Norwich North: what to make of all that, then? #nnbe

by Stephen Tall on July 25, 2009

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: if you fight a by-election in which both your total number of votes, and your percentage of votes cast, declines since the previous general election then the result is disappointing. There, I’ve said it, disappointing.

Now let’s look a bit harder, and try and work out what’s going on, addressing directly the three questions:
1) should we have done better,
2) is our campaigning stuck in a rut, and
3) is the leadership to blame?

1) Should we have done better?

The verdict that we should have done better – at least come second – was encapsulated by the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson in his blog-post, How to unspin Norwich:

Lib Dems: “This is a truly shocking result for Labour.”
Translation: “Oh no. Why don’t we win by-elections any more?”

Except, of course, it’s not that simple. There seems to be a fantasy among some Lib Dem supporters, shared by journalists like Nick, that the Lib Dems have talismanic by-elections skills – that the party need only show up in any constituency in the UK, and the electorate will be hypnotically seduced into voting Lib Dem. This isn’t true now, and nor has it ever been true, a fact statistically proved by Lib Dem blogger ‘Costigan Quist’ HERE.

There was, perhaps, one exception: the last Parliament, when we won two of the six by-elections contested – Brent East and Leicester South – and also recorded hefty swings in two others, Birmingham Hodge Hill and Hartlepool. (The South Wales result in Ogmore, when the Lib Dem vote fell 4%, is usually happily ignored: it spoils the story).

But to judge this Parliament by last Parliament’s standards is silly, in any case, for it witnessed a perfect storm that is very unlikely to be repeated: a wildly unpopular policy – Iraq – on which the Lib Dems had a distinct, well-known, poular position; and a main opposition party, the Tories when led by Iain Duncan Smith, which was an utter campaigning shambles. The Lib Dems’ Iraq USP has now receded, while the Tories are, once again, a professional outfit. To expect the Lib Dems to conjure up by-election magic dust in vastly changed circumstances is utterly fanciful.

And the idea that, even if the Lib Dems won’t actually win, our vote must always, automatically increase is also profoundly un-historical. To me, the current Parliament most closely resembles the 1992-97 Parliament: a tired, imploding governing party, seemingly at the mercy of events, and a main opposition party on the up. So let’s compare the by-election results of now with then:

  • 2005-present: Lib Dems contested 12 by-elections, vote percentage increased in seven;
  • 1992-97: Lib Dems contested 16 by-elections, vote percentage increased in eight.

It’s true that the 1992-97 Parliament included some spectacular Lib Dem successes, most notably Newbury, Christchurch, Eastleigh, and Littleborough and Saddleworth. In each of those by-elections, of course, the party started in second place to the governing party – just as we did in Dunfermline.

Yet there were many results, too, in 1992-97 which mirror yesterday’s Norwich North by-election:

  • Barking (1 Feb ‘94): Lib Dem vote down 2.5%
  • Dagenham (17 May ’94): down 3.1%
  • Monklands East (12 May ’94): down 2%
  • Dudley West (12 Oct ’94): down 2.8%
  • Hemsworth (31 Oct ’95): down 3.7%
  • SE Staffordshire (12 Dec ’95): down 4.9%
  • Barnsley East (11 Oct ’96): down 0.3%
  • Wirral South (3 Nov ’96): down 3%

In each of those eight by-elections the party started the campaign in third place, or lower. Go figure.

(Historical endnote: let’s not forget either the Newham North East by election (2 Mar ’94), when the nominated Lib Dem candidate, AJ Kellaway, announced at a news conference on the eve of poll that he had resigned from the Liberal Democrats and joined the Labour Party. Imagine if that happened today, and the doom-laden blogosphere commentary that would accompany it!)

2) Is our campaigning stuck in a rut?

Here we move from the objective of historical fact – our by-election performance today is equivalent to 1992-97 – to subjective question so beloved of all armchair generals. The argument is familiar … our bar-charts are ‘dodgy’ and don’t work, bombarding the electorate with leaflets is so last millennium, the other parties have copied our tactics, etc.

Now, maybe it’s me, but I don’t quite get the logical train of thought which runs: ‘The Tories have copied the Lib Dems’ successful by-election campaigning strategy and are starting to win by-elections by using it. Therefore the Lib Dem strategy does not work and we should ditch it.’

It’s quite simple: the ‘Rennard technique’ – leaflets, target mail, bar-charts etc – works spectacularly well when the party is the main challenger. Trouble is, the Lib Dems have not had a by-election since Dunfermline in which we have been the undisputed main challengers to the governing party.

The ‘Rennard technique’ is not – and has never been – fool-proof. It has delivered by-election success for the party over almost two decades, from Eastbourne to Dunfermline, where the circumstances are right. But it has also failed on numerous occasions to work when the circumstances were not right. And they weren’t right in Norwich North.

The true test of the party’s strategy in such by-elections, then, is not ‘Can we win?’ It is, and should be, ‘Can we start building success here for the future’?

The most important campaigning questions are, for instance: has Lib Dem membership increased in Norwich North since the start of the campaign; have we built a delivery network to ensure the Lib Dem message is delivered beyond the end of the campaign; have we boosted our chances in target council seats; and have we increased the profile of our general election candidate?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, though my guess is ‘Yes’ will be the answer to most or all. In particular, it was canny tactics to select April Pond as our candidate, given that she is destined to be our candidate for the soon-to-be-overlapping constituency of Broadlands, and where her name recognition will now be much higher.

3) Is the leadership to blame?

The easiest to answer: no. Of course, the ‘Do you like Nick Clegg?’ question is another subjective one. But if there is an objective measure, it’s opinion polls: the latest Mori opinion poll showed 44% are satisfied with him, 28% dissatisfied – a net satisfaction score of +16%. For comparison, David Cameron’s net satisfaction is lower, at +9%, and Nick has been leading Mr Cameron for the past three months. So my view is that we should at least wait until the Tories decide their leader is a failure before deciding to ditch ours.

Ah, you say, but look at the current political circumstances – an exhausted governing party, the most severe recession in living memory, public contempt for politicians at an all-time high. Surely the Lib Dems should be benefiting? Why is it that Ukip and the Greens are attracting more votes than before, and not us?

There are any number of answers to this.

First, I think the party (and in particular the Parliamentary party) must face up to the fact that we did long-term damage to the Lib Dem ‘brand’ as a direct result of Charles Kennedy’s messy resignation. There’s no point going into the right and wrongs, again, here: views are pretty much fixed. You either think our MPs behaved disgracefully, or (my view) you reckon they reacted in the rather confused, inadequate and human way that people do when forced to confront difficult, private, personal problems. But, sadly for the party, I think that episode left us looking ‘just like the others’.

Then there is MPs’ expenses: though Lib Dem MPs emerged by and large unscathed, certainly not guilty of the fraudulent activities of Labour and Tory MPs, the overwhelming effect on the public was ‘they’re all at it’. As it happens, the Lib Dems – alone among the mainstream parties – have maintained or even increased our poll ratings in the wake of the scandal.

In essence, you see, the Lib Dems are no longer viewed as an insignificant protest party. We should be delighted: for years, we have tried to convince the public that we are major players, a party capable of becoming the next official opposition, and forming a future government. And, finally, the public is taking us at our word.

We have 63 MPs, are in second place in a further 190 constituencies, control large councils up and down the country. So, if you’re a voter trying to give the politicians a kick up the proverbial, who would you choose? It’s less likely now to be the Lib Dems.

We may just have to accept, at least for the moment, that Ukip and the Greens are the most likely repository of ‘right’ and ‘left’ protest votes respectively: safe to vote for in elections which won’t determine the next government, just as the Lib Dems used to be, before we started winning power.


Let me re-iterate how I started. Disappointment is the right reaction to this result: we didn’t win more votes, we didn’t increase our percentage of the vote. Of course, therefore, we should look carefully at the lessons to be learned. But, equally, this has to be tempered with a sense of realism of what was possible in a short campaign in a seat where we started in a very clear third place.

This by-election was never about us. On a relatively low turn-out, the voters took the opportunity to do two things: give the Labour party a bloody nose, and give mainstream parties a kick in the shins. They achieved both objectives supremely well.

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“Every by-election campaign I’ve bene involved with where we have won, and indeed the general election campaigns where we’ve won or come close, we have had lots of complaints that we are delivering too many leaflets.”

I’m not convinced of this line of reasoning. Certainly in Hodge Hill, Hartlepool and Henley (there three most recent I’ve attended) the complaints were of a vastly greater volume than at previous elections.

I have heard anecdotes from people who have similar reports about those three from Dunfermline that this wasn’t the case which may support the “content is king” theory. My personal assessment is that the criticism was most extreme in Hartlepool which also supports that theory.

The problem with complaints is that they are a symptom that people have simply stopped reading them. Not much point in delivering stuff people aren’t reading.

The figures I would like to analyse are whether we start to pick up support late in the campaign – the contrast of our published canvass stats contrasted with the actual results suggests not.

The reductio ad absurdum extension of multiple deliveries is that if you have delivered the constituency three times that day and still have capacity, a fourth leaflet will produce a benefit. I can’t see much logic in that.

The threshold only seems reachable in by-elections so I doubt it has any practical ramifications for local and GE campaigns.

by Hywel on July 25, 2009 at 10:09 pm. Reply #

The key test of a literature campaign is whether it gets complaints about volume. If it doesn’t it means you have not done enough. There’s a volume of US marketing research that support this in the commercial sphere.

Obviously the thing that makes the difference is the messages and one of the most important for us is credibility of challenge – in NN we were never a more credible threat to Labour than the Tories and the lack of local polling meant the campaign was locked into the last election and songle early poll.

Also all the evidence points in twin elections that the results get locked down the first time people vote – C&N was a rerun of the locals a month before as was NN of the Counties/Euros.

by Dan on July 25, 2009 at 10:48 pm. Reply #

I agree with most of Kates points, and feel that many of you have missed her point.
In this election coming up it is going to be a lot easier to gain voters from Labour than it will from the Tory party. What you are seeing, and I do not think it will change, Labour supporters just not coming out to vote. These are the people to talk to, and I feel there are a lot of Labour seats to pick up where the Tory party is in 3rd position. I also think a number of Tory voters will switch just to get Labour out.
In 1997 the Tory party had the same problem, their supporters just did not get out to vote, not many switched to Blair, but a number did vote Lib Dem.
This time I think the Labour party will suffer the same problem.
Kate you are correct.

by John on July 25, 2009 at 11:54 pm. Reply #

The campaigning techniques Chris uses go back years. People will vote for local heroes who get things done about the issues that matter to people locally. You just need two things: a local hero with a genuine record of campaigning alongside local people and a stream of communications telling people what is being done, explaining how they can join in the campaign(s)on those issues and highlighting the successes of those community-wide campaigns.

Yes, Chris Rennard was not the originator of these techniques. In fact what has been called “Rennardism” tends to be a use of some aspects of them which misses the point.

The main thing was that the literature should not look like standard political literature. The name “Focus”, for example, was chosen deliberately not to be identifiably Liberal Party literature. The idea was that people would pick it up and read it and not discard it thinking “oh, that’s politics, and politics is nothing to do with me”. It should contain positive stories which referred to what people encountered in their lives, and carefully lead them to thinking about politics without realising that’s what they were doing.

Literature which immediately goes into heavy promotion of the party, slagging off the others, and the use of bar charts for the “wasted vote” line is missing the point.

The bar charts and “two horse race”/”straight choice” line should be brought in near the end when we’ve won the argument on what we’re saying and doing positively, not made an issue from the start. The idea should not mainly be to get people who don’t really like us to vote for us tactically, it’s to encourage those who do like us not to be swayed by the “but it’s a wasted vote” line which the other two parties will use against us.

The literature should look different from what the others are doing. What worked in the 1970s and 1980s when the others were putting our very staid stuff won’t necessarily work now everyone puts out stuff with the sort of “busy” look the classic “Focus” had.

by Matthew Huntbach on July 26, 2009 at 12:26 am. Reply #

“The main thing was that the literature should not look like standard political literature.”

That’s one of the most useful things I’ve ever read about leaflets. And it explains why people go down the cringeworthy “fake tabloid” route. As a principle, with better interpretation, it’s great.

by Alix on July 26, 2009 at 8:55 am. Reply #

Might this turn out to be a more positive sign. I look at the result as a protest vote moving to the UKIP and Green or BNP where applicable. That means worse results at by elections but may be better at the General Election. Trying to regain your ground as a protest vote will be a mistake.

by jon on July 26, 2009 at 11:22 am. Reply #

“The key test of a literature campaign is whether it gets complaints about volume. If it doesn’t it means you have not done enough.”

But when those complaints are at the level that the literature is not being read delivering further leaflets is not achieving anything. My assessment in Hartlepool and Hodge Hill was that in the last few days very little stuff was actually getting read so it’s impact was minimal. My reading is that we were losing support in those final few days as well which may be a linked factor.

Interestingly I’ve heard reports from people who found similar problems in those two elections that in Dunfermline (where there were comparable volumes of literature delivered) that this wasn’t the case.

I’ve only ever seen this issue arise at Parliamentary by-elections where we had been delivering at least a leaflet (often a dual delivery) a day for a week or more – and the opposition were doing the same. Local campaigns can almost never manage that volume so the issue doesn’t IMO arise outside of Parliamentary by-elections.

Hywel (who did work for ALDC for 7 years so is hardly from the “one leaflet” tradition!)

by Hywel on July 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm. Reply #

Norwich North really was a dismal result for the Tories, wasn’t it? 38%? If they are serious about winning the next General Election they should have got more than than 50% at this stage in the Parliament, ideally more than 60% (especially given the circumstances in which the byelection was held). Recall what happened during the 1964-70 and 1974-79 Parliaments. The Tories (a) did much, much better, and (b) captured almost all the anti-government vote. There are millions of people out there who cannot stand the sight of Brown but will never vote Tory in a million years. Hence the big votes for no-hope Ukip and Green candidates.

BTW, the prep school brat who sneers at April Pond’s moat should familiarise himself with the historical geography of East Anglia. Much of the region never had open fields and is dotted with ancient farmsteads, many of them surrounded by moats (more a source of fish than a means of protection).

by Sesenko on July 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm. Reply #

This just isn’t about campaign techniques, Rennardism, or post-Rennardism. Mathematical optimisation of your marketing strategy ain’t worth a fig if your goods are not worth selling.

On the economy – We’re all over the place. As Herbert Brown put it “Since Clegg took over, party policy has gone through the whole gamut – from big permanent tax cuts, through huge public spending to boost the economy, to dropping spending pledges to pay off the deficit for the benefit of the next generation”.

On tuition fees – We’re all over the place. First we scrap them, then we think perhaps we won’t, then we insist that we will, and then lastly (post-Blairite propaganda masterpiece) we announce that scrapping them has been downgraded to an “aspiration”!

On the reform agenda – We’re all over the place. We insist that a massive range of fundamental constitutional reforms must all be put into place as instant panic measures – But we show very little interest in saying sorry to the public about the expenses fiddles, or for taking action inside our own party to put anything right.

Why on earth did as many as 14% of the Nowich North voters stick with the Lib Dems? It can only have been a combination of past loyalties and a perceived lack of a good alternative.

by David Allen on July 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm. Reply #

Perhaps it’s also worth mentioning a couple of other examples, relating to economic policy.

I am not confident I’ve kept up with all the reformulations, but if I understand correctly, the package of tax changes agreed under Ming Campbell three years ago is going to be more or less completely thrown out. The proposed increase in green taxation has dwindled drastically, because the government has already carried out most of the measures. And lowering the basic rate of income tax to 16p is now going to be replaced by an increase in allowances.

And what about that £20bn of public spending cuts that were going to fund some combination of Lib Dem spending priorities and extra tax cuts? Nearly a year on, only a small fraction of the cuts has been identified (despite repeated assurances last year that the details were imminent). And Nick Clegg’s spin would imply that some of the spending priorities will have to become “aspirations”, because the money isn’t there.

This £20bn of spending cuts was a favourite Lib Dem policy of Gordon Brown’s, and no doubt it will feature prominently in Labour literature where the Lib Dems are the challengers at the next election. The Lib Dem answer used to be “they aren’t cuts, they are a way of redirecting spending to other priorities”. If those other priorities become mere “aspirations”, the party will be left without an answer. The cuts will be real spending cuts, and to make matters worse the party still hasn’t identified where they are going to come from, which gives Labour carte blanche to make its own suggestions …

by Herbert Brown on July 26, 2009 at 5:49 pm. Reply #

I agree with Neil Stockley:
“On the national scene / leadership: the challenge is not about whether voters understand ‘what it means to be a liberal’; it’s about whether they (or, at least, the voters in the key seats) perceive a compelling reason to vote for us.”
To take up some themes raised by David Allen, Herbert Brown and others, how might what we think of as sensible, distinctive policies be perceived by those with a limited interest in the detail of politics?
The economy: despite Vince’s reputation, I’m not sure there’s a perceived USP here, unless George Osborne mucks up again.
tuition fees: lots of people like the policy, but it doesn’t seem to be compelling enough to earn their vote
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc.: good arguments, but uncertainty about what is actually different from the other parties in practice
Trident: ditto
decentralisation: everyone is quango bashing, and the USP is stronger councils, about which many are instinctively suspicious
cleaning up politicis: tarred with the same brush (unfairly, but there we are)
fairer taxes: everyone is saying this; how are voters to judge?
green policies: ditto
Just to make clear… this is about a possible set of broad brush perceptions, not how I see the policies!

by Lonely Wonderer on July 26, 2009 at 7:09 pm. Reply #

I’m not going to add to the pantomime back-and-forth about literature quality or quantity, but I do have a couple of points to add.

Yes, we were languishing in third, but I don’t think this necessarily had the greatest influence on the outcome.

Firstly turnout was reasonably low, but this was possibly to be expected under the general circumstances.

Second the campaign did not get off to a flying start.

And third the tory candidate was pretty well entrenched, had a solid base to build from and hit virtually every mark along the way, giving no real opening to voters doubts about her personal abilities.

I think the main lesson for LibDems is to start preparations earlier. Wherever the next by-election is to be held it is no good thinking we can swan in at the last minute with good intentions and expect to be given a free ride by voters. To think so seriously underestimates them.

Every local party needs to have a contingency plan of their own so that they are all ready to make the most of any by-election that may be held in the whole of the next parliament. Like with any emergency drill – you can never be overprepared enough.

I’m shocked, quite frankly, that the loud expressions of disappointment are in echo of the same lines as after Henley and C&N. When will we members learn that we cannot depend on the leadership to rush into the breach every time there is an opportunity to make a difference?

And anyway it is simply premature to judge Clegg’s appeal to the electorate. He has not made any unforgivable errors which would disqualify him from being given a fair crack of the whip (especially considering he is to be measured against Brown, who is still in place despite already having seen off umpteen plots against him).

We can’t forget that our USP is that it is us ordinary members are the ones who make the difference (with a bit of extra guidance from those with a bit more experience among us) – ‘we’ are not about what ‘they’ do, but about what ‘we’ have done and what ‘we’ will do. There is always plenty that each one of us can improve upon.

I find it highly apt there are those who are all to happy to point out the mote in anothers eye without even considering the beam in their own.

But at the same time I’m also enthused that we have such high expectations of ourselves that we even consider being disappointed by almost coming second in an area where we expected to struggle – the day we accept par for the course is the day we’ve grown complacent and arrogant and will lose our traditional claim to the moral high ground.

Put it this way, I’m already looking forward to the next by-election.

by Oranjepan on July 27, 2009 at 9:03 am. Reply #

Pointless cheap shot time:

“to point out the Moat in another’s eye without considering the Pond in their own…”

by David Allen on July 27, 2009 at 12:44 pm. Reply #

@Hywel – in my experience the level of the complaints about the quantity of literature delivered was fairly similar whether it was Henley, Hartlepool, Leicester South or Brent East.

I tend to agree with Dan that if we aren’t getting at least some complaints we probably haven’t delivered enough to be winning.

That IS NOT because I take some macho pride in having annoyed people, but because the electorate is not one mass of people, but 80,000 individuals. The point at which SOME people start to complain is the point at which the message is starting to get through to a large number of others.

You ask an interesting point about how support changes during a by-election campaign. Well withut giving away secrets, my experience of all the by-elections we either won or got a decent swing in is that the swing came late.
To give you one specific example, Bromley, we lost the (large) postal vote by about 20% but won narrowly on the day – because the swing came after most postal voters had voted. That is not to say that the early few weeks are unimportant, they set the ground for us to be able to get the big swing at the end, but it is the big push at the end that wins it.

Henley was interesting in this respect. By the middle of the campaign I am sure we had gained ground on the Tories. About ten days out they stepped up their campaign in response. In the last week they out delivered us by some margin, sharpened their literature (we believe they brought new people in) and outgunned us on polling day probably four to one. The result was that they gained momentum in that last week while we fell back.

All this IS NOT to suggest that having the right message isn’t important. I’ve worked on by-elections where we got it right, and others where, in my view, we got it wrong. You can delver as many leaflets as you like with the wrong message and it will have little impact.

by Liberal Neil on July 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm. Reply #

“To take up some themes raised by David Allen, Herbert Brown and others, how might what we think of as sensible, distinctive policies be perceived by those with a limited interest in the detail of politics?”

At the risk of being provocative, that question might perhaps be turned around: what are the policies that make Lib Dems get up an hour early to deliver a couple of hundred leaflets?

What are the policies that make them think “We are the only ones saying this. And if no one says it, it will be terrible for Britain”?

by Herbert Brown on July 28, 2009 at 12:43 am. Reply #

The problem with the “throw lots of leaflets at them” strategy is not that it doesn’t “work”: as you said, it’s actually pretty effective in increasing our vote and we don’t know anything else that’s as good.

The problem is that it seriously pisses lots of voters off.

That can’t be good for our long term future or for the good of politics.

by Andrew Turvey on July 28, 2009 at 3:15 am. Reply #

There are 8 MEP’s from the North West. The only one featured on the local TV news was Nick Griffin. I made a formal complaint & got the usual guff about ‘balance’ etc when we all know that commonsense [an exceptionally rare commodity] is ‘boring’ to the media and extremism is news. It is also much easier for the media if they can pretend that there are only two major parties. Thus in an important exchange about the economy on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show there was Alistair Darling & David Cameron & no Vince Cable or any other LibDem. We would have made ourselves distinctive if we had supported Charles Kennedy instead of dumping him and told the media to do something anatomically impossible to itself. We never have, and never will, be given a fair go. Our progress is only a bit about leadership. It is mostly about principles & chipping away and nowadays about interacting with the voters over the heads of the media and all the time not just at elections. We will also never get power by re-distributing the votes of those who will vote in any case. I joined up when we only had about 7 MPs so we’ve done pretty well, but instead of fretting about Norwich [which was freak] we need to focused on how to inspire those who don’t vote at all.

by coldcomfort on July 29, 2009 at 4:07 pm. Reply #

May I just say thank you, stephen tall, for such an interesting article. I agreed with about 95% of that article and it was very interesting and well written

by rob seiger on July 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm. Reply #


I agree with substantial amounts of that (and really the difference between me and yourself and Dan is probably less than 1%)

On the “annoying voters” point though, this isn’t a digital on/off state of affairs. The notable thing in Hodge Hill and Hartlepool was the frequency and hostilty of the complaints I got. That was very different from any by-election I’d been in before.

And in Henley when I was canvassing a few days before polling day again the complaints were at a high level and certainly well outnumbered the number of positive voting for us responses I was getting (this was on the estate where the BNP polled strongest so may have been an exception).

I agree about late swings. The issue for the “by-election machine” however is that rather than getting a late swing to us in recent campaigns we (going on my assessment of Hartlepool/Hodge Hill and yours in Henley) have seen a late swing away from us.

One thing that has changed in recent elections is that opposing parties (particularly the Tories) have picked “flaw free” candidates. If you look down our list of notable byelection wins then a common factor is that the Tory candidate wasn’t local:
Eastbourne (ex Scunthorpe MP)
Ribble Valley (twice South Wales candidate)
Newbury (Somerset County Councillor)
Christchurch (ex Bristol MP)
Romsey (Dorset County Councillor)
Brent East (Labour MEP from Surrey)

Compare that to the Tory choices in Crewe, Henley and Norwich North

by Hywel on July 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm. Reply #

Campaigning is surely an arms race, or even a red queen race, where if you are not innovating you’re out of the game, but at the same time you need to keep your ‘conventional’ forces. i.e let’s always be trying new ideas but that doesn’t mean not doing the basics. That analogy didn’t work well, but you get my drift 😉

IMHO, Herbert Brown @ 12.43 yesterday says it all regarding why we don’t win. No amount of leaflets are going to get past that problem.

re leaflets, having looked at the leaflets on Norfolk Blogger’s site, I would say the quality is dreadful – having a dozen leaflets like that shoved through my letterbox in the space of a few weeks would personally piss me off, but I would bow to the wisdom of the experienced. But on that note, two points:

a) Am I they only person who thinks that “leaflets that don’t look like leaflets” is, well, a bit craven and deceitful?


b) Nick Griffin recently got a well publicised letter from the British Legion asking him to not use the poppy for political gesturing and to keep it above the fray of partisan politics, yet it is okay for us to put it in a glossy leaflet to try and win a by-election?

by Andrew on July 29, 2009 at 6:48 pm. Reply #

@Hywel – Yes I’m sure we mostly agree! My perception of Hartlepool was that we were gaining ground right up until the end.

Hodge Hill was probably harder to determine accurately. In both of those campaigns a significant factor was that Labour delivered lots of literature to counter ours!

Where there is a n issue is where the debate becomes very negative between the leading parties. My unhappiness with the Hartlepool campaign was that i felt we got into too much of a tit-for-tat argument with Labour and that we should have moved our message onto a more positive theme in the last few days. There were also some issues about which areas we were tareting and how which I won’t go into here.

Had we gone more positive at the end of that particular campaign, playing on the strengths our candidate had and being positive about the good aspects of the town, I think that might have been welcomed by many voters.

@Andrew I don’t think there is anything wrong with any party putting out its literature in a variety of forms in order to increase the chances of a wider number of people reading more of it.

by Liberal Neil on July 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm. Reply #

@Liberal Neil, I completely see what you are saying and I am sure people have thought this through and the benefits outweigh the costs. It’s just that I don’t like it. I think it says “Hey there, we think you’re so thick that you won’t notice this isn’t a copy of The Sun and will automatically upload all the propaganda into you brain as fact”. Why not go the whole hog and have a page 3 stunna with their little speech bubble: “Zoe, 19, Old Catton: I think STV is the only good electoral system and will be voting April Pond on the 23rd”.

I just don’t like it, that’s all.

Also, it suggests we are ashamed of our brand. Which we are.

by Andrew on July 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm. Reply #

@Andrew – but surely our objection to The Sun is not that it is printed in the form of a tabloid newspaper, but the content? We do produce some of our leaflets in the form of a newspaper, but we don’t use a ‘page 3 stunna’. so is there really a problem. Is there really any difference in principle between producing a leaflet on A4, A3 or A2 paper?

by Liberal Neil on July 30, 2009 at 4:13 pm. Reply #

I very much agree with Kate’s view “Now that the distinctions between [Labour and Conservatives] have blurred, we need the leadership, more than ever, to set out a vision of what it means to be a Liberal Democrat on a national level.”

On the leadership front, perhaps Nick should leave the combative PMQs to the Leader of the Opposition. With only two questions, I think many voters would be more impressed with serious, constructive policy points – not a hyped-up sense of indignation. If you want to make a greater distinction between Cameron and Clegg, that would be a start – more policy, less soundbite please.

by tactical voter on July 31, 2009 at 1:35 pm. Reply #

“My perception of Hartlepool was that we were gaining ground right up until the end.”

Maybe you were just sending me to the worst bits 🙂 Certainly earlier in the Hartlepool campaign I was getting a very positive response in not very promising areas (including interestingly from low social class young women which may have been an interesting reflection of people empathising with our candidate)

However the bit I particularly recall was on the Monday evening on an estate which looked like it should be one where we polled well (privately owned semis) – and the response was frankly awful, not just negative but with actual hostilty (that may have been a reflection of Labour’s vitriolic campaign).

by Hywel on July 31, 2009 at 1:58 pm. Reply #

I have come to the conclusion that to be taken seriously from now on, we must take ourselves seriously. We have had 30 years of Thatcherite social (no such thing as society) and enconomic (loadsamoney) policies. Only the Liberal Democrats have the policies for this country to have a fresh start. We must talk about Power and have a simple straightforward Narative overarching all our policies.

by fdp100 on August 3, 2009 at 6:20 pm. Reply #

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