I have been promising this report for a few weeks now and here it is. In this report I have gone into detail how we approached the Oldham East & Saddleworth (OES) by-election, who helped us out, who didn't, what went right, what went wrong, what we need to do better. The latter is a point I am going to strongly push and I hope what I've said get's support. I expect not everyone will like what I write in this report, but I don't care. The Pirate Party UK needs a kick up the backside, and I hope this moves the foot closer. Credit will be given where it is due, as will criticism be given where it is due.Contents:
1. The election being called
2. How we started
5. Lack of remote volunteers
7. Media coverage
9. Polling stations
10. The count
End: Where and how we need to change.1. The election being called
Obviously, I don't think anyone wanted the by-election to be called when it was. Speaking with the Liberal Democrat agent at the count, he said they wanted it to be in September but it didn't go to plan - and they believe they would've been far more successful if it had been in September. Nevertheless, I pushed and pushed on the forum for Loz to be ratified as a candidate for the OES election. Eventually, between the NEC and Board of Governors (BoG), agreed that we would not put the ratification to a member vote and I believe we made the right decision. It would have created unnecessary delays where time could've been and was spent doing more important things. If anyone disagrees and thinks it should've been put to a member vote for ratification - if it's any consolation, Loz was actually asking us to go ahead with the member vote, but we out-voted him.2. How we started
For large amounts of the campaign, it has been myself and Loz alone - disappointing, but we did our best. Loz and I regularly met up in Costa Coffee in Oldham town centre and occassionally in Manchester & Bury to discuss plans for the campaign. I believe we were right in prioritising one thing and getting it sorted before moving onto the next thing. First priority was to go and collect 10 signatures so that we could stand Loz in the OES by-election. For those that don't know, you need to 10 constituents to give their consent for you to stand as a candidate in any parliamentary election. I think we were quite lucky with how quickly we managed this. I targetted a few streets close to Alexandra park which is a reasonably nice area, and we did have quite a bit of success. Loz's manner and charm worked wonders on the door step and I was impressed with his canvassing skills - much easier to talk to than I was during the GE2010 (however, you did leave people's gates open on a number of occassions, which I closed!).
We collected the 10 signatures in 2 hours, in 5 inches of snow and below freezing temperatures - that averages out at 1 signature every 12 minutes, which I think is amazing when you consider the amount of time it takes to talk to the constituents and move from door to door, street to street.
WORKED WELL: I carried the electoral register around with me and identified which houses had voters in and we didn't bother talking to people for long if we were well aware that they weren't on the electoral register. As soon as they said they would sign the forms, we asked them for their name and signature and I filled their polling number in after we left the house. This was a far easier and more efficient way of doing it than I did in the GE2010 and Loz did for Tim Dobson's campaign. I strongly suggest that this be used in future if we have candidates standing in a constituency where we don't have any members/supporters/friends/family living there.3. Mailout
Our next priority was to organise a mailout. Unfortunately, for the campaign, not for me, I was organising my solicitors and things for my house move to go ahead in January a few days before Christmas, so the earliest moment I had to call Royal Mail to discuss the mailout was 23rd December. This really was THE perfect example of where I could've focussed my attentions on my personal goings on, my work or out on the streets with Loz in Oldham and someone who couldn't get to Oldham to help out could've arranged the mailout.
I discovered on 23rd December that the deadline for Royal Mail to receive unaddressed election communications was 31st December 2010. Most businesses finished trading for Christmas on 23rd Decemeber so I made some frantic calls to as many printing contacts as I had and I found 2 printers that could get a quick enough turnaround and shipment to get the leaflets to us prior to the deadline. Those 2 printers were printwize.co.uk and the people at the MEN that did Tim Dobson's leaflets in GE2010. Sadly the latter took nearly 2 hours to get a simple quote for the quantity we were looking for, so I opted to go with printwize.co.uk who printed 50,000 leaflets on 23rd December and sorted them into 100s (Royal Mail requirement) and shipped them to us on Christmas Eve for £890 inc. VAT.
The leaflets were due on 30th December at my flat but they didn't arrive. On 31st December Loz received a phone call from them (no idea why they didn't ring me, or even either of us on 30th!) and said that they couldn't find my address. I rang them up and the couriers went to Bolton instead of Bury, might explain why they couldn't find it, and said they could get the leaflets to me by 2pm. This infuriated me as the deadline with Royal Mail was 12pm. As a result, Loz managed to track down a friend of his who was able to go to the couriers in Stockport and collect the leaflets and Loz sorted the leaflets into the relevant areas at the Royal Mail sorting office and we were all done and dusted by 11:45am.4. Expense
I haven't totalled up all of our expenses yet as I'm sure you will all appreciate - the count was only this morning! However, I'm estimating a total campaign expenditure of around £1,500-£1,700. This is a lot bigger than what we originally budgeted for - Peter Brett advised me that the campaign budget was £1,000. Bare in mind, the deposit itself is included in that and we have fallen 1653 votes short of retaining the deposit. Therefore, the £500 deposit and the £890 leaflets do add up and take up a large portion of the expenses. The other large expense was a constituency address. As myself and Loz don't live in the constituency and we don't have any members (at the moment, I'm told we did have a few people join last night though) in OES, we had to rent somewhere. I managed to find a virtual office which would receive postal communication for us in Oldham and that costs £50+VAT/month for a minimum term of 3 months. So without my expenses, Loz's expenses and any expenses the volunteers wish to claim, we're already looking at around £1,500.00 with the rest to come.5. Volunteers
I would like to ask that the entire party publicly thank the fantastic volunteers that turned out in OES over the last month from all over the country. Those people are (in no particular order); Finlay Archibald (Glasgow), Andrew Paliwoda (Glasgow), Gavin Meredith (Wimbledon), Stuart Excell (Taunton), Iain Gill (Huddersfield), Tim Dobson (Manchester), Jack Allnutt (Manchester), Andy Halsall (Sheffield), Jack Capel (Manchester), Joe Henthorn (Manchester) and David Henry (Manchester). Special consideration has to go to those who have come from as far away as Glasgow, Wimbledon and Taunton; Finlay even made the journey twice! I cannot thank you all enough as your efforts certainly made a difference and some of the PR goals we've achieved over the campaign certainly wouldn't have been possible without the man-power that we had.6. Lack of remote volunteers
Here is where I turn nasty I'm afraid. John Barron informed me that we have roughly 450 paid up members at the moment. Whilst that figure is disappointing on it's own, the very fact that we only managed to get at most 7 people in Oldham campaigning at one time, 2 of which weren't paid-up members, makes it a highest turnout of 5 paid members (including myself and Loz) campaigning, which is 1.11% of our members. At the count itself, we managed to get 10 of us at the count, again only 7 were paid members, so we ended up with 1.55% of our members at the count.
It's safe to say, our turnout was shocking. Peter Brett praised our "fantastic" campaign team on several occassions; Peter, the only thing that was fantastic was the work that we achieved despite our lack of volunteers. I spent many hours on the phone and typing emails and those are definitely things that need to be done by someone remote who cannot help out campaigning. I am quite happy to do this for the Scots so they can focus on their campaigning, for the record.
I asked for access to send mailouts to the membership until the election finished in an email to the NEC and over the phone with Peter, and I had no reply from the NEC and Peter said he would consider it and get back to me. I didn't hear from anyone or get access. I wanted an email to go out on Saturday asking for any last minute additions to the polling & count agents list and asked for it to be sent out at 10:30 and needed any additions to be in before 1:30. The email didn't go out. If I had access, I could've asked myself and maybe
we could've had more than we had, but we'll never know.
As I said in the first email I sent out, titled "Your Party Needs You!", we had an outside chance of winning this election, regardless of the turnout, the majority that Labour had or the media reporting. If we could've got even between 5% and 10% of our members out in force, we could've at least beaten the Monster Raving Looney Party and the English Democrats. The Green Party only acheived 530 votes; with more members out campaigning we may have beaten the Greens - how glorious would that have been!
I suggest everyone that didn't help out in the election takes a look at themselves and thinks about what they actually want to achieve by being a member of this party. If your idea of success is to sit on your arse eating wotsits and nerding away researching policies and debating things on the IRC or forum then, for the sake of the party, get lost. We need pro-active members who will get out on the streets and campaign. I have realised that now and when my daughter is born and grown up a little, and doesn't need me around as much, I will do my very best to help the North West team target specific constituencies and instead of having a monthly meeting, have a monthly march through a town centre handing leaflets out and shouting through the megaphone, or start door knocking and talking to people about our policies. We are only going to be heard and known and listened to if we change our ways. Let this election be a lesson to you all.7. BNP
Our greatest achievement in the campaign was arguably the way we shouted the BNP off the streets of Oldham. The BNP, accompanied by Nick Griffin, were leafleting and talking to people in the town centre whilst being filmed on camera, and Loz and his campaigners hijacked it and whilst Loz stood on a bench shouting through the megaphone, the team leafleted everyone as they walked past. Needless to say, the BNP weren't happy with us and moved on sharpish. Arif Ansari (BBC) was outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night prior to the count and we had a chat about the campaign, and the BNP did come up and he seemed to be a little bit impressed with what we did.
The more daring things we do to steal (or pirate
) votes from other parties the more we will get into the media and noticed.8. Media coverage
There has been a lot of media coverage for Loz over the duration of the campaign. Loz featured quite a lot on news channels, doing interviews about Wikileaks, at the beginning of the campaign. During the campaign, Loz has been interviewed on various blogging websites (Saddleworth News, urbanhaze, etc.) along with some big names such as Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Loz was also interviewed on the BBC's Daily Politics show and appeared on Granada, coming up with the now infamous line of: "if you think MPs are crooks, we need a Pirate in Parliament", or something similar.9. Canvassing
Canvassing was very hit and miss for us, admitedlly. I believe that until we get our name and policies known like other parties have, the most effective way of spending out money at the moment is billboards. Billboards are surprisingly cheap and UKIP plastered themselves across many billboards and had beermats and signs at most pubs in OES. I can't help but wonder what difference having that kind of exposure would've made to our votes instead of the mailout. Door-to-door canvassing didn't work very well for us on the polling day, everyone seemed fed up with the whole election; I'm not surprised, who wants to speak to politicians at Christmas!
We need to come up with a strategy and plan for when we go door knocking and collect some data that we can actually use. Finding out if they know who we are. Finding out if they would consider voting for a candidate from a party outside of the big 3. That kind of information would be vital to us. We could even focus on other things closer to home such as; do you use the internet? if so, do you or anyone in your household download music? do you consider file-sharing to be a good thing or a bad thing? do you know what a patent is? do you agree that drug patents should be abolished to save money for the NHS, which we as taxpayers fund?
The funniest moment of the campaign either goes to a gentleman that asked Loz what he thought of "that Wikipedia guy" or someone who rang Loz up and asked him why he wanted to ban life saving drugs (didn't know what a patent was); I'll let you decide which one.10. Polling stations
It was the first time any of us had attended polling stations as agents and none of us knew what we were doing. I planned it quite meticulously and we tried to assign one agent to each ward and then we plotted on Google maps and A-Zs where the polling stations were and headed out. The highest turnout before 4pm was 30%-ish in Saddleworth. Alexandra, St. Marys and Shaw & Crompton had a turnout of around 10-15% before 4pm. It was at 4pm we decided to rally everyone together and head out in the last 3 wards and door knock to get people out campaigning - we didn't have much luck; we were told to fuck off, we had doors shut in our faces and we also had one lady who couldn't get out to vote because she was in a wheelchair and didn't have a ramp!11. The count
The count was strangely quite intense whereas during the General Election the count was quite lively and enjoyful. Unfortunately the tallying that we attempted just wasn't useful for us as our votes were scattered all over the place. It was still good practice nevertheless and when we grow and start to get more votes we will need to do this as we will find it very useful which areas support us and which areas don't.
---Where and how we need to change.
Since meeting up with the BPI at the Counter2010 conference I have always thought that we should try and do something with them. I believe that we are both at opposite ends and we need to find some middle ground if either of us are to achieve anything worthwhile. I have today contacted the BPI and invited them to open discussions with myself over where we can possibly make some policy/aims compromises and make a joint effort to get something done. I believe this would be very beneficial to us as we will be seen as actually doing something and we may be able to convince the BPI to agree to adopting some of our policy aims and we could make some big media campaigns together. Still very early stages, I will present my discussions with them when I have had them in full and where I think we could work together, if we can!
Another organisation is the ORG. Now, for some reason there is a lot of bad feeling in the party towards the ORG and I think they are largely seen as a group of people who campaign to a certain extent but wont actually back a political party that has similar aims (aka us). I think we need to let bygones be bygones, so to speak, and try and re-engage with ORG and do something similar to what I am proposing with the BPI. Even if it means just talking to them about one or two specific policies that we'd like to make a joint effort in pushing for, we might have some success or at least gain new members or media coverage.
Then there is 38 degrees. I confess to not knowing much about them, despite subscribing to their newsletter. I think there are definitely some potential opportunities up for grabs with 38 degrees and their fundraising abilities are second to none. Hopefully someone can make contact with them and see if there are any similar opportunities as with ORG and BPI.
Apart from that, here are a few areas that I would like to see changed:
* Treasury: something needs to be done to allow someone to work with Pete because, with all the good will in the world, Pete is not always available to transfer funds or accept member registrations as valid. New members are constantly seen complaining on the IRC that they are waiting forever to be accepted - this cannot happen! The bank account issue is being worked on by the NEC and I hope it is resolved very quickly. Only being able to transfer money by cash deposit or cheque as a digital party is unbelievable.
* Campaigns officer/team: Peter, I think you need to make a campaigns team, of which I would happily join. We need the most experienced campaigners and candidates/agents etc. in the party to be in charge of upcoming campaigns. Obviously, as campaigns officer, you'd be in charge, but having to make all of the decisions yourself, or you making some and one other (ie me) making others isn't productive and at least with a group of us to consult we will avoid making the wrong decisions.
* Activists: We don't seem to have many. All of the couch potatoes we have that like to spend all of their time behind a computer need to get out and meet up with other local Pirates and campaign their arses off. I'll be working with Jack Allnutt and the North West guys to ensure we do exactly that over the coming months and for the forseeable future; I hope other members and RAOs will do the same.
* Web team: I may as well make it public knowledge; I formally opposed the NEC granting Borgs (Chris) access to the same things Tom has. My reasons were that Chris, you piss people off, you appeared to leave the party not long ago and it seems like you've come back just for this, you disagree with half of our policies it seems and the NEC held a ratification vote for Tom, therefore they should make it clear what kind of role Web Team Leader is; is it a member-ratified role or an NEC-appointed role (similar to Finlay and Andrew T's roles). I have offered my services as I don't believe Chris is a member in good standing with the party and I believe that we should only be entrusting our online presence with those who are or paid professionals.
I think that is all, I will take any questions and answer them as soon as I can. Feel free to support anything/everything I've said and feel free to argue/oppose anything/everything I've said. I will repeat, I don't care if I've offended anyone or upset anyone; it's been bubbling up inside of me for weeks and months all of what I've written and I hope it gives us all the kick up the backside it needs.
On a positive note, we have maintained the 0.3% of votes that we averaged in the General Election, however I had aimed to beat Tim Dobson's 0.6%, but nevermind, there's always next time!
All the best to everyone,