Opinion: Secret ingredients and the 2010 General Election

Over the past few months, many people within the Liberal Democrats have asked me for my views on the 2010 General Election campaign, and the lessons that we can learn from the experience ready for next time.

In the South Central region (where I worked as the Campaigns Officer) the results were mixed. We had substantial swings towards us in both Portsmouth South and Eastleigh, but failed to win Oxford East from Labour, and sadly lost our previously held seats of Oxford West and Abingdon, Winchester, and Romsey to the Conservatives.

Clearly any election result is the unique consequence of a combination of local and national factors at a particular period of time. Therefore no two campaigns will ever be identical, and (unfortunately for us political activists) this means there isn’t some Nigella-style magic recipe that we can follow in order to guarantee victory every time.

However, in the same way as one of Nigella’s recipes includes a secret ingredient that she believes transforms her dish from ordinary to extraordinary, I believe that the factor which made the most impact on a seat’s chances of success at the 2010 General Election was the presence of a dedicated team who had continuously campaigned to win ever since polls closed on 5th May 2005.

There are plenty of seats we can look to as evidence of the difference that can be made by nonstop campaigning over the full 5 years of a Parliament. Ian Swales and his team achieved a staggering 21.8% swing to win the Redcar parliamentary seat in May. Whilst we may not have won Ashfield this time, the 19.5% shift in support towards Jason Zadrozny and the Lib Dems still counts as a huge success – especially when you consider that as late as 2003, there were zero Lib Dems on Ashfield District Council!

And before the cynics amongst you protest that these results were mainly a by-product of the public’s loss of support for the failing Labour government, there are also clear examples from our Conservative-facing areas of the powerful effect of constant campaigning. In Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron and the Lib Dems share of the vote went up by 14.1% in May, and indeed both Eastleigh and Portsmouth South saw direct swings from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems.

So the key lesson that I feel we must learn from this General Election is that if you want to win next time, you need to start your campaign now. Find a team of committed activists, and find as many opportunities as you can to build your capacity and your success locally. And don’t take your foot off the accelerator until polls close in 2015.

Katy Riddle is Liberal Democrat Campaigns Officer for the South Central region – covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

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17 Comments

  • You do not grasp the effects of first term incumbency which lifted Huhne and Farron up. New comers will always suffer a drop (Winchester) as did Eastleigh in 2005. Also a long term incumbent with a 2k majority when challenged by a local well known Conservative cllr was bound to lose in Romsey despite tens of thousands of £ support from Cowley Street.

    A more experienced approach would not have squandered cash in Winchester and Romsey. PS non stop campaigning had gone on in Winchester and Romsey yet they were lost!

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Oct '10 - 11:39am

    “But what policies should activists be campaigning on?
    What do they tell people on the doors, they will be fighting for in 2015?”

    Safest just to say “fairness.” That seems to cover almost anything.

  • The key message from the election should be to not to waste your vote in Con/Lab marginals- vote to prevent either of them having a Commons majority.  There were 27 seats that the Tories won even though they were identifiable in advance as seats that would likely give Cameron his 326 seats.  In particular, Carlisle, Waveney, Morecambe, Lancaster, Weaver Vale, Stockton Sth, Thurrock, Amber Valley, Warwickshire Nth and Sherwood were all gained by the Tories by less than 1000 votes.  Electors were encouraged to vote Lib Dem here when a Labour vote would have not left a Lib-Lab coalition at the mercy of nutcases like Reid, Blunkett and Abbott and opportunists like Burnham.  By allowing the LDs to play off Con vs Lab, these 27 seats would maybe by now have given the chance of an STV referendum, 40% CGT, prevented NHS upheaval, minimised the VAT increase and started Lords reform.
    Voting LD in these 27 seats stopped all that.

  • Cant see any future in raking over the embers of what was an unfortuate result for us. As my gran used to say, ‘you’ve made your bed now lie in it.’ There’s plenty else to worry about ie Wales, Scotland and the locals next year and none of it so far augurs well.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Oct '10 - 1:26pm

    “There’s plenty else to worry about ie Wales, Scotland and the locals next year and none of it so far augurs well.”

    Oh – and isn’t there some kind of referendum next year as well?
    ________________________________
    “If there is hope, it lies in the trolls.”

  • HF wrote,

    “New comers will always suffer a drop (Winchester) as did Eastleigh in 2005.”

    But not when Susan Kramer replaced Jenny Tonge and Liz Lynne replaced Cyril Smith.

  • “Over the past few months, many people within the Liberal Democrats have asked me for my views on the 2010 General Election campaign, ”

    Interesting.

    No-one in the Federal Party or Campaigns Dept has asked me for my views – in any sort of meaningful formal structure way – on the 2010 General Election. As I was the agent in one of the few seats we gained and had net council seat gains on May 6th as well I thought I might have had something to contribute.

  • “So the key lesson that I feel we must learn from this General Election is that if you want to win next time, you need to start your campaign now. Find a team of committed activists, and find as many opportunities as you can to build your capacity and your success locally. And don’t take your foot off the accelerator until polls close in 2015.”

    Ah – that’s why Ed Fordham, Martin Tod, Paul Rowen, Sal Brinton etc lost

  • If you want to get ready for the next election I suggest you expel Clegg, Cable, Alexander, Huhne and co. and take back democratic control of your party, and then break free from Tory control (Clegg?). I voted Lib Dem at the last election. Never again. I am not a super-leftie or way-out radical, but I am staggered by the change in the Lib Dems, everything that I voted for has been reversed, they are worse than Tories. And my vote was in effect a vote for the Tories, because the party I voted for is keeping the Tory party in power. Now we have a situation whereby a bunch of very rich men (inherited wealth) are kicking the people without wealth.

  • A considerable body of evidence is building up in favour of NOT starting too early. Certainly early PPC selection in quite a number of seats in the 2005 – 10 period was pretty much a disaster. And at least 2 constituencies with last minute candidates out-performed most neighbouring constituencies.

  • Those seats that did well and selected late didn’t do well because they selected late, they did well because there had been a strong campaign running for some time before the candidate was selected. I don’t think there is any evidence that surprising the electorate by a last minute selection bring any benefit whatsoever.

  • I’m looking forward to the LDV article from Hywel.

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