Local Election Campaign – Garforth Ward,
Leeds City Council 

alan1.jpgThe Situation: The all out postal vote in 2004 had resulted in a split ticket, two Labour councillors and one conservative. The least popular of these, a labour councillor with a majority of only 33 votes, was up for election in 2006. This was our objective. During the general election, however, things took a turn for the worse. The labour lead, when adjusted for turn out was around 1600 for the ward and the feeling on the doorstep was that the Cameron bump was not really registering in this ex mining town. 

The new conservative administration in the city council had enjoyed a reasonably successful year but they were governing in coalition with the lib dems and so it was difficult to run on their successes without energising lib dem support. 

The Campaign: Early planning started in august 05 and a rough plan was drawn up by the time conference was over in October. We began campaigning proper in November with a full delivery (7000) of a survey asking a range of issue questions along side more traditional voting intentions etc… Of note in this was that we split the voting intentions between national and local elections to give us an idea of a: people who would “twitch” as it became known (vote one way nationally and another locally) and b: those who would be easy to convince. We received about 1200 responses (partly due to the pre paid envelope delivered with the questionnaire.) The responses gave us about 400 new pledges and succinctly outlined local priorities into 4 issues. From there we started to break the campaign down into cycles of 4, thus allowing us time to keep moving the agenda and making sure our opponents were consistently on the back foot. 

Our internet campaign began with the official campaign launch at the local college in January. The website, www.votealanLAMB.com was immensely successful registering well in excess of 3000 hits during the campaign.  The website was the first in a series of personality building tools for the candidate working on the principle that people will be more likely to vote for a candidate whom they feel that they know. We included a diary page which was updated every week and a statistics page, an interesting phenomenon as our analysis showed that it was by far the most visited page of the site. The candidate wore a pedometer whilst campaigning and we kept a tally of the number of leaflets / letters delivered, this was all aimed at building up a picture of who the candidate was and what the priorities were. 

The vast majority of deliveries were letters personalised by mail merging from blue chip and their content was unfailingly positive. We mapped out an agenda based on achievable steps towards improving the four priority outcomes identified in the original survey, keeping a very personal tone throughout and making sure that when we wrote to people we sounded like we were addressing them and not the media.  For the final few months of the campaign we concentrated all deliveries on the pledges, possibles and all uncanvassed V6s, 9s &8s, narrowing this pool further by removing the V8s as we approached polling day. 

Through an enormous effort on behalf of the candidate and a few members of the team we managed to canvass the lions’ share of the ward (16000 electors) once and key groups / areas with contentious issues more than once. This was by far the most effective part of the campaign and resulted in the large majority of the 3000+ pledges we eventually managed to obtain.  The majority of the ward was either ex-directory or TPS and so most of the canvassing was done door to door.  Most of the 3000 or so voters who were available by telephone were contacted on a St Patrick’s Day telethon held at the local constituency office. 

Polling Day: Polling day was a highly targeted operation beginning at 4 am with a dawn drop and moving to a full knock up of the target “pool” at 10. The target group consisted of pledges, possibles and uncanvassed V9s, giving us a pool of around 4000 to aim at.  Turnout figures came in throughout the day and we had two “roving” teams of 4 ready to descend on any of the key areas if turnout started to drop. 

The Result: We lost.  Despite turning out over 3000 voters (a safe win in any other seat in the authority) and getting more pledges than the safest council seat in the country we lost by 262 votes. There were a number of excuses, a beautiful evening kept turn out high and there were access issues with two of our best polling stations but in the end we lost because more people voted labour than voted for us and that’s life. The branch membership has more than doubled, the canvass data has provided us with a fantastic base and the next campaign has already begun. I hope that next year I will be able to write an article about how we won. 

The Lessons: The campaign has lead me to come up with some golden rules – how to lose narrowly in a mining town: 

1. Find out what people want

2. Work out how to achieve that

3. Tell people what your priorities are and how you’re going to make good on your promises

4. Work out who is likely to vote for you 

5. Tell them over and over again and don’t tell them anything else

6. Tell them face to face

7. Tell them face to face again

8. Make sure that they vote.