John Pugh MP writes…Two lessons from Thursday

Southport councillors 2016In Southport last Thursday we did something no party has ever done before in Southport’s history- won all the council seats by healthy margins. Not everyone knows where Southport is but its on the northern tip of the Merseyside region on the Lancashire coast. On Thursday I was puzzled when contacted by the press department expressing worry about the defection of one of my councillors. It turned out it was a bloke in Stockport who had defected. Easy mistake to make if you are from London.

Southport is part of Sefton MBC which has big wards averaging 12,000. During the Coalition most of Merseyside fell like dominoes to Labour including the Sefton seats outside Southport leaving us (Southport) an isolated fortress. This year it was different with Richard Kemp and Kris Brown spearheading a heroic revival in Liverpool and gains made in Knowsley. The only sadness was that in some other areas of Merseyside where we had taken successive kickings in previous years the will to win and the belief that we could was not there. Hopefully that won’t be the case in 2018 or in the counties in 2017.

Conclusion number one therefore is that the atmosphere is changing but more self-belief is needed.

Conclusion number 2 is that every election is different and we ignore that at our peril. Our Scottish and Welsh colleagues struggling with insurgent nationalism simply weren’t operating in the same political environment as we were. In London voting by first and second preference worked against the customary Tory, polarising, dog-whistle tactics.

Nor did all winners campaign in exactly the same way or losers make the same mistakes.

Victory went to those who got the local tactics right. The Southport constituency recognising the diverse character of the communities that make it up ran 7 campaigns around a few central themes- a bit like jazz improvisation. People could do worse than speak to regular Voice posters – Councillors Simon Shaw and Tony Dawson about their respective success in two very different wards.

My plea to our new Director of Campaigns, the excellent Shaun Roberts is to get this kind of dialogue going- let’s learn more from each other in a collegial way, spread good practice, be fleet of foot. Effective political campaigning can be taught but even in this age of mass databases the hard truths of it are learnt and applied in real time in particular circumstances and places.

It’s a science but it’s also an art and everyone who cares for their art wants to know more about it. Mark Pack on his website has been exemplary in cultivating this attitude. Humility is not a sign of ignorance. For the party that does not sit down after the victory cheers have died down and ask itself ,”Now what went wrong ?” won’t be cheering for long.

* John Pugh was Liberal Democrat MP for Southport until 2017 and was elected as a Councillor for the Dukes ward of Sefton Borough Council on 2 November 2017.

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15 Comments

  • John Barrett 8th May '16 - 10:53am

    Well done to John and all of the team who helped deliver great results in Southport.

    Hopefully the new Director of Campaigns and his team will listen to those with a strong track record of winning elections in different parts of the country and will have the flexibility to understand that a “one size fits all” approach to campaigning is a recipe for disaster.

    We should have enough past experience to know that just because a policy or campaign strategy is decided in London that it may not work elsewhere.

  • Usual common sense from southport. Why did the guy from Stockport defect? He was in a safeish ward and no way winnable for labour.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th May '16 - 5:43pm

    John and David , excellent comments.I was derided on another thread, by one or two , for advocating a common sense approach !

  • I like the way you put the nature of your campaign – seven campaigns around a few central themes, a bit like jazz improvisation.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '16 - 10:49pm

    I agree entirely that now is the time for listening and talking, but perhaps more listening for most of us, so we can learn how some local parties far exceeded what would be expected from them considering national poll ratings.

    The Southport results and the Orkney and Shetland results jumped out at me as particularly good and as you say: anyone who cares about the art of politics should want to listen to how success is being achieved.

    I voted for David Pullin and my brother and his wife voted for Tony Dawson. It was Tony’s seemingly targeted campaign at migrant rights that won them over. My brother’s wife is Lithuanian.

  • Peter Davies 8th May '16 - 11:07pm

    “We should have enough past experience to know that just because a policy or campaign strategy is decided in London that it may not work elsewhere.” or even in London.

  • Tony Dawson 9th May '16 - 8:53am

    In 2015, the Conservatives in Southport obtained their lowest vote share in the history of the town (now 150 years old). But the Lib Dems’ ‘victorious’ vote share was also the worst for quite a while. Labour and UKIP did not do badly.

    In 2016, we managed to get the Tory vote share in the town below 20 per cent for the first time ever, in a town which, pre-Iain Brodie Browne (now the Sefton MBC Mayor-elect), used to have 18 Tory councillors out of 21. Labour and UKIP went backwards. But, before you get too carried away, that means that one person in eight voted for us on May 5th. Nowhere near enough!

  • Ian Campion-Smith 9th May '16 - 10:09am

    As the grandson of a Liberal councillor for Park Ward in the 50s and 60s, I am delighted by these results and John’s comments on campaigning. I still have some of my grandfather’s election addresses – one leaflet per election back then!
    I’m now an exile in Bristol and my wife has the distinction of being re-elected in the last ward in the country to declare (at 19:25 on Sunday!!).

  • Very well done to the team in Southport for their clean sweep – a very impressive achievement!

    However, it’s very disappointing that the local party failed to put up candidates for most of the seats outside Southport (in total we had 11 candidates for 23 seats – one of the 22 wards being a double vacancy). Much smaller local parties without an MP managed to parachute candidates into unwinnable wards and collect the required nominations.

  • Gerard Thompson 9th May '16 - 2:22pm

    I totally concur with John on this. There is very little for me to add except add my voice to this appeal. Encouraging and engaging with diverse campaigning based on the character of the individual communities we as activists engaged with, has always been a mainstay of my political ethos and ensuing activism.
    For further proof, as Agent I oversaw the Eastbourne Borough elections last year, where we actually increased our majority in extremely challenging circumstances nationally. We did this by recognising community characteristics and playing to that.
    I cannot speak for others, but I myself reject generic one-fits-all outfits. It’s not only lazy, but highly corrosive. As a party we must play to our strengths and community – as an idea and an ideal – is enshrined in our constitution.

    I simply add my congratulations to the Southport team (my only contribution was delivering a few community Christmas cards on Christmas Eve) and particularly to the Liverpool party, the results of which I was anticipating with excitement on Friday morning.

  • Note that in Cheadle constituency by my Maths votes were:
    Lib Dems 13,235
    Con 9,241
    Lab 4,677
    and in Hazel Grove:
    Lib dem 10,495
    Con 6812
    Lab 4061

    I would say pretty reasonably but not doubt Silvio would say a terrible result for the Lib Dems!!!

  • John’s last comment is so important. We’d be a miserable lot if we didn’t celebrate such a brilliant result, but there is always something that could be improved.

  • Hi Ian, I’d be please to receive any copies of Park ward literature from the 50’s and 60’s. Some of those folk were still about when I came to Southport at the end of the 1970’s -Madge Goldberg, Peggy Mc etc

  • Glenn Andrews 11th May '16 - 4:42pm

    Well it all went rather well here in ‘nham too by my maths….
    LIBDEMS 12,075
    CON 8,957
    LAB 2,007
    GREEN 1,831
    OTHER 2,334

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