Now THAT is how to write an email to supporters

imageOn Friday night at 18:42, we sad Liberal Democrat election geeks were almost feeling punch drunk as the results came in from London. It was bad enough at a distance of 400 miles to hear of wipeout after wipeout, of decades of hard Liberal Democrat representation on councils coming to an end. Heaven knows what it must have been like to have been there. Actually I do know what that feels like, having gone through the Scottish elections in 2011.

Just as all that horror was unfolding, into my inbox came an email from Annette Brooke MP, the Chair of the Parliamentary Party. It must have come from an alternate universe because it really didn’t reflect the true picture I was seeing:

As the results continue to come in from the local elections a clear pattern is emerging. In our held seats, where we have strong and established campaigns, we’re seeing some very good results.

In Sutton, where we have two MPs, we have gained seats. In Birmingham Yardley we won nearly 50% of the vote and beat Labour into a distant second. Here in my own constituency we gained a seat from the Conservatives which pushed Purbeck District Council into no overall control. In Colchester we won 7 of the 8 seats and in Eastleigh we comfortably held the Council and drove the Conservatives’ vote share down to 12%. There are too many examples for me to list them all.

All of these results tell the same story – in many of our strongest areas we are winning elections.

Of course many of our fantastic Councillors and candidates worked incredibly hard in these elections and didn’t get the result they deserved. I hope each and every one of them will get their names back onto the ballot paper as soon as possible.

We’re now less than a year away from the General Election and these results in our held seats show that we have everything to play for. Your efforts made the difference this time, as they will next year.

Now, there had been some dilution of the narrative that seemed to be emerging overnight, that “where we work we win” nonsense but how dare they imply that the campaigns in Haringey and Islington and Camden weren’t strong or established enough. When people were feeling bruised and battered there was not a scrap of empathy, not a jot of understanding of how it feels to suffer such losses.

Compare and contrast with the much better email that Willie Rennie and George Lyon sent to Scottish members this morning:

This evening we will know whether we have been successful in our efforts to win a Scottish seat in the European Parliament. Whatever that result we wanted to thank you for your contribution to the campaign.

As you know the campaign focused on the real, positive benefits of Scotland in Britain and Europe.  That unashamedly pro-European message resonated, was praised by many, shaped the whole election and won us new supporters.

We were truly impressed with the level of activity from members and supporters.  This was definitely the most energetic European campaign for some years and for that we have you to thank.

Thank you again,

Short, simple and authentic.

Willie, of course, has form for “getting it.” Way back in 2012, an email came out in Nick Clegg’s name which was, to say the least, crass, in the wake of really awful election results. I wrote that he should get a ghost writer with some empathy and compared Willie’s much more heartfelt email to the Scottish Party on the loss of about 40% of our councillors:

Compare and contrast to Willie Rennie’s statement on Friday. He did actually write that himself and it shows that he has never stopped talking to people since he became leader. He not so much has his finger on the pulse of the party but has synchronised his own heartbeat to it.

It’s clear that tonight’s news is going to be grim. I’ve stocked up on hankies, tea, things to cuddle and  cushions to hide behind because I know we are going to lose some good people and I will shed some tears. I’ll probably feel a bit bruised for a few days. My message to the email writers – if it doesn’t come across like you give a damn, like you understand a fearful, fretful, grieving party, then don’t press send. It really is that simple.


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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Bill le Breton 25th May '14 - 6:43pm

    Caron you have had to point out in the last few minutes two appalling communication mistakes: first the Cake gag that someone gave Paddy and now that stupid email someone wrote for the equally unsuspecting Annette Brooke. (you should have read my instant reply!)

    Do we really need any further evidence of the incompetence of those who have been employed at huge cost (electorally as well as financially) to run our strategies, campaigns and communications, and therefore the negligence of those who employed them and oversee them.

    The central campaigns for the EU including the launch and PPBs for the local elections have been the worst and most lacking in political sense that I can remember.

    These people do not deserve your efforts to dig them out of the hole. They just need to be removed from their responsibility. They have cost us too much in trust and political capital.

  • Agreed and interestingly ny also instant reply did not feature the words “alternate universe” but did feature the words “different planet”

  • To be fair to Annette she didn’t write it and believes she should have re-written it but one does question the wisdom of sending out phoney messages. As Lynn Featherstone said we ( the party) need to speak in more human terms or at any rate in a way that doesn’t assume people are stupid.

  • Paul In Twickenham 25th May '14 - 7:04pm

    I for one never for a moment thought that appalling email had come from Annette Brooke. But as Bill rightly says, you look at this and at nonsense like that awful cobbled-up local election “briefing” consisting of dodgy Daily Mail stories and you seriously have to question whether the kids at Lib Dem Towers should have their fingers on the “send” button.

  • “We’re now less than a year away from the General Election and these results in our held seats show that we have everything to play for.”

    The big problem with pointing to the isolated areas of success in these local elections is that turnout was so much smaller than in a general election. A well organised local campaign can obviously make a big difference in getting out the vote when overall turnout is small. But in a general election, when most people will be voting anyway, that effect will be significantly diluted.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th May '14 - 7:19pm

    Bill le Breton – Just as a matter of interest. Do you think that there is any future for a party of IN message? At least in the current form.

    I guess if there is going to be any change this side of 2105 it’ll need to happen quick.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '14 - 7:21pm

    John Pugh is right to tackle dishonest messaging from the party and from what I have seen he is also a pragmatic politician. I would have been more interested in the “hold Clegg to account” cause if it hadn’t become a vehicle for a left-wing coup.

  • Chris Greaves 25th May '14 - 7:32pm

    I agree with all five of the above comments, but on the “Annette” email, my clear understanding is that whilst these emails are written by LDHQ, they are all seen and approved by the individual they purport to come from. Therefore, sadly, Annette does have to take responsibility for the insensitive email sent in her name.
    I’m one of those who lost a seat on Thursday and do not like to be told how well we are doing when our work on the doorsteps shows the complete opposite.

  • Ruth Bright 25th May '14 - 7:33pm

    “Bruised and battered” – literally true in my case Caron as I fell and hurt my hip at 8.30pm running around an estate at the Elephant and Castle during my Mum’s (losing) campaign.

    As I nurse my war wounds it’s really comforting to hear from the tweenies at HQ how much better the results were where we worked hard!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ruth Bright 25th May '14 - 7:35pm

    Chris – I am so very sorry that you lost your seat. We seem to have posted almost the same comment at the same time!

  • John Nicholson 25th May '14 - 7:37pm

    I love Paul of Twickenham’s comment about the “kids at Lib Dem Towers” because it shows one of the things that is really wrong with us now. Our campaigns are run by politically zealous kids with no experience outside politics. They (plus our Leader) are indistinguishable from the born-and-bred privileged Oxbridge elite that run both Labour and the Tory parties. We have completely lost our credibility, along with our ability to sound human (thank you, Lynne Featherstone, for another piercingly apposite description of our plight). When we are down to one councillor in my next-door constituency of Richmond, we are back where we were in 1968. It simply cannot get any worse than this. It is like World War 1, with a whole generation of worthy LibDem councillors being sent over the top year-on-year by generals sitting miles from the front.

    I don’t have any real suggestions for what to do in the future, though I have signed the letter to Nick Clegg asking him to resign. But one thing is obvious: It was crass political ineptitude to get the blame for tuition fees, when it was Labour who set up the Brown review that recommended them, and the Tories are ideologically in favour of them. This has become the defining feature of Nick Clegg’s leadership, and is still being mentioned on doorsteps (for local elections, for goodness’ sake – which shows how deep it goes). I have to add that I did not think at the time that we needed to be in full coalition with the Tories, and I defy anyone now to show me evidence that I was wrong.

    But I am just one of the foot-soldiers, married to a councillor (what a rare person she is: a Lib Dem councillor who held her seat last Thursday), and I have no way of influencing the kids at Lib Dem Towers. It is all so deeply disappointing.

  • Chris Greaves 25th May '14 - 7:37pm

    Hmmm, by the time I’d finished typing my post there were more than 5 comments above mine! I was commenting on the first five comments specifically.

  • Personally I thought the Annette email read ok. Fair reflection what happened. Nobody should have been surprised we got a kicking in strong left leaning areas. Portsmouth and Kingston were unfortunate but serious local situations prevailed in those areas. Thankfully the party has shaken off the look of a poor imitation of Labour.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th May '14 - 8:19pm

    Can we have a little bit less criticism of the staff at LDHQ? They are working stupid hours, they’re knackered, there are too few of them and they are doing a phenomenal amount of good stuff.

    I suspect the wording of these statements is decided at a much more senior level, deep in the Westminster Bubble, and the staff who actually press send do not have sufficient power within the organisation to do much about it. The only way this will change is if enough people make a fuss and it’s raised as a senior level – and I certainly intend to do so at FE.

    @john To be honest, it didn’t sound like Annette. The author’s office at least usually gets sign off, though – if she didn’t, that is really poor.

  • @Caron, thank you for your last comment. You are very right to point out that this e-mail was insensitive at best, but some people on this site need to remember that one when you point one finger at another, there are three pointing right back at you. I am, personally, more appalled by people calling the staff at HQ ‘kids’ and other condescending names than this e-mail because the e-mail was ill-thought out, whilst those comments are just plain rude.

  • David wilkinson 26th May '14 - 2:24am

    Sadly Annette Brook’s email was the wrong message at the wrong time and became more oil on the fire. However a senior politician like Annette should have had more sense to put her name to it and begs the question who was in charge of sending out that insulting message, will they have the backbone to stand up and say they did it?

  • Bill le Breton 26th May '14 - 7:55am

    Cake takes the Biscuit.

    I am sure that Annette did not write that daft email (John P) and I am not pointing the finger at junior LDHQ staff (Caron).

    We are employing at extremely high salaries special advisers – 20 or more in Nick Clegg’s office, including a strategist and a high profile (hoho) communications director. That said, the staff have to kick back when they see something so unprofessional..

    But worse, much worse, someone in this Leadership team, knowing that a letter calling for change was circulating, had the *bright* idea to get their *friends* and colleagues to FAVOURITE some FB page about Liberal Democrats Friends of Cake, so that when those numbers doubled ‘overnight’ the Party’s constitutional spokespeople, Paddy Ashdown and Lorely Burt, were encouraged to use it as a Micky take. (From which they had to reverse later in the day when the hostile reaction began to come in from the grassroots.)

    That is despicable against ones opponents – it is unconscionable dark arts to aim that kind of practice against fellow Liberal Democrats. But it was all too typical of the crass conduct of these politically unintelligent people.

    “Let them eat cake, indeed!”

  • Piers Allen 26th May '14 - 8:41am

    I don’t know who Paul from Twickenham is (and I have been active in Twickenham for 20 plus years) but his comments are wholly wrong. As a mature local party, it is the younger activists who have helped keep us on the road: some of our older activists simply haven’t wanted to listen to evidence of what has worked elsewhere. Time we stop wanting to shoot the messengers and start refreshing the message … and once we get that right, Nick is one of our best communicators to get this across

  • Paul In Twickenham 26th May '14 - 9:16am

    @Piers – my name is Paul Murray and I am the partner of one of your former colleagues on the council, who was also your election agent in 2010. I have personally delivered many thousands of Comments in St. Margaret’s and Whitton (and before that have 30 years of activism in Leicester, Aylesbury and Islington), and have been at any number of events where you have also been present.

    Leaving all that aside.. I stand by my comment, which has nothing whatever to do with youth versus maturity. Examples such as this email and the cut-and-paste collection of dodgy Daily Mail stories that appeared to constitute our local government campaign suggest to me that there is a group working for the party who fail to engage with the grassroots. Unlike Labour and Conservatives, our parliamentary success almost always grows out of our local government success. I do not know if there is any sense of that at the centre.

  • Piers Allen 26th May '14 - 9:28am

    Should have guessed, Paul (now of Wokingham). What I am arguing for is taking the best from the centre, and then translating this in our local campaigning. Sutton have done this very successfully, Twickenham less so, not least in 2010.

  • Paul In Twickenham 26th May '14 - 9:45am

    @Piers – No problem, I an usually vague about my identity here to allow me to talk freely about issues that overlap with my profession, and I kept my LDV maiden name to avoid confusion 😉 It seems to me that the defining event for Twickenham in 2010 was Riverside -if we’d held that ward…

  • @Paul indeed, Riverside was pivotal and still is. We shall miss you both, but thanks to yr hard work still have Liz in Whitton!

  • @Piers Allen

    ” Time we stop wanting to shoot the messengers and start refreshing the message … and once we get that right, Nick is one of our best communicators to get this across”

    As far as I can see, someone (Nick Clegg’s undemocratic supercharged ‘office’?) decides the messages and puts over the wrong ons. Someone hijacked the Lib Dem local election Parliamentary TV broadcast to make it ‘Clegg on Europe’. The failure to ‘refresh the message’ is as much the responsibility of the leader’s office as anyone.

    I am intrigued as to how anyone can describe as a ‘good communicator’ someone who is minus 56 per cent in public approval ratings: the lowest ratings ever in a Party leader? This would suggest you are only interested in how he communicates with people like yourself and not with the wider electorate. Where you have true proportional representation (or anything like it) a Party leader can communicate to his heart’s content with a minimal selective audience. You may have noticed, Britain (thanks to Nick Clegg?) still has First Past The Post – and failure to reach a sizeable audience is political ‘death’ not for the Leader (who has a guaranteed financially-sound future whatever happens) but for the Party (s)he leads.

  • @Bill le Breton:

    “Let them eat cake, indeed!”

    Intriguing Antoinettish comments about cake have come from people who cannot put political bread on the table. 🙁

  • Cllr Steve Radford 26th May '14 - 6:53pm

    In Liverpool a city previously run by the Lib ems they dint hold a single seat- the Liberal party held Tuebrook Stoneycroft with 60%

    In fairness its not Clegg its the right wing coalition agenda adopted the Lib ems said they were against before the election – utter lack of credabilioty, chaning a Leader will not wipe out the sense of betrayal

  • A really good article Caron and I agree with most of the subsequent comments, except that I think it’s wrong to point the finger at “kids” in LDHQ. It’s the more senior ones who are no doubt signing these things off.

    At the last election (lost narrowly) I received a similarly crass and insensitive email from region and I wrote an exceptionally angry reply. I’d understand others who did the same.

  • Bill L B “Do we really need any further evidence of the incompetence of those who have been employed at huge cost (electorally as well as financially) to run our strategies, campaigns and communications, and therefore the negligence of those who employed them and oversee them.”

    It incenses me that Nick Clegg has so many SPADS etc when he criticised their number as a waste of public money in the previous administration. Another example of his bad faith.

    And in a time if austerity it seems there is plenty of money for these people.

  • SIMON BANKS 2nd Jun '14 - 5:47pm

    Wow, colingale, you’ve let the cat out of the bag. How wonderful that we’ve been wiped out in a lot of working-class, left-leaning places where our councillors were never going to be “authentic liberals” but some kind of lefties!

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