UKIP LOCAL ELECTION SUCCESS: At The Ninth Attempt
On Friday May 4th the good people of Hapton with Park elected me to represent them on Burnley Borough Council. This result came after eight earlier, unsuccessful tilts at elected office. I hadn’t been counting but the local Labour party helpfully pointed the fact out in one of their leaflets and I’m sure Labour can be trusted to get their figures right.
I keep my old leaflets in a ring binder on the off chance my future grandchildren might find them interesting. Laid end to end starting with a local election in 2011 and ending with a last-minute ‘Get out the Vote’ flyer from last Tuesday the leaflets, all designed in-house, show how we’ve progressed as a branch in our ability to produce high quality, engaging literature. Something would have been very wrong had we not done so but the important point is that we’ve stuck around long enough to improve. I’ve got better at designing leaflets, my colleague has got better at producing videos (to the point that having started doing odd Facebook videos for us he’s now setting up a business doing it professionally), its taken years but we stuck around. That means that we’ve retained that knowledge in the branch whilst other areas have been affected by members leaving taking their experience with them.
If we’re to succeed in future we need to retain talent at branch level and extend the skills of our members. The bad news is that we’re not winning elections because we aren’t very good at them. The good news is neither are the two main parties, generally speaking. I realised this when our activity in Hapton with Park roused the Labour Party into launching their own locally produced content. Voters were presented with a flurry of garish, badly designed leaflets that verged on the illiterate. That Labour came so close to holding the seat is a reflection of the size of their core vote. We don’t have that luxury, we’ll only do well where our campaigns are spot on.
What Do We Do?
So what do we do? As branches, we need to develop our talent. Let us stop designing leaflets in Microsoft Word, it can’t handle the job. A good desktop publishing suite is PagePlus developed by British company Serif. The latest version (X9) is available on Amazon for twenty quid, buy it. Have at least one person in the branch spend time getting to know the software. Now you can produce leaflets and newsletters that will make other parties look amateurish.
In the modern world, we need to be on top of social media too. Chances are you came to this article via Facebook and at least half your potential voters will be on Facebook too. Your branch doubtless has a page but what is the content like? Videos attract users attention far more than simple posts and modern smartphones, particularly the latest iPhone can produce very high-quality footage. If you want to campaign about traffic problems at a local junction, video those problems and put the videos on Facebook. Likewise, if it’s a planning issue film the affected area with a short piece to camera explaining your position. Facebook users are inclined to watch videos of places they know. It’s possible to ‘boost’ your post (that is pay Facebook a small amount to get your video on user’s feed) if it’s particularly important. I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy a lot of expensive gear, the chances are that a member or more likely a members’ child or grandchild will already have something suitable. Again, start with something simple and let the member (or member’s grandchild) improve with time. Check out the Burnley UKIP Facebook page to see what we’ve done; https://www.facebook.com/pg/BurnleyUkip/videos/?ref=page_internal
Having these skills allows you to get your message to voters, but your message still needs to resonate. You will know what the big issues are locally and if you put them out in newsletters and Facebook videos throughout the year they are more likely to be watched or read. When election time comes around voters are in the habit of reading your leaflets and watching your videos so you’ll stand out more.
What Should the Central Party Do?
Let’s face it we ‘kippers love a good moan and the national party takes a lot of often justified flak. But there is no point laying all the blame for poor results at their feet. There is a limited amount they can do to back your campaigns, certainly, they shouldn’t be producing your leaflets and a ‘local’ manifesto produced nationally seems like a contradiction in terms. But they can help a lot in key respects. Obviously, we need them to provide an overarching policy platform and political philosophy voters can engage with but this article is about practical things.
Here’s what I’d like from Head Office. Firstly some decent training in everything I’ve mentioned above, from leaflet design and video production to voter identification and campaign management. This should be conducted by members with those skills at venues around the country not just at a conference.
Secondly, the Party should provide more high-quality images, once you start designing leaflets a lack of useable copyright free images quickly becomes a problem. The Party should consider signing up to an image library such as Shutterstock and licensing branches to use it. Or at the very least vastly increase the number of images available for download at the apparently moribund myukip.com.
Thirdly, and most importantly the Party ought to identify, starting now, the twenty or thirty most winnable council seats to be contested in 2019 and ensure that everything above is done in them to give us a chance of actually making real gains next year. All sitting councillors should have the same attention paid to them so our seats are no longer vulnerable and sitting Councillors are less likely to defect when times get rough. A by-elections squad should be established to ensure that we contest council by-elections as often as possible and that proper campaigns are put into them; positive results in by-elections will give us a positive narrative and enthused membership when we need it at the next elections.
If you’re in UKIP now you’ve already weathered a lot of storms and suffered some heavy setbacks since the joy of the referendum win. You’ve proved your character if we can up our game then better times lie ahead. I called this piece ‘At the Ninth Attempt’ my aim is that it doesn’t take others as long to win as it has me.