We need to ban fake local newspapers, use Foci sparingly and move to being social media influencers

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Many Lib Dems here on Lib Dem Voice and across local networks have voiced outrage on the de facto government ban on leaflet delivering. Suddenly, we are seemingly blocked from campaigning because we rely on paper.

There used to be telegrams. Faxes. Remember those? We don’t use those anymore. We have the internet.

We should ban fake newspapers and wean ourselves off our addiction to Focus pushed through doors. Until we reduce reliance on paper and become influencers on social media, we will never be a major party.

The government’s ban will be widely supported by my constituents who are in a vaccination worry spot. Almost no one over eighty years of age in my town or south west Shropshire has been vaccinated outside a care home setting.

We are angry. But we can’t put that in a Focus. By the time it is delivered people will have had their jabs. They will not be interested in Tory bashing, though I do a lot of that in a Conservative-facing ward and county. By the time they get a leaflet, the agenda will have moved on. We will not have influenced opinion.

We must move online.

When I started my blog in 2013, it was hard to attract people to it. I’d been in the town only three years and no one knew me. Focus worked then but it hasn’t since. Eight years is a long time in media and the way we communicate is now different. People get their information from phones not from paper shoved through doors.

It is rare for a Focus to generate news stories in newspapers or on local radio. My blog gets 200K views a year and is designed to feed a local media hungry for stories. They just need to top and tail the article and stick in the quote marks. If I can, I publish stronger stories Saturday to Monday as a pitch into the next week’s news agenda. Currently I am expecting five articles this week. That will inform those not on social media. Older people read newspapers and younger people read phones.

When I was beginning this article on Sunday evening, I was rung by a local journalist who was putting together a story for Monday morning. Could you clarify a point on your blog about vaccination? She added, we always check your blog if we need stories.

This is not lazy journalism. There are almost no staff on newspapers these days. They need to forage for stories. It is a good position for a councillor or candidate to be in.
Lib Dems should see the government ban on leaflets, if that is what it is, as a call for change.

We must not undermine local newspapers with a “political propaganda sheet masquerading as local news.” The Electoral Commission has called for an end to this practice. It is self-destructive. If you undercut local media, local media will undercut you.

Those publishing fake newspapers will of course have their final headline: “Lib Dems condemn closure of local newspaper.”

We must feed the print and broadcast media. Not compete with it.

Influencers on social media are more important than most people think. I chair the recovery group for a town that is heavily reliant on the visitor pound. We have paid two influencers as part of the much delayed post-Covid strategy.

Councillors need to be influencers. That means social media influencers. We need to react to and help shape community views day-to-day. Leaflets and fake newspapers won’t achieve that.
Online, I can promote my liberal ideals and my longing for a better world. I can air my views much better on social media than in leaflets destined for the recycling bin. And I can engage in the traditional sport we have in a rural county like this. Tory bashing.

Fake local newspapers should be banned. Focus should continue but be used sparingly.

We need to wean ourselves off the old media. We need to communicate with the next generation of voters through the media they use – not the media we grew up with.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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  • Couldn’t disagree more with this. Where to start … for one thing, in a well-organised area Focus and Lib Dem tabloids (not “fake”, thank you!) have a much bigger readership than local newspapers, not to mention blogs.

    For another, there needn’t be the time lag in “sticking something on a piece of paper and putting it through a letterbox” – over 20 years ago I was putting out same-day street letters and local Focus runs (including the Riso printing). Still far more effective than the alternatives, in my view.

    And one other immediate thought: many of us have noticed a decline in “pizza leaflets” and similar in recent years (the Deliveroo/Just Eat effect?), which means proper well-designed Lib Dem literature doesn’t have to compete against quite the same pile of junk mail – and should be more effective now than ever.

    As with most things, Liberals shouldn’t be “banning” things but recognise that the most effective way to communicate is by mixing things up, via a diverse range of media, including doorstep deliveries of Focus, tabloids, direct mail, blue letters etc, as well as social media, local media, national coverage and the rest.

  • Tony Greaves 26th Jan '21 - 4:12pm

    This is all rubbish I’m afraid. Of course we can just stop campaigning and close down. If there are new and different media they must be used in addition to the more “traditional” kinds.

  • David Evans 26th Jan '21 - 4:24pm

    Andy Bodders is absolutely right. A well crafted blog is worth its weight in gold. Likewise Twitter and Facebook (despite some people’s reservations about those companies) are excellent means of getting our message out there.

    However, moving to social media will not of itself return us to being a major party (which I think we were, or at least were on the cusp of being from 1997 to 2010) – It is essential. Also local issues have to be answered like ‘How, once having created a successful presence, do you hand it over to someone else when that time comes?’,

    The one thing that disappoints me is that despite having passed a motion on party strategy way back in 2018 that identified one of our five Organisational priorities as “Digitising the party, maximising our effectiveness in using digital opportunities to make the most of our supporters’ skills,” we still haven’t had a single national initiative to organise and mobilise our members with a co-ordinated approach to national issues through social media.

    Bearing in mind that our Party President was one of the leading proponents of the motion and a major user of social media, that is a major shortcoming.

    Come on Mark. This is supposed to be your baby. Get on with it!

  • John Marriott 26th Jan '21 - 4:40pm

    I see that Mr Boddington ‘is shortly to receive his state pension’. For that reason alone I can perhaps understand why he is not that keen any more on stuffing FOCUS leaflets through letterboxes, especially when so many these days are equipped with inner flaps and are often placed at the bottom of front doors! Let’s not forget the expectant canine quietly waiting inside in the hall for these juicy fingers to peek through!

    Now I know that many people use social (or better antisocial) media these days and, according to the late David Penhaligon, a leaflet, when first perused, has eight seconds to make an impact before it invariably ends up in the bin, but I am convinced that it was its regular deployment (at least four times a year outside elections) which kept me on councils for thirty years. Our little group (and, because most of us kept getting re-elected and had less time for recruitment, stayed little) used to use the strap line: “You don’t just hear from us at election time” and it seemed to hit home. You see, when it comes to local elections, quite a few Tory national voters will support someone else if they are local and they feel they really have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, despite its lack of interest in local elections in our area, the same couldn’t usually be said about Labour supporters!

    Yes, it might be ‘old media’; but there are still many people out there, who actually appreciate the effort that goes into leaflet delivery, and even more when the deliverer happens to be one of their local councillors, who has time for a chat.

  • Paul Holmes 26th Jan '21 - 4:59pm

    What Dominic, Tony and John said.

  • @ Dominic “Focus and Lib Dem tabloids (not “fake”, thank you!) have a much bigger readership than local newspapers, not to mention blogs”…. Have you any empirical evidence for that, Dominic, or is it just your opinion stated as fact ?

    Blue Letters ? Are these the mass produced (copies of) hand-written letters, addressed by hand and delivered by hand just before election day ? Are they made to appear personal when they’re not ? Indeed, intended to deceive by appearing to be personal when they’re not.

  • No issue with the “Newspapers” it is obvious to anybody who reads them that they are party political pamplets.

    I do feel that leafleting during the pandemic is doing the party more harm than good. Will go down like a cup of cold sick to people who are shielding or in lockdown.

  • Why does the fact that we should be using social media imply that we try to restrict paper leaflets?
    There are wards that would be quickly lost if everyone followed this advice.
    And I have spoken to many people over the years who very much appreciate Focus. Many people do not have access to social media.
    I would though welcome an account of places which have gained seats using only social media, rather than paper.

  • @David Raw – Yes, indeed, every time I write a personal letter I especially get them printed with “Printed and Published by Paul Walter etc etc” on the bottom. Volunteers spend an awful lot of time writing out those envelopes. They are not a deception. They are what they are. A hand-written envelope attracts attention amongst all the stuff going through letterboxes and they have a proven track record of success. It is rather patronising to imply that residents cannot assess a letter themselves. They are not fools.

    @David Evans “A well crafted blog is worth its weight in gold.” That is laughable. The readership of blogs is extremely limited indeed – as someone who has watched “hitmeters” on blogs I have written on and others have written since 2006. For every Daily Kos,Guido or Peter Black there are millions of blogs that have one reader – the author themselves. As Andy notes, however, they can feed into the local media. Councillor Blogs absolutely have a role – I wrote a very diligent one when I was a councillor for seven years. But let’s not overplay their importance. Mass communication they ain’t.

    All this is a question of balance. We need to use all the techniques mentioned – not just use one or two at the expense of the others – it’s a question of getting the mix right. During an evening’s campaigning, there’s a temptation, for example, to spend more time fiddling around with Twitter than actually talking to residents. That is insane.

    Going in with a new tabloid title three weeks before a by-election is not right. But having the same regular LibDem tabloid title over 30 years in the same area is fine.

    Andy asks us to “Become influencers on social media” – crikey! – we already are (ask Mark Pack) and have been for at least a decade – but we need to become more so.

  • I suspect (hope) Andy is being deliberately provocative. There are a great many people who will never read a blog, or social media, nor pay enough attention to the local press to follow what may be picked up – if it’s picked up by them. And so there are a great many people whose only knowledge will be via leaflets and paper newsletters.

    On the other hand, he makes great points about how many people can be reached via other means, and it will often be received better as a result. People generally choose who they follow on social media, and even if a post or story appears via someone else, it is less obviously self-promotion, and regular stories in the local paper are massively valuable.

    However, getting a decent following on social media, and regular features in the local paper, is not something that happens overnight, especially if you are still a candidate. It can be a lot of work, and might not seem worth it in the early days, so it is easy to see why some stick to the minimum. If it takes restrictions on deliveries to focus a few minds on maximising their digital presence, then it could be a good thing.

    I’d argue that new adopters of social media will benefit from plugging their social media accounts in leaflets, and paying attention to what gets traction on social media may be a useful way of deciding what goes into the leaflets, so it can be a symbiotic relationship.

  • 1. We should embrace new technology

    2a A good Focus clearly has a reach that it’s still hard to replicate with the online methods

    2b (!) But it might and is possible to reach people “online” that it is difficult to reach with a leaflet.

    3. The best campaigns combine the two.

    4. There is no exclusivity between the two.

    5. Older campaigners have through out time been mistrustful of new technology and media (including in its time cheaply printed Focuses). Younger campaigners can think that it is the panacea and can use it wrongly or badly – for example Desktop Publishing especially when it first came in.

    (One of the best Focuses I have seen in my time around Lib Dem campaigning was one of Peter Chegwyn’s – still done with letraset and a typewriter and the wonderful ALDC artpacks – although DTP had been around some time by then. Whereas there is a tendency with DTP to write more and more and reduce and reduce the font size – you can’t do that with a typewriter which is a good discipline – but good DTP use is amazing).

    6. Lynton Crosby says the medium is not the message – you have to use the medium that will reach your target audience

    7. Good activists and campaigners will build a relationship with their local journalists – and ask them what is the best format to do that – clearly twitter is now massively used for that – but can still be email, blogs etc. etc. – but that is slightly different from reaching the general public – who are unlikely to say – I am really bored of the three million TV channels now and billions of hours of cat videos on Facebook – let’s go and check Cllr Bloggs’ interesting article on how to conduct an STV election – that will be a fun half hour!

  • Hannah Giovanna Daws 26th Jan '21 - 6:12pm

    I think this is missing the woods for the trees. The use of leaflets of all varieties should be as a supplement to canvassing. The latter is largely useless without the former. This means you need a volunteer force in the local community.

    I’d agree on “fake newspapers” and whatnot to an extent. A redesign of gloss 8-pagers to more closely resemble Focus would work to help with a consistent local brand. A gloss or newspaper-size leaflet could be called a “Big Focus” as opposed to the newsletter focuses.

    The absolute key of course is that Focus needs to be something with a reason to be read, that gives the LD view on things in an honest way that a wide variety of people can read. Honestly I think the party could do better training people on how to write good newsletters.

  • Most would say that blogs, websites etc. are the equivalent of a local noticeboard. You’re lucky if someone pauses to read it.

    It’s amazing in this age of modern technology how many companies still use leaflets – and if they think there is a financial return then presumably it’s a worthwhile medium.

    The best campaigns that I have run – now sometime ago – have combined new and old media. A campaign against a planning application that was a leaflet saying sign the petition online to register your views with council and I guess a third of people in the local area affected signed the petition online.

    You need to read some of the accounts of Dominic Cummings on the use of Facebook and the Brexit campaign

    But you have to use the medium that reaches your audience. People stick a Focus through a letterbox and think that it will reach everyone in the household but one of a household may pick it up and throw it in the dustbin and it never reaches the others. If we want to reach younger people in a household we may need to use addressed leaflets to them as they ignore or never get to see Focus. Where I was a councillor we had a large number of properties where there was say ten flats behind one common shut door – we would shove a number of leaflets through but I suspect that they either just got shoved to one side or one of the flats picked up the bundle and threw them away.

    It’s also increasingly difficult to find anyone in (at least before Covid) – as they either don’t answer or are out 90% of the time – every day now is a late opening shopping day when that used to be restricted to Thursdays!

    When I started out older activists told me – never use the phone it’s too intrusive – and one does need to be sensitive to residents’ feelings but it’s not something that I understood.

    We should be commenting on local Facebook groups and Forums etc. and have our own Facebook groups etc. and using Facebook advertising.

    On “fake” newspapers – if the rules change they change but given a certain amount of freedom of speech I don’t think you can tell me that I shouldn’t call my leaflet Bloggstown Focus or Bloggstown Gazette and let me choose the style of presentation and production. And the rules did change 20 years ago that it needs to be put on behalf of whom and which political party a leaflet is being published and this may only legally apply during an election but I and most parties put on it outside an election.

  • Actually I have changed my mind on “fake newspapers” – presumably if the EC had its way that would mean the banning of those Tory newssheets that purport to be so called independent newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express which would be a plus!

  • Nigel Jones 26th Jan '21 - 8:55pm

    A leaflet we put out last November on behalf of our two local councillors led to one councillor in particular getting more than double the usual number of calls and e-mails. Presumably because people spend more time now in the house to read them.
    What is missing from comments now is the irresponsible message from government whereby (so we are told) it is fine to pay a company to deliver leaflets, but volunteers should not. WE MUST PROTEST. Political messages on paper either can or cannot be delivered by anybody. This is a major constitutional matter that could be taken to the courts and it shows an attitude by Tories which indicates the start of even more bias in our democratic system towards them. Let’s not make the mistake we made long time ago over Brexit where by various means the Brexiteers started their campaign to steer the people in their direction. All opposition parties should join together to protest.

  • Max Wilkinson 26th Jan '21 - 10:37pm

    Re: social media influencing

    Now the suggestion has been made, I know I’m not the only one awaiting Andy’s latest lip-pouting bikini shots from Ludlow Town Centre. PHWOAR

  • If it were up to me, I would make Focus even more newslettery. People really want to know that stuff.

  • Matt (Bristol) 27th Jan '21 - 10:21am

    When I was still Lib Demming actively before becoming grumpy with the party’s line nationally, I was part of a group of people here in Bristol who lobbied hard for a ‘fake newspaper’ campaign to become more obviously a branded Lib Dem effort and less cynical, and this went down quite well. This involved thinking relatively hard about who we were appealing to and why.

    What strikes me is that:
    – many councillors use Focii as a stream of consciousness dialogue with voters that cuts out ALL intermediaries — including other Lib Dems, and are quite proprietary about ‘their’ voters.
    – at its most extreme this biases them towards voters who read focus, and away from those who don’t, or who hate its whole approach.
    – we are now facing in many seats, groups of voters who privilege information they get on paper, mingled in with voters who privilege information they get on X social media platform (which will vary and isn’t going to be one platform) and deprivilege paper or face-to-face.
    – In urban areas, many people – particularly younger, more transient voters – are living in mixed-occupancy situations, and privileging Focus as the main way of communicating with your voters will effectively privilege older, more static voters.
    – That last point wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a part of the Lib Dem hive mind (whatever age the given activist is) obsessed with youth, and trying to orientate its cultural frame of reference to ‘move with the times’ socially / culturally.
    – That could create or exacerbate a culture war inside the Lib Dem voter and activist coalitions (which are of course, differing again) and at the very least lead to mixed messages or disingenuity.
    – Every single piece of messaging in any format must be considered as part of the wider campaign. That doesn’t mean rigid, Mandelsonian message control, but it means not being jarring and disconnected — that includes random shifts in design and presentational style because its Darren’s turn to do layout this week, or because only Bridget has access to the facebook page and she always designs things with ‘her’ font.

    Small, grassroots Lib Dem parties that don’t rely onn single ‘hero’ campaigners will have these problems more than big ones.

  • Alison Willott 27th Jan '21 - 10:32am

    A good blog, which Andy’s sounds like, is brilliant. However, we still have to reach people who don’t read blogs. I was staggered two years ago when a friend (paid-up Tory, but still a friend!) said: “Alison, I know it’s not your party, but I have to vote for our next leader, whom do you recommend, Boris or Jeremy?” I said: “I could never vote for Boris because of what he did to Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe.” (She was all over the news at the time.) My friend said: “Who?” And another woman standing by said; “Who?” These were both professional women in their mid-forties, running their own businesses. Also both were mothers. They hadn’t heard anything at all about her! It made me realise leaflets (honest ones) are more important than ever. So many people now don’t read the papers, don’t listen to the news, don’t watch TV. They know only what is on their own social media, which is computer-tailored to their interests. The only way we can reach them is through sticking a piece of paper through their letter-boxes.

  • Andrew is being provocative but I agree with the general gist of what he’s saying. The reaction of many here shows the party’s problem. We’re at 5% in the polls and yet again a complete irrelevance to the vast majority of the party and the public. There are major political issues the party appears to have completely ignored, and some of the most generic and bland statements about issues we have picked up. We have major elections coming up in a few months (at least we do at present), but instead of presenting any sort of strategy or vision, I’ve received emails from senior Liberal Democrat politicians bemoaning our inability to ‘do what we know how to’ (or near enough those exact words), because of the difficulty (and now inability) to go out and leaflet.

    Focus delivery is an important part of our campaigning, but with ever diminishing returns in national and regional elections, it can’t be the only thing we do. Unless we get much better at political strategy and communications at the top of the party, and unless we also properly utilise modern forms of campaigning, then we’re largely just wasting paper. Anything we put through doors also needs to be high quality, and it often isn’t.

    I also think Andrew is spot on about our ‘local’ newspapers – I’ve never been very convinced they achieve much. It’s the same with our glossy mags. It’s like we think voters are stupid.

  • Pete: I agree with you about evidence based policy – but I have not seen any strong evidence of the contribution that literature makes to winning elections. Campaigns with lots of literature are generally in areas where the party is already strong, with lots of local activists and good media coverage. The only way to develop evidence on which of these makes the difference is to run controlled trials – as are used for drugs – with some polling districts receiving different types of literature and other comparable polling districts not. I have not seen the results of any such trials.

    Similarly, it does not follow from Lib Dem literature being received by more households than local newpapers that they have a larger readership. People will read something if it is engaging, relevant and new – and therefore the quality of the content is more important than the frequency of the delivery.

    I would particularly question the value of ‘blue letters’, which are very labour intensive to produce. Nowadays, most people do not communicate using hand-written letters, and the ‘blue letters’ are increasingly looking like something from the past.

    Political campaigns become ‘fake news’ when the views of the party producing them are described in the third person. The picture in the link in Andy’s post is a good (bad?) example of this.

  • Roger Billins 27th Jan '21 - 11:09am

    I believe Focus leaflets will always play a useful part in our campaigning but too many of us regard them and community politics generally as holy writ. What might have worked to get many councillors elected, including me in 1986, is no longer enough. Community campaigning will not, by itself, withstand downturns in our national fortunes, largely brought about by naive and crass errors of the leadership-e.g the Coalition and Brexit. We have to campaign on national issues as well as local ones and prove we are relevant to issues that matter to people-their jobs, their health, their home and their businesses. We also must remember that the architects of our community politics strategy had in mind that it was an end in itself and not just a means to an end. Finally, I have always found fake local newspapers to be an embarrassment.

  • Matt (Bristol) 27th Jan '21 - 11:11am

    I would say I do smell a rat in the governing party calling a halt to campaigning but not clarifying its intentions in regard to a massive slew of elections nationwide where many local parties of all stripes are having to reinstate candidates and reintroduce them to voters because of last year’s elections being cancelled.

    This is the electoral equivalent of Wetherspoons covertly buying up struggling pub businesses on the cheap — the pandemic leading to an erosion of localism and community.

    But none of that is to say that the Lib Dem sacrament of delivering leaflets is inviolable, much less the fetishized sacrament of writing leaflets.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 27th Jan '21 - 12:10pm

    Andy Boddington is on the nail here. I have just received an e-mail from Luisa Porrit, London Mayoral Candidate, asking for money to fund leaflet delivery leaflets. This is not an issue on which to spend any energy whatsoever. The Party obsession with delivering leaflets, often badly written with no clear message, is holding it back. It produces a false thought that because leaflets are through letterboxes the job is done. It is not, and the last activism we need to be doing now is to challenge lockdown rules.

  • Matt (Bristol) 27th Jan '21 - 12:22pm

    Humphrey, I feelt that a regional party asking for ringfenced funding for (probably) centrally organised and competently designed leaflets to be (probably) sent by post, ahead of regional elections, is totally legit.

    But every campaigner who feels that ‘their’ voters will miss their personal newsletter of pothole-pointing, jealously handpicks the people they let look at it before they send it out, grumps at other activists for not being committed to delivering it, sulks when they’re not allowed access to the printer to get them out on time and believes firmly that reelection only rests on this platform needs to ask questions about their methodology and how they think this is building a more democratic and collaborative approach to politics and not just erecting a metaphorical wall round their own personal fiefdom.

  • It doesn’t matter whether it’s by focus leaflets, ‘personal handwritten/printed blue letters (even with p & p imprint), If a political party has nothing to say……. what’s the point ?

  • So, I start up a twitter account, or start a blog and all the locals, whose interest in politics is marginal at best, will all flock to it to find out what that liberal bloke thinks about the state of the nation ? Sorry, I just don’t get it. If I stuff a note through their door 60% will glance at it and 25% might actually read some of it. Would I get that many hits on a twitter account ?

  • Paul Barker 27th Jan '21 - 1:25pm

    I too received the email from Luisa Porrit asking for money to pay for delivering Leaflets because The Government have banned us from delivering them ourselves. This is not True. We have been asked not to deliver literature, advised not to but that is it. There isnt even the threat of legislation or a Ministerial edict.
    To be clear – No “Ban”.
    Outside Politics this sort of email would be called “obtaining Money by false premises”; you can go to jail for it, if found guilty.
    For those outside London Luisa Porrit is not a minor figure, she is the centrepiece of our London campaign for the Local Elections.
    This is very bad & its lucky that our Enemies wont be interested.

  • Peter Watson 27th Jan '21 - 2:01pm

    On the subject of “evidence”, a bit of idle Googling led me to this 2018 study (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods/article/is-it-worth-doorknocking-evidence-from-a-united-kingdombased-get-out-the-vote-gotv-field-experiment-on-the-effect-of-party-leaflets-and-canvass-visits-on-voter-turnout/757F1AF7D16F43A444BDDE55181471B5) in which Sufolk Lib Dems participated.
    It reports that (in this not very Lib Dem friendly place), “party leaflets boost turnout by 4.3 percentage points”. However, it also suggests that “campaign contact may actually have mobilized rival supporters to turn out to vote against the party”.
    In the current climate, and given that leafleting has already given political opponents the opportunity to depict Lib Dems as the bad guys with negative publicity in local newspapers, there appears to be significant risk of the party scoring an own goal here.

  • @Chris – if you have a decent Twitter feed, with stuff people want to know, then over the course of a year you COULD easily engage with more people, or at least engage more with people, than via leaflets.

    The challenge, which is easier said than done, is keeping things interesting, and it wouldn’t just be on politics. General interest would form the lion’s share, such as updates on school closures, or flooding or the ever popular historical photos of what the local high street looked like in 1963 and ‘here’s a nice photo of a local landmark in the snow’ type of thing. This can be interspersed with views on planning applications, or local air quality, potholes fixed and every now and then could include commentary on national issues too.

    The best make-up of posts would depend on who you are trying to target, as well as what you find interesting. The great advantage of social media is that you get instant feedback, and can get a feel for what people do engage with. It is inevitably more complicated than that, but there’s no shortage of advice for those who are interested.

    But these things are an investment. You don’t get a decent twitter feed, or library of blog stories overnight. The ideal scenario is that someone who wouldn’t bother reading political leaflets will see a tweet, perhaps retweeted by one of their friends, or the local paper, and thinks that’s interesting enough to investigate your full feed, and that might lead to them reading back stories in your blog and so on.

    It also takes time to build up a following, and that’s a whole job in itself and it’s only fair to concede that diverting too many resources to the holy grail of more followers for the sake of more followers is wasteful.

    The best thing is that having a blog, or social media feed that references some of the work you’ve been doing all year round and really does support the claims that candidates have been working all year around. And it’s easier to correct typos in a blog than on a public leaflet.

    I use social media for background research on candidates. When I was deciding who to vote for to go on the Regional List for the Scottish elections, I took a look at the social media of the candidates on my short-list. This wasn’t to test whether or not they used social media, but more as a means to finding out about their interests and priorities beyond the bullet points they could include in the campaigning literature which did come through my door.

  • @Simon Pike

    “therefore the quality of the content is more important than the frequency of the delivery.”

    @Humphrey Hawksley

    “The Party obsession with delivering leaflets, often badly written with no clear message, is holding it back. It produces a false thought that because leaflets are through letterboxes the job is done.”

    It is worth going to youtube where there are two videos of about an hour each featuring Lynton Crosby.

    His favourite saying is “you can’t fatten a pig on market day” – & you need to put in place a strategy, brick by brick, that delivers the electorate to you.

    For example Ms Bloggs works hard, we should have Ms Bloggs as our next councillor rather than that Labservative who does nothing.

    There is no point turning up on election day or even a few weeks before.

    But if Ms Bloggs has been out getting the potholes mended in January (or before that proves she is actually hard-working & gets things done.

    You also need to count the number of times that you see an advert.

    M&S does not just run their advert once.

    The result is we know through repetition that & many examples “This is isn’t just food, this is M&S food.”

    You need to get to that point – & it needs to be very clearly & repeatedly demonstrated that:

    “This isn’t Just any candidate, this is your hard-working Liberal Democrat candidate”

    Now M&S spends millions photographing glossy sumptuous food, millions coming up with copy & millions getting their message across.

    Now of course we don’t have millions – but we can do our best & copy good practice within the party & outside – from ALDC and the campaigns dept..

    300 leaflets in 6 point type on how to conduct an STV election won’t win many votes.

    Equally just one leaflet outlining all the things that Ms Bloggs has achieved for the area won’t.

    300 leaflets outlining all the things that Ms Bloggs has done for the area just might.

    The leaflet needs to have good photos & be “well” written – & that doesn’t mean without spelling mistakes (you need those otherwise the English teachers don’t read them!) but engaging.

    Obv. it makes sense to use all the mediums at our disposal. M&S run press ads, TV ads, posters, social media etc. etc.


  • Forgive me but was it not this party, well the Liberal Party/Liberal Alliance that introduced the concept of the “fake” newspaper, what back in the late 70’s early 80’s, I remember the row at the Southgate by election of 1985, we nearly won that one.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Jan '21 - 2:56pm

    @Humphrey Hawksley

    I too have received an email today from Luisa Porritt. Whilst she will get my first preference vote for Mayor, in my view giving any money to her campaign is just throwing it down the drain because the chance of her getting even the second highest number of first preferences is so close to zero as to be indistinguishable. When Siobhan Benita dropped out last year it would have been a brave decision not to replace her and to concentrate on the Assembly list vote where the number of votes we get really does make a difference. Even saving £10,000 by not having to put up a deposit for the Mayoral candidate pays for a large number of leaflets and their delivery.

    I also received a letter today from my local council, Harrow, who are asking everyone if they want to have a postal vote. This seems an eminently sensible approach as if most people vote by post, it will make social distancing in the polling stations much easier for those who still want to vote in the traditional way. We should be encouraging all councils to do likewise.

  • Andy Boddington 27th Jan '21 - 3:53pm

    Lot’s of useful comment here. My view is there should be a be a blend of stuff through the door and stuff online. Someone said it takes a long time to build up a following. Yup. I started online as a Lib Dem in 2013 and have moved from being ignored to getting demands to publish online. There have been huge pressure during the pandemic. That’s good.

    It is about being a trusted source.

    I can’t support the fake newspapers. Real newspapers are our friends and we need to feed them. We won’t have them in print for long but we should be their champions.

    Max Wilkinson is some bizarre fantasy when he suggests: “I know I’m not the only one awaiting Andy’s latest lip-pouting bikini shots from Ludlow Town Centre. PHWOAR.” Max knows that would lead to my constituents fainting in horror. So over to you Max. The Chippendale of Cheltenham. If we can’t get elected with paper through doors, we can get elected with a thong.

    I will however keep togs on.

  • @Michael1 – “Equally just one leaflet outlining all the things that Ms Bloggs has achieved for the area won’t.”

    It does work for Labour and the Conservatives in much of the country, and for the SNP in much of Scotland, presumably they don’t really have to bother campaigning at all at the moment. As David Raw pointed out, if the party has nothing to say it doesn’t matter what the medium is.

  • James Moore 27th Jan '21 - 4:24pm

    The reason we leaflet is because it works – again and again and again. In fact it is so successful, it has now been banned…

    Don’t just take my word for it, talk to my colleagues in Hinckley and Bosworth and Oadby and Wigston who time and time again win majorities in council elections, with almost no support from the national party.

    Btw, and there is no such thing as a ‘fake newspaper’ – anyone is allowed to publish a newspaper and express their opinions in a free society, including councillors and political parties.

  • Leafleting does work, but it doesn’t do everything, and IMO, there are diminishing returns.

    Whatever the rules or guidelines on leafleting, we need to remember that leafleting is only one part of the jigsaw.

    Another valuable aspect of social media is that it’s more two-way. This brings new challenges, but if a local representative is approachable and amendable on social media, they will get a lot of useful information, suggestions, case work, and subsequent thanks through that route.

    Having a section on the leaflet for writing concerns that can be sent to a Freepost address, or even an email address, will never get that level of feedback.

  • neil James sandison 27th Jan '21 - 7:41pm

    Andy Boddington I agree we need a range of tools to cut through different age groups some prefer getting their information through different platforms . I also agree with Nigel Jones a well drafted leaflet from local councillors as local community champions can be the only real contact some of our increasingly isolated and aging populations get with the outside world even if they live in a busy town or city . being alone in an over populated environment is not a new . It also generates casework contact following a newsletter .focus is a frequent occurrence , Tell the Minister to get stuffed through the letter box like Nigel and I have repeated its political advice not fact based and should be completely ignored.

  • @Alexander

    Absolutely there’s going to be one party in any one area who can put up the proverbial monkey with a party rosette, do nothing & win – sometimes us.

    In the video, Crosby outlines how the Tories in 2015 counteracted the fact that our MPs were hard-working. He made the election about the famous “long term economic plan” & the chaos of a putative SNP/Labour/Lib Dem coalition

    If you go & analyse the work of Crosby & Boris in 2019 – it started with Boris outlining nice fairly left-wing sounding policies on the steps of 10, Downing St. & that pleased Labour leaning red wall Brexiteers and started the Tory poll climb and crucially they once again overtook the Brexit Party.

    He then added in Brexit – and allegedly that it was being “denied” by Parliament

    And finally “Get Brexit Done” was genius as it obv. appealed to Brexiteers – but also appealed to those Remainers who weren’t massively sold on Remain & didn’t really care too much one way or the other but thought yes we’ve voted out now and I don’t want Corbyn in massively to tax all my money away.

    In contrast

    We did nothing in autumn 19 to “fatten the pig”.- perhaps we should have on non-Brexit policies and how 9 in 10 doctors thought Brexit would harm the NHS (if in doubt always go first on the NHS – Cummings won the NE Assembly, the AV & EU referendums on the NHS)

    A second problem we had was as Crosby puts was not “scraping the barnacles of the boat.” – In many seats we need a large number of students to vote for us – now were they going to vote Labour promising to scrap tuition fees or us…???

    We need to promise to scrap tuition them.

    We had a problem in that richer voters in places like Esher – wanted Remain but didn’t want Corbyn taxing them to the hilt. This was though solvable.

    The Remain vote was split between us and Labour – and even as a Lib Dem I’d have voted Labour in many seats.

    But once they had shoved the Brexit Party to one side – the Tories had Brexiteers to themselves.

    So Crosby fattened the pig and then built his strategy getting enough voters who didn’t initially support the Tories. They started on 25% when Boris became PM and got an extra 19% from appealing to the groups outlined.

    Equally we need to define the local elections – tell people these are local not national elections – hard working Lib Dems, wasteful Labour council etc. and win over those that weren’t initially supporting us…

  • Like James Moore, I don’t know what constitutes a ‘fake’ newspaper. There are no rules that say political parties can’t use newsprint or have to use set colours on their publications. Many newspapers began as vehicles for promoting a particular viewpoint rather than being an impartial news source. But the idea of a party publication dressed up to look like an independent one goes back at least as far as the 1930s when Labour produced a ‘Your Britain’, which was designed to look like an illustrated magazine rather than a party leaflet. See Laura Beers ‘Your Britain: Media and the making of the Labour Party’ (Harvard University Press, 2010). I suspect earlier examples could probably be found.

  • Peter Watson 27th Jan '21 - 11:38pm

    @Michael 1 “We need to promise to scrap tuition them [fees?].”
    Having defended/supported the 2012 system of tuition fees and repayment for the last 9+ years despite it being the opposite of what the party had previously proposed and pledged, and having opposed any suggestion of reducing fees, sadly I can’t see any realistic way for Lib Dems to revisit this with credibility.
    Perhaps another independent Lord Browne-style review of university funding might provide a way in, or Brexit might mean that a graduate tax is more feasible (I think a loan contract made it easier to ensure EU students’ repayment), otherwise the party probably just has to “own” the current system so may as well get used to it. 🙁

  • This whole discussion really reads like a debate over whether the chicken or the egg appeared first.

    A good, if not excellent, campaign will make use of both paper and online campaigning. For example – how do you get traction locally with a blog or Twitter feed, if people don’t know how to find it? Equally, how do you ensure you don’t get trapped in the ‘echo rooms’ of the internet, where we’re talking to people who already share our views and are going to vote for us, when we need to be talking to people who don’t vote for us!

  • @Peter Watson

    This isn’t a discussion about individual policies – that is slightly off topic. My proposal is for all adults to have the right to the cost of 3 years university education. How and when they used it would be up to them – you could do a 3 year degree – you could do your full degree over 2 years and have a year left over. You could use it to learn skilled furniture making or to do a business skills course – etc. etc. l

    We will effectively have to educate everyone to 21 if we are to compete in the world economy against cheaper labour from developing nations, robots, AI etc. Just as we have expanded education from 11 over the last century or so.

    It would be paid by borrowing – we already borrow albeit individually for tuition fees. This may be close to our policy of a “skills wallet” in the last election – I never investigated that. Vince also started a leader’s review of higher education – I am not sure where that has got to.

    The point I was making was not the individual policy. Just that you have to deal with the “barnacles” and also have policies to attract key elements of the coalition that you are building.

    On consistency – on Europe the Labour party over the past 45 years has been:
    Neutral – in favour of a referendum
    For out without a referendum
    To stay in
    Basically in/out let’s do the hokey cokey – let’ shake it about (essentially Corbyn’s 2017 position)
    For in – to be decided in a referendum
    Now (Starmer’s position) – out and now referendum

    In recent weeks they have been leading in the polls but are essentially level.
    The history of parties is being too slow to address issues and start by not going far enough when they have had problems, Labour after 1979, Tories after 97, us after 2015.

    Clearly in 19 we needed to find ways to address the issues around the coalition and show that we had moved.

    But if you need a group to vote for you to do well – in this case students and our top targets are university towns and you have policies that they are hostile to – plainly you need to do something.

  • @Iain Sharpe

    Some excellent points.

    And I think you may have been responsible for designing some excellent tabloid newspapers and literature – which in one case saw us win a seat by 2 votes and has been instrumental in a major lib dem local government success – but if that is a different Iain Sharpe I apologise.

    Of course the parliamentarians Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook have been behind the Daily Mail and Daily Express and the communist party the Morning Star. I may be wrong but I believe the Daily Mirror once published a free edition supporting the labour party that was only available in that area’s parliamentary by-election on that day (? Littleborough and Saddleworth – I can’t find reference to it online)

    And of course not only have we used the tabloid newspaper format – but magazines and our literature comes in all shapes and sizes and other forms – target letters, blue “hand written” letters etc. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. And no company like M&S will spend all its ad budget on one medium. And clearly different formats engage attention differently.

    I think – and I have been very much guilty of this – we have a tendency to shove it out there and not measure reach and feedback – as I point out its easy to shove a leaflet through every letterbox and assume you have 100% avid readers of your precious pearls of wisdom – far, far from the case.

    And there’s a tendency for people to assume they put something on blogs, websites and assume that there’s now a vast readership – even MPs’ websites have low readerships let alone those of councillors or activists. And even worse mistake – and one that I have been guilty off – is to not have an updating strategy – and I have gone to blogs of councillors/activists that may have started off enthusiastically and now hasn’t been updated for months – and that somewhat undermines Ms Blogg’s assertion that she is working hard for the area all year round.

  • While I am not averse to using internet and social media, I am also aware of Lib Dems achieving local results massively better than the Party’s national showing level through the use of GOOD paper literature which (a) reaches ALL the voters; (b) grabs the attention of most of those who receive it; and (c) conveys a good and relevant message succinctly. A lot of people who spend time on social media are perpetually being washed over by indifferent and sometimes well-meaning stuff which is not particularly relevant to their own concerns – but makes the authors feel rather good about themselves.

  • I suspect anyone who is still interested and reading this far down the comments already has firm views on this, but here’s my supplementary anecdote.

    I got a letter from Network Rail telling me about some forthcoming work on a local level crossing. I didn’t recognise the name of the level crossing, so did a quick internet search. It didn’t show up on Google or Bing maps, but in a general search, the third item was a Facebook post by a local councillor with a photo that I instantly recognised. The first couple of hits were from the local paper, but I didn’t want to click on those because they limit you to five free articles a week and I didn’t want to waste one on something I could find elsewhere.

    The Facebook post was from a few months ago, highlighting some local concerns, and a letter sent to Scotrail. As it happens I already know this councillor and know he was hard working, but I’m sure people who don’t go to any effort to follow politics will do similar searches and find value in these posts.

    Which brings me onto the relationship with the local press. A councillor’s social media can be a handy source of material for them, but equally, a local councillor using their social media to advertise stories in the local paper is another win for them.

  • @Fiona

    There are a number of ways limits on the number of articles are implemented but often BTW you can get round it by opening up a completely new incognito/in private window as they can keep track of the number by cookies and that starts a new set of cookies – or you can you delete your cookies – either for the site or overall – but that will log you out of accounts etc. and may delete other settings.


    It’s a good point that you need to go where the action is and that might be local online forums etc. – perhaps the comments section of local newspapers and a good point to comment on one’s website on local stories as that may bring (a few) searches.

  • Thanks Michael – I sometimes do that, but being lazy, it was easier to click on the link to a Facebook page. I’m sure others will find similar councillor Facebook posts and pages when they are not particularly trying.

    I think my point is that if you are a hard working councillor and update your Facebook/Twitter/blog with regular stories about what’s happening locally, then it acts as a library of things you’ve said and done that can be found through internet searches, or if someone is motivated enough to see what you’ve been up to. If I find one about problems at a level crossing, I can easily find all of the other things the councillor has been writing about.

    It doesn’t matter if the dog chewed the Focus, or if deliveries are paused due to a pandemic.

    I’m less convinced by the value of the comments section of a newspaper, but using your own blog, website or social media to comment on local issues, including those featured in the local paper, seems like an obvious, and fairly easy way to create content that is likely to be of interest to your local community.

  • John Marriott 28th Jan '21 - 5:46pm

    @Michael 1
    Every adult to get three years free university education if they want it.? You must be kidding me! Why are you ignoring vocational education? As a tax payer, I would be more inclined to support the concept of someone being assisted to acquire a skill that was marketable; but not just to allow them the kind of self indulgence that many university courses offer without a clear surrender value.

  • David Evans 28th Jan '21 - 6:15pm

    @Paul Walters – When you say – ‘@David Evans “A well crafted blog is worth its weight in gold.” That is laughable.’ – I presume you haven’t read Andy Bodder’s blog.

    Your comment really is condescending not just to me, but to Andy as well. I suggest you consider the party’s views on treating people with respect when you produce your posts.

    For the record, Andy’s Blog is one of the best I have read of any local councillor anywhere, and I comment on it in support of Andy quite regularly. It is indeed well crafted, pertinent and punchy. It may not be a Guido Fawkes, but then I don’t think we would want a Lib Dem Blog to be like that.

  • John Marriott 28th Jan '21 - 6:59pm

    @Michael 1
    To offer a more balanced rejoinder to your proposal, perhaps I should remove the verb ‘ignore’, as you did mention ‘furniture making’ and ‘business skills’, possibly as an afterthought. There’s more to vocational training/education than that. Try getting a copy of the 2004 Tomlinson Report 14 -19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform to see what I mean. Mind you, it’s not the first time that I have offered the Lib Dems something they could run with, which really would differentiate them from their rivals.

    I see that none other than the Education Secretary now appears to be banging on about skills, something of which we are in woefully short supply as the good ship ‘Britannia’ casts off from mainland Europe. Mind you, we could still ‘throw stones at the Council’, if that makes us feel better, one of your past suggestions, although I assume (or rather hope) that you were having a bit of fun with us!

  • @John Marriott

    It absolutely wasn’t an afterthought. To give a few examples is of course not to ignore the many other things. But the point is that furniture making is more difficult (certainly for me) and takes longer to learn than a degree.

    There is no future is in mass assembling things. Robots or billions upon billions in developing countries will do it cheaper.

    But consider where there is a future. The first copy of a blockbuster film costs $400 million. The second (virtually) nothing. Look up the jobs of the early 1900s – things like domestic service, heavy labour jobs etc. and consider what the jobs of the early 2100s will be.

    But people like to get handmade things. Most of the jobs will be with our brains rather our hands. But there will also be many jobs in the craft and creative sector – for example the crafts that go into making a film.

    75% of South Koreans go to university today. Now you may think that our teenagers are thicker than South Koreans but I don’t.

    Now there is a lot to be done for 5-18 education as you point out and pre-school education. And this isn’t a thread on policy but I was looking at 18+ education. But just as everyone is educated up to the age of 18 whereas it was 11 a 100 years ago, so everyone will be educated up to 21 in another few years. Now I don’t know the exact percentage going to uni and I appreciate that I have had kick-back on LDV before on the 75% figure but it will come and it will start approaching that.

    On the throwing stones at the council. It was a metaphor and I think you were an English teacher so I am sure you appreciate a metaphor and I am pleased that it was memorable. But it comes from an ALDC training session that I attended given by the wonderful Jeannette Sunderland who gave us all a stone to remind us that was our job as a councillor/activist to cause trouble and throw it at those lazy officers.

    And of course politics at all levels is about causing (peaceful) trouble and throwing (metaphorical) stones – in fact that is all that it is about.

  • Max Wilkinson 29th Jan '21 - 8:02am

    *opens Instagram*

    *searches #LudlowLife #Hats*

  • “@Paul Walters – When you say – ‘@David Evans “A well crafted blog is worth its weight in gold.” That is laughable.’ – I presume you haven’t read Andy Bodder’s blog.

    Your comment really is condescending not just to me, but to Andy as well. I suggest you consider the party’s views on treating people with respect when you produce your posts.

    For the record, Andy’s Blog is one of the best I have read of any local councillor anywhere, and I comment on it in support of Andy quite regularly. It is indeed well crafted, pertinent and punchy. It may not be a Guido Fawkes, but then I don’t think we would want a Lib Dem Blog to be like that.”


    My name is Paul Walter.

    I was writing in the context of mass communication/campaigning techniques and based on being a blogger since 2006.

    I have always found that if a fellow Liberal accuses one of being “condescending” then worse things happen at sea!

    Of course, I have read Andy’s blog many times over the years. Indeed, I have published several of his articles here on Lib Dem Voice which requires reading them several times and sub-editing them. Double indeed, Andy used to be a colleague of mine here on the LDV team if memory serves.

    But in the context of mass communication, which is the context of this debate, blogs are most certainly not worth their weight in gold. They may be excellently written – like Andy’s and indeed mine (!!!!) and as I said above “As Andy notes, however, they can feed into the local media.”, but within the context of the media, internet, TV, radio and television as a means for winning votes, they are but straws in the wind.

    David, I would ask you to use your considerable intelligence to take on board the dichotomous concept that it is possible for me to be a great fan of http://andybodders.co.uk/ and all other LibDem blogs including mine https://paulwalternewbury.wordpress.com/, but to be realistic and not be starry-eyed about the ability of blogs to win elections. They can be influencers of opinions in a very restricted sense, yes, but the front page of the Sun, or local “Town News”, they ain’t. They can help councillor’s or campaigners get views onto the front page of “Town News” but it seems highly unlikely that they, themselves, will be read by the same sort of numbers of people who read the front page of the “Town News”. What I am trying to say is that blogs have a great role and are quite brilliant at expressing views and updating discerning residents what campaigners and councillors are up to, but we would be deluding ourselves to think they play anything other than a supporting role at winning elections – especially national ones. If they are converted into wide Facebook readership or YouTube vlogging then maybe their role is larger than a “supporting role”. I repeat that most blogs are read by one person – the author.

    I am very sorry that my original comment was disrespectful, David. (I was writing it in the context of your many comments over the years here, which have led me to assess that you are a robust character, well used to the warb and weft of debate here.) I obviously misjudged my comment. I apologise unreservedly.

  • David Evans 1st Feb '21 - 10:14am

    Paul Walter – apologies for mistyping your name.

    I note your apology and fully accept it with the one comment, we all make mistakes and sometimes post a little intemperately, especially with people we have strongly disagreed with in the past. I’m sure I have done the same with you as well, and apologise for it too.

    However I know you do what you do precisely because you want the best for our party and I am sure that like me, you are almost in despair at the situation we find ourselves in now. We may still fundamentally disagree on how we got here, but the important thing is that we learn lessons from the past and develop a strategy to get us from where we are to where we, our party and most importantly our values deserve to be.

    As you have probably noticed, I have been very vocal in pointing out on several threads on LDV that our party is now considered to be irrelevant by 90%+ of the population and we are almost totally ignored in the mainstream media. Until we get that to change, all the wonderful ideas people discuss here

    – like making Britain fairer,
    – saving the environment,
    – Green recovery post Covid,
    – Universal Basic Income
    – and even Erasmus (but I think that is a policy that has much greater appeal to well educated internationalists like the Lib Dems than most of the British people).

    they will all be much like your single reader blogs, just silent words in the ether.

    That is why I laud Bodders blog, but we need to learn from him and pass it on across the party,
    We need to develop ways that Lib Dems can co-ordinate their work across Social Media and deliver training and guidance across the country to ordinary members so they can easily add their voice to support our campaigns at the right moment
    We need to get our press department to be much faster in responding to emerging issues, linking them to key spokepeople in the party 24×7 so they can get guidance and respond immediately and not just post something saying this is a problem, after the problem has actually been solved.

    We need to be a small insurgent party fighting to become bigger again, not an ex large party wishing things were as they used to be.

  • David Evans 1st Feb '21 - 10:17am

    Oh yes, and All the best to you, Paul. You deserve it.

  • Thank you David, best wishes to you


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