Friday, June 30, 2006

Is it Time to Play the LibDems at Their Own Game?

In my piece on the Bromley by-election I asserted that negative campaigning in Cheadle had not made a difference and it didn't help us beat the LibDems. A correspondent has emailed me some research which calls that assertion into question. Have a look at these statistics which compare the Cheadle result with other recent by-elections including Bromley & Chislehurst...

Con to Lib Dem Swing

Brent East 15.4%
Hartlepool 15.2%
Birmingham Hodge Hill 14.6%
Bromley & Chislehurst 14.32%
Leicester South 10.5%
Ipswich 4.9%
Cheadle 0.6%

% Con Share of the Vote

Cheadle 42.4%
Bromley & Chislehurst 39.9%
Ipswich 28.4%
Leicester South 19.7%
Birmingham Hodge Hill 17.3%
Brent East 16.2%
Hartlepool 9.7%

Con Share of the Vote

Cheadle +2.0%
Brent East -2.1%
Ipswich -2.5%
Birmingham Hodge Hill -3.3%
Leicester South -3.3%
Bromley & Chislehurst -11.1%
Hartlepool -11.1%

Lib Dem Share of the Vote

Brent East +28.6%
Birmingham Hodge Hill +25.8%
Hartlepool +19.2%
Leicester South +17.7%
Bromley & Chislehurst +17.5%
Ipswich +7.2%
Cheadle +3.3%

The Cheadle result in comparison to Bromley & Chislehurst

The Conservative share of the vote went down 11.11% in B&C. The Conservative share of the vote went up 2.01% in Cheadle. The winning Conservative vote in B&C was 11,621. The losing Conservative vote in Cheadle was 15,936. The swing from Conservative to Lib Dems in B&C was 14.32%. The swing from Conservative to Lib Dems in Cheadle was 0.63%

So, the question we have to ask ourselves, is this: Has British politics really got to the point where the only way to do well in a by-election is to trash the other side? From the above statistics the answer would seem clear. Perhaps it's time to take the gloves off. Francis Maude, writing on ConservativeHome this afternoon says: "Should we keep strictly to only positive campaigning, in the face of this kind of LibDem campaign? (I'll need a lot of persuading that we shouldn't!)." We'll have to wait until the next by-election to see how Mr Maude's question is answered.


Anonymous said...

Far too much is being read in to the B and C result.

Fact- the Libs and Labour vote combined was only 4000 off the Cons in 2005; With the low turn out, that would put the Cons only 2000 in front; Most Labour voters voted LibDem; Then we had the UKIP with their flagship candidate and campaign (that failed)= less than 1000 majority....and that is what happened.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Classic. So one minute you assert the Lib Dems are evil, wicked dirty campaigners, the next you're arguing for the Tories to do the exact same thing. Didn't take much did it?

Good to see you taking a principled stance.

Anonymous said...

In a word, 'no'.

Paul Walter said...

Why not try just telling the truth on a subject that resonates with the public?

In other words try the odd bit of campaigning for a change. Goodness knows, it might actually work.

Anonymous said...

Yes. We should have twin track by-election literature, one devoted only to exposing lib dems for that which they truly are, the other relentlessly pressing our positive, centre-right Tory message. I honestly don't know how lib dems sleep at night after their campaigns, but they should be treated in the same way next time round.

This second proposal will never happen yet it's blindingly obvious to anyone whose life isn't spent within a constituency association: letting "local" people run things their great wee local way is not the way to run what will be a nationally focused campaign.

Anonymous said...

It is very difficult to compare Cheadle with the other by-elections for the simple fact that the Lib Dems allready had over 40% in that seat. The squeeze on the Labour vote had allready taken place, especially at the 2001 GE. So there was far less scope for a spectacular advance.

Benedict White said...

I wonder if too much negativety just drives turn out down. There is an ineteresting post by UKPaul on at 60 here:

Anonymous said...

I was in Cheadle on polling day. I have never met a more reluctant group of Conservative pledges in my entire life. They were entirely alienated by the campaign and I was left with the impression most of those who did turn out for us did so despite the Conservative literature, not because of it.

We have a lot to learn from the Liberal Democrat by-election handbook in terms of organisation, commitment and quality of literature, but the Conservative Party will never succeed by going quite so negative again.

There is a place for negative campaigning and pointing out opponents' weaknesses but it can never be the be all and end all.

Bob Piper said...

Is that squelching sound I hear a sour grape?

Anonymous said...

Negative personal campaigning only works if one is the underdog taking scrappy potshots at the frontrunner. Doing it from a position of power will be seen as dishonourable and undignified behavior: not a vote winner.

If the Tories take on this strategy it will be at the cost of admitting that they're no longer self evidently more natural winners than the LibDems.

The LibDem literature is safe LD seats is much more restrained.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago when I was first co-opted, and later elected, to a town and district council in the North of England, I decided to act as an Independent. Little did I know that, following successive local elections, I and another Independent councilor would become prime targets for the main parties as we were fast approaching a “hung” Council leaving yours truly and his Independent colleague in a position of power for a change.

The big issue of the day was the proposed building of a Gypsy Camp in my town which the LibDems on the District Council told us that they would help us oppose in return for our support on other matters. Very decent of them, I thought! Before the final vote, a friend from another town in the district showed me three separate LibDem leaflets which had been dropped in every other town in the district except ours which actually ‘supported’ the building of the Gypsy Camp. In that instant I became a Tory and joined the local Conservative group. I can’t even begin to express my absolute horror at the antics of the LibDems today. It only goes to prove that a leopard really doesn’t change its spots.

Anonymous said...

Obviously a direct comparison between Cheadle and B&C has flaws BUT the simple truth is that in every by-election EXCEPT Cheadle, Tory vote declined.

Lib-Dems have a consistent approach to by-elections - no real policies; lots of paper through doors; lots of half-truths or downright lies repeated endlessly and a really concentrated polling-day operation.

Cheadle was marked by the Lib-Dems saying that they had no idea what the next Tory attack on them would be - surely that alone marks the campaign as a success or at least heading in the right direction.

The new Tory by-election unit looks like it hasn't studied the detail of previous by-elections to understand how the Lib-Dems actually campaign in by-elections (and how shameless they are in starting immediately the death is announced).

Would be interesting to hear how many of the new Tory by-election team are 'vetrans' of the ad hoc arrangements that previously existed ... my guess is the answer is a very small number that looks like 0.

Nick King said...

I have to agree with those who are arguing in favour of continued positive campaigning.

Speaking to people who were in B&C they report a number of operational factors effecting our relatively poor showing, not least the Lib Dems getting their literature out more quickly than we did.

In December last year I was the Conservative Candidate in a local by election here in Bournemouth.

From the first Lib Dem leaflet onwards they ran a negative and very personal campaign against me.

We, on the other hand, remained positive throughout.

The result spoke for itself, a gain by us of a previously safe Lib Dem ward with a swing of 34% (our vote going from 30% to 68% and theirs from 52% to 20%).

I had very many comments about how our positive and proactive messages had resonated and how the negativity of the Lib Dems both in their literature and on the doorstep and turned off even some of their most solid supporters.

Anonymous said...

the stats say it all!we should get stuck in on a regular basis.

neil craig said...

However what happened at Cheadle was that the Labour vote went from 4,200 to 1,700 & I think we can safely assume it virtually all went LD.

Much of the LD's problem is being seen as a credible opponent "I'd like to vote for them but it might let in that nasty Blair/Thatcher".In this case by attacking them the Tories may have improved their credibility (to be fair the fact they had just taken it at the general election probably did no harm). In a 3 or more party race being nasty about one candidate may just cut both your throats. Being nasty about both would just be seen as being nasty.

Dr.Doom said...

I advise to trash the opponent. Debase politics. Bring it into the gutter. Fight like rats in a sack.
Destroy all opposition.
Win at any cost.
Rule is the only power.
Win win win.
The Conservative cause must be to rule all within serfdom and reduce the landscape to ashes.


Anonymous said...

Iain, the way to deal with the LibDems is to simply expose the lies and deceits they are pouring out.

This obviously didn't happen in B+C. Therefore the voters cannot be blamed for believing a lie, or a deceit or a hypocrisy if they aren't told the truth.

I wouldn't call that negative campaigning. I'd call it a public service.

They've polluted the political system with their used car salesman smiles and lies and deceit by doing what voters hate about politicians and then pretending they aren't the ones who do it. Paul Walter's comments about "try just telling the truth" are symptomatic of this double speak. There's a mound of manure like evidence to show how they don't. Unless you are pointing at it for public to see they will believe the lies they tell.

Every other party has some core principle from which they have grown. In the case of the Libs I couldn't tell you what that was. It's like a party of political trainspotters who like the cut and thrust of campaigning and predicting results but they have little else uniting them. It's win at all costs to the truth and then.....ehm?

When they do win power they more than often fail spectacularly and run the worst councils or departments. Just look at Scotland where the worst council is Inverclyde and the most incompetent ministrial decisions have been made by LibDems.

If you want the LibDems to get their comeuppance it's about time to tell the voters what lies and tricks they are playing. Fearing that you may give them credibility is misplaced if you have the rock solid evidence to expose them.

The party didn't do this in B+C with almost fatal consequences.

As I said it's about time the voters got this public service from all the other parties. What's negative about warning people they will be voting for a pig in a poke with the LibDems?

Man in a Shed said...

But why are Lib Dems so unprincipled ?

Benedict White said...

I don't think we want to do Cheadle again. What we can do is learn from the positve aspects of the Lib Dems campaign in terms of organisation and presentation,

We need rebutals prepared so they can be printed off quick.

We need to make sure we have the dirt on the Lib dems if we need to use it. For example we need to chalenge the "Ben is local" stuff by pointing out he was also local to Seven Oaks last year.

Then if we need to use it we have it.

Anonymous said...


what you forget is that the Tory party has tried to ape the Lib Dems in a by-election.

Your candidate in the Moray by-election, Mary Scanlon, tried to ape the Lib Dem campaign from Dunfermline & West Fife.

She left her party allegiance off her literature and used the same colour schemes as the SNP. She sent out "hand written" letters from local worthies, which were soon discovered to have been done without their consent, and she basically tried to run a deceptive campaign.

Her vote stalled, and the SNP won the by-election with an increased majority, share of the vote, and overall vote as well. Pretty much unprecedented in by-election terms.

This sort of campaigning needs to stop, resorting to the tactics of the Libs only justifies them. They should be exposed for what they are, and they will be, but we must all pull in the same direction otherwise they will continue to get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Enough of this 'all or nothing' approach to negative campaigning. Every campaign should have a good mixture of positive and negative in it. Quality of literature is the key.