This article is from the January issue of Total Politics
What did the No to AV campaign do right and what did the Yes to AV campaign do wrong?
The Yes campaign set up regional bases, regional hubs, regional websites, regional Twitter pages, YouTube… It focused heavily on its digital presence.
Early on, I was made head of press for the No to AV campaign. I asked journalists what would interest them about No to AV. They said it was as dry as a bone, but that the political context was interesting. The Yes campaign tried to divorce the concept of the alternative vote from its political context – major mistake. They hid their Lib Dem support. They had Jonathan Bartley and celebrities fronting the campaign. They had Colin Firth just when The King’s Speech was going nuclear. If it was all about celebrities, we could have been buried by that alone.
We saw the political context. By playing to that we got into the newspapers, which was where, ultimately, people would hear about the campaign. You’re shouting in a pretty empty room when you look at the social media strategy. If they’d got Justin Bieber, they’d be shouting to a crowded room but they wouldn’t necessarily get their point across.
Did they over-emphasise their social media and fail to recognise the importance of grassroots politics?
Well, they did see that they needed a grassroots campaign, and ploughed a lot of money into setting one up, but they thought they could remove their campaign from the political sphere. Once we had our Labour support, we went straight to the Labour CLPs and asked if they’d be supporting No or Yes. We went to local Conservatives and got them handing out No to AV stuff alongside their council leaflets.
If your team had run the Yes campaign and the Yes people had run the No campaign, would the result have been different?
We could have made it a lot more competitive. By focusing on the politics, we would have told Ed Miliband that he had to get the Labour Party onside, because if the party split, the Labour vote gets split. Then it’s anyone’s game.
And if they’d been able to line up Labour and the Lib Dems for AV, with only fringes of either supporting the No side, they’d have had a massive block. You can’t win by creating a whole new independent political agenda for the alternative vote, but it’s also about allocating resources.
In the early stages of the AV campaign, they had money and we had nothing. We ploughed all our money into staff and media coverage. And we kept pace with them. They could have blown us out the water, but were too busy establishing their small networks and massive online presence. They gave us enough time to hang in there so that we could hit back.
How important is digital? Could you get by without a good digital campaign?
No, because it would get picked up in the mainstream media, and if it gets reported, it’s an indication how your campaign is doing. If they’ve got a very glitzy website and you’re running on a Wordpress blog, commentators will jump on it.
Dylan Sharpe is head of media relations for the Countryside Alliance
Massimo at 10 Northumberland Avenue is a short walk from Parliament. It has an informal, charming oyster bar with all-day aperitivo and wines from France and Italy and cocktails.
We drank Negroni (gin and Campari vermouth); Gin and tonic.
We ate Linguine ‘Carmelo style’ with clams, prawns, squid, mussels and fresh tomatoes; potato gnocchi with oxtail ragu and five-year aged Parmesan.
To book a table at Massimo, visit www.massimo-restaurant.co.uk or call 020 7998 0555