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What a campaign!

December 3, 2016 1:26 PM
By Mary Reid in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Sarah Olney victoriousThe Richmond Park campaign was the biggest the party has ever done. Phew!

In writing this post I don't want to give away too many campaigning strategies, although the media have been pretty quick to spot our ways of working. They know that we are good at 'deploying' volunteers, but they don't really understand how we do it. How, they wonder, do we manage to recruit 1000 people in one weekend, from all over the country? How do we get them to travel and stay at their own expense and then embark on some punishing walking, talking and delivering in the cold and dark for hours on end?

However, I know that many of our readers do understand what that is all about. We all care passionately about our values and the vision we have for our society, and we enjoy putting them into action in the company of like-minded people, who quickly become our friends.

Five weeks ago it all kicked off very quickly; after all, we had been expecting a by-election for the last year or so. But somehow Zac Goldsmith did not seem to be as well prepared as we were expecting. He resigned on the Tuesday afternoon and over the next 24 hours he managed to compose and send an email to his constituents.

Over the same short period of time London Lib Dems had organised a demo against Heathrow outside No 10, and the campaign team had included a report and photos of the event in a tabloid, which was printed and delivered to two thirds of the constituency. In 24 hours. The rest of the deliveries went out the following morning. That was the first of around 20 pieces of literature to be unleashed on the residents of Richmond Park.

The core campaign team was led by James Lillis, the Campaign Manager, with Shaun Roberts, our newish Director of Campaigns at Lib Dem HQ.

We had two main HQs, both near railway stations. The one in Kingston was amazingly found, negotiated and set up within a week. It had been a Chinese restaurant so had a convenient bar/servery and several storage places out the back which were ideal for building and storing stakeboards. It also had a rather grim industrial kitchen with rusting woks that we didn't touch.

The campaign was greatly helped by the newer technologies, but perhaps not in the ways people might expect. For example, Facebook offered a terrific platform for energising and mobilising members from all over the country. And the contributions, especially the videos posted every day by members of the core team, were self-deprecating and fun. This was all about catching up with old friends and making new ones online, before meeting them face-to-face in Richmond and Kingston, helped by copious quantities of cake and chocolate.

On polling day we made full use of remote techniques for entering data collected on the doorstep and from tellers, and these were analysed centrally in real time. The operation was intensive but very well planned and executed.

Having said that, all the traditional means of communication were also used. The stakeboard team constructed and put up over 500 garden posters. In fact, one weekend they had to send out a plea to other local parties to borrow their stakeboards, and over 150 were delivered. I don't know how many window posters we got up but we did see seven displayed in a convent.

Many door-knocking teams were out every day from the HQs, chatting with voters about the three main issues - Brexit, Heathrow and the NHS. Then there were the deliveries, which varied from card fliers to magazines, various styles of tabloid aimed at different readers, leaflets, target letters and blue letters.

Of course, we did get some comments about the volume of leaflets, but that was the only way we could fight the by-election on our terms. It could never have been a referendum on Heathrow as Goldsmith wanted, because we agreed with him on that. Indeed our question was how he thought he could do more to change the Government's mind from a position outside the Conservative Parliamentary party than when he had been an insider.

Yesterday, nearly 900 activists got involved, both on the ground and on the phone. And 13,000 phone calls were made - that was during polling day alone.

I was looking after one of the seven Committee Rooms, mine covering one and a half wards in New Malden. We were very busy and got as far as the fifth knock-up. Our patch covered everything from Council estates, through suburban semis to some of the most expensive mansions in the UK. The latter were a nightmare - gated enclaves, very long drives, and security guards at each end of private roads. The drive to one of the polling stations involved a lengthy detour because of these restrictions.

The temperature didn't get much above freezing all day, and at a couple of the polling stations the tellers had to stand outside in the cold - and for far too long in the dark. I regularly sent round a flask of Lib Dem hot chocolate with the person collecting the numbers.

As I packed up the Committee Room last night I knew for certain that the result was very close, but didn't dare risk a prediction. On TV, the look on the faces of the Lib Dems after they had completed their box counts (referred to sweetly as 'sampling') gave the game away. Then Alistair Carmichael - the one MP at the Count - confirmed it by saying that he was "cautiously optimistic". That's the moment when I dared to believe it. We had won Richmond Park! And Sarah Olney is now an MP!

* Mary Reid is the Monday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.