How new members helped us win in Grove

  • Posted on: 24 July 2015
  • By: webmaster

Like so many local parties in the days after our General Election defeat, the devastation we felt in Kingston was offset somewhat by the huge influx of new members, with over 130 joining since May 7th. The question was: how did we build on their enthusiasm when we were all so…..well, knackered?

And we were just putting plans together for new member welcome events when we got the tragic news that our longstanding councillor in Grove ward, Cllr Chrissie Hitchcock, had died suddenly. The fourth Grove by-election in recent years beckoned: in fact, the last one had been held on the same day as the General and we’d just held on by 18 votes – and we’d lost one of the 3 seats in the 2014 Borough-wide elections. So Grove was one of London’s most marginal wards.

To win in this split ward, we decided we needed all of the enthusiasm and energy of our new members. But how did we avoid putting them off, with just piles of leaflets?

The solution was to involve new members from the start of the campaign. The shortlist of three potential candidates wanting to stand in the by-election included two new members – and the candidate selected was a new member – Jon Tolley. Jon had actually stood as an independent in the previous by-election: but during that campaign he’d confessed to us he leaned our way. Then with the disappointment of Ed Davey’s defeat and the Tory threat to progressive politics both locally and nationally, he joined.

Jon soon turned out to be everything you want in a candidate – committed to the area and hard-working: and he inspired new and old members alike with his fresh approach.

But no election is won by one person, and this one would be no different. We needed to supplement our team of seasoned old hands with new blood. So as Kingston’s Membership Officer I took on the specific task of contacting every new member and inviting them to join Jon on the campaign trail.

Rather than just pestering them to get out on the doorstep, we invited them to Ed’s “Thank You” party. And I took some time to explain to any member interested what campaigning actually involved and how we were providing training. Any new member who told me they might be prepared to do something for the Grove campaign got a follow-up call from another person in our by-election team within 48 hours.

Once we’d tempted people out onto the campaign trail, we did everything possible to make it enjoyable. Rather than simply sending people off with mammoth canvass packs or mountains of delivery we tried whenever possible to canvas in teams running a board or to deliver in teams. And almost every campaigning session finished with some light refreshment in one of Grove’s many pubs.

The strategy paid off. As well as our candidate, two of our most regular canvassers, Fiona and Sarah, were new members, and several more did chunks of delivery. Added to the amazing help we got from outside the Borough (huge thanks, again!), we were able to match a local Tory party who threw the kitchen sink at us.

Indeed, with new members central to our campaign, we won – turning a majority of 18 on May 7th into a majority of 889 on July 16th – winning 60% of the vote. In just two months, Grove has gone from one of our most marginal wards in London to one of our safest.

The message is simple: make campaigning accessible and fun and engage new members in campaigning from the beginning – it can lead to great results.

This article was originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice.