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I have no immediate plans to return to electoral politics (full disclosure: Cambridge City Council, 1990; North Belfast, 1996). However, I deal on a daily basis with people who are personally very much involved with elections, and occasionally they even ask my advice, so it was useful to return to basics with this handbook - not so much 101 different ways to win, as 101 steps that must be taken by a decently run election campaign, skewed very much to a particular part of the British environment (no massive campaign spending as in the USA, no compulsory voting as there is here; I also miss anything substantial on engaging with minority communities).

But a lot of it is of universal value, not just for election campaigns but for any public policy campaign, and I think the division into five main themes is sound: 1) getting a good message; 2) building a good team; 3) managing resources (money, time, and especially voter data); 4) communicating (leaflets, media, internet); 5) leadership. Some of the points transfer well beyond public affairs to any position of responsibility.

I think what struck me most was the early emphasis on message development. Back when I was a political neophyte in the early 1990s, this wasn't something we were told to worry about very much - the emphasis was on the mechanics of communicating with voters and hoping to get votes as the person best at doing that, and developing a local message beyond fixing the pot-holes looked a wee bit dodgy. But when I got involved with international democracy development in the mid-1990s, it became clear to me just how important message development is. This was (and is) a serious lacuna for all Northern Irish political parties: most of them are unable to give an elevator pitch statement as to why anyone should vote for them (see one recent example).

I commended this book to some Northern Irish activists the other day, and I commend it also not just to people who are themselves campaigning or thinking of campaigning, but anyone who is interested in how politics actually works in real life, as opposed to in the newspapers.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2015 09:16 am (UTC)
Northern Irish parties don't see the need for a message as long as people can decide who to vote for by answering two simple questions - do you identify yourself as Catholic, Protestant, or neither? A little or a lot?
Jan. 14th, 2015 11:19 am (UTC)
I don't think that is quite right. It's a bit odd to use the word "can" as you do - are you suggesting that things would be better if the voters were denied these options?

And in any case, even within those constraints, developing a coherent message is actually very helpful. Looking at the UUP, for instance, they have failed to communicate whether they want to outflank the DUP in the centre or on the harder edge, and as a result remain in the electoral doldrums. In my post I link to a classic example of poor communication from the SDLP. The more dominant parties do have clearer messages, and are surely benefiting as a result.
Jan. 14th, 2015 04:16 pm (UTC)
I was being a little facetious :)

But the problem for the SDLP seems to be that their identity was "the reasonable nationalists". And their message for a long time boiled down to "are you Catholic/nationalist, but disapprove of the IRA? Then vote for us!". And since most people did vote on the basis of being Catholic/nationalist or Protestant/unionist, with economic and other social questions being far behind*, that was all they really needed to say. Do they have a coherent identity beyond that, to serve as the basis of a message?

* you'd know this better than me, of course, so maybe there were lots of people who identified as Protestant/unionists voting for the SDLP because of their tax policies, or C/n voting for the DUP because of their position on contraception?
Mark Pack
Jan. 14th, 2015 09:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the kind comments.

Your experience about messaging mirrors mine - the Lib Dems used to talk about it very little compared to tactical logistics. The balance is better now though I think still a little lopsided much of the time.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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