Musings on campaign direction

Since Chris Rennard coined the groundbreaking concept of ‘pavement politics’ the party has struggled to move forward and evolve with regards to innovative and modern strategic frameworks. Whilst no one individual holds the monopoly on this, I would like to share a few thoughts on the matter.

First, it is important to acknowledge that things have changed considerably since May 2010. We can no longer package ourselves as the anti-establishment party and must accept that our voter demographic has altered significantly. The days of lentil-eating, sandal-wearing members are over. We are now a fully-fledged, professional, suited-and-booted organisation that has demonstrated its ability to govern competently. Instead of mourning this fact, it is essential that we embrace it.

Second, we need to exercise our new found professionalism in everything we do. There is little point in governing slickly and expertly whilst campaigning amateurishly. Message and projection is everything. As a party, it is vital that we sing from the same hymn sheet. Undoubtedly, debate and deliberation is necessary, but unity must be maintained right the way through the party.

A clear, coherent and determined strategy must be administered. There are three imperatives: we must expand the electorate, grow the grassroots and work hard for every vote. In isolation, each of these goals sound straightforward, but combined make for an ambitious blueprint that shall require extraordinary effort and prowess from our campaigns teams.

Expanding the electorate is all about attracting a fresh set of voters. Both first-time and disenfranchised voters will be key to our success. It is crucial that we give them a reason to head out and vote. Unashamed gloating of coalition successes should not be frowned upon. Liberal Democrat policies have made a truly positive impact on people’s lives. Continually failing to communicate that message is unforgivable.

Attached to the concept of expansion comes protection. Long-time supporters must not be overlooked and made to feel redundant. Selling this newly packaged identity must be deemed a pressing matter. ‘Responsible on the economy, radical on civil liberties’ is as good a mantra as any. In government, the Liberal Democrats have let no one down. We have delivered 75% of our manifesto; an accomplishment most majority governments cannot claim to have attained.

Growing the grassroots is perhaps the most vital element of the strategy. The campaign is only as strong as the grassroots. We must learn to be farther reaching. The party prides itself on listening to its members, so attracting new ones should pose no problems. Keen non-politicos may yearn for the opportunity to make a difference and decide to join the cause. Igniting interest will pose the greatest challenge.

And that is where social media comes in. Steadily, Lib Dem members have increased their online activity. We now have influential bloggers and significant tweeters, but, regrettably, there is no coherent, structured presence of which to speak of. If we are to grow the grassroots, utilising online tools is crucial. Providing a forum that offers ordinary supporters the chance to engage with the party’s kingmakers is cardinal. True democracy at work, from the bottom up.

Lastly is the idea of working hard for every vote. Each campaign can be won or lost on a single vote and a constant emphasis needs to be placed on what is at stake if we fail to organise and tally up votes. And we are not just talking about the swing, marginal and target seats here. Every single canvassing effort must be treated as though it could put us in power. There is no such entity as an unwinnable seat. Campaign literature needs to be concise and pertinent. Canvassing needs to be focused and persistent. And e-communications should be meaningful and targeted in order to make the maximum impact.

The Liberal Democrats must start acting and behaving as they have in government right across the board. A mentality of professionalism, tribalism and unflappable determination is the only thing that will see us through the forthcoming elections intact. Downing Street has hardened our politicians; now is the time for local party representatives to illustrate that they too can lead succinctly. The party will continue to move onwards and upwards, of that I have no doubt, but it will take a lot of hard work, modernisation and amendments to get us there.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • You’re not going to stop me eating lentils and wearing sandals…

  • Comedy gold.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 16th Mar '12 - 1:56pm

    Whatever you do don’t mention student fees, the NHS, the 50% tax rate or the mansion tax. All candidates will need to be given training on changing the subject should these matters be raised by a member of the public.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 16th Mar '12 - 2:10pm

    “things have changed considerably since May 2010. We ……….must accept that our voter demographic has altered significantly.”

    Do you realise how fundamentally undemocratic this statement is – your voter demographic has not changed one bit since May 2010 – the people who elcted you then have not changed, and they expect you to do what you promised then. Definite shades of Brecht I’m afraid.

    That said I think it is fair to say that you are going to see plenty of changes in your future voter demographic.

  • Paul Holmes 16th Mar '12 - 2:26pm

    What an astonishingly patronising, condescending and Stalinist article!

    “Lastly is the idea of working hard for every vote …” Oh gee I never thought of that before.

    “Debate is necessary..” [subtext -it’s a bugger this democracy nonsense]-but we must all come to the same conclusion and SAY what we are told!

    You couldn’t write this stuff as a parody if you tried. Oh I forget New Labour used to.

  • “Since Chris Rennard coined the groundbreaking concept of ‘pavement politics’ the party has struggled to move forward and evolve with regards to innovative and modern strategic frameworks. ”

    1) He didn’t (and AFAIK he has never made such claims and is generous in acknowledging the influence people like Cyril Carr had on his ideas).
    2) They haven’t
    3) “with regards to innovative and modern strategic frameworks”. Well,….. no actually I’ll just leave that phrase hanging there as I assume it was a piece of self-parodying Brent-esque nonsense.

    “Both first-time and disenfranchised voters will be key to our success. It is crucial that we give them a reason to head out and vote. ”

    I’d agree. We did well at attracting these in 2005-10. I also think since 2010 I think we have succeeded in giving them a reason to head out and vote.

    “The Liberal Democrats must start acting and behaving as they have in government right across the board. ”

    Ah – now I get it. LDV has posted the April Fools piece early! 🙂

  • We’ve been very good over the years at fighting guerilla wars in individual constituencies, sometimes with spectacular results.

    What we’ve never been any good at is fighting a strategic campaign. And when the conditions have been favourable for us (2010, but mainly 2005 when we had a discredited government and a moribund oposition) we’ve failed to capitalise.

    Its sad to see the number of disparaging comments Scott. Those who continue to fight the last war will always be doomed to failure.


    “Do you realise how fundamentally undemocratic this statement is – your voter demographic has not changed one bit since May 2010 – the people who elcted you then have not changed, and they expect you to do what you promised then. Definite shades of Brecht I’m afraid”

    Incorrect. As a party we’ve made a 60 year virtue of searching out and picking up protest votes. As soon as you get into government those votes evaporate. We’ve also never been able to secure the support of the “I’d vote for you but you’re too nice / never make tough decisions / never influence anything.” Well now we can, so our demographic has changed.

  • I don’t think one can coin a concept, though one can certainly coin a term.

    Phrases like “pavement politics” and “community politics” started to gain currency in the media during the early 1970s, as I remember it, when Chris Rennard (who is slightly younger than I) was still a schoolboy. In fact, I think it was the December 1972 Sutton & Cheam byelection (where Lord Tope used a pickaxe to remove tarmac from a culvert) that made “community politics” a recognisable buzz term.

    A curious feature of the internal politics of the Liberal Democrats post 2010 is that it is younger members who seem to be most supportive of the coalition, loyal to the leadership and keen on free market economics, while those of us who abhor what has happened are more likely to belong to earlier generations. Which is the exact opposite of the situation when Lord Greaves was a Young Liberal!

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Mar '12 - 3:22pm

    We’re not disparaging Scott because we want to fight the last war, but because he is talking laughable nonsense. Hywel and Paul Holmes have demonstrated this in detail, so I don’t need to.

    And it’s a rare thing, but toryboys is actually right: there has been no change in the people who voted for us in May 2010 because there hasn’t been another election since. Accountability means being accountable to the people who voted you into power (yes, even if it’s just a minority share of power) not promptly dropping them and going off in search of people who might vote for a completely different programme and campaign next time.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 16th Mar '12 - 4:19pm


    The votes may (and will) evaporate the voters don’t.

  • TBNGU – voter churn has always been significant for the lib dems. far more so than for the other two. There is also the large pool of DNVs from the last two elections. So, you have movement between parties, movement from voting to DNV and movement from DNV to party support.

    Malcolm – whilst you make a more valid point than TBNGU, its also true that people vote against parties as much as for them; this is particularly true of us, indeed its at the centre of the protest vote. ATEOTD we stood on a programme; we didn’t get a majority. Hence if we want a majority we have to do something to attract more voters – inevitably that’s going to mean a change in our programme.

  • Tony Dawson 16th Mar '12 - 5:58pm

    “Since Chris Rennard coined the groundbreaking concept of ‘pavement politics’ ”

    This suggests that the author does not exactly know anything much about Lib Dem antecedents let alone understand them.

    “The Liberal Democrats must start acting and behaving as they have in government right across the board.”

    Hywel beat me to it. Or is Scott Hill advocating a cunning plan for Lib Dem local government candidates of ditching their promises publicly, making fools of themselves individually on a public level and making a complete hash of promoting costly and disruptive policies which were neither their own or included in any agreements which they had made? Move over, Baldrick!

    Drive yourselves down in popularity (and you colleagues with you) relentlessly by repeated faux pas. This is the Scott Hill route to victory! Sign up here, folks. You may even get a free bottle of snake oil. 😉

  • Very few of us ever were lentil eating sandal wearers; I know I was there when that jibe was directed at us the first time round. It was just the press finding a way to caricature the third force in British politics, when they had already been portraying Labour in cloth caps and the Tories in cigars and top hats for years.

    I am pleased that you have recognised the danger of making the long term supporters not feel redundant, (although I think you are indulging in shutting the stable door…). You will certainly not enthuse us or make us want to return by using meaningless or opaque management ‘Newspeak’ of the sort quite rightly lampooned in other contributions to this blog. I presume you will put your message out there, so it will cascade down to us in meangfull, relevant and viable senarios going forward at this moment in time?

    It was the late lamented David Penhaligon that told us that “if you have anything to say, put it on a piece of paper and put it through the door”. We knew that what we wanted to say had to be clear and concise to get the point over. The mantra ‘keep it Daily Mirror’ was regularly said to ‘Focus’ compilers, so the message was made simple to be understood completely by the reader. We’ve been doing it for years and are old hands at it and it got the party where it is. Nor am I too old to understand that in the 21st Century the message will go out in blogs and tweets.

    The point you fail to understand however, is that no matter how it is delivered, or how clear and concise the message, if we think the policies are wrong, the old flame will not be lit and we won’t be coming back.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Mar '12 - 11:32pm

    “Since Chris Rennard coined the groundbreaking concept of ‘pavement politics’ ”

    I remember first meeting Chris when he was still at school and playing a key role in the Edge Hill by-election. Nine years after the Eastbourne Assembly comitted the Liberal Party to community politics, and (I think) getting on for 20 years before Liberals started winning seats in Church Ward.

    The accurance of this statement sums up the posting really.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Greaves 16th Mar '12 - 11:33pm

    Or “accuracy”…

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Mar '12 - 11:11am

    Was this article written by a real person, or is there an automatic cliche recycling machine somewhere in the LDV premises?

  • “The party has got a new haircut”

    Is that like the bankers’ haircut, then? You know, the one where you lose more than half of what you thought belonged to you?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Mar '12 - 1:20pm

    @Orangepan It’s a joke and I enjoyed it, but there is nothing to discuss.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Mar '12 - 1:50pm

    @ David Allen No, I think it’s a Samsonic haircut.

  • Bill le Breton 17th Mar '12 - 7:20pm

    Tony, I prefer ‘accurance’ – more in keeping with the post.

  • @Paul Holmes – To describe a plan that seeks to unite the party as “Stalinist” is simply disingenuous and dishonest. The following quotes ought to demonstrate that democracy is at the forefront of my plan (I merely seek to unite our members and encourage support for our often overlooked accomplishments):

    “Undoubtedly, debate and deliberation is necessary”
    “The party prides itself on listening to its members”
    “The chance to engage with the party’s kingmakers is cardinal”
    “True democracy at work, from the bottom up”

    Which of those statements sounds Stalinist?

    Also, to the majority of posters, the main gist of this piece is to encourage celebration of our coalition achievements. The list is endless and by continually apologising for tuitions fees leaves us unable to move forward and campaign positively.

    The subtext: look what happened to Labour once factions formed; we’d do well to learn from that.

  • Malcolm Todd 19th Mar '12 - 11:17am

    Your quotes from your own post all show democracy as a concession or a PR exercise. No, it’s not Stalinist (Paul Holmes was as silly to use that term as you were to talk about lentils and sandals) but it’ve very New Labour.

    You refer to “continually apologising for tuition fees”. Can you point me to a single apology on the record by a Lib Dem government minister or even a backbench MP who voted in breach of their pledge?

  • Paul Holmes 19th Mar '12 - 1:24pm

    Scott -my comments were a very quick posting as I was rushing out to deliver leaflets (sad I know but someone still has to do it ), against the Conservative County Council’s proposal to close down every Youth Club it runs -and no I don’t think the ‘Big Society’ will fill the gap, sorry if I am off message. I did post a much more detailed response later but the moderators appear to have ‘moderated’ them completely out of existence’.

    Leaving aside your insults to the membership and activists and your factual errors (ref Rennard) you said:

    “..we need to exercise our new found professionalism[interesting notion for which you present no evidence] in everything we do……message and projection is everything… is vital we sing from the same hymn sheet…unity must be maintained right the way through the party….a clear, coherent and determined strategy must be administered……continually failing to communicate that message is unforgivable….in government, the Liberal Democrats have let no one down….”.

    All of that sounds very much like the Stalinist newspeak approach that New Labour tried to impose on their membership and MP’s and that we had such fun mocking during Parliamentary debates.

    It is also in sharp contrast to what you said less than a year ago when you posted on Lib Dem Voice and Huffington Post that the Tuition Fees reversal was “abhorrent and shameful” and that “To remain in government would ensure an even steeper decline in Liberal Democrat support.”

  • @Paul Holmes – Leaving aside the small fact that I haven’t insulted all Lib Dem members and activists (far from it, I have received numerous positive comments with regards to my post), your comparisons to New Labour and Stalin remain wholly inaccurate and disingenuous.

    In response to your previous comment, the new found professionalism I refer to has been found at each and every conference since May 2010; where a new, mature, grown-up attitude seems to have materialised across much (though not all) of the party. Have you anything positive to say regarding our time in government, or would you rather we remain in opposition; ignored and irrelevant?

    With regards to my views surrounding tuition fees, yes I was disappointed by our initial decision to brake our manifesto pledge, and it was undoubtedly a costly move. However, as recent data illustrates, the increase has not put youngsters off going to university and this must now be acknowledged by those of us (including myself) who were critical of the move at the time. Harping on about it does not help the party move forward and we already have enough anti-Lib Dem campaigners holding us to account.

    We within the party must do our utmost to celebrate and advertise the positive and progressive policies we are implementing in government. If not, we risk facing oblivion, something I’m sure you do not endorse?

  • Paul Holmes 19th Mar '12 - 3:48pm

    Scott, Those of us who have been involved in real politics for a long time (as opposed to writing blog posts for a couple of years), know from long experience that politics is the art of the possible and compromises have to be made. The question is which ones and how many?

    I certainly do not endorse those who might push our Party into oblivion. That’s why I am critical of an unthinking approach which emulates Dr Pangloss in saying all is well and everything is for the best.

  • @Paul Holmes – The problem is, by blindly condemning the Liberal Democrats performance in government, that is precisely the “unthinking approach” you dismiss.

    Also, by possessing the kind of patronising attitude towards new, younger voices that your last comment demonstrates, the party will never truly develop and progress (surely an imperative for a progressive party).

    You concede that “compromises have to be made”, but expect a party that makes up only a small percentage of government to implement their entire agenda. So, back to my original point (outlined in my post), it is crucial that we celebrate the achievements we have gained in the coalition as we have clearly punched above our weight.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 5:59pm

    @ Scott: I genuinely do not know what there is to celebrate. Can you help me, please ,by compiling two lists:

    1 A list of liberal measures that have been achieved by this government and which would not have been achieved
    but for the presence of LibDems therein?

    2. , A list of Tory measures which LibDems would have opposed had they been in opposition, but which the
    Cameroons have been able to push through because LibDem support provided them with the necessary
    numbers in the H of C?

  • @Nick (not Clegg) – The list is endless and there have been numerous lists compiled by Lib Dems that illustrate that fact. Here is just one of them:

    I would encourage everyone to read through this and be proud of what it says about our time in government.

  • Paul Holmes 19th Mar '12 - 9:03pm

    Scott -can you find anywhere where I have “blindly condemned the Liberal Democrats performance in Government” or claimed that we should be able “to implement all of our agenda” even though we are a minority partner in Government?

    Such shrill and unsubstantiated accusations do you no credit.

    In fact as someone who voted (with a heavy heart) for the Coalition at the Birmingham special conference I have recited LD achievements -despite being outnumbered 4 to 1 by Cons MP’s – in at least two of the BBC Politics Show interviews I have done in the East Midlands. I did though criticise Coalition Govt policy on Free Schools in the most recent panel I did for the new Sunday Politics (but there I was defending Party Policy against the Cons) as well as criticising badly thought through aspects of the cuts in Disability benefits because they are based on a pre ordained savings target of 20% rather than upon dispassionate assessment of capability to work.

    You on the other hand , only 10 months ago, used LD Voice to call for leaving the Coalition because remaining in it would lead to, as you put it, an “ever steeper decline in Lib Dem support”.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 19th Mar '12 - 9:27pm

    @ Scott,

    Some of the things on that list are questionable, some are still “aspirations” not “delivered”, some are pretty dubious and some were also Tory policy and so would have been delivered without LibDem input.

    In sum, they are trivial compared with the items which would appear in in List 2 but about which, understandably, you would rather keep quiet.

    I agree with you on one point ‘though. One should not “blindly condemn the Liberal Democrat performance in government”; one should do it with eyes wide open.

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