It will win a few votes a from a few lefty intellectual types. It won’t win many more, and it will lose votes not because people disagree with us on it, but because going on and on about it gives the impression we are that sort who are more interested in events thousaands of miles away than what’s going on under our own noses. I.e. typical stuck up intellectual lefties who hate ordinary working class people, and whose leftism is a pose, so we stick up for people who are nice and abstract and far away and not like those nasty chavs right here.

  • Unless we negatively campaign against the Tories and Labour we will never win. It has to be done NOW!

    And also let people now exactly what our policies are in plain english. And get some focus group action going, instead of sending Nick round the country on a wasted tv jaunt (we might learn an awful lot about how to gain votes)

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Jeff
    ‘Is there a quasi-60 years' oscillation of the Arctic sea ice extent’ [2015]: https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/38582/ The Arctic sea ice expe...
  • Jeff
    Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing. Maybe they should ho...
  • Michael Cole
    Matthew: "GDP is best thought of as the aggregate of stuff you can tax (not counting capital) ..." Yes, that's very succinct. So in your view, should we be t...
  • cim
    Russell: on the other hand, the Conservatives appointed Theresa May without a membership election, and Labour appointed Gordon Brown similarly. Boris Johnson wa...
  • Tom Arms
    Thanks everyone for an informative post...