Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Oldham East - a visiting activist reports

Yesterday I made the 270 mile round trip from Stratford to Oldham to do my bit to help our candidate in Thursday's by-election.

I spent some time out delivering (just under 150 leaflets delivered by my own good hands) and hung out in the campaign HQ for a bit whilst I finished up some work and helped out.

The big question on everyone's lips coming through the door was how's it going, are we going to win? To which I'm afraid the answer from those within the campaign was a rather limp, "yeah, it's good, it's ok, we'll see" . This was the impression I was left with overall about the campaign, there was just a lack of energy. I know much has been made of the perceived lack of support from CCHQ but in my view there was just a lack of energy from the campaign team at the HQ, nothing to do with central support. It certainly didn't feel like our campaign HQ did 4 days before polling day and we were a safe seat.

As far as central Party support goes Baroness Warsi was there when I arrived and telling someone she would be there all week, and I saw a few familiar MP faces coming through the door. There certainly wasn't a lack of support from activists from all over the country as well, who were turning up throughout the day, all keen to help our guy get elected and to not help the Lib Dems.

Speaking of Lib Dems their posters were everywhere (apparently only having gone up this weekend). As I drove to my delivery area I only saw Lib Dem posters in front gardens. If they're behind in the polls it's not affecting the support of their core voters and activists who are still keen to show their allegiance. I also saw a UKIP billboard (Interestingly with an anti-immigration not anti EU message) and two pubs proudly displaying large UKIP posters on their outsides. There was also a smattering of Labour posters on a few houses (a vote for Labour is a vote for fairness apparently), but not a single Conservative poster. (the large ones were going up that day, but I think it's the garden ones that matter. Where were the local Conservatives showing their support?)

In terms of other activists I saw a group of 4 Labour activists out and about proudly wearing their rosettes and clutching literature, but no Lib Dems and no other Conservatives. To be fair they could have been there but hardly anyone from our side was wearing a rosette (I wasn't offered one, but brought my own) which coupled with the lack of posters made the campaign feel somewhat invisible on the streets. The fact that people seemed to be being sent to delivery areas individually, and only in groups if they came as a group also meant less impact in an area. In my view you want the residents of an area to know the campaign has arrived when it rocks up to a street, even if all it's doing is delivering leaflets!

And there lies another concern for me, the efforts of all these imported activists and MPs are being used just to deliver leaflets. Presumably they have a canvas from May, but things have changed a lot since then, or maybe they've already completed one earlier in the campaign. Regardless you've got MPs (and activists) who have successfully convinced voters on the doorstep to vote Conservative who aren't getting the chance to do that in Oldham. You have to ask is this the best use of such a valuable campaigning resource?

Also in terms of targeting resources, I'm a big fan of targeted campaigning. Trying to match your message to an area and its demographics is important, but this didn't seem to be happening with literature. To an area filled with massive houses with stunning views and BMWs and Mercs on the drive I was delivering a leaflet on how Labour want to tax lower earners to keep child benefit for higher rate taxpayers (I.e we've taken away your child benefit), whilst back at the HQ someone was coming back from delivering a leaflet on the housing benefit cap to an area of social housing (this leaflet didn't really go down very well, was her feedback). The process of campaigning, i.e we must deliver 3 bits of literature to every household, seemed to be taking over from an intelligent campaigning approach, which was a little disappointing.

So in conclusion how's it going to go? Difficult to call, and the polls don't tell the whole picture, there's one thing to tell a pollster how you'd vote in advance but I think on election day in the booth, the fact you're not electing a government but just am MP to represent you might change things. If that's the case then local issues will take over (a post on that tomorrow).

Bootnote: Something I was disappointed in was the fact that as I arrived (along with a few more people) Kashif Ali our candidate was there, but he then disappeared off without introducing himself or thanking those who had journeyed to help him. It's a small but important point for candidates. You may be tired, you may be focused but you've got to thank those people who are working for you.

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