First things first, when I started to write this blog post I had to work out whether it was targeting or targetting. I always thought it was the latter but that is apparently an obsolete British spelling of the word and the version with only one T is now the preferred way to spell that word. You learn something new every day so they say.
So anyway this piece is about targeting resources within the party. There have been numerous words written about this over the years. The party had a good record in focusing resources through the Tony Blair Labour years as they were able to really harness their vote where it was most needed. Some 2010 and the Nick Clegg bounce however, this seemed to disappear as there were not enough activists nor cash to attack potential fertile ground at a national level. Locally many paper candidates actually won in 2010 on the back of Nick Clegg as what were usually poor areas for Lib Dems significantly outperformed expectations.
Since then things have not gone well. At local level the activists deserted the party in droves because of the coalition and what can you say about the General Election in 2015? When external polling data has people like Julian Huppert up over 20 percentage points and he still loses, sometimes you just gotta admit that you were whacked and had little chance of succeeding. At that General Election the national party were even looking at a handful of potential gains, I’m guessing they weren’t exactly watching the news or the media narrative surrounding the party.
Two years on and the party were given a surprising opportunity to actually regain at least some of its lost ground. This is where I think the national party didn’t do half as bad a job in terms of targeting as I know many other members think. The issues last year weren’t where resources where placed at the outset of the election but the lack of movement when it became clear the election had changed.
Tim Farron did his gay sex bit that foot the party in the foot but more than that, the whole thing stopped being a semi-second referendum on Brexit. It became something more. Kudos to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour for achieving this but this took away the hard Pro-EU vote from the Lib Dems and instead made it an open field. The talk of Vauxhall is the big one but all the data points to that seat very much being in-play as long as the campaign was about one issue and stopping Theresa May having a mandate to push through hard Brexit.
Resources then should’ve been pulled out of any Labour/Lib Dem seat where we weren’t defending. Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West could still have been saved although the way things went down, the likelihood was unlikely but they weren’t dead causes by a fortnight out. Vauxhall alas was by then.
This however is not a blog about the national party but more about local politics. I think we should stand in every seat we can just so people have the option to vote Liberal Democrat on their ballot paper. The issue is not every seat has an equal opportunity of victory, so you have to have laser like focus to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of both money but also man (or I should say people) hours. That is how bosses run businesses, they don’t just give every department the same amount of cash, they give more money to the areas that are likely to bring in more custom, politics has to work in the same way.
If you have enough man hours and cash to put out enough extra leaflets and knock on enough extra doors to give you 1,000 more votes say across a whole local party, do you do that across all the wards or do you focus in on the ones where those extra resources are more likely to result in holding or gaining a seat or two?
Is it better to have say one win, four second places and ten finishes third or lower than three wins and 12 finishes third or lower? I’d argue the latter. Once you win a seat, you are in a better position to win that seat again next time, you get more involved in the council, you get a better platform to speak from, you have more influence, you give yourselves a better chance to grow.
Unless there are national swings, at local elections you know whether you have a chance months out. You do the work all year round and you’ll know which seats are in-play along with those you’ll run a skeleton campaign in. One of the biggest problems is candidates often think they can win even when they can’t in reality. If your strategy is to send out leaflets but not speak to many people on the doorstep, unless you are ahead going in, it seems awfully unlikely that you’ll win coming from behind.
So I’d love to be able to give every candidate the best opportunity to win but there is only so much money in the kitty and only so many doors that can be knocked, or leaflets that can be delivered. Every journey starts will just one step and every councillor returned is a step towards more. It is better to play to win fewer seats than play to just play many seats with lower chances of success.
Local parties need to have long-term vision instead of short-term reactions. Hopefully up and down the land that is being borne out but if I see lots of time and money spent in dead areas at the detriment of potential winnable seats, I’ll sigh once more and wonder why the same problem continues to not get fixed…
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