Lib Dem internal documents leaked to the Spectator warn that the party has no branding strategy, staff ‘lack research literacy’ and campaigns are based on ‘received wisdom’ rather than any evidence that current tactics are working.
I’ve been passed a presentation seen by aides close to Nick Clegg, staff at Lib Dem HQ, MPs and SpAds over the past few months which is damning about the party’s preparations for 2015. These slides cannot have made particularly comfortable reading for staffers and parliamentarians:
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The presentation paints a picture of a party operation where ‘staff lack research literacy and capacity to analyse data properly’, the impact of campaigns isn’t measured – the most damning line is ‘we have little valid evidence that our tactics actually work’ – and there is ‘no branding strategy’. This is the great leafletting problem – the party continues to deliver Focus leaflets with incredible energy but no regard to whether those reams of paper are making any positive difference.
Ryan Coetzee will join the Lib Dems as the party’s new strategy adviser later this autumn. He is a former MP and chief executive of the South African Democratic Alliance, and has quite a job on his hands in enticing voters to back the party in 2015. It seems the internal party machine will keep him very well-occupied, too.
I understand that those already in HQ are pushing for a strategy called ’75 by-elections’ in 2015, as an extension of the party’s great love of localism, and the great belief, which runs deep, that by-elections and local battles are where the Liberal Democrats are strongest. Of course, the great irony of the party’s narrative of the ‘By-Election Machine’ is that the last parliamentary by-election win was four years before entering the Coalition Government: in 2006 in Dunfermline and West Fife. The strategy also runs contrary to what Clegg and outgoing strategist Richard Reeves believe: that the party needs to forge a sharp national identity for itself, rather than being all things to all men.
The presentation also slams the party’s attempts at profiling voters. The slide below shows how far behind the other two parties the Liberal Democrats are:
(Click on the image to view a larger version.)
The Liberal Democrats are far behind the two main parties in the amount of data they hold on voters, and have only recently acquired a sophisticated database to be able to handle that sort of data (I’ve written more about this here). In 2004, the Conservatives procured their powerful Voter Vault, the same voter targeting system used by the US Republicans. Liam Fox, the party’s Chairman at the time, said: ‘Politics is now becoming very fragmented. The days when you could say this is a Labour street or this is a Tory street have gone. You can’t even say this is a Tory or a Labour house.’
Using complex modelling, Voter Vault was able to predict individual voting intentions with over 80 per cent accuracy in 2005. In 2009, Labour developed their own system, complete with psycho-demographic modelling. Yet, unlike their counterparts, the Liberal Democrats’ new Connect system suffers from a severe lack of data.
There is still time before 2015 for these gaping holes to be addressed, but Coetzee will need to set to work pretty sharpish to achieve that and put it to good use. I wonder whether he will be shown this presentation as part of his induction?
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