Monday, 30 June 2008

The amateur spirit

Given the gallons of ink pissed away on the results of the Henley by-election (see below for a small sample), it's no surprise, but a hell of a shame, that more coverage was not given to the plucky struggle of the smaller contenders. Not, of course, the acknowledged joke candidates - Miss Great Britain (Blonde) f'rex - who are merely tedious. Much more interesting are the sincere, the principled, the self-appointed, who run in the conviction that their take on politics not only can win the hearts and minds of the electorate, but must do so just as soon as it may be lengthily expounded.

In the case of Henley, this role was played to the hilt by the Libertarian Party of the UK. If the rights are still available, I imagine that this tale of a plucky yet naive band of zealots pitching themselves against the corrupt yet powerful political machine has "Oscar-bait" written all over it. We start in an atmosphere of optimism and camaraderie. Prominent LPUKer Devil's Kitchen announces the selection of the candidate (one Ian Parker-Joseph), and is careful not to overpraise him:

Not just a nice chap, though: Ian's a skilled political operative and has got the campaign off to a flyer!

He has been in Henley this week, doing the rounds of the pubs and gauging opinion: apparently, "the message seems to be going down fairly well, especially with the younger crowd."

But we're not there yet by any means, and we can't afford to be complacent. Actually, we can't afford much of anything, so DK asks his public for whatever they can spare, be it money (it could cost as much as £4K to run!), time, or - if at all possible - some sort of premises in the constituency. Or a neighbouring one. Whatever you can spare, really. Brilliantly, this actually works and they now have a Registered Office!

What next? Time for our candidate to set out his stall, is what. This rousing blog post covers the usual Libertarian talking points (albeit in somewhat bowdlerised language): politicians are tyrants, tax is theft, regulation is slavery, meat is murder. It also includes a little biographical information - some insight into the man behind the slogans.

"My background is one of Business Consulting, Programme and Project Management, providing practical help and assistance to organisations with failing projects and policies.
I am not a career politician who has only ever known University and Westminster, I live and work in the real world"

Finally, someone who isn't a professional politician! Why aren't there more of those in politics?

Alas, we will soon learn. This is the point in our script treatment where we scribble a note to the composer of our score - "NB: start using minor key now". What has begun with such enthusiasm and lightness of spirit will soon end in disillusionment and a painful coming of age. As with all the best tragedies, our hero's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Despite our contempt for the professional politico, with his sleaze and his corporatism, his contempt for the public and his love of regulation, despite all this, we must admit that he knows (too well, alas!) how to campaign. Would a professional ever have an event calendar quite so unremittingly empty? Would a professional have been so surprised to learn that other candidates were campaigning too?

"Sadly, [our] message was being drowned out in Henley by the other parties, through sheer weight of numbers"

And so, almost two whole weeks after his candidacy was announced, Ian Parker-Joseph withdraws. Some might say this is merely a case of David vs Goliath (except that here, Goliath kicked David's ass). After all, who cannot be moved by this simple truth:

As a relatively new entrant to British political life, the Libertarian Party simply doesn't currently have the resources needed to compete in such a febrile environment.

That this "febrile environment" is a by-election and that the LPUK is a political party which is more or less bound to compete in by-elections might seem to indicate some structural problems with the whole enterprise. But there are other lessons too, that real world candidates could not have been expected to know before their first bruising contest. Picking himself up off the canvas, DK highlights one important lesson:

Part of the problem, actually, is that we simply were not prepared because we hadn't considered what it was that we needed. For instance, we needed general party literature to convince people to sign support of us, but we didn't have any. Why? Because we came about on the internet and because we simply hadn't realised that we would need it.

Writing down your policies and giving them to people to read: a sophisticated tactic well beyond the grasp of a real-world, common sense candidate.


Devil's Kitchen said...

As regards this, I'll refer you to the title of your blog, Andrew...


Guthrum said...

We would rather be effective in getting our message across, than compete for last place with the mad cow party- so there is method in our madness- having made a recent appearance on Sky, there is more than one way of skinning a cat

Andrew R said...

A fine answer, DK.

Although I'm really, really not about to sign up, I'm genuinely interested to see if it's possible to turn blog presence into real-world influence. I suspect the answer is no, because blogging is cheap and campaigning (as you found) is not. It's a lot easier to establish an on-line presence than it is to (say) get 30 volunteers to leaflet 2 residential estates.