Parking the bus or total football?

For those football fanatics among us tactics are something we study closely in our desire to enhance our enjoyment of the beautiful game.

Some of us marvel at a defensive approach where a team plays an unadventurous formation designed to avoid conceding goals and then nicking one at some point in the game to come away with a 1-0 victory. This is often called parking the bus and despite his protestations to the contrary it is the favoured approach of the self styled Special One Mr Jose Mourinho.

Others prefer a purist method, the most advanced version being the one used by the Dutch national team in the past and christened total football by admiring commentators. A number of teams have deployed a variation of this philosophy but few have gained the plaudits earned by Rinus Michels the coach of the legendary Netherlands 1974 World Cup team playing in those fabulous bright orange shirts.

So what does this have to do with politics I hear you ask?

Well as in football, politics is about tactics and for our party the Liberal Democrats the way we deploy our key players will be crucial to our fortunes at the next General Election.

Do we take a cautious approach and look to retain the seats in the House of Commons that we currently hold, extend ourselves a bit by trying to win a handful of target seats or be really adventurous by running campaigns wherever we are able.

There are of course many factors to consider in making a final decision, not least the strength of the opposition and the willingness of members of our team to be deployed ‘out of position’. We also have to bear in mind the fact that politics has become much more unpredictable post Brexit.

Success may well come in some unusual places.

Whoever is in our dugout as ‘Head Coach’  a decision will inevitably be made.

Do we park the bus, go for total football or something in between?

As a democratic outfit I think it is right to hear what our committed supporters think.

Are you a Jose or a Rinus?

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Holmes 2nd Feb '19 - 2:13pm

    ‘Success may well come in some unusual places’. Really? What do you base this view on?

    Can you name the last seat the Lib Dems won in a General Election that was unusual and unexpected ie not based upon a very strong ground campaign and some years of advance campaigning?

    About the last one I can think of as a possible contender would be Charles Kennedy’s victory in 1983 when David Owen famously said ‘Who? Where?’ But that may have been down to London/southern based David Owen’s ignorance of Scottish constituencies rather than to the previous strength of campaigning and Liberal tradition in that constituency.

    The danger of doing a bit everywhere and ‘taking flyers’ on somewhere that a hunch says might be a good thing, is that a small Party in a FPTP system wins little. We must not go back to the bad old days where unfocussed campaigning saw us get 26% of the vote in 1983 (our highest national vote share in the best part of the last century) but only around 20 seats.

    Neither though should we repeat the shrill tone of those who in 2017 said nothing at all should be done anywhere but in Target Seats (at least one magicked on a hunch out of thin air). Follow that route and no new seats would ever be built up to a winnable level. Such an approach also ignores the use of a GE campaign to build strength in particular Council Wards and the fact that many who will for example, deliver leaflets around their own streets, will not travel elsewhere in their own constituency let alone miles away to Target Seat. Others of course may be at work all day and their time in the evenings will be better spent locally rather than wasting most of it in driving miles to and from the nearest Target Seat (often not that near). Weekends are a different matter and it used to be that non Target Seat PPC development plans included taking what mobile activists they had to help and learn at a weekend in a Target Seat.

  • David Warren 2nd Feb '19 - 2:22pm


    You are obviously a ‘Mourinho man’ a choice I have some sympathy with.

    The special one has won plenty, whereas the aforementioned Rinus Michels for all the plaudits from purists had a team that ultimately came up short in the 1974 World Cup.

  • We are really talking about planning. Too much has been made of the idea of identifying target constituencies, rather than having sensible planning.
    An early part of a planning process has to be identifying resources. In a party which does not have substantial external funding this must mean people working without payment. It is nor clear how one can quantify that. It all depends on the enthusiasm of supporters. This is related to having people who can lead a campaign, and I would say keep in touch with members via high quality social media. I do not see that happening at present. I get rather irritated by requests for money, rather than sending me a clear message on what we are fighting for.
    So having established contact, having ensured that every message sent out asks for feedback, having fed back on the feed back, then the best way of assessing enthusiasm of members is to ask them. The best way of planning a campaign is to keep asking for ideas, and make us feel part of things.

  • OnceALibDem 2nd Feb '19 - 9:02pm

    “Can you name the last seat the Lib Dems won in a General Election that was unusual and unexpected ie not based upon a very strong ground campaign and some years of advance campaigning?”

    This is really a varient on ‘there are no surprises in hindsight’ Certainly seats like Leeds West, Northavon, Manchester Withington, Redcar or Burnley would have been surprises if you were told that on the morning after the preceeding General Election. All certainly were based on strong campaigns – but also a nimble organisation willing to identify where the Lb Dems had certain strengths – but also the opposition were weak and/or disorganised and ‘didn’t see the LIb Dems coming’. You can also include in that category some near misses like Haltemprice in 2001 and Oxford east in 2005 where after ‘due warning the opposition were better prepared next time.

    It’s not quite the same thing being argued for here but there is an element of taking a few punts on potential opportunities. It also needs some thinking outside the box in terms of campaign strategy

  • paul holmes 2nd Feb '19 - 11:28pm

    @Oncealibdem: As you say all the seats you name were the result of strong well organised campaigns -not the result of just hoping for something unusual to happen.

    In 2010 Clegg had a very good first TV debate (followed by two weak ones) which led to wild optimism and a chronic dilution of effort. In 2017 a wild optimism that Brexit would lead to such ‘unusual results’ led to Vauxhall being ‘made’ a last minute Target seat which pointlessly diverted resources that could have helped win elsewhere -as in nearby Richmond for example. A similar wild optimism, contrary to all the evidence, would be disastrous next time -whenever that is.

  • Andrew Page 5th Feb '19 - 8:36am

    As you noted in regards football matches, tactics are adopted according to the strengths of our team and the opposition – in addition to various other factors.

    The same applies here. Our approach should be adopted as locally as possible with local considerations in mind. What works well in one place may not work somewhere else.

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