Nick bennett was MP for Pembroke from 1987 to 1992. He now lives in Bromley and is a Borough Councillor there. He just posted this in the Comments Section but I thought i deserved a wider airing...
Well said Iain, I don't disagree with any of your analysis.This is the first time in my 40 years in politics that I've lived in a constituency with a Parliamentary By-election. A fascinating experience! Never have so many trees died in the cause of the democracy. My neighbours have been a way on holiday for 12 days, how they will get their door open when they return I dread to think.
1. Selection of candidate.
Bob was and is a good choice; however a number of assumptions were made.
• Because he was the local GLA member he would be well known. Bob has been a first rate member, assiduously taking up local issues, attending Resident Association AGMs and campaigns in every local election, however as most MPs cannot be named by the majority of their constituents, the same is true of other local politicians.
• Whilst I have no argument with his decision to stay on the GLA until 2008, he should have made it clear that he wouldn’t take a salary.
• He should have resigned the Health Authority and other posts immediately.
• As a non-lawyer I am aware of all the posts which disqualify one from election including offices of profit under the crown. A silly mistake not to deal with this; however I understand Bob resigned from the Health Authority last week I don’t think any judge would overturn the result of the technicality of the form, it is disqualification at election which counts.
2 Dealing with the negatives
• The LD campaign followed the usual path - identify any weakness in your opponent and ruthlessly exploit it. Do CCHQ not learn from previous by-elections? In the days when I was on the list we were always asked if there were any skeletons in our cupboard (Alan Clark at K&C in 1996 – “A whole graveyard full”). Similarly we have to look at things like where the candidate lives, has he/she lost before (‘Failed MP, Failed wannabe MP’) etc. None of this bars a candidate – most have to fight hopeless seats but we need to be ready with the rebuttal.
• As the old saying has it "truth is getting its boots on when lie has gone half way around the world'.
• The LD campaign from the outset went for Bob and they spent the whole campaign issuing variations on the same theme. Our rebuttal leaflet was on the eve of poll!
3. Literature and Campaigning
• I showed some of the LD literature to an experienced agent and he said: "That's the sort of thing they always issue!' And? Why weren’t we ready with our own ‘Hello’ style 8 page colour glossy?
• Given that the LD candidate fought Sevenoaks last year, moved to Beckenham in 2004 and had only been on the council six weeks why did we not point these things out?Abbots and the LDs were vulnerable on a key Bromley issue, Prescott’s dictat that Bromley will increase housing densities. That should have been one of our causes and the LDs support (including Abbot’s silence and abstention in the council on the issue) should have been hammered. It illustrates the best sort of issue – positive for you and negative for your opponent.
• Both UKIP and LDs campaigned on the same simple issues from start to finish. UKIP – ‘cut taxes; get out of Europe, control immigration’. LDs – Local MP, 3 jobs Bob, I’ve got a wife and kids and live in the borough’.
• There was no such theme in our campaign. One week it was crime (Here again no use made of pictures of Bob campaigning in 2003 for more police in Bromley!), last week MPs wife supports Bob (there’s a surprise) and this week Human Rights Act (not yet the talk of Bromley’s pubs!). Law and Order is a Tory theme and the local increases are horrific – four fold increase in robberies, 60% increase in violence, burglary up.
• As a result our literature had no theme. Some simple rules for leaflets You have no more than 8 seconds to get your message across from the letterbox to the waste bin. A picture is worth 1000 words A headline is worth 1000 words More people read the Sun than all the quality papers combined
• Our leaflets were wordy – a letter from the local councillor was two pages of small, cramped handwriting. One paragraph with printed stylised writing would have been read.
• Bob’s picture was dreadful - the one they used made him look smug and complacent when those of us who know him, know that he is a decent hardworking chap. Thus the picture reinforced the LD smears.
• Fewer leaflets. I had 8 or 9 from the Conservatives and LDs and at least 7 from UKIP. Many were wasted as there was no attempt not to deliver to postal voters who had cast their vote already.We need to go back to the basics of running and election. B&C has 7 wards and 39 polling stations. The polls are open from 7am to 10pm. 585 telling slots before people start doing more than an hour. It was only 6 weeks since the borough elections which had been run by the individual wards. What should have happened is that the wards prepare as far as possible from their own resources the telling, with CCHQ agent helping to fill in any gaps from additional volunteers. Instead, experienced ward chairman, like my wife got their committee room boxes late on Wednesday evening and had to drop rosettes, tellers’ pads round at 6am on polling day. An hour’s planning saves a lot of wasted time.Despite using computerised knocking up slips I found myself knocking up members at 6pm who had voted early in the day and found that they had also had 2 phone calls. Better use of manpower would help. Fit and active campaigners tied up on polling stations telling at 7pm when they could be knocking up. Centralised use of volunteers from outside the constituency so they could be sent to areas with large numbers of pledges but few knocker uppers. Let’s treat volunteers with some consideration. I dolled out tea to a number of friends who had come considerable distances to canvass. They all commented that, after driving miles to get to Bromley the sector offices hadn’t offered a cup of tea or even a loo. Don’t let’s forget how we turned the press against us at one party conference by putting them in a windowless car park basement! We need a dedicated CCHQ campaign team but one which can take advice from the best of the voluntary party.