'write it on a piece of paper and stick it through a letterbox’
October 21, 2014 4:28 AM   Subscribe

Central to this inheritance for the Liberal Democrats was the role of leaflets. If one image can sum up the approach to campaigning taken by the Liberal Democrats across twenty-five years, it would be a piece of paper on a doormat emblazoned with a bar chart and a headline screaming that ‘Only the local Liberal Democrat can beat Party X round here’.
Mark Pack takes a long, indepth look at Liberal Democrat electoral campaigning and its history. Surprisingly interesting even for non-wonks.
posted by MartinWisse (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
How interesting, thank you. I'm in Manchester Withington, long a Tory seat, then Labour from the 1980s, and Lib Dem after the Gulf War. Very marginal Labour/Lib Dem. I've been leafleting for years:
  • The sign above an overflowing letterbox saying "No more Lib Dem leaflets PLEASE!"
  • Another party photocopying slurs from the Daily Mail and posting them through letterboxes. Things get a bit fraught at a General...
  • Being mistaken for Tony Blair (I thought you knocked up in a suit, clearly I'm old-fashioned.)
  • Ethical conundrums: when a voter tells you he's really interested in stopping non-white immigration, do you say cheerfully "vote for us!" even though your party won't help, or "you should vote for the BNP, then!" because it's true?
  • Most people think that the leaflets are delivered by the post, through (no doubt) some rich central party machine. They are astonished that real local people deliver them.
  • Leafletters and other campaigners are surprisingly hostile to each other: I thought a cheery wave and hello to someone else doing their democratic duty would go down well, but no. Of course, they (we) are all weirdoes, or we would be doing local politics.
So yes, at one level, politics is very local: at another, there is nothing you can do against the national news, especially as the populace increasingly disengages from politics and different political opinions are seen as moral failings rather than genuine disagreements over policy.
posted by alasdair at 6:14 AM on October 21, 2014

My local Lib Dem councillors (a couple, both councillors, but for neighbouring areas) are kind of like Mr. Bean (and Mrs. Bean), had they become involved in politics. Their newsletter, which graces our letterbox a few times a year, is essentially a local politics 'stuff on my cat' photo-shoot. It'll start off with a picture of the two of them next to a street sign, where there might have been concerns over the number of potholes in the road. They'll follow that up with another photo of them (sometimes with a friend) at a local event, or stood outside a shop that's in danger of closing. What makes it funny is the relentless consistency in how they put the newsletter together. It's two double-sided pages of A4, and there'll almost always be five or six of these photos of the two of them, with the same blank expressions on their not-particularly-photogenic faces each time, stood next to some random thing.
posted by pipeski at 6:21 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The sign above an overflowing letterbox saying "No more Lib Dem leaflets PLEASE!"

Oh dear, I'm in your constituency and - while I've not done the above - the quantity of LibDem material I get is vast. The newsletters with the infamous dodgy bar graphs, the fake handwritten letters, the fake handwritten Christmas cards... I'm actually quite happy with John Leech as an MP, but I'm not surprised people get irritated by all the bumf. 95% of it must go straight into the recycling bin unread.

Mind you, Labour had Eddie Izzard at my doorstep a few years ago and that was annoying too, although if he comes back maybe I can get him to sign my Hannibal boxset...
posted by sobarel at 6:45 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A good piece, thank you. I actually did a little leafleting for the lib dems last election, which I now cannot decide if I am pleased about or not.

I think the argument made by some that Rennard's strategy meant that the lib dems did not have a coherent image is well taken, and part of why they have lost support his parliament, because it is much more difficult to be all things to all people when one is in government. Its also worth noting, as with Moneyball, that if a strategy is found to be effective for the small players, the large players are likely to steal it if there is nothing about said strategy which means it can only be used by small players.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:49 AM on October 21, 2014

An actual Lib Dem government is of course the worst thing that can happen to this strategy, since if they immediately just become Tories what is the point in voting for them against Tories?
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on October 21, 2014

I'm a fan of ongoing continuous local campaigning. If it's pursued with any level of sincerity from candidates, MPs, party hierarchies, that sort of "here we are, we are you, we are your neighbours" canvassing is one of the few means of genuinely genuinely assessing what people in any given area want and need. It's also one of the few remaining ways of changing opinion in highly polarised environments.

The article eventually gets there when it notes a shift from contact for data gathering purposes v. repeated contact for longer conversations. For me that's one of the first key differentials when it comes to measuring whether a candidate or party is a) likely to become big enough to get elected and make a difference, and b) sincere about giving a shit and listening to his/her/its potential constituents. Do they have a whole lot of real people who want to have a genuine chat, or are they just (literally or figuratively) autodialing me with a swinging voter push poll?

But fuck.. leaflets through letterboxes.. I've got a fancy one on my desk right now (mailed, postage paid, costs about $1.50-2.00 Australian or so to have Australia Post assemble and deliver something like this). Hang on a tick, I'm gonna unbox the bastard. [1] [2] [3]. And there ya go.

That's about as good as a leaflet through a letterbox gets here. It's official mail. It's personally addressed. I have to engage somewhat just to open it (to be honest I don't know why I even brought it inside). Then the content speaks directly to me and engages me further by inviting me to something that appears to be a discussion session (with important people) where my concerns will be heard and responded to. My voice will be heard! Things will be done! How very engagement!

But.. we all know how that sort of sales shit works, don't we? At best I get a hard seat a free cup of tea and half a sandwich while someone puts a lot of time and effort into trying to sell me a f..king condo.. Or in this case, more police in a neighbourhood where I can't walk out the door without saying "Hello Mr Policeman" but where we average two burglaries a week.

So, long story short, I'm with sobarel's comment above. Please stop doing this. You're putting me in a position where I pay for someone I didn't vote for to send me leaflets inviting me to fake consultation sessions about unnecessary law and order issues while also having to pay the council to give me a bin with a different coloured top so that they can pretend to take those bits of paper to a non-existent recycling facility. If I put Kafka and Orwell in a room with a whiteboard and some markers they couldn't invent this shit in a million years..

Or to put it another way, Killface had it nailed. "I'm reduced to postcards, the dry hump of marketing strategies."
posted by Ahab at 8:07 AM on October 21, 2014

What I found interesting in this analysis is how similar it is to the way the Dutch Socialist Party managed to transform itself from maoist, student led niche party to the biggest mass party of the socialist left and a serious competitor to the PvdA, the Dutch equivalent of the Labour party. Start locally, focus on local issues and build from there, but keep your ideology clear.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:30 PM on October 21, 2014

I have nothing substantive to add, other than my surprise that I too am a voter in Manchester Withington.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 1:49 PM on October 21, 2014

We're probably a significant enough voting bloc that the LDs will be posting their material on MetaFilter from now on...
posted by sobarel at 2:07 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Paddy Ashdown does not get enough credit in this - perhaps he was not that important in the development of th leaflet - but in developing that local mentality he was crucial
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:31 PM on October 21, 2014

It occurs to me that the article actually articulates really well why the LDs are now in such a bad position. The encouragement of tactical voting ("vote for us to keep that other lot you hate out of power") means you're automatically in trouble when you then enter a coalition with that party. I used to live in the Cheadle constituency and LD campaigning was huge on the "we're the only way to stop the Tories" message - what happens then when people vote accordingly and find they've facilitated a Tory government?

The other thing it mentions is the post-1997, and particularly post Iraq War, strategy of taking votes from disillusioned Labour voters. Often this meant portraying themselves as much more of the Left than they actually are - again this means the voters tempted by this pitch will be appalled by what happens when the LDs end up in coalition.

I think I'd argue that what MartinWisse says upthread - "focus on local issues and build from there, but keep your ideology clear" - hasn't happened with the LibDems. They're different things depending on where they're operating locally, and there isn't a clear sense of what they stand for in a national government.
posted by sobarel at 4:09 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Voted Lib Dem for a decade, as they seemed like the best option for my admittedly mixed up politics. I'm now rather looking forward to their electoral annihilation. Their total spinelessness in government has been harrowing to watch. Sort of hoping they knock on my door, as I'd like the opportunity to tell them, in detail, why they've lost my vote. Possibly I'll mention the stupid bloody bar graphs.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:15 AM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Might be me, Happy Dave!
posted by alasdair at 1:04 PM on October 30, 2014

« Older Unique taste — and the capacity to avoid the basic...   |   Do you fold it or wad it? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments