“Like you, the Liberal Democrats…” Not the most tactful way to write to your members

A well-written email is a very useful tool in informing and activating your supporters. One that’s not so well-written or targeted can be counter-productive. There have been a fair few howlers in the past few years from LDHQ, not least that Annette Brooke email following the elections in May this year and one from Nick Clegg a couple of years before in similar circumstances. I also remember a Simon Hughes one in 2011 the week after the appalling Scottish elections when we were still all punch-drunk and heartbroken that started: “This is a good week to be a Liberal Democrat.”

That opening line is oh, so important. It draws the reader in, grabs their attention, persuades them to read on and to take the action requested within it. If the opening is poor, the red mist descends and people hit the delete key.

And so it was last night with an email from Director of Strategy Ryan Coetzee. This presumably went to members and supporters alike. It was nowhere close to even the field next to the ballpark of being as bad as previous examples, but, unfortunately it started with the words:

Like you, the Liberal Democrats believe…

Hang on. This went to some members. They ARE Liberal Democrats. And some of them were not chuffed at that dividing line. It also went to supporters, which makes more sense. A bit of fine tweaking in the data might have averted some ire. My teenager pointed out that the first thing they teach you in English class these days about persuasive writing is to create common ground with your audience and “like you”  is one of the phrases they recommend. We also need to take into account that the person who wrote this email wasn’t going out of their way to annoy people. We need to be a bit more generous towards our party staff who are every bit as much part of our Liberal Democrat family as the people we go leafletting and canvassing with every week.

The rest of the email was a pitch for money based on our record in Government and, frankly, it was ok but dull.

Like you, Liberal Democrats believe we need to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, creating opportunity for everyone.

That’s why in government we cleaned up Labour’s financial mess, cut taxes for 26 million people, and helped millions of people out with a pensions increase.

It’s also why we have delivered equal marriage, stopped the Snooper’s Charter and blocked the Tories from letting bosses fire their staff without good reason.

If you want to see Liberal Democrats build on our achievementsin the next government please donate £5 today.

In the next government we’ll continue to provide opportunity for everyone.

We will balance the budget and prioritise our vital public services. That means protecting the education budget from cradle to college and giving parents a guarantee that their child will be taught by a qualified teacher.

We will also help patients get the best care they need by investing in the NHS and put mental health care on equal footing with physical care.

And for a greener future for the next generation we’ll build on our work to tackle climate change with five green laws.

Friend, these are sensible ways to create opportunity for everyone, but we can’t do it alone. Please donate what you can.

This is not the loud, bold and sassy stuff I was thinking of when I said that we needed to get a stronger and more compelling narrative when Ryan had his “quiet bat people” moment.

But having said all that, I duly stumped up the requested fiver. You know why? Because we are going to be comprehensively outspent by both Tories and Labour, both of whom will be trashing us at every available opportunity. I want our teams on the ground, the people who are already knackered, who have been slogging their guts out for years, to be properly supported. I want them to have every possible means of persuading people to vote for them. So I decided not to take the huff.

And there’s another reason, too. There are people who are prepared to match-fund every penny this party raises from members and supporters before next Saturday. Now that’s not a secret I learned from being a member of the Federal Executive. It came in a letter from the party’s Chief Fundraiser yesterday. I wasn’t wildly chuffed with that letter either, but only because it wrote the cut-off date for donations to count as the 15th of November. It’s like nails down a blackboard to me. You don’t need the “of.” I don’t know if there is any statistical evidence to back this up, but there seem to be more grammar pedants within the Liberal Democrats than in any other sector of society I’ve come across. You need to watch these things.

So this is an incredibly crucial week for the party. It needs every penny it can get. This is about our survival and supporting our candidates on the ground. So please look past the imperfect communication and give whatever you can. It’ll help people like Layla Moran in Oxford West and Abingdon, who has her membership up to over 500, Dorothy Thornhill the popular Liberal Democrat mayor in Watford, Christine Jardine, possibly facing a returning Alex Salmond, Lisa Smart in Hazel Grove, and Steve Bradley in Bath. And a House of Commons without Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and Julian Huppert is, frankly, too awful to contemplate. They all face tough fights which they can win but we need to get as fair a wind behind then as we can and that costs. Just think of the impact of what they could do with money now. You can do so much more when you have the money sooner rather than later. I’ll never turn down a shedload of money in the last week of an election campaign, but it’s much more useful six months out.

So, please put your hands in your pockets and be as generous as you can. This week really matters.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I was more miffed by this: “That’s why in government we cleaned up Labour’s financial mess …” I just don’t believe it.

  • It was just more of the boring same. It is just not good enough.

  • Gordon Lishman 8th Nov '14 - 12:27pm

    I agree, Caron.
    It seems to me that there is a wider issue than the occasional egregious mistake. It’s something about tone of voice. These emails remind me of the fund-raising letters I used to send out in hundreds of thousands to potential donors – short sentences for a short attention span; trying to capture a personal link with a list of achievements; matey tone; serious style; simplistic claims; etc. That doesn’t seem to me to be about how you talk with members., who we expect to be committed and thoughtful.
    To take an obvious example, your style in posts on LDV captures the right tone much better – it’s a continuing conversation with friends, not a sales job to people we don’t know.
    Unfortunately, I don’t know how to improve it; the style seems set.

  • It’s like prac crit at school, you have to try to interpret what the authors are thinking …
    Far too many instances of the party’s great and good talking down to
    members, preaching at us, being detached from local disasters and, frankly, just
    not doing us the basic courtesy of thinking before dashing off a few words.
    Too many local parties just treat members as focus
    delivery machines too.
    I don’t mean to say that the LDs are bad, just not as different as we hope.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Nov '14 - 2:22pm

    Sid, I have no problem with pointing out Labour’s poor financial record. I’m not talking about the global crash which they, to be fair, have to take some of the responsibility for because they didn’t regulate the banks etc. I’m talking about their failure to keep the structural deficit under control before that. And I would have been quite happy if they’d have taxed the rich to redress the balance. I have no problem with doing that. But by the end of their time. the LABOUR Party, the party that’s supposed to represent the workers, had built up a situation that Nick Clegg famously used that a millionaire banker paid a lower marginal rate of tax than his cleaner on the minimum wage. Their record is shocking and every time I’ve known them in government at whatever level, their attitude to finances have been the same – spend, break the bank, leave office so someone else can clean it up and take the blame for the ensuing cuts. It happened with the City of Edinburgh Council. Our Council leader Jenny Dawe took office and was told there was about tuppence ha’penny and a bit of chewing gum in the reserves. Labour are not blameless and their opportunism and irresponsibility at the start of their period in opposition was horrible. They deserve everything they’re getting at the moment.

    Gordon, I know. But, in their defence, these things are tested to destruction. Modern technology allows them to assess how many emails are opened, which forms of words get the biggest responses. I do sometimes wonder, though if they need to look at what we need rather than what we’re getting relative to things we’ve done before if that makes any sense.

    We just need a bit of heart and soul in these things. This email wasn’t so bad, and cutting taxes for 26 million people is a pretty major achievement, and so are all the other things mentioned. The aims for next time are ok, but I just don’t see any burning heather around them. We have to find a way to do this better.

  • Caron, If members and supporters really want to help people like Layla Moran, Dorothy Thornhill, Christine Jardine, Lisa Smart, Steve Bradley,Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone and Julian Huppert.
    Or Adrian Sanders, John Pugh, Norman Baker, or other good reliable Liberal Democrats in a seat where their money could make a difference then they could simply send a cheque direct to the relevant constituency.

    That way they can be sure the money will get spent on those candidates’ individual campaigns and not disappear into some generalpot in the bunker to be spent on people who cannot write a simple letter.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Nov '14 - 3:49pm

    They could, John, but it wouldn’t be doubled so that it would have even more impact. That’s what’s important about this week. Any money going to the “central bunker” as you put it, will be spend on support, whether it be in staff or extra campaigning resources, that could make the difference in these places.

  • Caron
    We were told in LDV that HQ has 75 target seats.
    So any donation to HQ even if it is multiplied by 2 will then by divided by 75 leaving only a tiny fraction to go to a constituency where it might make a difference. As my US pal might say — “Do the math”.

    Much better to send our money direct to the candidate or MP we want to win.
    That way we can be confident that our donation will make a difference and will not be spread so thinly that it makes no difference.

    Adrian Sanders lists a number of practical ways people can provide help direct and be confident that their help will not disappear into some central pot or be spread so thinly that it evaporates.

  • Donate direct to your local party.


  • Jerry Lonsdale 8th Nov '14 - 6:14pm

    Okay for my two pence worth or in this case five quids worth, I don’t think there has ever been a moment in all my time being a Lib Dem Member have I ever been so disenfranchised in the Party, lets cut to the chase, no holds barred and all that.

    This year I have had email upon email letters by the plenty all asking for funds, donations, short of giving blood and DNA my bank manager is saying its not possible no more, okay we are not all gazillionaires like the Conservatives, at least when I get the gumph and emails alike from them they put it straight to the point, “Give me money now”

    For over ten years of being a member I have never seen such a time when the Lib Dems seem to be only focusing on money, “Gimme Gimme Gimme”,I find my response is *sigh* “well here we go again, it was only last week or a few days ago another email or letter was saying the same, well, it does get a bit monotonous for people like me where every penny counts and is spent on the work that I do, more out than it, which no doubt it is the same for everyone these days, the pound does not stretch as far as it did only a few years ago!

    Just think of my horror when for the first time I decided, following the desperation of residents in my ward I was ambushed by the residents and was begged and pleaded for me to become a Councillor for Liverpool, only to be so disheartened to think that when I do eventually take the plunge I will almost certainly be doing this alone, there simply is not the means financially or other to think otherwise, so much for the saying anyone can be a politician, you don’t need a silver spoon, sadly that sentiment is as old as time itself and knowing from what I have witnessed that there is more truth in that saying.

    The Lib Dem membership in Liverpool has been decimated in recent years as it has throughout the UK, how then do we make the changes to that, how do we inspire people to become members if we are not there on the doorsteps or other telling residents about us, the focus is simply all on the “Safe” seats, I do deplore that term but hey ho, its a term used by the masses.

    Why are the resources piped in to the campaigns for the safe seats, I have never once understood that, if the seat is safe then why plough so much of the valuable resources into keeping the seat, kinda misses the point in the term “Safe”,

    I know we do need to make sure the seats are retained and must do all to protect them however why miss the chances for others who may just take a seat else where, I remember the 2005 Election campaign in Birmingham Yardley between John Hemming MP and Estelle Morris, John is a very popular figure in Birmingham and just the same as Estelle was in the day, John trounced Labour despite Labour thinking they had it in the bag, how sadly wrong they were, it was not a safe seat, there was no seat however John is still there today wiping the floor with any other party who thinks they have a shot, my issue is would John’s and those alike election Campaigns next year be massively funded by LDHQ, who knows but I hope you understand where I am coming from on this.

    Another problem I am forever more facing is the deflation of some when the term “We won’t win there” is often used, how can it possibly be known, funny thing about the human being, is we are a weird species in that we say one thing one minute and do the opposite the next, same with politics, knock on a door and they show support and will “Vote” for who ever it is but then once the door is closed the human changes their mind.

    I have been asked by the residents in my ward to run simply because they have reached the end of their tethers in demanding issues are sorted, many do not know who their Councillor is nor even how to make contact with them, I have for the past 5 years been dealing with their problems case work et al with great difficulty however the job gets done without the Councillor or MP being part of it, they do like the credit though when its a very serious matter that’s sorted, suppose that’s what Labour is all about really.

    We see more people disenfranchised in politics more than ever, “They never follow through with their promises” or “They are all the same” how many times have we heard this said to us, I for one am known for not being either of those sentiments, I do follow through I do all I can to help,

    How do I now approach them residents counting on me to put up the fight if the fight is lost before its even began, depressing is not the best word to use but sadly it is.

    Have we lost our focus since being in Government that now the “Penny Has Dropped” or more so not quite dropped in to Lib Dem Pockets, finances are tight across the board and will continue to be that way for many years to come I’m sure, I just feel that the distribution of the scarce resources need to be channeled in to the right campaigns fights and battles we will now face.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Nov '14 - 6:30pm

    I make a monthly contribution to Jo Swinson’s campaign and have done for quite some time. But I also know how much the centre needs to be able to run an effective national campaign. Just think how much the leaders’ tour costs, for example, and it’s important to make sure we get our message across and that it looks reasonably professional. We can make a virtue out of not being backed by powerful vested interests like the others.

    We are going to be under attack like no other time and we need to be able to rebut the nonsense that the others put out. That was a key feature of Clinton’s successful election campaign in 1992 and it must happen this time. This doesn’t come for nothing.

  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Nov '14 - 7:34pm

    @Caron Lindsay 8th Nov ’14 – 6:30pm
    “… But I also know how much the centre needs to be able to run an effective national campaign.”

    Clearly a lot more than they ever receive then 😉

  • Jerry Lonsdale 8th Nov '14 - 7:40pm

    We have to be there to get the message across wholeheartedly agree however we cannot do that without being on the front line, hence my comment above.

    “Here is our Message” we cannot tell you though because you are not resident in a safe seat, galling really!

  • Tony Greaves 9th Nov '14 - 1:33am

    I do not appear to have got this rather dreadful letter, though this may be because they know that I do not send money to the central party. The daily stuff I do get from the party is already all rather demoralising. I suspect I do give more money to the party in the wider sense than most members, as a proportion of my income, but it goes to the parts and people where I think it will do most good. Trust the central party to do that if you will!

    John Tilley is right that if you want to help people win at the coming General Election you should send money to some of the places and candidates among the strategic (target) seats that you really want to win – which is what I am doing. Of course we have to target. I was one of the small group of people who set about persuading and teaching the Liberal Party to target 25 to 35 years ago. But we must also be a countrywide party and that includes preventing any further collapse of our local council base – and starting to rebuild for the future.

    So most of the resources of all kinds that I shall devote to the Liberal Democrats in the next six months will be expended here where I live, where we have borough council seats to fight (defend and gain) and two town councils where we have a Liberal majority of seats – all of whom do a huge amount of good work for the community and for the strength of Liberalism locally.

    I just wish that message was going out from the centre to our activists throughout the land. Trying to drain 85% of the party in order only to bolster up the number of seats in the House of Commons will – even if successful to an unlikely degree – only continue the hollowing-out of or party everywhere else, with disastrous consequences for the future.

    I fear however that the people who run the central party organisation have only limited ideas of what people need on the ground.

    Tony Greaves

  • Paul In Wokingham 9th Nov '14 - 8:12am

    @Tony Greaves – well said. Like you I did not receive this email, perhaps because I explicitly unsubscribed from that dreadful “letter from the leader” thing.

    Considering how poor the central campaign was in the Euros and that dreadful campaign pack produced for this year’s local elections, I too will avoid contributing to central funds despite being a significant donor to the national party in 2010. Over the next few months I will give time and money directly to candidates who promote traditional Liberal values and who have a realistic prospect of getting elected.

  • David Evans 9th Nov '14 - 10:08am

    @ Caron “Just think how much the leaders’ tour costs, for example, ” Yes Caron I am doing! 🙂

  • David Evans 9th Nov '14 - 10:12am

    … and that’s what worries me! 🙂 🙂

  • Clive Peaple 9th Nov '14 - 11:45am

    Don’t need the others’ shortcomings. Want OUR policies to be publicised. They have actually been fantastic during Coalition government but you need to dig. I had to put together an Excel spreadsheet columned LD Lab Con UKIP . You then get a feeling for the shape and consistency of LD work. Vince Cable and Ed Davey immediately spring out (not to exclude others!)
    Standing Orders a pretty good way to donate of course…..

  • Clive Peaple 9th Nov '14 - 12:26pm

    Happy to send out a copy of above spreadsheet (Excel backwardly compatible)
    Re Donations – Would happily donate large if LDs could invite Mazzucato or Ellen Brown to speak. Game changers.

  • Peter Galton 9th Nov '14 - 1:41pm

    If I get a email or a letter from HQ asking for money, I may sometimes send something or its goes in the bin. I do not get worked up over it. After 37 years in the Liberal/Liberal Democrats its nothing new. Give to your local party. We never had enough money.

  • Gary Fuller 9th Nov '14 - 4:55pm

    Three donate buttons in one email made me feel like a cash cow, well it would have done were I not skint (in part due to our Government’s policies).

  • David Allen 9th Nov '14 - 7:24pm

    It’s progress, I suppose, when real Liberal Democrats take action to support other real Liberal Democrats – rather than the “soft Tories” who now lead the party and control its centrally funded campaigning. But will it make any difference to the “soft Tory” position of the Liberal Democrats after 2015. Probably not, I’d say. In which case, that support is wasted, isn’t it? There’s no point in electing nice people just so that they can be prisoners of the Right for five more years!

  • Suzanne fletcher 9th Nov '14 - 9:31pm

    I’ve not really been following this, or for that matter reading emails and any letters ( I have been very lib dem busy though!) so not very helpful when a friend in the Labour Party rang me to say her elderly bedridden dad who lives a distance away, had rung her to say the lib dems urgently needed money before nov 30th, so would she send £20 ASAP.
    She wondered if it really was that urgent. I couldn’t be that helpful but thought I’d seen something somewhere about match funding.
    She will send a dheque straight away, but posting this so people can see the impact on some people. I didn’t know her dad was a member, but he probably feels pretty helpless and glad he can contribute in a useful way.

  • SIMON BANKS 10th Nov '14 - 4:49pm

    I disliked this pitch for several reasons, necessary though something of the sort is. Like some other stuff from HQ of late, it assumes I’m an inactive, ignorant supporter who needs to be encouraged to go and do something. It is possible to allow for this: “You may already be…”. As Caron says, as already Liberal Democrats we don’t need that dividing line. Furthermore, we don’t need to be told what Liberal Democrats believe – especially if we don’t, and the opportunity for all mantra does not hit the target for me for several reasons.

    As for the creating common ground, trouble is, this kind of language (“Like you…”is so common people can spot it a mile off and it becomes just another example of the smooth politics that turns people off – especially Liberals, who are quite likely to bridle: “How dare you think you know what I believe?”

    It probably needs separate messages for members and for known supporters.

  • David Ellams 12th Nov '14 - 10:12pm

    @Simon Banks said:
    “Like you…”is so common people can spot it a mile off and it becomes just another example of the smooth politics that turns people off – especially Liberals, who are quite likely to bridle: “How dare you think you know what I believe?”

    Are you a poet, Simon.? This is so fantastically lyrical. In fact, I was convinced you were quoting the song Cocaine Socialism by Pulp. (Perhaps because I read it as ”is so ‘Common People’; can spot it a mile off …”).


    (Since I heard it I’ve wondered often which Labour – presumably – politician Jarvis did meet.)

  • Steve Comer 13th Nov '14 - 6:00pm

    Talking about fund raising…..
    I had a letter today about the Liberal Democrats – not from the Party but from the Co-operative Bank about one of my Visa cards. It said the “…following mutual agreement the relationship between the Liberal Democrats and the Co_operative Bank will come to an end.”

    As I understand it the affinity card paid the party a fee when someone signed up, and paid a commission every time the card was used to buy something. I always thought this was a relatively painless way to raise money for the party, just use that card rather than another and the party got a some money, maybe not a lot but over a few years it adds up. ( Its not that dissimilar to the ‘Easy Fundraising’ scheme which is also a popular way of raising funds.)

    So why has the affinity card come to an end? And was it really’ mutual consent?’ I think we should be told!
    Presumably the Federal Executive knows what the loss of this facility will be does it? Perhaps a member could enlighten us? Is the latest begging letter an attempt to fill the gap form this lost funding stream?

  • Steve, actually the Co-Op Bank announced this in April. They have culled numerous cards as part, it would appear, of their clear the decks policy, to get back into the black and be seen as “ethical” The Labour card has gone as well as many others.

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