Why everyone who wants to win elections should go to Brecon this Summer

I’ve had a pretty good couple of years as a Lib Dem – in 2018 I was part of the team that produced a “shock” victory in South Cambs, going from 14/57 to 30/45 councillors, and last month I helped organise our Chelmsford campaign, where we went from 5 to 31 seats, the highest gain in the country.  I know how to win elections.

But 3 years ago I didn’t.  Richmond Park by-election was great for our party and the remainer cause, but it was also great personally for me, because I got to learn from the best.

In December 2016 I had a free week so I offered to go and help out with the by-elections, and James Lillis said I could help with GOTV.  So on the Saturday before I turned up at HQ, and after a morning of delivery and canvassing reported for duty at the data bunker.

The next week was one of the most stressful, entertaining and fulfilling of my life.  It started with drawing out polling districts on a huge map on the floor whilst the rest of the team jumped over me (not deliberately, it was just a small space) and ended with me being responsible for the organisation of all the Polling Day materials that ensured our committee rooms could Get Out the Vote. But more importantly I was in a room with the best Lib Dem campaigners in the country – and I learned so much from just observing them.  I got to see the deliberations about what to say in literature, observe the candidate prep for hustings, watch data guru’s creating lists in connect, discuss whether we should include Bob Geldof saying “F*** Zac” in an online video and be part of the most finely tuned Get Out The Vote machine the party has ever organised.

I also got to know some amazing people who have continued to be extremely generous with their advice and time and contacts.  For so many LibDem activists in local parties “HQ” is just a thing that stops us doing stuff – after my week in Richmond they are people I’ve drunk with, people I’ve helped to untangle computer cables and people I’ve seen shove crackers in their mouths. And because we ran such an amazing campaign they are also people who woke me at 3am screaming “We WON” down a phone line and hugged me live on BBC news the next morning.

So if you happen to have some time to spare over the next few weeks, volunteer for one of the core campaign roles with the Brecon and Radnorshire By Election team.  You’ll learn so much that you can go on to use in your own campaigns in the future.  And you’ll have a ball with some brilliant people.  And every time you see Jane Dodds MP on the TV you’ll be able to say “I helped make that happen.”

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* Mary Regnier-Wilson is a Lib Dem election strategist from South Cambridgeshire.

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15 Comments

  • I hope we are strongly complaining to the BBC aboutg their almost blanket coverage of the Conservative Hustings, and what do the show of our contest?.

  • I hope we are complaining to the BBC about their non stop coverage of the Tory hustings. What about us, will we be treated fairly?

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jun '19 - 5:59pm

    After winning the bye-election with lots of experienced canvassers we lost Eastbourne in the 1992 general election, and Ribble Valley and Kincardine & Deeside.
    At the Nottingham conference after the Ribble Valley bye-election Paddy Ashdown told the candidates that he wanted people who could win a seat in a general election, even though the Conservative’s new chairman had been given an early bath. We won Bath.
    At Richmond (Yorks) there were enough votes to win, but we had been joined by an Owenite candidate, who spoiled our chances without winning himself.
    That’s FPTP for you. You don’t get much for anything other than first.
    A young Conservative called William Hague went on to become Tory leader.
    At Richmond Park we won with the help of Caroline Lucas, but in 2017 Zac was back.
    Therefore we need to win Brecon twice in succession and should not do anything in the bye-election which endangers the next election there.

  • Paul Barker 22nd Jun '19 - 7:11pm

    I dont want to dampen anyones spirits but recent Polling does suggest that we might have peaked for now. Historically, Polling gains made on the back of Election Results are usually temporary.
    Looking at the 8 Polls since The European Results does suggest that we are around 19/20%.

  • @Paul Barker

    I have to somewhat disagree! In general our poll ratings have been signiificantly higher after a by election win than before. In general they may peak just after (due to more media coverage, us being seen to win) & then decline afterwards but they still stay higher than before the by-election and the more we win the more the media cover us. You *may* be seeing a similar effect post Euros but in general and for the same pollster and only yougov have done several polls post Euros they are within the same margin of error.

    On by-elections & sadly for a number of reasons I have been to fewer than I should have there is always a tremendous feeling of comradeship & friendship. I have never had an original thought on campaigning in my life. It’s always a question of copying others good leaflets etc. And as a rule the best leaflets are produced by our best campaigners at a by-election. Why make life more difficult for yourself!?

    In the book “neither left nor right” a lib dem campaigner in Cheadle explains that they nicked a lot of ideas from neighbouring hazel grove which won in 1997 to win Cheadle in 2001!

    In general a lot of seats won pre 1997 in a by-election were held in 1997 & of course we hold Eastbourne (essentially!) at the moment. And b&r given its electoral history is likely to be the same.

  • Richard O'Neill 23rd Jun '19 - 1:47am

    @Theakes
    The Lib Dem contest is a much more sedate and harmonious one. That has advantages and disadvantages. Believe me if our party’s contest becomes more controversial then it will attract coverage.

    @ Paul Barker
    I definitely think its wrong to assume that a natural Lib Dem level is %20-25. The European elections are always slightly odd event, that provide a boost but little indication about success at Westminster elections (hence UKIP won in 2014 and then only took one seat in 2015) Yet the current by-election is a great opportunity to take a seat. Tories are terrible at by-elections, and Brexit Party might struggle in a more rural area.

    However, the governments majority is so fragile (even with DUP support) that another loss may trigger a general election. Ironically, like in Richmond, the Conservatives might end up winning back the seat in a general election.

  • David Brenton 23rd Jun '19 - 8:39am

    Good luck with that theakes, I have been emailing politics live/any questions and question time about the lack of representation on their programmes for weeks now. Fiona Bruce’s programme is turning into Jeremy Kyle of politics!

  • Is it just protocol that the Party that held a seat before a by-election is the one that calls it or is it a legal requirement? If the former is it to our advantage to force the issue and could it force the broadcasters to give more attention to our own leadership vote?

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Jun '19 - 10:49am

    Well moving the writ by the party whose seat it was would seem to be convention rather than law………

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dems-to-move-writ-for-oldham-east-and-saddleworth-by-election-tomorrow-22399.html

    https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2010-12-16/debates/10121650000003/BusinessOfTheHouse – see question from Hilary Benn…
    “Following the decision of the deputy Chief Whip this morning to break the convention that the party holding a seat moves the by-election writ in the case of seats declared void after an election…….”
    Deputy Chief Whip – that would have been Alistair Carmichael

  • Discussions about where we are in the polls and whether we can hold the seat in future are diversions. The simple fact is we are on a high, having done very well in the locals and the Euro elections.

    There is only one thing that is important and that is we all get out there whether we have the time or not, because this is one of our most winnable seats in the country. In addition it is in a beautiful part of mid Wales and the Brecon and Radnor Lib Dems and Jane Dodds deserve our help. Shirley and I were there over the week-end and it was great to see others from York, Bedford and many other places turning up as well.

    Success for the Lib Dems is all about momentum and we have it at the moment because of the great work done by all those council candidates in May who weren’t prepared to simply lie down and die. But we all know how quickly those in charge at the BBC will start to dismiss us as irrelevant once more if we give them the chance.

    We can win, we have to win and if you get there and help, you will help make it more likely.

  • “On the subject of Richmond Park – I hear that Sarah Olney is currently just one of a number of candidates being considered for selection as the PPC. ”

    That would be pretty standard. You don’t get an automatic ‘free pass’ for a selection by virtue of being the former MP – it will always be an ‘open’ selection.

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