Learning the lessons from last week #6: Talking to yourself is not enough

There was a highly symbolic moment late in the Yes campaign when its final TV broadcast was made. The TV broadcast featured Dan Snow and was a remake of an earlier Dan Snow film, shot to higher production standards (understandable) and also, intentionally or not, featuring a cast that overall looked younger. From being a film that featured people of a range of ages it became one that primarily featured young people. That was the general tenor of the campaign – with an overall cast of talking heads (in online films, TV films and elsewhere) younger than the average voter.

Yet in a relatively low turnout (I say “relatively” because, once again, turnout was much higher than many of the auto-pilot electoral doom-mongers in the media predicted) election it’s older people’s votes who are vital.

Ralph Hill screenshotThere was a film made early on which featured an 86 year old Second World War veteran – Ralph’s story. Not only did the concept of show-casing individual people’s stories in this way fade away during the campaign, so too did making the pitch in a way designed to appeal to just the sort of older voter, Home Counties living, normally Tory but quite liked Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy at times, who was always going to vote in large numbers. Instead, as the campaign moved on it seemed to become more and more focused on appealing to the sorts of people who were activists on the campaign rather than to the voters who mattered.

Certainly that was the impact of much of the online buzz, as I saw at first hand from traffic statistics to both this site and my own blog. Several posts about the AV referendum generated large numbers of tweets, but comparatively little traffic came from the tweets – because it was not people passing on a story to new, wider audiences but rather much more a case of the same group of people circulating information within itself. That’s not inevitable with Twitter – posts on both sites on other topics that generate comparable numbers of tweets get far higher levels of traffic as a result. This was one of those cases were critics of so-called slacktivism have a point or two.

The lesson? You need to talk to a wider audience. Talking to activists is important – vitally important – but not enough in itself. Easy to say, somewhat harder to always manage in practice.

Sometimes that’s a matter of choice of topics – how often do you mention restoring the pensions link with earnings compared to Lords reform (a score on which many party leaflets score better than some TV interviews)? Sometimes it’s a matter of choice of language – hence my dislike of the insider jargon “social mobility” which is just the sort of phrase that some use all the time but barely registers with the huge mass of voters.

Either way, communicating better amongst ourselves is important – but that is not a substitute for talking about the issues that matter to voters, in jargon-free ways that showcase our liberal beliefs.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Mark, I agree with much of what you say, but make a few observations.

    You speak with acuity about the operational end of political activism, and of course it is really important to speak to a wider range of people, not just activist or even party supporters.

    It is astonishing how this simple truism is forgotten. In the frenzy to deliver leaflets (metaphorically as well as literally) we descend into the worst sort of group behaviour – mutual reinforcement, lacking independent thought, self censorship.

    Just see the degree of disquiet displayed online – yes even from card carrying members – but not so much on the conference floor or at local meetings.

    Your article – and others in the ‘learning lessons’ series – should also be read in conjunction with the pieces asking deeper questions about our ideology and philosophy, that appear elsewhere. Only by looking deep, and by remaining true and consistent with our beliefs, can we hope to connect with, so called, ordinary people.

    For example on the question of AV, a sizeable number of people I was campaigning with, were actually rather indifferent to the proposal. For goodness sake, we didn’t think much of it as a party before the election! But by compromising on this, behind our historic duty to support the Tories, we have more than likely scuppered any chance of true electoral reform being raised for a generation. Or at very least a decade. It just seemed like a self-serving campaign, with Lib Dems arguable being the primary beneficiaries in key marginals.

    So, it is about having wider conversations (and not rely on slacktivism). It is importantly about what we are saying. It is about being authentic. It is about not saying things just for votes. It is about saying something only after you have thought about it. It is about speaking with clarity on subjects that reflect the everyday experience of people. We need to reconnect with all this quickly, for not very long ago, we seemed be doing just those things.

    Sorry I cant tweet his in 140 characters.

  • @ Lumi
    I entirely agree, the one phrase that was constantly quoted at me was ‘a miserable little compromise’. We knew what we really wanted, surely we needed to have stuck to that.

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