Monday, June 26, 2006

The BGE 2005 - Part II: Communication let me down

The Tory campaign was contradictory. How were voters meant to identify with a party that wanted more tax but tax cuts, attacked yet supported the Iraq war, wanted enterprise but not those with that enterprise to move to the UK, and whose thought leadership in schools and hospitals extended to longer detention and cleaning? Old Tory winners were ignored, eg only the modern Tory party could hide its opposition to the Euro at the precise moment when ithis policy was being vindicated. The Tories biggest impact will be to get the LibDems to drop the idea of a local income tax, but this was more Sun led than CCHQ led. One of the most fascinating tit-bits reported is Michael Howard’s rejection of a big idea, when the campaign cried out for a unifying theme to base the campaign around, just like the 1970 and 1979 campaigns focussed on giving individuals the right to run their lives instead of the government seeking to do so. The Conservatives were identified as the party that people were most unaware of what it stood for, when the chamaeleonic Lib Dems are regarded as more purposeful then something’s gone wrong big-time.

Not only were voters confused, there was a lack of Conservatives to talk to them. In my experience too many in CCHQ, where I was on secondment during the election, regarded canvassing as a waste of time. Sorry guys but there’s not been the business invented yet that’s too good to talk to its customers. One Tory MP in safe-seat did no telephone canvassing. The recognition of the handwritten posters was high, which is good until you question how effective those posters were, not least as they cannot be targeted in marginals due to rules on expenses. In London the “Its not racist to impose limits on immigration” ended up in seats with high voting immigrant communities, which put the idea in people’s minds that the party was racist.

On the upside the campaign leaflets were good and a definite improvement since 2001. Yet the party has failed to move with the times. Labour used mobile phones to knock-up voters on election day, the Tories used knocking. Note also John O’Farrell’s amusing weekly eMails to chivvy up Labour supporters and got them knocking on doors, and if you responded as I did, they followed up. It certainly beat the bland eMails from CCHQ saying come to GENEVA. The recent trip to Washington to learn about internet campaigning is very welcome, but its also 2 years too late. The power of excellent websites can be shown in the differential between the Cameron website and the other websites in the leadership campaign. Certain candidates developed their own websites, and more importantly eMail communication. Witness Andrew Griffith in Corby who in 2 elections has reduced the Labour majority from 8,000 to below 1,800 with above national average swings, and whose communications included a weekly eMail on his activities send to a very wide audience. The party should consider expanding and enabling all candidates to do this for the next election. It also bypasses the local press who can be institutionally favourable to the incumbent.

The TV broadcasts were a mixed bag, the worst was the Shadow Cabinet’s espousal of Howard’s virtues which reinforced the view that the Tories had only 1 man, whilst like the TV series “The Office” made the population wonder if the unknowns before them were real people or actors.

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