It has long been said that “Where we work, we win” and the district council by election in Ivybridge Filham in February 2010 was a great example of that. One of the many reasons I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat is that our successes are down to hard work, commitment and goodwill on the part of our activists, not donations from big business or unions that are taken for granted. Ivybridge was no exception to this!
On paper we were the underdogs by miles. In the 2007 district elections for this two-member ward, we had only managed to raise one paper candidate and the two Conservatives accordingly won their seats by several hundred votes. Add to this a PPC who lived 80 miles away and had never agented an election before, a consituency with a small membership and an even smaller base of core activists and the unfortunate fact that our candidate, Tony Barber, had an accident falling on the ice two days after we selected him and broke his wrist, meaning that he couldn’t write, deliver leaflets and needed a scribe in order to knock on doors! That’s even before Labour managing to raise a candidate this time round, having failed to do so in 2007, was factored in.
Undeterred, we planned to run a good, ALDC-style campaign, work as hard as we could to develop the area, in the knowledge that if this wasn’t enough for victory this time round, it would be a good base for the General Election and the 2011 all-up South Hams district ballot.
My partner in crime, as a rookie agent, was the seasoned campaigner Keith Baldry, and his brilliant local knowledge helped us to plan out delivery routes that were long enough to get a good amount done, without being an unfair demand on volunteers. I was particularly excited about the absence of hills, steps and gates in the walk that I took on!
Our first Focus was an A4, with a biography about Tony, and the opening story including the PPC endorsing him and looking forward to the campaign. We included the standard grumble box, help box and contact box and led on the “Who can you trust to look after your money” for the national story. Our local stories were our 3 main campaign priorities: parking; regeneration and fighting the incinerator application. We used pictures to enhance all these messages.
We introduced Tony’s candidacy in the local papers as well and were able to issue a second press release calling for better public transport links to the local hospital mid-way through the campaign.
We planned to doorknock whenever at least two people were free, bearing in mind that Tony’s injury meant he couldn’t canvass alone. We set up the online meeting organiser Doodle, to share availability, which was great for arranging car-sharing, planning ahead and motivating campaigners to fill in as much availability as possible.
We aimed to run a full telephone canvass alongside the foot knocking up: as it turned out, about half the ward was covered by the end of the 4 week campaign.
We ran into our next hurdle as we began the canvassing – our EARS officer was sadly unable to continue his duties. Nobody else knew how to work EARS! I had a rudimentary knowledge from volunteering in a held seat, but we didn’t really think it was feasible or wise for the PPC and Agent to take on EARS responsibility as well! One of our South Hams councillors, Mark Lawrence, stepped in to help and really threw himself in to the role. Having spent the first fortnight scribbling voter ID on scraps of paper and in the margin of the electoral register, it was a huge relief to actually have someone to enter this into EARS and print new canvass and delivery sheets.
We were able to use our voter ID coverage to great extent when preparing our blue handwritten letters to voters. As we had identified lots of Tories, we excluded them from our delivery routes, so they weren’t reminded about the by election coming up. We also excluded the handful of hard Labour, Anti and NV from our future deliveries.
We managed to get the blue letter out to all postal voters for postal vote Polling Day, but were not able to run a full PV Polling Day, which for future campaigns we would definitely aim to do. There was only a 59% turnout for the postal ballot and we could have won by a more convincing margin if we had phone/foot knocked up on PV Polling Day.
Our next Focus was an A3 and again we made use of tried and tested messages, with the bar chart and two horse race Labour squeeze messages. Our second leaflet still focused on positive reasons to vote Liberal Democrat, but we also featured Tory failures on key local issues, such as ending free town centre parking, plans to close down the swimming pool and to sell off the county’s care homes. We included a petition box for the care home issue and the national story included a great shot of Paddy Ashdown with the PPC and again talked about Lib Dems fighting to give residents value for money. We got this lealfet out the weekend before Polling Day.
Polling Day week was a flurry of activity and irritatingly, the onset of the first bad weather we’d had all campaign. Monday and Tuesday saw us getting out the blue handwritten letters, with an Eve of Poll on Wednesday. Special thanks have to go to Ian Gillett of the Focus Factory, for his quick turnaround designing and printing leaflets for us and for providing us with a small grant to produce an extra piece of literature to boost the campaign. He also very kindly came to rescue me when I had a punctured tyre, but that’s another story!
Polling Day dawned with driving rain. I packed supplies of socks and shoes accordingly. Stephen Gilbert, PPC for St Austell and Newquay, brought up a team of interns to help with the Good Mornings and we successfully got them all out before 9am. After the traditional big breakfast at Julie’s Cafe, it was on to a targeted GOTV operation and Mark employed his newly-developed EARS skills to send teams to the most promising areas as a priority. Ds and Ps were knocked on again and again until they voted. We knocked on every D and P at least once, and two or three times in target areas. We ran a full telling operation at the Polling Station, which helped to match up our foot data on who was yet to vote. As the biting cold set in mid evening, we turned to the phones and phone knocked up Ds, then Ps until everyone had been phoned. Our tellers on duty from 8pm onwards said that they could tell we were on the phones as as steady trickle of people kept coming in, often with a sideways amused nod in the direction of the yellow rosette!
The count itself was a little nerve-wracking, and although it was clear from the start Labour were going to finish a distant third, between the three counters’ piles of votes we were pretty level with the Tories. As the count progressed though, a Lib Dem win looked more and more likely and the array of senior Tories present began to look more and more disenchanted. I anticipated a re-count, but the Conservatives accepted the initial verdict and Tony Barber was duly declared as returned for the Filham ward.
A great team effort and it proves that resources and money aren’t everything – motivation and targeting are worth a lot more. The whole campaign cost just £308. Thanks to everyone involved.