Opinion: The First Rule of Campaigning

pensionsWe wake today to news that the Government is planning Dutch-style collective pension schemes which the minister of state for pensions,the Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, says are “some of the best in the world”. The proposed legislation will include the previously announced removal of tax rules that have prevented pensioners taking more than a quarter of their savings in a cash lump sum.

OK, there is no need for switch off. This piece is not going to be about pensions.  It is about campaigning and in particular about integrated campaigning. The subject has been chosen purely at random.  It is Monday. What has a Liberal Democrat minister announced today?  Ah! Pensions.

The point is that no one went to bed last night knowing this was going to happen today except Steve Webb, a few mandarins, some press people who only saw their job as briefing the national media, and perhaps a few policy wonks who have been on the Pensions Policy Review Working Party’s Sub Committee looking at Dutch Schemes.

99.9% of the general public won’t realise that it is a Liberal Democrat measure.  A similar number won’t understand its significance nor know that they actually wanted this in the first place, because, perhaps they didn’t know they did. Nor will they see it as part of a group of measures designed in a coordinated way by those Liberal Democrats for some very good purpose for the common good. Nor that it is yet another example of Liberal Democrats Being On YOUR Side.

Without this preparation all initiatives have almost zero political impact. Nor will they provide motivation, action and connection for Liberal Democrat activists in their communities. Nor will they give people a say in the decision in the first place.

Let us rewind.  There must have been a moment when Steve Webb and his Liberal Democrat Team of paid and unpaid advisers had a very good idea that they were going to be able to get this measure through both civil service, the Treasury, and their Coalition Partners. At that very moment they needed to be on the phone to the campaigns department.  “Hey, you know that idea we warned you we were working on and that you said you’d work up some campaign ideas for? Well, it’s on.”

Now, let’s rewind a few months.  The campaigns department, working with ALDC, issues a campaign pack, with background material.  That material starts with a briefing. Para 1): The Problem. 2) Who is affected directly and indirectly 3) Who are our allies on this  4)  Some possible solutions. 5) The Dutch Scheme. 6) Why the Dutch Scheme is a Liberal Democrat Solution. 7) Other organisations interested in pensions with presence in your community. 8) Petition. 9) Draft Council Motion. 10) draft letter to opinion formers in your community. 11) Art work, campaign collateral material, memorable description, slogan etc..

Take-up by local Party teams is not guaranteed, but it might just spark something.  It might be a niche audience in your community, but who knows, you might get the local Age UK people on board. It is about wealth and self sufficiency in later times in life.  It is radical.  It comes from a long tradition of truly liberal initiatives to ensure that people continue to have opportunities and can lead a dignified life free from worries about poverty and hardship.  With only a bit of imagination it could take-off.

And that petition? It is presented to Webb. Fanfare. News in FOCUS and feedback to all those who had signed up.  Webb writes to them to keep them abreast of his progress.  And ultimately today?  Today there are local press releases about the Lib Dem SUCCESS on pension reform.  Letters to those who have helped the campaign locally.  Regional and local media opportunities for Webb and the local lead campaigners concluding in a declaration of what we shall be campaigning for next.

First rule of campaigning: Action speaks louder than words.

* Bill le Breton is a former Chair and President of ALDC and a member of the 1997 and 2001 General Election teams

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  • I love this. The WI in our area would have been perfect people to talk to about this policy.

  • I have e-mailed my MP – Steve Webb to encourage him to read and to pass on to his colleagues.

  • Bill le Breton makes some sound points.

    But will anyone listen? Bill does not consider the possibility that the people at the top of the Liberal Democrats have been using all their media and campaigns people to circle the wagons and cling on to Clegg.

    I cam imagine the scene whenthe phone call going from Steve Webb’s office to the party’s media boss—

    ” What’s that you say, pensions? New policy which the voters might like? Sorry mate but it is all hands to the wheel to save Nick. We have got to get Paddy on the TV talking about cake and testicles. We have got to rubbish all those members that are causing trouble and withering on about being a democratic party. No time for pensions.”

    The phone is slammed down.

    ” Some bloke called Steve Webb, isn’t he the one that Nick could never stand? Mirror did a story on it ages ago. That’s right the really intelligent one from Gloucestershire or somewhere, apparently he’s some sort of minister now.”.

    “Well, I told him we are too busy saving Nick’s skin. Where did you say Newark is?”

  • Ashcroft poll on Newark out , we are socking it to them, we are at 6%.
    Worse still that is the national figure as well. Come on Paddy and Co, tell him to resign. Without that you are letting down the Lib Dem party, membership and remaining voters.
    We must have a fresh face, a fresh image and a different perception from the voters. That starts with the leader.

  • @ theakes / JohnTilley

    I take it your unhappy with the leadership but for me spamming every LDV post with ‘Nick must go’ that have little to do with the content isn’t helping your cause, its just getting in the way of people reading comments about the post.

    Just my opinion anyway 🙂

  • I think Steve Webb was credited as a Lib Dem this morning, prob on the BBC News / Breakfast.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jun '14 - 6:01pm

    For what Bill is talking about to be introduced would require just a smidgeon of political leadership.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Jun '14 - 6:02pm

    Thanks to everyone … so far 😉

    Great to see you again Mike, virtually that is!

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jun '14 - 6:05pm

    Excellent idea, Bill. Outstanding.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Jun '14 - 6:33pm

    Collective pensions might be fine if nobody is forced or misled into having one. I used to be a pensions expert, but I need to see the detail. The only way a lot of people usually pool risk is if they are forced to. If force is not going to be used, then mis-selling or naivety often is, which is what happened with endowments, with-profits funds and it looks like the Dutch version too.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Jun '14 - 6:35pm

    By the way, I apologise for my rage on the subject the other day, it was because I thought people were going to be forced to have them, which doesn’t look like the case, but we still need to be wary of a repeat of history with endowments miss-selling.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '14 - 6:36pm

    Just one addition – make sure there are no more dumb comments about sports cars this time.

  • paul barker 2nd Jun '14 - 7:01pm

    @John Tilley
    You are dead right, the Anti-Clegg obsessives are doing more than damaging The Party image & demoralising our members, they are draining the energies of Party HQ who have to spend all their time fire-fighting.

  • paul barker
    Why invent something that I did not say? By all means agree / disagree with what I have actually said.

    Gareth Wilson
    Go back over the last three weeks, count the number of threads on LDV. Thencount the number that I have commented on. Then maybe, reconsider what you have said and just maybe apologise?

  • paul barker 2nd Jun '14 - 8:20pm

    @John Tilley
    Sorry sometimes sarcasm doesnt come across in cold text; I wasnt trying to impute my opinions to you, simply to take your complaint & turn it on its head.
    It takes 2 sides to make a civil war but I would say it was up to the side who have clearly lost to stop shooting, or in this case shouting.

  • paul barker
    Fair enough. I appreciate your prompt response. We can get back to disagreement now.. 🙂

  • Richard Dean 2nd Jun '14 - 8:29pm

    Banging on about Clegg every which way doesn’t help anyone, particularly in threads about something else.

    Bill’s suggestion about how to get the best out of LibDem achievements will help a lot, if someone can take on the task of implementing it. Could Mr.Tall help?

  • Good piece, Bill; I hope it gets read by the higher-ups. 🙂

    And quite right, Richard Dean.

  • Gareth Wilson.
    Since the 13th of May there have been around 150 threads.
    I have made no comment at all on about half of those threads.

    Of those threads that I have commented on there are a significant number where the leadership has not been mentioned by anybody.

    So to suggest as you did that I have been “….. spamming every LDV post with ‘Nick must go’ “. Is to say the least wide of the mark that I hope you will want to correct yourself and apologise.

    Of course that have been scores of others who have called for Nick Clegg to go or said something similar. Perhaps you thought they were all me?

    In addition 400 plus members signed an open letter to the leader asking him to step aside. There are also members up and down the country calling for EGMs to enact the relevant part of the constitution to require a leadership election.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Jun '14 - 9:10pm

    @Paul Barker I for one share most of John Tilley’s concerns. Clegg was a pretty uninspiring centrist pre the 2010 GE. Then he came to life and was truly inspiring but sadly almost immediately he began making some pretty bad mistakes and was, more often than not, for too ready to compromise with the Tories. In spite of this, for the past four years, I have given him my support. I am not some sort of rabid anti-Cleggite.

    Throughout, an ongoing issue for Nick Clegg personally and ourselves as a party, has been the poisonous press coverage and our lovely Tory ‘partners’ and Labour thwarting him at every possible opportunity. Not fair and pretty objectionable – but a fact none the less.

    What broke the camel’s back for me though is Clegg’s persistence in attempting to convert us in to being an insipid ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ centre party and crucially his attempt to have his team draw up the next manifesto and decide on our negotiating position. No, No No! These Mr Clegg are not in your gift.

    Finally, the evidence suggests to me that the majority of our lost voters (not to mention members) were from the centre left – the very ground Clegg has sought to vacate. I contend that the centre-left Liberal Democrat membership is actually better aligned with our historical and target vote than is our present leadership.

    If Clegg is to remain as leader until the next general election, he and his ‘special(?) advisors’ must get their head round the fact that he is a temporary custodian of this position, not some latter day divine monarch. He leads only by virtue of the membership’s support.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Jun '14 - 9:12pm

    Richard and others. Apologies. I do take your point. Perhaps Paul Barker will also?

  • An excellent piece by Bill – even inspiring. But one doubt…..

    Who, in this democratic party of ours, would have been the person or body who ought to have implemented this?

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Jun '14 - 9:16am

    John, you are very kind.

    25 years ago it was ALDC with the People First campaign and a team in the Whips office that understood this process and ensured that our MPs’ researchers played their part in providing the detail background material that has to be the basis of real campaigns.

    Such people do not appear to exist either in Westminster or among our Spads in Whitehall. Yet we are in the best position ever for integrated campaigns to deliver success.

    Does ALDC now depend so much on central funds that it dare not act as an insurgency in dire times???

    We have seen over recent days TPTB talking about getting our message over better, talk louder etc but dare I say it, that’s the equivalent of the old shiny election address that politicians thought were the way to reach “”””their”””” electorate.

    To me the central question always is what is the issue in this community?

    Now that sounds simple but non-campaigners find it a very hard question to ask, answer and focus on. There always is a great issue: something that is stopping people being able to take and use their power in their community. Then it really is ‘concentrate, campaign, communicate’ with the object of working with those people to help them take it back and use it.

  • Thanks for the reply, Bill. Although it does rather sound from what you say as though there is nobody in the formal structure.

    Might this not be a task that the President ought to oversee?

  • Enjoyed the piece Bill, a very practical explanation of a broad communication problem, with an accompanying proposed solution!

    >Banging on about Clegg every which way doesn’t help anyone

    …or it helps everyone. Clegg is leading the party into the abyss, it’s not in anyones interest not to have Lib Dem representation for 5 years.

    >It takes 2 sides to make a civil war but I would say it was up to the
    >side who have clearly lost to stop shooting, or in this case shouting.

    I would say that both sides have lost, and nobody is shouting anything. It’s all been very reasonable as far as I’ve seen, and I can’t see why people that have been campaigning for a political belief all their life aren’t entitled to comment on its future and direction, especially if they think that legacy in danger. I think many of us will never stop calling for Clegg to go, until Clegg goes!

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 3rd Jun '14 - 5:08pm

    Yes, Bill, bring back the old and well-tried style which works. Just imagine the press fluttering around to get a bit of the system we used. And let each minister, or member at the centre of it, be the spokesperson. What a change it will be ! Community action by the community which formed it.

  • David Vasmer 4th Jun '14 - 1:42am

    Bill – Really liked your excellent contribution. Shame that ALDC are not making similar points.

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