Ebay rates my, and Hilary Stephenson’s, Magnum Opus at a value of £2.50 – but at least someone is still buying!

The Campaign Manual by Myself and Hilary Stephenson - a collector's item going for a song at £2.50!

One of the most interesting aspects of working for the Liberal Democrats is the training and advice that you are asked to give to other agents, candidates, MPs and local parties.

In 2000, having agented a successful general election campaign, a couple of parliamentary by-elections and helped run the European elections in 1999 I was asked, with Hilary Stephenson, to write and design the new version of ‘The Campaign Manual’.

It was to form the basis of a the party’s training programme in the run up to the 2001 election and was to be published by ALDC.

Now trust me this is not entirely vanity but on occasion I, and I know others, type their name into Google just to see what the world is saying about them and whether anything interesting has been said.  ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!’ I hear you cry.  But, admit it we all do.

Now, imagine my surprise when I did it the other day and discovered a link to ebay.  I was intrigued, possibly even worried, to discover what the auction website had for sale, and there it was – The Campaign Manual.

It is described as ‘Used’ which is more than I can say for many of them and it is also described as being in ‘Good Condition’.  I can’t quite decide what I think of the fact that is someone in Bath is selling it.  I suggest they keep it for the next few months just in case they need the secret recipe for making the perfect poster sticking solution.

I am of course delighted that it appears in ‘Non-Fiction’ and is rather generously described as being ‘Political Science’.  I always thought it was more of an art than a science but there you go.

I know you will all be excited about buying this magnum opus of myself and Hilary, it is a must for any serious political scientist’s bookshelf! Here’s the link and happy bidding.

You have until 16:48:49 this afternoon – Wednesday 27/01/10. 

The present price, selling, at £2.50 – what an absolute bargain.  Oh, and before you ask it isn’t me who has bid.  I still have a few copies somewhere.

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Tales from Wales – ‘Don’t forget the old people and don’t underestimate the young people…’ (Narberth III)

Two women practising kendo made us realise we were in the right place...

So, having arrived safely, and identified the local goat herders were next door, we found the room we were training the Election Planning Workshop in and began to set up all the kit.

We arranged the desks and put out the handouts that people needed for the training, until from the window came, ‘oh look,’ as one of the training team spotted something.

The note of fascination was that two women were conducting slow motion kendo in the garden behind the building we were training in, it was fascinating and strangely hypnotic, ‘we’re definitely in the right place then,’ I said.

So, all the constituencies started arriving and the training began.  Hilary Stephenson was leading the training and began to ask people what the issues were in their area, and how they would campaign on them.

I have a strong memory of ‘a new bridge for Fishguard’ being a very hot topic, but in true training style Hilary made sure that she engaged all the audience by going round and asking them what they thought.

An elderly gentleman, sitting in the front row, sagely looked up from leaning on his walking stick, and said;

‘Don’t forget the old people and don’t underestimate the young people!’

Now Hilary is not often lost for words but thanked the gentleman and moved on to the next person.  But, as the day progressed it seemed clear this was the message that the old gentleman wanted us to remember.  He must have said it, and only that, a dozen times between the start of the day and the closing statements, and each time the different trainers were accosted with the refrain they just moved on, fully aware that this was a Liberal Democrat event!

 As Hilary and I were winding up the day once again the old chap said;

 ‘Don’t forget the old people and don’t underestimate the young people!’

Without a moment’s pause Hilary said in a very even tone;

‘If there is one thing that we will all go home remembering today it will be not to forget the old people and we definitely won’t be underestimating the young people! But please feel free to put it on the feedback form.’

She was right, we all still remember this message, and if nothing else the man reminded us the importance of repeating messages constantly when campaigning.

Tales from Wales – there’s something fishy about Narberth…

Smoked kippers

"Catch of the Day" was smoked haddock

As promised last week I have a series of stories from when I worked in Wales, for the Liberal Democrats.

Election Planning Workshops are a key aspect of making sure that local parties are prepared for an election.  In 2003, Mid and West Wales list seat was a target seat, amongst other seats, for the party in Wales.

As such myself, Hilary Stephenson and Anders Hanson (the regional agent) organised a training session in Narberth, which is in Pembrokeshire, apparently plumb on the divide between Welsh speaking Wales and English speaking Wales.

Local parties from the region, Ceredigion, Pembroke and Carmarthenshire were all invited to the event, which was planned for a venue the next day.  Because of all the journeys involved we decided to stay in a local hotel the night before.

In good time we all arrived at the hotel and checked in.  Seeing the area was not strong on eateries we decided to dine in the hotel restaurant that evening.

As always one of the options on the menu was ‘Catch of the Day’, and we duly enquired what this was.

‘Smoked Haddock,’ came the reply.

Now I’m no fisherman but ‘smoked haddock’ was caught at least a few days ago, but this was all said with a straight face, and avoiding the bread rolls strewn across the restaurant floor we enjoyed our ‘catch of the day’!

This is one of three stories from Narberth to appear during the day today.  It was a truly memorable event.

Agent’s Training 6 – The emergency kit to get through a by-election!

Scotch Whisky

The book on how to deal with difficult people was an obvious addition to my top drawer at the by-election, but why was the whisky bottle plastic?!

At the start of the Wigan by-election a lot of fellow Liberal Democrat campaigners were feeling very sorry for me, as I had been appointed as agent.

Polling day was planned for the same day as Charles Kennedy’s maiden speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference, due to Paddy Ashdown’s retirement.

So, our team was small but enthusiastic.

So concerned were we at the lack of volunteers crossing the threshold of our suite of offices at the HQ that we decided to take a lot of the stuffing and stamping work to Harrogate, where the conference was, to get the work done.

Avid readers will have noticed I mentioned that helicopters have a boot in the back and this was, on one occasion, how the target letters made it back to Wigan.

But, as this job needed running in Harrogate Hilary Stephenson took on the role of drumming up, and organising, volunteers in Harrogate whilst I remained, for the most part, in Wigan.

Knowing that my skills at dealing with unruly staff, anxious candidates and quixotic volunteers can at times become strained Hilary bought me an emergency kit for dealing with crises, in her absence.

On the eve of her departure for Harrogate I was presented with three items: 

  • A large container of shower gel
  • A half bottle of scotch whisky (plastic)
  • A book on how to deal with difficult people

The shower gel was primarily for activists who were keen but not necessarily house trained.  The book was obvious in its purpose as was the whisky. ‘But,’ I asked Hilary, ‘why the plastic bottle?’

She replied sagely, ‘well if you feel the need to throw something at people you won’t waste the whisky in the process! It will bounce!’

Wise words.

(The book, but not the whisky, got placed into the box of tricks for the next by-election agent, I wonder what happened to it?!)

The Candidate’s Aide’s Briefing – Lesson 2 – Helicopters

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When Paddy Ashdown tells you to 'close all orifices' in a moving vehicle you take notice!

‘Only leaders travel in helicopters,’ is a maxim that makes helicopters and leaders special.

The phrase, coined by Jim Hancock, former political editor of BBC North West, sums up three tales of when I joined the leader in his campaign helicopter.

Charles Kennedy is not a big fan of helicopters, which is a shame, because personally I think they are the biggest boys toys that have been invented.

I did fly with Charles from Harrogate to Westmorland but with the exception of the stomach churning flight over the ups and downs of the Cumbrian fells the trip to see Tim Farron, now the local MP, was relatively uneventful.

Paddy Ashdown and helicopters is a different matter.

European Elections 1999 – sharing the burden

When Paddy announced his retirement this was to be his last national election campaign for the party and as such his journey to the North West became something of a grand tour, stopping in Chester, (with the Eddibsury by-election in the offing), Southport, Kendal, Oldham and Stockport.

The tour landed in Chester, and having done a walkabout of one of Britain’s most beautiful cities, we returned to the helipad: a field I rural Cheshire.

A large crowd of well-wishers, and members, had appeared to give Paddy a big send off. Hilary Stephenson was the agent for the election and was on site to make sure all went to plan. Several people were questioning why I, and not Paddy, was sitting in the front seat.

An elderly member leant across saying, ‘weight distribution.’ We ascended, just!

Wigan By-Election, September 1999 – ‘close all orifices’

On the eve of Paddy’s retirement in 1999, and the last day of the party conference in Harrogate, Paddy agreed to come and support our candidate in the Wigan by-election.

On this occasion Paddy was in the front, I had learnt my lesson.

Flying across the Pennines, from Harrogate to a high school in Wigan, with a former Royal Marine and SBS operative was an education, the conversation, over the intercom, went something like this:

Ashdown: ‘Pilot, what’s that at 10 o’clock?’

Pilot: ‘That’s Bury Sir.’

Ashdown: ‘And what’s that at 2 o’clock’

Pilot: ‘That’s Bolton Sir.’

Ashdown: ‘Marvellous! Of course, I’ve always loved helicopters, by far the best form of transport. When I was a marine we had to do parachute jumps. The worst thing I have ever had to do.’

Pilot: ‘I see Sir.’

Ashdown: ‘In fact before every jump I used to tell my men, “close all orifices”.’

Me: ‘Chapter 3 of the Ashdown Memoirs – ‘Close all Orifices’

Ashdown: ‘Can you hear us in the back?’

(And for those that don’t know much about helicopters – they have a boot, which you can transport target letters back from conference in.)