Browse Category: Political campaigning

winning elections

Winning Elections – What to do about UKIP?

Depending on who you listen to, UKIP are either a temporary blip to be laughed at, or ignored, or constitute a permanent threat. Andy Coulson gave CCHQ some anti-UKIP advice yesterday in GQ, rebutted here by UKIP’s Michael HeaverTim Montgomerie is as wise as any Conservative and he thinks UKIP are here to stay. Stephen Tall thinks that the new unbalance of power means that, if the Conservative Party wants to stay in power, we have to form an alliance with UKIP or the Lib Dems.

I agree with Tim that UKIP are a long term fixture of UK politics. I also think that the Liberal Democrats are as tough as weeds. They may be doing badly in today’s polls – but they will do much better than the polls say. Lib Dem MPs seldom lose elections.

UKIP members are evangelical about their party in a way that most mainstream party activists aren’t any more and they campaign and recruit enthusiastically. They have positioned themselves contentedly and well against the “political class” and are happier when under attack than when ignored. The more abuse they get – the more convinced  they become that they are right and the more their energy levels rise. UKIP will do well in May 2014 (duh) which means that they will have lots of new paid staff who will be keen to invest their free weekends in campaigning for their party and looking to be part of the campaign that gives them their first MP. Plus they will have the benefit of hundreds of gallons of PR ink in the media – everyone likes the cheeky-chappy underdog.

Winning elections in the UK just got a whole lot harder. Most campaigners and strategists only have experience fighting two party politics.

Now we have to raise our game:

  1. The two party, plus a protest vote party, contests are over. We need new thinking and new approaches to win 3-way or 4-way elections contests. Just slagging off the “other” party is not good enough. We need to convince people to vote for us as much or more than we need them to vote against someone else. I worked, briefly, with a candidate who told me to my face that the campaign message should be that locally the Lib Dem council was rubbish and the Conservatives would be better and that nationally the Labour Government was rubbish and the Conservatives would be better. End of messaging – nothing positive at all to say. It didn’t work very well for that candidate – it will work even less in the future.
  2. Social media means that our  messages have to become more consistent, more believable, more positive and more real. More honest. In 2015, you will be caught out if you say in one part of your constituency “Vote for me/Party C if you don’t like Party A,  because Party B is a wasted vote ” and in the other part of your constituency you say “Vote for me/Party C if you don’t like Party B – because Party A is a wasted vote”. There is a very real risk that campaigners from Party A and B and UKIP may (!) notice and may point out your two-faced messaging to the electorate.
  3. Pledge data needs more work than ever before. More canvassing – less preaching. Pledge data has often been more ancient fiction than current fact. Now more and more people are changing their minds and their loyalties as well and acting like consumers. Much of the existing pledge data could do with being treated with extreme caution and campaigns should focus on authentic and honest surveys.

According to a YouGov poll for The Spectator in Feb 2013, while 60% of UKIP supporters voted Conservative in 2010, 15% of UKIP supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010 and 7% voted Labour. As Michael Heaver says, UKIP aren’t just grumpy Tories and there are some Labour and Lib Dem MPs who should be anxious too.

The mix of the Scotland independence vote, the state of the economy and a European referendum around the corner means that politics will become much harder to predict and may even increase turnout. Anything that raises interest in policies, proper debate and scrutiny of manifestos should be welcomed. It might get bumpy along the way but I guess good politics is bumpy politics.



One of my first coaching role models was called Major Adams

A friend of mine was a Parabat

Everybody had to do two years national service in South Africa. This included basic training which, if I remember correctly, lasted for 3 months. This was tough for many and there was an ongoing debate about whether you should go to the army straight from school, when you would be more able to handle being shouted at, or after university when you would be even less receptive to the world of the shouty corporal and the raw recruit.

When my friend joined the army he came under the command of a Major Adams. Major Adams was tough. South African army tough.  He mocked the middle-class, baby-faced recruits, calling them his “little girls” and pushing them incredibly hard. Far too hard, they thought. Everyone hated him.

It is the one of the oldest tricks in the military book to create bonds between raw recruits by making them unite in hating a superior. But for Major Adams – and almost all like him – being tough on the recruits was necessary. In fact, like parental love, it is the real meaning of tough love. Because the standard of the training had a direct impact on the survival chances of the recruits.

My para friends spoke about Major Adams after their 2 years national service with awe, sometimes with tears and always with tangible affection. They toasted him when drunk and when they were sober they said they survived because of Major Adams – and because of luck.

It was not just his training that moved these experienced soldiers to speak so openly and so emotionally in such an incredibly macho country about another man. They told of how one day a fellow para’s chute deployed incorrectly with one of the ropes caught over the top of the chute making it look like a giant cupcake and dangerously reducing the braking power of the parachute. One of Major Adams’s “little girls” was hurtling towards the earth, seconds away from a broken back or death.

Major Adams had already jumped and the panicked 19 year old overtook him. Major Adams cut away his own main chute, freefalled after his soldier, grabbed hold of him and locked his legs around him. Then he cut the half open chute away, deployed his own reserve chute and they both landed, hard and far too fast – but alive. When everybody had landed Major Adams made them all put in extra hours packing, unpacking and repacking parachutes – making everyone check each other. No champagne. Just more practice.

The coaching that I do will not decide whether my clients live or die. Or whether they will have broken legs or suffer a broken back. I have no idea how Major Adams carried that huge responsibility. Major Adams is a hero to me, not just for the life he saved that day, but for all the other lives he saved and the effort and the emotion he put into training them.

Although I never met the man, I knew plenty like him. He influenced how I coach in my comparatively trivial sector and why I love coaching and take the job of coach seriously. My stomach churns when I see a client calling me and I do not know whether they got the job or not, won the election or not, got the big deal or not. I don’t know whether the call means I have to console and rebuild or whether we can celebrate together. I prefer the celebration calls – that drives me too.

Good coaching can change my clients’ careers, their reputations, their income and their lives. So I apologise for not apologising to my clients if I am sometimes tough with them and why I stand by my motto of “Good Enough Seldom Is”. It is in their interest, after all.



The New Website is here. At last.

My website was once the love of my life. Then it started to annoy me.

I couldn’t find anything. It was like a small house that had a new extension every couple of months – for several years. The purpose of the site became less and less clear and I was finding content repeated in difference places, unconnected and generally a bit of a shambles. Then one day I said to somebody that they could find an article with a list of interview question on my blog. They couldn’t – and neither could I!

Now that is just not good enough for any site – let alone someone who preaches about clarity of thought!

So the website went in for some serious repair. So much so that the site went down for two weeks and was replaced with a holding page while we worked on it, argued over layout and content. I culled and edited and shortened content – killing off some favourite children along the way. I took a deep breath and asked a friend for some input. Despite my fears, it didn’t kill me – but external input improved the site in a huge and positive way.

Today I have been going through old blogposts fixing formatting that looked clunky and overweight. I haven’t finished yet but there is a lot on so will have to repair and add a bit every day from now on.

But there is only one way to start – by pushing publish now. The new Peter Botting website is there!

Mental Strength – Focus on the next point – lessons from Tommy Robredo

Mental Strength – Your Head Needs To Be In The Right Place

Tommy Robredo gets it and I admire him. He understands that each point is worth the same as any other, that the match is only over when it is over and that every point is worth fighting for. And he keeps plugging away at every point.

In the French Open this year he fought back and won – THREE times – from being in the head-destroying position of being two sets behind to get to the quarter finals. Apparently that doesn’t happen very often. In fact it has happened twice. Ever.

Those who play will know that the pressure of being two sets behind even in a game of social tennis is immense. When you have a coach, salaries, it is your job, the game is being filmed and commentated and the tennis media is watching… it is 9 different types of HUGE!

This was also after he had dropped from his number 5 world ranking and been written off by almost everybody due to his injuries from 2011. Maybe he had stuff to prove – but don’t we all? He just didn’t let his head get in the way. He focused on moving that mountain  – one small stone at a time.

The beautiful forehand passing shot he used today against Andy Murray in the last game – when he was 2 sets down, 5 games all and 40-LOVE down – to get to 40-15, was another example of his never giving up and playing hard to the last.

Successful people in politics and business share this characteristic – often described (by others) as sheer bloody mindedness. They refuse to give up and they keep practicing and doing the basics better and better and better.

To do this, you need to ignore the commentators (including the one in your own head) and focus – intensely and with all you have – on the task at hand. Ivan Lendl, who is Murray’s coach and an icon from my tennis playing youth, used to fiddle with the strings on his racket between EVERY point. The strings were fine – it was a focus thing. It kept away the noise of the crowds, the shouts and the visual distractions. I understand from reading about him at the time that he used the time between points to focus on the next point. He didn’t beat himself up about the point just lost or revel in the point just won – he focused on what he was going to do next. Where the serve would go, where he would push the ball, stretch his opponent and find the gap in the court.

When I coach, I get “in the room” and ignore all else. I switch off my phones and ignore iPads and laptops. It is intense – but I am totally with my client. I will have no-one else in the room. No spectators or distractions. Full immersion. It is exhausting for both of us – but it seems to work.

To perform well  when speaking, negotiating, presenting or interviewing – full, deep, intense concentration is needed. It wakes up all the senses – it gets you in the zone. Afterwards it sometimes feels like having been in a film or having experienced an “out-of-body experience”. Whatever. It gets you to perform where you should be performing and prevents you short-selling yourself. Worth doing.

Keynote Speaker at the European Speechwriters Network London Conference

Speechwriter becomes a speaker for a day

I am delighted to be speaking at the Spring Leadership and Communications Conference in May this year at the Institute for Government. This conference is based on Public Speaking in Public Life and I am looking forward to listening to the other speakers who include someone who has trained TED speakers, a former UK Ambassador, a Professor of Politics and a Cicero Award Winner.

The conference has been organised by Brian Jenner, founder of the UK Speech Writers Guild. 

This is an excerpt from the eventbrite booking form:

Who Should Attend?
Previous conferences have attracted speechwriters from the European Commission, the CBI, Orange, Deloitte, the United Nations, the European Investment Bank, Coca Cola as well as the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

The Benefits
Acquire techniques used in the White House, European institutions and UK Parliament
Get insights into rhetoric from top writers
Listen to outstanding public speakers
Have your own work analysed in interactive sessions with top trainers
Meet fellow professionals from the UK, Europe and the rest of the world

getting selected

Getting Selected – Becoming a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate

Getting Selected is a tough and demanding process.

Getting Selected is tough – but first you have to decide whether you really want to go through with this. You have to decide whether you are seriously ready to turn your life on its head.

Then you contact the Candidates department at CCHQ who in turn arrange for you to meet someone in person who assesses your level of insanity.

That is the easy bit. Then, suitably certified, you apply to go on the parliamentary assessment board – the PAB. This can be incredibly tough and consists of an interview, a speech, two essays, an in-tray exercise and a group exercise.

CCHQ have an unusual marking process for the PAB and there is (allegedly) no appeal process. They have got the judging criteria spot on, though, so you have to demonstrate that you possess them all.

Opinions vary as to how good the PAB process is and, like anyone, I have my thoughts on the process. But it is what it is and CCHQ isn’t going to change it anytime soon, so consider it as hoops that need to be jumped through. Being an MP is tough and has many challenges, but at least as an MP you have real people and real situations to deal with.

Getting past the PAB and being able to apply for real seats is a huge breakthrough. The stakes are now higher and, depending on the seat, you are now within spitting distance of becoming a Parliamentary Candidate and even an MP.

Now you have to wait until CCHQ releases the next tranche of seats which you need to assess in terms of winnability, doability and whether you have any affinity for the seat. Then the next stage of your journey to getting selected starts.

Then you have to summarize all your life’s details in an attractive and compelling way and set them out in a 2 page formatted Word document CV. This CV is incredibly annoying and time consuming to work with as the formatting keeps moving around like a sulky, scowling, arm-folded kid having a strop. But you HAVE to get this bit right as the ‘paper sift’ is often the most brutal stage and is aimed at excluding rather than including.

Then CCHQ and the association officers meet in London where your CV will be coldly assesses and eyebrows will be raised and discreet nods will be nodded, in ways eerily reminiscent of Sir Humphrey.

Get past this stage and you are nearly in the Getting Selected game. All you have to do now is pass two selection interviews consisting of a 5 minute “Select Me – I am Wonderful” speech and 20 minutes of questions – one in front of the Association Executive and one in front of the full membership.

Then you are a Parliamentary Candidate. All you have to do now is get elected. Easy huh?

This can be a long and emotional roller-coaster of a journey that can take a huge amount of time and money. It also can impose a significant amount of pressure on your partner, family and personal relationships. But if you are doing it for the right reasons, you will manage it. If you want to know more about my Getting Selected and Getting Elected courses please email on (You will have to prove to me that you are genuine here btw!) Feel free to have a look at my track record here.

The Daily Politics Show interviewed me for a piece on Getting Selected as an MP – have a look here.

Here is what one of my clients wrote to me today – he has just been selected for his home patch of Sutton and Cheam.

Hi Peter,

Thank you again for your help in getting me through the Parliamentary Assessment Board and getting selected for a seat first time of asking.

So many potential candidates have to tear around the country repeating that process before perhaps securing a winnable seat. I know that I would not have done anywhere near so well if it wasn’t for you.

Years ago I was told that like when taking medication, it was better to respond than to react. Building up an armoury of stories and responses helped me do just that, responding in a way that allowed me to answer the unasked questions as well rather than simply batting back the original question.

The key lesson for me was to have succinct responses that go beyond simple platitudes.

The simple question “Why do you want to be an MP?” has started a process across my borough of ensuring that our local council candidates each have a positive vision to share rather than simply to beat the other guy. The former leads to the latter but follows a different, more productive path.

You certainly put me through my paces but by the time of the interviews I felt ready for pretty much anything. …. I look forward to seeing you soon. Paul— Paul Scully. Conservative PPC Sutton and Cheam

The Democrats’ strong ground war – winning elections

Ground wars win elections

Election campaigns used to be split between ground wars and air wars. Then the debate turned to offline vs. online campaigning debate and the advent of the digital election.

Actually, the key to winning elections are, and stay, the same. Online, offline, digital or analog – these are just the how. The key to winning elections, the most basic element of winning elections – is the Ground War.

Of course, the messaging matters and so does the authenticity and likability of the messenger. Clients of mine know all about the other M’s of MessageCraft® that contribute to successful elections. One of these is the Machinery – the network of trained people on the ground who do the hard work of elections.

Obama had superior messaging (on several key criteria) and was arguably a better messenger. But the Democrats  had a high quality and comprehensive ground war with a network of trained volunteers all over the country who understood the “how” behind the three key parts of their job descriptions: – find, persuade and turn out voters.

So what are some of the key criteria for a good ground war? Why did Obama win and what did the Democrats do that was so good?

  1. They listened to people. Listening to people outscores talking to or at people every time.
  2. They were trained –  they understood their job and were taught the best way to do it.
  3. They covered the whole country – or at least more of it than the Republicans.
  4. They started early which gave them the time needed to do the job properly. (When is the best time to start canvassing and campaigning? Generally, the week after you get elected.)
  5.  They focused on high quality contact with voters rather than volume contact – asking more questions – getting more feedback, not just voting intentions.
  6.  All their work was captured on a daily basis in a database that could store verbatim comments and feedback. They knew their audience better.

New: Free downloadable guides to improve speeches, survive telephone interviews, set goals and more.DOWNLOAD NOW
+ +
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On LinkedinVisit Us On Instagram