The fortunes of UKIP may to a large extent be dependent on the national mood, but locally effective campaigning by each branch can make a big difference, especially in local elections, but also in national elections. We have all seen the “rogue” seat in General Elections, where there is surprise ousting of the incumbent by an outside challenger, and in UKIP we are very much in that role.
Also, that campaigning is far more effective if it is maintained throughout the whole year, not just in the month before an election – voters almost expect to get accosted in that time, but if you appear on their doorstep halfway between elections, to listen to their concerns rather than to preach our line at them, they are a lot more receptive. However, door to door campaigning is expensive and onerous in manpower terms, and there is a far easier way of reaching the voters through the local media.
Letter written by a UKIP North West Hampshire member – Peter Sumner, a veteran local politician who served as an Independent and Conservative Councillor for 30 years before moving to UKIP.
In terms of newspapers, it is always possible that our own councillors and other politicians are making the news, but Joe Public can have their say in the paper by writing letters to The Editor. In my branch we have a system of key branch figures, including local Councillors, reviewing the local press (published on a Friday) each weekend and deciding in which areas to attack. Then the letters are written and we try to spread it around members so that the same name does not keep on appearing. Either they are given the topic and left to do it themselves, or a good copywriter does a draft, forwards it, the signatory may modify it to suit their style and then sends it off to the paper.
What then happens is it sparks a debate. The “opposition”, in our case the ruling Tory Councillors and their Leaders, will wade in with their own letters. Quite often they provide us with useful ammunition for a counter-attack, which is pressed home the following week, keeping them continually on the defensive. And, in my branch, we have seen a phenomenon of other local residents joining in the argument on our side. Of course, each of those is a recruiting opportunity, so we find out where they live (online electoral rolls and phone listings) and pay them a visit to say “thank you”.
We also collect all our press cuttings. In May, once the election died down we didn’t have any, by August we collected two pages worth of A4 when scanned, in September 4 pages, and in October reached 6 pages. These scans we then distribute to members to hopefully spur them on to get engaged themselves.
Then there is the online media. Quite often the paper will have a cut-down online version on which it may be possible to comment, and then there are other news sites that only operate online. Here’s an example of the one in Andover: http://www.andovertown.co.uk/
And then Facebook! We know we have to be careful using Facebook, but it can be a useful tool for reaching people, both to gauge feedback on what we say, and to engage in debate. Quite often local communities will have their own Facebook page, although some may have rules forbidding political discussion, and a Branch can of course set up its own Facebook page.
The message is more important than the medium though. Direct politicking may not always be the best approach. Given that UKIP is not afraid of engaging in political debate, as LibLabCon are, often initiating debate is more productive, then sit back, watch the reactions, and then wade back into the discussion with UKIP’s solution, which people will then be more receptive too, having seen the debate swinging in our favour to that point.