Thursday, May 21, 2009

Learning the Hard Way

I am mostly enjoying my new life as a small-time politician. The campaign takes me back to the early days of Speaking Up. All volunteers, young and old, all in it together. I love the challenge of working out people's skills and melding together a team that clicks. I also relish the buzz of the campaign.

My `Campaign Crew' is a motley group ranging from 82 to 22. I have senior professionals, I have call-centre staff, pensioners and students. Unusually most of my crew are not Lib Dem party members and three are members of other political parties. I've not worked with this kind of diversity for a long time. After years of working with only with my senior team and board this is actually a refreshing kind of challenge. Fortunately I am loving it. Mostly.

This week the campaign had its first hiccup. One of the team, a prominent member of the local party, wrote part of my second leaflet and included in it an incorrect fact about one of my opponents' voting record. 3500 of these had been printed and 500 delivered before I got an angry call from the gentleman whose good name we had besmirched.

Understandably upset, he demanded that we withdraw the leaflet and apologise. Then the paper called and suddenly I am part of a story about the depths to which local politicians will go to gain petty advantage.

My more experienced colleagues tell me, like kindly uncles, that this is all par for the course. Local politics is, they say, pretty aggressive and personal at times (my opponent pulled no punches in his communication). It all left me a little...unsettled, if I am honest. Which I am sure was the desired intention.

Where does this leave me? Do I accept that local poltiics is a bit of a knockabout and give as good as I get? Or do I seek to act in the way I do in other areas of my life where I try, wherever possible, to seek the common ground and get things done through trust. A path I have always found to be the most productive.

For now, I am going with the latter, whatever people tell me. The people I really admire in politics - Frank Field, Vince Cable etc - are all `real people' as much as they are professional politicians. The public actually like this about them. While I am sure they are superb operators, they are smart enough to realise that the highly adversarial means of doing politics in this country are actually not particularly effective at achieving its ends. And that they are a turn off for voters, especially the young.

If elected, I will seek to work in the way I always have to make good things happen. And, yes, this includes a personal note of apology to my opponent, despite his reaction, which was not what I am used to in such situations. When I look back in a few years time at this blog I may laugh at my naivety. But is there any point doing this if you're not going to be yourself and bring to the table what has worked well so far in your life? If that's the case, why bother?

The lessons of this week have been harsh ones though. Check your facts. Be in control of your message. Anticipate how opponents might try to convey not only what you stand for but how you operate as a person. This is, I am learning, a tough game, even at local level. The gloves are off and if you leave yourself open, as I did, you will get one in the head. I don't believe there is anything inherently `personal' in any of this stuff (candidates apparently have great fun together at the count, once the war for votes is over), but, in the meantime, anything you do which can count against the way voters perceive you is fair-game.


Rob Fountain said...

As I read this my mind went straight to the analogy of football. Roughing up the opposition is a tried and tested approach in the lower leagues. Players who know their weaknesses, resort to their one - physical - strength. Every so often, though, you get to see a diamond in the lower leagues. They'll tend not to be as physically menacing as the others playing; but they will invariably get up the noses of the lumps around them as they employ subtlety, guile and intelligence to undermine the barging and barracking. I'm a Brentford fan and we've had our fair share of brick outhouses playing for us, we've also had a few stars. mind you, they're all playing in the Premiership now...

Ian Harris said...

Converting your football analogy to American football, it's that kind of roughing up from politicians and media that ushers in the 'blockers' in the form of Prescott and Alastair Campbell.

Campbell repeats a line about his rationale for taking up his role with Blair. He saw Kinnock (a man he admired) repeatedly roughed up by the media. He saw Blair and thought, that's not going to happen again and made it his mission to get in the way of the tacklers and take some of the blows on Blair's behalf.

Rob Greenland said...

Good post Craig. I came across this quote from a blogger called Scott Stratten the other day

"If you are your authentic self in your business, you have no competition."

Of course on one level it's nonesense, but on another it is profoundly true - as much in politics as in business.

I'm also pleased to see you've adopted my making good things happen line. I'm interested to know whether you remember it as "mine"! I borrow people's language all the time and then unwittingly pretend that I thought of it myself, so I'm hoping you've done the same!

Keep it up - it hardly needs saying that now is the time for a different brand of politician.