Lib Dem Mum week 2 – When you can’t deliver leaflets

Dear Lib Dem Mum,

My local party is moderately successful (we have some councillors but not an MP) and I want to help out. There are some great people in my local party, both elected to public office and on the executive committee, and I really want to help further the cause of liberalism. However, the only thing they ever want me to do is deliver leaflets, and I am not physically capable of doing a delivery round due to mobility problems.

 What can I do to show them that I can be useful in other ways?

 Frustrated, Yorkshire


Dear Frustrated,

 If our party has a major flaw alongside all the minor ones that come with being a group of human beings, it’s that we can be more of a leaflet delivery cult than an actual political party. Yours is not the only local party that tends to view volunteers as leaflet dispersal machines. Happily, there are other things you can do: 

  • Within your local party:
    • Stand for the exec. In my experience, local party execs tend to be in need of people who can do things other than deliver leaflets. A good treasurer, for example, is worth their weight in gold, similarly a secretary who is actually good at taking the minutes of meetings.
    • Someone who is good with computers and can do the admin work to arrange leaflet deliveries for other people is often helpful. 
    • Volunteer to do phone banking.
    • Volunteer to proof read the leaflets so that they don’t go out filled with embarrassing typos.
    • Start, or take over an existing, policy working group and work on policies to put forward to regional or federal conference.
  • Within your state and/or region, there is almost certainly a need for people to do all the things that you can do for a local party, but on a larger scale. You can also volunteer to be someone who scouts locations for meetings or conferences for accessibility: that’s not needed on a very regular basis, but it sounds like you would be the person to do it.
  • Within the many internal party organisations (Young Liberals, Lib Dem Immigrants, LGBT+LDs, Lib Dem Friends of Cake, etc. – there are hundreds of these, and there’s sure to be one that meets your interests, the party has a directory of them here), or for the party nationally, there are lots of volunteer administrative roles and most of these are done remotely, from the volunteer’s home, as a matter of course, just because of the geographical distribution of members.
  • You can also stand for federal committees, and/or join Federal Policy Committee working groups, and/or train to become a candidate assessor or an adjudicator for disciplinary matters, and do myriad other things to help out on a national level.
  • At the moment, you can also volunteer to help out your favourite leadership contender. Volunteer to help Layla here or Ed here.

I hope that gives you some ideas. And for those reading this who might be on the exec of a local party like Frustrated’s… Buck your ideas up or I will put you on the naughty step. The party will succeed much more if we help people to use their actual skills to help us, rather than dumping bundles of leaflets on them and nothing more.

 Love always,

 Lib Dem Mum


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  • I’m sure the lovely helpful LDV commenters will have further suggestions for Frustrated too 💞

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Aug '20 - 12:23pm

    Frustrated, perhaps you could suggest that your local party holds regular street stalls in your local town centre. That way, you would be able to sit on a comfortable chair by the stall, while handing out leaflets to people as they pass by, and chatting to them about local issues, perhaps asking them if they would like to sign a petition that the local or national party is organising. You are likely to get a much more positive response from a street stall than you would from knocking on doors, or putting leaflets through letter boxes.
    But Lib Dem Mum is absolutely right. We need to get away from the cult of leafleting, and find other ways to campaign.

  • Good idea Catherine 💞

  • @ Catherine. Why would we want to get away from a form of campaigning that has been proven over and over and over again to work?

    As for street stalls, the last one I helped with (during the 2019 EU elections) far from being a ‘much more positive experience’ was in fact much worse than canvassing. In a Leave constituency, surrounded by other Leave constituencies, the sort of people who made a beeline for our Market Place stall tended very much to be the angry Brexiteers who wanted to vent their spleen about the Lib Undems who refused to accept the Referendum result.

    Whereas in canvassing, which I did a huge amount of for the local elections just prior to those EU elections, we got a proper cross section of views and a mainly very warm response. We even, helped by lots of leaflet delivery too, managed to gain 8 more Council seats – seven of them from Labour. Incidentally, both my Ward Cllr colleagues are disabled but any successful team works to get around such issues and play to people’s strengths.

    Lib Dem Mum is right though to suggest lots of things any member can proactively do according to what their capabilities and interests are. One she forgot was clerical work stuffing envelopes for all those highly successful Targeted deliveries!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Aug '20 - 12:59pm

    Frustrated, perhaps you could help your local party to become more aware that diversity and inclusivity should include making sure disabled people are able to play a role in the party, and that they are fully represented at every level of the party. You should not have been made to feel the way you do. It was probably just thoughtlessness on the part of your local party, but it sounds as if they need educating, and perhaps you could be the person to do it.

  • Where’s Lib Dem Dad ?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Aug '20 - 5:38pm

    Paul Holmes, I’m not suggesting we should stop leafleting. Its just that sometimes all the focus (no pun intended!) seems to be on delivering vast numbers of leaflets, and sometimes there seems to be more emphasis on quantity than quality.
    I’m sure you actually have more experience of this than me, but my experience of a street stall (during the referendum campaign), and the similar experience of leafleting outside train stations, was much more positive than yours. It may be that people are sometimes happier to engage when they are out and about, and feel that they have the choice of approaching you and engaging, or not doing so, rather than having someone knocking on their door when they are busy, or putting yet another leaflet through their letter box.
    We do need to remember that some people object to large numbers of glossy leaflets on environmental grounds, so perhaps we need to think of more environmentally friendly ways to campaign. Perhaps there should be just one or two leaflets during an campaign, rather than a whole series of leaflets, and the emphasis should be on making sure they are well written. Controversially, I’d like to see more words than pictures in a leaflets. What really is the point of photo after photo of the candidate pointing at potholes and looking indignant?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 12th Aug '20 - 5:45pm

    Perhaps instead of delivering the leaflets, Frustrated could *write* the leaflets?

  • Paul Holmes 12th Aug '20 - 8:32pm

    Catherine. I share your thoughts about too many ‘Glossy Leaflets’ but because they are often poorly produced by people mistaking ‘shiny, shiny, colour’ for quality. The need for the content of leaflets to be good applies of course to any type of literature but it is often a problem where some people can get obsessed with colour for its own sake and design something that too closely resembles yet another Pizza or Double Glazing leaflet.

    I disagree with the rest of what you say though. Over 37 years of campaigning I can think of no successful election that I have ever helped with, ran or stood in, where we only delivered two leaflets – quite the opposite. I can though think of a number I helped with where only one or two leaflets were delivered and we lost, usually very badly. I could also provide you with detailed comparative case studies of Wards in my area from April/May last year and indeed from every set of elections since 1987. After a few years, back in the 1980’s, I made it a personal rule to go and help such campaigns once to show willing but not to go back as it was a waste of my time to do so. Now I am older I just don’t go at all if it is obviously going to be only a token effort.

    As for what well written means, that encompasses many things but screeds of words won’t have any effect. It is a sad fact but a fact none the less, that by far the best selling newspapers have been those such as the Sun, Mirror and Daily Mail not the Times or Guardian. Meanwhile the most used Social Media very quickly became Twitter with its 140 characters per message.

    As for Street Stalls, they are a nice extra if you have the time and people but they contribute a very limited amount to directly winning an election, especially Council seats. How many who visit your stall for example are actually voters in your Target Wards? Of those who are can you actually canvass them and acquire useful information whilst talking in public? If all you are doing is giving them a leaflet (as also at a Railway Station) how is that an improvement on delivering precisely targeted literature to the exact letterboxes of the actual voters you need to get your message too?

    Finally, does ‘frustrated’ of anywhere actually have the skill set needed to write effective literature? It is not just about putting words down on paper anymore than ‘using a computer’ is just about tapping at the keyboard.

  • As a (previous) Exec member in a small, not that successful, local party who struggled with volunteers who wanted to help but couldn’t deliver leaflets (and had a full and quite good Exec) I do agree that this a really big problem that we never cracked. And advice and guidance on this would have been very welcome and I’m sure others would agree it will be in the future. Especially on opportunities that might be regional or central we could point people towards.

    If you’re not an active local party, there often aren’t existing pieces of work or campaigns that people can help with. The help that’s needed is often pretty full on and self starting ie ‘find a local issue and run with it’. Which isn’t what most people want to do, or have the time or skills to do.

    The ‘ladder’ of volunteering needs to have more rungs on it below leafletting – and that needs to be offered by local parties absolutely.

    To get on my personal hobby horse for a moment however, I think that there needs to be much better support for small local parties from central/regional teams, in terms of advice and support with issues exactly like this one.

  • Paul Holmes 13th Aug '20 - 5:36pm

    Charis, I am often highly critical of the ‘National Party’ so let me for once leap to their defence. They have, in the last 2 years, started to send regular briefings to Local Party Executive Officers both about the requirements of their various posts and about suggestions as to how to improve the involvement of Members and so on. You say you were a ‘previous’ Exec member so perhaps this good (and long over due) initiative has happened since then?

    The bottom line however will always be that the only people who can lead and create an active and functioning Local Party are it’s members. There is no magic army of people, whether at Federal, National or Regional level who can come and actually do it for hundreds of Local Parties. As a Party we are of course almost entirely volunteers with only a tiny fraction of the paid staff employed by say Labour or the Conservatives.

    Your call for a lot more rungs on the ‘ladder of volunteering’ below leafletting does puzzle me though. Delivering a few leaflets is one of the easiest volunteer tasks for most people to carry out. Writing leaflets, printing leaflets, inputting computer data, producing computerised data files, writing political posts for newspaper letter pages or social media, organising fundraising events or social events or street stalls -all are more complex activities than walking down the road and putting leaflets into letterboxes.

  • richard underhill. 14th Aug '20 - 11:18am

    Lib Dem Mum | Wed 12th August 2020 – 11:55 am
    Volunteer for canvassing and be a good listener.
    Some canvassers only want to know whether the person who answered the door is likely to vote for us. Building up experience of what local people actually care about leads onto telephone canvassing, in which you can help other local parties who happen to have local by-elections. Maybe they will return the favour, but learning about other people’s problem can be helpful.
    For example BBC News today has addressed the mental health issue of post-natal depression affecting males.
    It is real. The female newsreader addressed some of the issues, but there may be more to say. The usual advice is “Do not be afraid to ask your GP”, they should be approachable, even if the problem is colonic cancer, as a famous actress said recently. “They have all got them”.

  • richard underhill. 14th Aug '20 - 11:45am

    Paul Holmes 13th Aug ’20 – 5:36pm
    On the first regional executive of the merged party we had an elected member who had previously had a role in the former Liberal Party. On behalf of the National Executive he would visit a local party and decide to close them down and then bring in some new people with more energy.
    According to former MP Michael Meadowcroft there are several such parties in the Leeds area, but there was no mention of an equivalent role for my friend.
    I must be careful because he attended a parliamentary bye-election in Scotland where our candidate was a young man called David Steel (not the cricketer) supported by Liberal leader Jo Grimond and therefore probably not the alleged “shambles”. I met him again at parliamentary bye-election where Paddy Ashdown spoke at a meeting, as did the local candidate and an MP who said “Lancashire folk are not daft. they don’t vote Labour round here” and reportedly had the audience eating out of his hand. I was doing deliveries having decided not to attend the meeting, but we did win and killed a key policy of a former Prime Minister, as predicted, and she regretted it for the rest of her life.

  • Lib Dem Mum 14th Aug '20 - 2:07pm

    Interesting comments, dears, and I’m sure Frustrated will find much food for thought in them 💞

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