The rise of UKIP over the last year or so has been phenomenal. The Clacton by-election broke the record for a swing to one party and Heywood and Middleton sent the powerful message to Conservative party voters in Labour strongholds that they can only defeat Labour by voting UKIP. With the tide really with us it would be no surprise were Mark Reckless to retake Rochester and Strood with an increased majority.
Even a traditional Conservative ‘safe’ seat like Tonbridge and Malling is now under threat with a very well connected Conservative party candidate parachuted in to do the bidding of the Conservative party rather than the people of the Tonbridge and Malling. My efforts over the coming months will be to aid Robert Izzard, our candidate for Tonbridge and Malling, to try and upset this very finely laid out apple cart of a Conservative ‘banker’.
I’m sure many of us will be doing the same. The 2015 election will be fought on a shoestring by those constituency parties not in prime target seats and whose principle drivers are honourable people also wanting to do the right thing but not necessarily with the experience, know-how, time and resources necessary to do the best job possible. This can’t be helped, we have to stand in every constituency as a matter of extreme importance and for 2015 we’ll just do the best we can.
However, this cannot remain the case for the 2020 general election, there is much to do. UKIP needs to strengthen its organisation in the following four principal areas (amongst others) and it may be that we’ll need to choose to do things differently. Below I’ll outline my current early thinking on what we need to do to create a smoothly functional and sophisticated organisation fit for future generations.
This week, like all members, I received a standard plea for donations with Nigel’s name at the top. Constituency groups do the same thing as do the other parties. This approach is common to all parties and is a routine process devoid of any thought or attention. Simply saying ‘give us some money’ and only asking members, probably doesn’t work very well so I suspect that the resulting income generated is minimal. We need to think ‘outside the box’ and revolutionise how parties are funded.
For Labour and the Conservatives, of course the picture is very different with them relying upon massive donations from trades unions on the one side and interested businesses on the other. Without these huge ‘gifts’ they would sink. A downside of such a mechanism though is that it is very poorly received by the public as they suspect the piper will often play a particular tune in return. Another downside is that we don’t have as many of these as the other parties but the really exciting thought is that we may be able to fund ourselves in a completely new way.
Just asking for money and just asking members isn’t enough. We have to tell people what we want their money for when we ask for it (in detail) and what we spent it on when it’s gone. We must keep them engaged (not patronised) with party activity, provide input mechanisms but principally create a communications link between who gave what and where it went. Whilst simplistic in concept it does require that our entire financial structure has to operate with this principle (and our financial computer system) at its core. It is sophisticated, structurally complex and founded upon a whole new ethos and it is what I mean by being different.
We can ask anyone to help who wants to see UKIP win. If they see a positive use of their money they are more likely to give and give again. Just imagine if all our supporters, currently standing in the polls at anywhere north of 15% of the electorate, gave a pound a week? A very optimistic assumption, yes; but, that would add up to £0.4billion per year.
After all we have little choice. Big donors are becoming less and less electorally acceptable, state funding isn’t seen by the people as desirable and current personal donations probably wouldn’t pay the milk bill, so what do we have to lose?
Central campaign facility
Next year we’ll be out talking to people, designing a campaign, printing leaflets and commenting publicly. Within all of this we’ll, no doubt, mention numbers and costs, particularly those connected with the European Union. We’ll be deciding as individual constituencies when to do what, how to present information and how to recruit helpers.
For 2015, as I’ve suggested it will be on a best endeavours basis but in reality, and whilst there are 650 constituencies, it is one campaign being repeated 650 times with minor constituency variations. It is critical that when we state numbers they are a) correct and b) used by everyone. When we publish a leaflet it is critical that it is a) well designed and b) not open to justified criticism. When and how many times we leaflet the entire constituency is likely to be the same everywhere and it’s exactly what a central facility can provide.
All of this means that a central campaign facility with leaflet templates, an information store, a media watch and a campaign direction aspect will better co-ordinate the national effort in these 650 parts and marshal resources, both boots on the ground and media direction to where it might be needed the most. There shouldn’t be any aspect of a constituency campaign that isn’t monitored and visible as a part of the overall national campaign.
Typically constituencies seem to be left in the dark and to sink or swim with very little help from the centre and very little input the other way to influence national party thinking. Often referred to as the ‘mushroom system’ this may be what centralised parties get away with but UKIP is and should be different. The constituency party is our national connection with the people and we need to help it do that job better. There is much more to say on this but not in this short comment.
Nigel referred to the UKIP 2010 party manifesto as ‘drivel’. Quite right too, not that it didn’t contain some core values and common sense policies but that some really suicidal (electorally speaking) bits managed to creep in which is simply the gift of all gifts to our opposition and a hostile media. Let’s hope our 2015 manifesto manages to avoid a similar future critique though our Preview Policies for People does sail close to the edge in one or two areas.
The question is how does a party wind up with some real stinkers in their manifesto? The answer is that incestuous (politically speaking) groups often get lost in their own parochial universe with nobody wise or strong enough to spot the bomb which the media usually manage to focus upon immediately the words are released. Doing this properly shouldn’t be too difficult, you might think, but without a robust process it is almost impossible.
Leadership is important, so are good ideas, so are policies and so are mechanisms. Firstly we seem to still be unclear as to what a policy is and what a mechanism is. Policy should be in a manifesto whereas detail, or mechanisms shouldn’t.
All manifesto policy ideas should be subject to a RED team analysis with the power of veto. I realise this can be a difficult delegation for some but it’s an essential process to remove the bombs before they go off. A robust process to canvass ideas and form them into a manifesto is an overdue and necessary creation for the future.
In my view 2015 is just the beginning, there is much to do to remain the true voice of the people and some of our thinking has now to be directed to a greater permanence and long term future success.
Photo by rcadby14