Saturday, 18 October 2008

Con Home on 'how to oppose the Lib Dems'

. Conservative Home has an interesting article written by a Conservative councillor, Paul Scully. He says that the Liberal Democrats have been successful in Sutton, the longest-held Liberal Democrat council in the country, by;

"marbling themselves throughout the borough, joining residents associations and other community groups, delivering leaflets that were not overtly party political and being seen as working hard for their neighbours rather than for a party."

So, I suppose we should take that as a compliment. My anecdotal experiences of walking around a ward confirm this to be true that we are a hard-working local party which fight's for residents. His recommendations to oppose us are;

"1. Work hard
Obvious really but there is no silver bullet. We reduced Group meetings to the bare minimum, instead using the time to deliver 1000 extra newsletters every Monday. This may be relevant to a topical issue or helping in a marginal ward.

2. Give the media what they want
Local journalists are hard pushed and under-paid. Write the complete story for them so that it can be easily inserted into a free slot. Speak to the senior reporters and the editor regularly, at least once or twice a week. You do not always need to be the centre of the story. A comment alongside an article is often sufficient. The letters pages are crucial.

3. Pick your fights
You do not need to oppose for opposition’s sake. Many Lib Dem Councils in the South are not that far removed from Conservative ones, so the two groups may agree on a high percentage of issues. By picking your fights carefully, your opposition when it comes will be listened to more closely and respected. Vary your approach to cut through the white noise of debate.

4. Innovate
In the same way that the Liberal Democrats innovated in a low-tech way with their regular Focus newsletters and bar charts, you can look to steal a march on engaging a whole new generation of voters by using new media and video, starting non-political community campaigns and so appearing to residents that you are coming with fresh ideas as to how to help improve your area. I scrapped my advice surgery where I had sat in a room each month for two years and received two visitors. Now, I pick a few roads in my ward, send out 200 letters to those households asking them to put up a poster if they want to see me on the following Saturday morning. I get far more enquiries, many of which are just gripes. It keeps me informed and 200 people know that I have been around.

5. Work Harder
Back to where we started. Winning a battle in the council chamber is a sideshow. The biggest contingent of witnesses to this event are other councillors and I should hope that they have already decided how they will vote. Instead of grandstanding use the time to gather information and get out in front of the people who matter."

Allot of what is written there is a testimony to how effective we are as a local government force. However, the question that arises from this for me is how we translate that into being an effective national force and more MP's at Westminster. The strategies and tactics are not the same and as we have seen the strengths we have at a local level are not translating into big poll numbers nationally. One of the key things we need to think about is using our local strength to translate into national support and this necessarily will mean that we will have to identify what we do locally much more closely with the national party and our national narrative.

Focus can be the bridge that builds this link as can be the new media which Scully mentions. In this scenario the blogsphere will obviously play a big role. It is interesting that Scully sees that as a potentially soft-spot when it should be one of our great assets. Hopefully this will quick start something of a debate on how we can translate the strengths that Scully identifies into higher national poll numbers and a good showing at the next general election.

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