All things considered, it was quite an uneventful campaign for most parties. With the near-constant drama of the past few years, the build up to polling day didn’t reflect the crucial decision before the nation.
Part of that is political fatigue. A lot of people are exhausted of hearing about Brexit, and have switched off from daily politics. Another possible reason is that over the past few years, everyone bar Jeremy Corbyn had decided their position on Brexit, and in a way minds were already made up.
For the Liberal Democrats, the campaign was certainly hard fought. In Hitchin and Harpenden, a huge team spent every drop of energy canvassing, leafleting and talking to voters online. We managed to increase vote share from 6,236 (10.6%) in 2017 to 20,824 (35.4%), turning the seat in to a Lib/Con marginal (Con won with 27,719 (47.1%)).
This not-far-behind second place was replicated in over 100 constituencies.
The national party’s spend on Facebook ads alone shows what we threw at this election. The result, though 4 points up on 2017 nationally, wasn’t quite what we were hoping for however. What held us back?
Personally, the revoke A50 policy was an own-goal. The very low chance of a Lib Dem majority was well known by the electorate, so publicising a policy that would only be enacted in that circumstance meant we had to qualify it every time it was mentioned. Instantly, you’re having to defend something you know you’ll never have to do.
And because of the unlikeliness of the circumstances that the policy would be enacted in coming about, we were talking about it in completely the wrong context. All a casual listener heard was revoke Article 50. So, understandably, it came across undemocratic – however much of a mandate we would have had.
This leads nicely to one of the main problems with modern campaigns – depth doesn’t win you points. Few voters have the time, inclination, or energy to read in to the details of every party’s offer. They pick up the feeling of a party, headlines of policies, and the personality of the leader. And they run with that.
You don’t get the chance to add small print and expect that to be taken as part of the argument.
So, looking at our messaging, we had just one real message that most people would have heard: Stop Brexit.
Voters would have questions to that such as:
I didn’t see a single answer to these questions in the national messaging. The phrase Stop Brexit sounded like something we wanted, not something we could offer.
In Hitchin and Harpenden, we are in what has been since the seat’s creation a safe bet for the Conservatives. The incumbent MP, Bim Afolami, is widely regarded as what you could kindly refer to as a hands-off representative. A lot of local people feel he isn’t around much (indeed, he doesn’t live in the constituency).
But H&H’s demographics have changed a lot in recent years. A lot of city commuters have moved to the area, and brought their pro-EU stance with them.
The Remain message landed well, and was attributed to us and not Labour mostly due to the fact Labour just could never win here. Even in 1997 the area was solidly blue.
Our main advantage, however, was a fantastic candidate. Sam Collins was a confident candidate full of integrity, energy and a willingness to talk to anyone. It was easy to advocate for someone so easy to believe in.
The huge team (much larger than any other party) were out every single day campaigning, canvassing, delivering. The other local parties just couldn’t match us. Labour were redirected to nearby target seats, and the Tories were complacent. I’m not sure we’ll get such a clean run again, but we took advantage of it as much as we could.
I’m sure the 20+ leaflets (plus addressed letters) helped get our message out too!
Our goal now has to be to continue that energy and dedication in to the local elections next year. If our effort comes anywhere near, I think we can pull off something really interesting.
Mark Pack is our new party president, and I have a very good feeling his experience and knowledge in electioneering will boost the party’s capabilities. We have a heck of a lot of professional, dedicated people in the party with unique ideas and approaches, and if Mark can help harness those attributes, we are on to something.
A new leader needs electing (sadly). I have no preference right now, but the parliamentarians we have are all fantastic candidates for the role – I have no fear we can elect a dud. I can’t, however, say the same about the Labour party…