On May 4th, South Cambs Lib Dems stormed to victory in all up elections on new boundaries, winning 30 of the 45 seats. Previously we’d held just 14 out of 57 seats. Cllr Bridget Smith became the leader of South Cambridge District Council, and won the chance to put liberal politics into practice and make people’s lives better where she lives.
It was a shock victory - though not to those of us who had spent the last couple of years working towards it. For me it had all started at my first party conference nearly 3 years ago. I was sitting in a room in Bournemouth, listening to Tim Pickstone (now Chief Executive of ALDC) explain how to pick a ward and win it. I realised that winning elections wasn’t about being a great politician, it was about working hard and being organised – and I could do that.
But victories on this scale need a great team of people. Preferably people you really like, so that the hard work doesn’t feel like hard work but like spending time with friends. We already had some key people in place, but we needed more. So on returning from conference our first job was to speak to as many of our members as possible.
Email is a great tool - but even the best written emails can’t replace personal contact.
That’s why, over the next year we had hundreds of conversations with new members. I have to say that after June 2016 they did get a bit repetitive “Hi, I’m Mary. I’m calling to welcome you to the Liberal Democrats and ask why you joined? Oh Brexit, really, yes, it’s terrible, and yes we really must do something about it.” There were plenty of conversations that went nowhere - many of our members just want to pay us their annual membership fee. But there were also people who wanted to actually do something - which made it worthwhile. We used a Connect script to keep track of what people said they wanted to do and then made sure to follow them up within a few weeks. Some of our members came along to campaign meetings or delivered some leaflets. Some helped set up our social media and website. And some then became the local organisers in their wards, standing as candidates in the County elections and building their own teams of deliverers and canvassers.
We still used email. We sent out a fortnightly email informing members of canvassing sessions, #LibDemPints and policy talks. So once people were engaged, they had a clear path for getting more involved - even if sometimes that meant just six of us drinking coke and chatting in a rural pub.
In 2017 we had County Elections. And we delivered more leaflets and spoke to more voters than ever before. But our campaign was derailed by the General Election. It polarised voters and meant we didn’t make the gains we’d hoped for. But we had our team. We may have been gutted at the count - but we there together, and we were determined to fight on together.
This article is the first of four pieces. future articles will talk about how we targeted our canvassing, communicated our messages via leaflets and email and got out our voters. All essential parts of our victory. But we couldn’t have done any of that without having a brilliant team of people - and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without them.
Are you a local party officer who wants to build your team? Join the membership development facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ldmembership/ and see https://www.libdems.org.uk/memsec_test for details of the roleof membership secretary and links to the technical solutions we have to make e job easier.