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In the long run

I was a mere spectator of the kerfuffle in Ealing Southall, what with having had far too much to do in my own patch, plus a hectic time with the day job, plus a strained Achilles tendon, plus a belief that winning Haverstock Ward, Camden (where inspired Lib Dem environmental policies are going down extremely well with local people) mattered more in the long run than not winning in Southall.
Was the blizzard of paper whizzing through those Ealing letterboxes really a good idea? I got reports that electors were fed up with the quantity of it, and obviously they were not enthused by it, because the turnout was low. And I empathised with them: I was not enthused, either, by the large number of texts and emails I received, urging various reasons why I should go and help. I fear it is counterproductive. And was it really a good idea for our MPs to cancel masses of other engagements for the duration? They have so much important work to do.
Not much media time was spent on what the issues in the contest were. And now it's all over, the abrupt halt to the effort leaving the population of Southall to their own devices again is bound to encourage them to feel cynical.
The failure of the Tory campaign in Southall seems untypical to me, because Southall itself seems untypical - at any rate, it seems that politicians changed parties for odd reasons there - at the drop of a hat, even. Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I think it is the done thing, when leaving one political party and joining another, to give some sensible reason of principle or policy for it. If that happened in Southall, the publicity has not reached me. I can't keep up with the game of musical chairs that was being played there. But I don't think it teaches us much about the bigger picture.
Even if we had won the seat, its effect on the distribution of power in the House of Commons would have been insignificant.
So I don't think the huge amounts of resources expended by us - paper delivered, shoe leather worn out and so on - on the streets of Southall were worthwhile. It was wasteful, and it was not environmentally friendly.
The satisfaction of coming second is temporary. A week is not a long time in politics: it is a short time, very short. I don't think we will get anywhere by short-term positioning. And in the long run this level of effort cannot be maintained even by the two main parties, and especially by us. In the long run, the two main parties are uncertain about their direction for big reasons: big changes in the country and the world. Maybe those changes mean our values and beliefs are due for a breakthrough, but we will not make it happen this way. It just won't, until big reasons exist for people to look to our party and when they do they see in it the statesmanship to lead.


Andy said…
I have a certain degree of sympathy with your reservations about saturation leafleting and canvassing. However, I think your argument overlooks that the main point of the byelection for us was not to have the extra MP, nice as it would have been, but to avoid giving the media a way to force a leadership wobble onto us. We need only look at what has since happened to David Cameron's leadership, with even a few of his own MPs in open revolt now.

You are exactly right that the media scrum and the cynical desperate scrabble to win is likely to disenfranchise the voters of Ealing Southall. But unfortunately, the national media interest and the framing they put onto the wider meaning of the results of the byelection mean that the actual voters of Ealing Southall are the least of our concerns (and that goes every bit as much for the other parties, too).
Paul Walter said…
"Was the blizzard of paper whizzing through those Ealing letterboxes really a good idea?"

Well yes. If you want to win an election you have to do it, and it has been proved thousands of times, where we sent out masses of good literature we do well and where we don't we don't. There may be four voters in a house, only one gets to see each piece of paper for about seven seconds, so of course, with no real media support for the LibDems, we have to do it.

"I got reports that electors were fed up with the quantity of it, and obviously they were not enthused by it, because the turnout was low."

It would have been even lower if we hadn't run an energetic campaign.

"And I empathised with them: I was not enthused, either, by the large number of texts and emails I received, urging various reasons why I should go and help. I fear it is counterproductive."

Of course it wasn't counter-productive because everytime an email or text was sent out the number of helpers arriving at Ealing Southall went up immediately afterwards!

"And was it really a good idea for our MPs to cancel masses of other engagements for the duration? ."

Of course it was. It is important for MPs to set an example and if they didn't turn up to help there would be lots of stories saying the MPs aren't helping.

Lots of members give donations especially to fight by-election campaigns so that shows there is enthusiasm for these campaigns in the party.

And as Andy says, if we didn't make the effort the press would now be running masses of stories that the LibDems are in turmoil.

And, by the way, having been a member in a seat where we did well in a by-election, the good effect of having lots of experts and enthusiasts in the area created benefits for years afterwards.
Jo Hayes said…
Andy, I think the main point of the by-election for us was to keep up our reputation for being good at fighting by-elections. The media and the parties are all playing this stupid by-elections game and, as you say, the actual voters in the by-election are the least of the parties' concerns. I think the voters know that very well and it contributes to the low esteem in which party politics is held. Cameron's problems with his own party were not caused by the by-election, they have been there from the start. And throwing resources at the seat did not do Cameron much good.
Paul, you are reiterating the received wisdom about the way we fight by-elections. The reality is that we do well where we work and earn voters' good opinion over a long period, not just 3 weeks. ALDC are constantly promoting messages like "working all year round".
We knew it was unlikely we would win this by-election. The reason why I fear the texts and emails were counterproductive is that they made me feel manipulated: they were hinting that we were neck and neck with Labour and if only I would turn up and help, our man would win. I have been told that too often over the years. If the boy keeps crying wolf, no one will believe him.
In this game the parties and media are all playing, it is customary for some MPs to do walkabouts etc in the by-election constituency, but the number of MPs and number of visits is getting out of hand.
People donate to the by-election fund because the Party keeps asking them to and keeps telling them that this is a good thing to spend money on. If it asked for funds for something else, I'm sure people would respond. But is there a better way to spend our funds? Every pound we spend on a by-election is not being spent on something else which might (I don't know) be more valuable in the long term: telephone canvassing, or airtime, or simply regular literature in the constituencies, for instance.
My blue-sky thinking is: suppose we simply announced we are not playing this game any more, that we are not going to devote this amount of resources to by-elections any more, unless the particular case the seat would really matter, such as in a parliament where the government's majority was tiny? The electorate thinks far too much money is spent on elections, so it might be rather impressed by our good sense.

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