Monday, 5 May 2014

Take no notice of this notice

The one issue which causes more grief and anguish between our candidates and their agent is the production of window posters for local elections. Or not, if I have my way!

I stress local elections because for a General Election I hold a different view. For Parliamentary campaigns a strong poster display is vital for all the reasons I believe they should not be used locally. At a General Election we are not fighting a battle of differential turnout; everyone who has any desire to vote will do so. 

Although I am passionate about my tribe, and go out to win every single campaign, I approach campaigning in an unemotional way. I am an apparatchik, fully signed up to my friend and colleague Louise Parry's view that winning elections isn't difficult, it's just hard work.  

For me, winning an election is not an emotional battle, but a mathematical exercise. If we need 1,200 votes to win a ward, we must identify 2,000 pledges, as I know we can get 60% of them to vote. However, to increase the pledge turnout to 60% we must also do (x) (y) and (z) on certain dates leading up to the poll. If we have identified our pledge target and have delivered (x) (y) and (z) we will almost certainly win the poll. 

Candidates, however, look upon a campaign from an understandably different perspective. A candidate, especially if an incumbent, is emotionally involved with the issues, as often they have helped develop the policies and wrestled with the alternatives. It is therefore natural that a candidate wishes to promote their achievements, argue for their success and defend their record. That's why candidates will spend so long on every doorstep as they engage with voters and try to persuade the doubtful of the righteousness of their view. 

For me, canvassing is a dry, information-gathering exercise. Personally, I don't really give two hoots about the council's plastic recycling rates or how many miles of cycling lanes there are. What I want are ticked boxes and straightforward quantitative data. 

This is why when canvassing a candidate will always look crestfallen when a voter is an opposition pledge; to them it's a personal rejection. To me, however, a firm Labour or Lib Dem pledge is just as satisfying as a firm Conservative one. Knowing who isn't going to vote for us is just as useful as knowing who will. 

And this is the nub of the never ending arguments about window posters!

When the turnout is 30% - 35% the candidate who wins is the one who is able to 

(a) maximise turnout of their supporters and, just as importantly, and 
(b) not give their opposition a reason to come and vote against them.  

Therefore, the real skill of a campaigner is to know who you need to target, which messages they will respond to, and who to avoid as doing so will irritate them and increase the chances they will come out and vote against you. 

And that is exactly why I don't like window posters or loudspeaker cars. They are indiscriminate. Their use may well cheer up 'our' people, but they anger the supporters of our opposition, and probably do as much harm as good in driving turnout. After all, if we have done our job properly, we should know who our supporters are and can then write, email and visit them to remind them to vote. Why on earth should we spend good hard earned money on shiny blue posters to remind every passing Lib Dem to vote against us? 

Candidates will almost always disagree - and I will stamp my foot and turn purple as I explain yet again that I am not being mean or unhelpful; I am simply trying to help them win.  

But one statistic is worth remembering; the borough in Kent which has produced the strongest local election results at every poll in the last decade is Tonbridge & Malling - where never a window poster has been seen!

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