Originally published in 2012, this updated book promises to ‘reveal the insider secrets and skills you need to make sure you’re a winner on Election Day’.
It might seem a little ironic that the authors are Liberal Democrat campaigners, given the party’s disastrous performance since 2012. But both Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield have experiences worth sharing – the former having managed Lynne Featherstone’s 2005 campaign, and the latter Norman Lamb’s 2001 campaign.
As such, the book provides a thoroughly comprehensive account of the realities of campaigning in our democracy. The account surveys everything from direct mailings to the importance of local press, as well as a whole range of other aspects that are often neglected in accounts, or are seen as unglamorous. In an age where political contemporaries sometimes forget that ‘keyboard activism’ is no replacement for actual campaigning, this book is a much-needed reminder of how politics actually works in practice.
Ultimately, though, despite the book’s title, there is only one certain way to win an election, and that is by getting more people to vote for you than anyone else.
You can have all the campaigning tips in the world, but if people do not trust the authenticity and salience of your message, you will lose.
In the 19 years I have represented my constituency of Mitcham and Morden, I hope I have never once neglected my position, the people that make it possible, or the constituents that I represent – and there are many crucial lessons I have learned on the way.
First, I have learned the importance of talking to people about the issues that they are interested, and building up and maintaining trust. I organise weekly coffee mornings around the constituency to speak to as many people as I can, and campaign on local issues that matter, most recently the threat of St Helier Hospital’s closure, and the re-routing of an important bus route.
Second, when it comes to these local issues, there is often a temptation to just get involved in stopping or preventing things. However, it is also vital to conduct positive conversations, about people’s vision for their local area, and the positive changes they would like to see.
Third, keeping our voluntary organisation together is constant work. If you want to rely on your local party and volunteers at election time you must constantly mobilise them and can never take them for granted.
And finally, as local campaigners we like to think that we have the power to achieve anything. But ultimately, if the party’s national message is wrong, we will face an uphill struggle to win people’s trust, no matter how formidable our local campaigning is.
The lessons of the Liberal Democrats should be that if we sell out on our biggest national promises (tuition fees in this case), no amount of coffee mornings or hard-hitting local literature will save us.
Today’s politicians and parties need to bear one thing in mind: politics and elections do not operate in a vacuum. As Labour’s fate in 2015 demonstrated, you can have brilliant organisers, dedicated volunteers and wonderful local candidates – but if you do not have the right national strategy and leadership, then pretty much everything else is wasted.
Let us hope that our own party learns that lesson, before it is too late.
Siobhain McDonagh is member of parliament for Mitcham and Morden. She tweets @Siobhain_MP
101 Ways to Win an Election
Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield
BiteBack Publishing | 336pp | £12.99
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