After stepping out of the last UKIP leadership contest, I went on holiday. I thought the lack of phone signal might keep me well and truly away from the media, lest it turn out to be a ‘UKIP holiday’, which is a holiday where you spend more time working than you would normally whilst working! I avoided the majority, but some Party stuff slipped through the net.
I came back with a few resolutions. One was to pay some more attention to my committees in the European Parliament. I hear UKIP members asking ‘Why?’ in an exasperated tone of voice. If I hadn’t, we’d have missed the national media story about the EU wasting another 31,000 euros on tea and biscuits for the Committee of the Regions. We’d have not put in 140 or so amendments to the EU budget to save the taxpayer over £3 billion (though they were all voted down). We wouldn’t have identified a whole string of ridiculous claptrap being awarded taxpayers’ money.
My main resolution however was to focus a bit on a forthcoming Council by-election in Hartlepool – in which we won by a landslide Thursday night, with 49.2% of the vote in a 6-horse race! It would have been an even bigger majority had it not been for the ‘altercation’, which did put some people off on the doorstep.
I put some time into doing the main things: leafleting, canvassing, delivering postal voters’ letters, and inputting canvass data. I tried to cajole people into coming out and helping, and to make sure everything was being done properly. Now, let me be clear here: there were others who put more work in on the ground than I did. Yes, I spent plenty of time on the campaign – but there were others locally who worked harder and did a lot more.
Want to win elections? Here’s how we did it:
1. Find a good local candidate
In our case, we chose the landlord of one of the pubs in the ward. Everyone in one of the polling districts seemed to know him, making canvassing really easy. Some people were more likely to vote because they ‘know Tim’ rather than just because of the UKIP label.
2. There is no substitute for canvass data
If you don’t know who your own supporters are, how can you be sure they’ll turn out to vote? Back in the day when the Lib Dems were the masters of winning elections through local campaigning, there was a saying along the lines of ‘if you’re fighting the Lib Dems in a ward you’re both targeting, and they suddenly vanish, you know you’ve lost the election’. It meant that they had identified enough supporters to win the election, and they were now only talking to their own voters to make sure they turned out.
3. Timing is key for postal voters
The best time to deliver a letter addressed to postal voters is as soon as possible before the postal vote arrives. We tried to time things so that we delivered the postal voters’ letter on the same day as their ballot papers arrived.
4. Keep It Local, Stupid
Based on the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) acronym in business. If it ain’t local, it ain’t helping you win a local election. There’s a time and a place for mentioning national issues, and this isn’t it.
5. Pavement politics matter
This ward had two Labour councillors and one UKIP before the by-election, and our UKIP councillor had one of the smallest majorities possible: just 2 votes, having been elected 619-617. We were out canvassing in an evening, with the current UKIP councillor in the team. As we turned one corner to canvass a new street, he stopped us all. “See that wall there?”, he asked, pointing to a damaged wall. “If anyone asks, I’ve been on to it and it’s getting fixed on Friday.” If people know they can trust Brand UKIP to do a good job and to care about their community, they’ll do it.
6. Knock on the right doors
We took the view that anyone who hadn’t even voted in the referendum would be unlikely to come out on a cold day in October to vote for UKIP. So we got hold of a copy of the postal voters’ register, and the marked electoral register.
We knocked on the doors of the postal voters first, because they had to be canvassed before the postal votes went out. Next we knocked on the doors of everyone else who’d voted in the referendum. Timing is key – we want to knock on the right doors at the right time.
7. Apply a squeeze
I was out leafleting when one of my colleagues started talking to a voter on the doorstep. He explained that he was voting for a local party, “Putting Hartlepool First”, which has a couple of councillors in Hartlepool and is basically an anti-Labour pressure valve. I ran across, and pointed out that there had been just 2 votes between UKIP and Labour last time: if he wanted to get Labour out, then we were the only effective way of doing it. I’m pretty sure we turned him into a UKIP voter in a matter of seconds.
The ‘two horse race’ approach is incredibly effective, when it’s credible.
8. The Good Morning leaflet matters too
A nice, attractive ‘Good morning! Don’t forget to vote UKIP today’ leaflet is a great way of reminding people that there’s an election on. Our Regional Chairman knocked on one door in May in a target ward, on polling day. “We’ll definitely be voting for you tomorrow”, he was told. “Polling day is today”, he replied, and with five people on the register at that address, it was five votes that we wouldn’t otherwise have got.
From all the canvass data we had carefully obtained, we’d identified 380 UKIP voters (remember, the entire Labour vote in the ward was just 255). That’s why we were so confident of winning: we knew where 380 of our own supporters lived. All we had to do was get them to turn up, and that’s before counting the UKIP supporters we hadn’t been able to find (those who were out when we canvassed, for example). We put out our Good Morning leaflet only to those addresses.
9. It’s not over till 10pm
If you have the resources to put tellers on polling stations, use them to cross off the electoral numbers of anyone who’s already voted. Then amend your spreadsheet or database accordingly and make sure your canvassers don’t waste time by knocking on those doors.
Knocking on the doors of your supporters, and ideally offering them a lift to a polling station, is a great way of making sure that people actually go to vote. Ultimately, that’s what can make a difference between winning and losing.
Depressingly, one UKIP member said yesterday “Don’t stress about it. You’ll never win any votes on polling day”. Polling day isn’t about winning votes, it’s about making sure that our people go to the polling station and don’t forget to vote!
10. And sometimes, not even then
At the count, watch things like a hawk: a UKIP vote accidentally placed in a Labour pile can cost us dearly, for example. Make sure you have tallies for each polling district so that you know where you’re strongest for next time, and check that your tallies match your canvass data.
Our team worked very hard, and as a result UKIP’s presence on Hartlepool Council marches on. We are the principal opposition on Hartlepool for a reason. If we hadn’t campaigned like this, we would have expected a narrow defeat. In fact, we won by an absolute landslide. If Labour had got just 7 votes fewer, we would have had double their vote! Campaigning makes a huge difference, when it’s done properly.
Want to win elections?
It’s often about working smarter, not harder. We just won by a landslide in a Labour-UKIP marginal.
Don’t doubt UKIP’s potential, but also don’t doubt that there are changes to be made if we want to realise that potential.