Libby Local Episode 19: I’ll plan your every move

"Demsbury" - Bekonscot Model Village and Railway - London - Some rights reserved by bortescristian“As you all know,” Melissa said in a rather officious voice, “Maxwell Tarmac-Smyth has resigned with some haste and we have a by-election on our hands.”

We were clustered in the back room of the Market Tavern at a hastily convened meeting of our local campaign committee. Melissa had been my campaign manager for the 2013 election and had called the meeting as soon as the news of the by-election reached Demsbury.

Before she could continue with her introduction, Bess, known to all by her Twitter handle @Demsburybess rushed into the room. “No way was his resignation in haste,” she said breathlessly.

“This flyer was pushed through the doors of Castle Street an hour ago.”

She thrust a blue leaflet onto the table. Under the banner of “In Touch”, the flyer splashed the headline: “Tarmac-Smyth stands down for Leona Little.”

@Demsburybess quickly brought us up to date with the contents. The flyer announced that Tarmac-Smyth – known throughout Libbyshire as Mad Max – was leaving Demsbury to be nearer his family. Leona Little, of whom we collectively knew nothing, was anointed as his successor. There was a clutch of photos of the pair of them outside our historic market, the community cinema and even the closed recycling centre.

I boiled with anger and frustration. “This has been planned for weeks,” I mumbled barely audibly. “We’ve been stitched up and we are starting this campaign from well behind.”

“Even further behind than that,” Melissa said. She had been studying the back of the flyer. She read the text out loud, adopting the snooty tone favoured by some of the elite Tory women in Demsbury:

“Ms Little has called a meeting with our local Conservative MP, Mark Splutterworth and Libbyshire Council leader Hyde. They plan to broker a deal to kickstart the new community resource centre for Demsbury.”

“But that’s my project. I mean it’s our project,” I spluttered.

@Demsbury nodded sympathetically. “Yeh and what’s the bet that they announce a rescue plan for the centre just before the election, after quietly ignoring that they created the crisis in the first place?”

After some heated discussion and caustic comments about Mad Max, Melissa called the meeting to order.

“Okay,” she said. “We need to get an action plan together. We need a schedule of Focuses, a strategy for canvassing and a plan for action days, press coverage and the whole caboodle.”

An hour later, we had agreed a rough plan.

The Ride of the Valkyries played rather too loudly as my phone rang.

“Hi Libby.” It was the very recognisable voice of Mike Champion, the Libbyshire Lib Dem campaigns manager. Champion spoke quickly:

“What you need to know about by-elections in this county is that I am in charge. I’ll plan and direct your every move. I’ll get you a full campaign plan by the morning. And a draft for your first Focus.”

“I think we need to discuss all that,” I replied in a measured voice that failed to disguise my anger. “I’m sure you know that we have an effective campaign team here in Demsbury already.”

Champion was blunt in his response. “We have a way of doing things and we know it works. You do what you are told and you will win.”

“I’ll think on it,” I said. I was surprised how friendly I was now sounding. “We’ll talk in the morning. I’m a bit tied up at the moment.”

“You should be campaigning flat out now,” he said. “Print yourself a walk or two to canvas from Connect. Tory facing script. You know how to do it. Report back to me tonight. “

I clicked off the phone feeling deflated and more than a bit angry.

There had been tension during the last election about my personalised approach to campaigning. It seemed that everyone else around the county campaigned from a set of templates. What to say. What to write. How to pose for a photograph, pointing, grinning or give a thumbs down.

I wanted to make my campaigns more distinctive and personal, and I had insisted on doing so last time. But back then the whole of Libbyshire Council had been up for election. Now it was only me in the spotlight.

“Something up?” @Demsburybess said.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” I said. “Let’s get working on the first Focus. We need to begin delivery as soon as we can.”

But that call nagged me. I saw future infighting within the Lib Dems – and I thought I could win with the team I had. Champion’s approach was inflexible.

And I wanted to campaign differently. I wanted to listen to people and talk to them, not at them.

* Libby Local is based on real events. Details have been changed to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty. Libby’s passion and determination, along with her angst and frustration, are set to be a regular feature of Lib Dem Voice as the May 2013 elections approach. You can catch up with all Libby Local's episodes to date by clicking here.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I can’t think of a thing to say that’s simultaneously approriate to the situation and will get by LDV’s filters.

  • Richard Shaw 19th May '14 - 12:36pm

    The Conservatives have a head start on you and will likely be concentrating lots more resources on this by-election than you or your team can do alone. I would take whatever help or advice you can get – if Champion and co. are doing the artworking and planning, that’s more time you can spend talking to people on the doorstep, buses, etc. You’ll also be more likely to get help from the wider party if you co-operate with the LP organisers. It may grate, but he is right that they have more experience of these things and that’s what you need to beat Mad Max’s friends. Best of luck with the election, from a fellow candidate.

  • Richard Shaw 19th May '14 - 1:18pm

    Also, if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend joining ALDC, which is an invaluable source of advice and best practise for all campaigners and councillors. Worth every penny of their modest membership fee.

  • I don’t think that a political operative who starts his relationship with a candidate (an experienced candidate, by the way), by saying “give up control, I’m in charge now,” can be reasonably accused of “more experience” — not the useful kind, anyway. I also doubt very much that said political operative would have used the same language to a male candidate. This strikes me as part of the problem that the Liberal Democrats have with recruiting female candidates.

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