Browse Category: Winning Elections

By-Election Aftermath

By-Election Aftermath

So two by-elections have come and gone- and the media is full of the by-election aftermath. Both main parties have resolutely focused on each other and seemed to ignore any other party. This has been true  all over the country in Blue-Yellow seats, Blue-Red seats, Red-Plaid seats, Red-Lib Dem seats and Red-SNP seats – the national HQ’s of Labour and Conservative have focused on each other.

I have been asking the question for nearly 4 years now – would our two major parties ever acknowledge and face up to the existence of the other parties or just take lumps out of each other. Some say that progress has been made, that undecideds and supporters of other parties are now being targeted by both main parties as much as they focus on the core vote. But I think the rules are no longer reliable.

Core voters? Am I a core voter?

I am as loyal a Conservative as almost any and I would never have voted for Douglas Carswell and UKIP –  but I may well have considered voting for him if he had stood as an Independent. I like his use of social media, respect the way he consults his constituents and admire his thinking and thoughtfulness as an MP.

The electoral reality is that seats all over the country are now 3 way or 4 way contests at best – at worst they are totally unpredictable. Old canvas returns are less reliable than ever. Even those from last year need a very sceptical look. And that is assuming that the canvassing was done correctly in the first place! Party loyalty is at an all time low, disillusionment with politics is high and the stakes are huge. The 2015 General Election is more important than most recent election – the difference in direction and ideology between the two main parties hasn’t been this wide in decades.

National Messaging

I understand and agree with the national messaging focus from the Conservatives on Miliband vs Cameron as PM. Who wouldn’t? I honestly think Ed is now more of an asset to us than Gordon Brown ever was – but with the Lib Dem betrayal of the boundary reform aimed at making votes fairer and constituencies more similar in size – Ed could still be PM in May next year. We need strong and differentiating national messaging and Lynton Crosby will deliver that better for the Conservatives than anyone. I just hope that it works locally in these 3-way and 4-way contests in this fluid and fast moving electoral landscape.


American Politics

white houseI am writing this post from Washington. Home of American Politics. Named after George Washington. President of the United States Number One. #1POTUS. This place reeks of politics – and that was just the drive here. Up until a few
months ago, when I was doing a speaking gig in Aix-en-Provence and I met someone who lived there, Watergate meant to me Nixon and impeachment. Period. But it is actually a posh apartment building where Condoleeza Rice lives. We drove past that. We drove past the Kennedy Centre. Today I am visiting the Abraham Lincoln and the FDR memorial and tomorrow I  am on a private tour of the White House. On Friday, I am Best Man to Matthew Elliott on George Washington’s Estate in Mount Vernon. I am a political geek – West Wing, House of Cards US, House of Cards UK, Newsroom and Yes Minister are all on my “favourite” lists. For me this is like a film fan going to Hollywood – except the sets are real and the people really exist. Except for Freddy’s BBQ rib “joint” which doesn’t! #SadFace

The places are iconic but the people are what matter. We don’t love House of Cards because of the scenery or the film-making although that is wonderful. We watch because of Frank Underwood. We don’t watch the West Wing because of Sorkin’s brilliant dialogue. We watch because of Josh and Donna and Toby.

We also watch them both because we suspect the reality is often far too similar to aspects of House of Cards and because we wish our elected representatives were grown-ups like Leo and Jed Bartlett advised by people like Fitz and Babish. Because as private citizens we wish the former one wasn’t real and the latter was. But as politicos we also love them because in our own little political lives we wish we were like the roles we see on screen.

I am meeting some wonderful people including a friend, John Shosky, who wrote speeches for 3 White House administrations. I am staying with Denise Graveline who worked in the Clinton administration. I have insider tour guides to Washington who give texture and anecdotes and colour to this wonderful set. I am a lucky guy.

Others. like Dan Hamilton, have taught me what little, and how little, I know about US politics including the false comparisons between “Conservatives” in the UK and in the US. And between Democrats and UK Labour. Last night Denise and I discussed, between drinks of course, the differences between Liberal Conservatives (UK) and Libertarians (US).

To be honest, I don’t know much about US politics. At all. I love the fact that I am here. I am lapping it all up. There will be annoying amounts of photos on my Facebook page very soon. Sign up here if you want to see them.


Image courtesy of Damian Brandon /

5 Best Political Campaign Ads

A previous post “5 Worst Political Campaign Ads” highlighted (some of) the worst political campaign ads American politics had to offer. But do not think that I am a negative and cynical spectator of the US political sport. For every whacky or ridiculous campaign ad there are dozens of dull and uninteresting ones. (it is just more fun being mean about the rubbish ones!)

I am also a massive fan of House of Cards (UK and US) and love the directness of some political US adverts. If only we could spend money like that in the UK!!! Amongst the pile of trivial, boring or downright awful campaign ads across the years there are some that really stand out.

These are the campaign ads which leave an impression after you watch them. Impact they call it. The ones where you actually process what has just been said, rather than simply scoff or laugh at what you have seen. Some of them even have calls to action that may have even worked!

Good political campaign ads have to be clear, concise and most importantly, above all, they have to make you get out and vote for the candidate or party. An advert may be the most interesting, artistic, amusing or thought-provoking advert of all time, but if it does trigger the viewer to action, to get out and vote for the candidate, then it is a failure. I am sure that some of the Artistic Award winning commercial adverts don’t sell a single extra unit!

I don’t necessarily agree with any of these ads – so I am NOT endorsing any of the content – just the effectiveness of the ad. I had some people send me some very useful suggestions. Some of your suggestions either were already on the list or made the list because of you. I excluded one particularly nasty, negative yet effective suggestion which had racist undertones and has no place in politics or on my blog.


    1. Richard Nixon

This advert ticks all of the boxes on the good campaign advert checklist. It is emotive, promises change, explains policy, and ends strong. “This time vote like your whole world depended on it” is a great line, it emphasises the importance of the election and the importance of voting for Nixon.

    1. George H. W. Bush

This advert perfectly sums up the tone of the campaign. Bush was the candidate for law and order and conservative values. “America can’t afford that risk” is another great line.

    1. Lyndon Johnson

This political campaign ad is one out of the history books. It was aired just once before it was deemed inappropriate for American viewers. But it was too late – the image of the mushroom cloud billowing up into the air was engrained into the minds of the voters. Some call this advert overly violent or exaggerative. But the effect is undeniable.

    1. Ronald Reagan

This advert has the message spot on. So often in political campaigning the incumbent person or party fails to present a compelling ‘re-elect me, don’t change course’ message. It often comes out negative or too bogged down in statistics and data. This advert is the polar opposite. It shows how well the country is doing, who’s responsible for it doing so well, and asks why anyone would want to change course. The advert explains that this is only the beginning of a brighter future – “it’s morning again in America”, so why would anyone vote differently?

    1. Barack Obama

This advert sums up everything wrong with Mitt Romney in 30 seconds. It shows that Romney is too rich, too uncaring, and too out of touch to become President. “Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem” gives a blunt smack to Romney’s campaign theme of being a businessman. Attack ads are seen by many as too personal, dirty and unpleasant, but they resonate and leave the audience with the message in their heads. This one is even more effective because the accusations have ‘independent’ sources (newspapers and magazines) speaking rather than Obama’s team.

Just like the worst political campaign ad post, this list is not exhaustive or in any particular order. This is merely a selection of great political advertisements which stand out above the rest.

Attitude wins every time.

Marketing Graduate Tweet
Attitude and effort and sheer up-for-it-ness count. This morning I saw and retweeted a brilliant tweet that symbolises this perfectly.

Graduate jobs are scarce and there are more graduates than ever before. So thousands complain about not being able to find a job and some blame their unemployment on the shortage of jobs. This guy didn’t moan. He dressed up. Wrote a marketing message. Got up early. And stood where employers would flock past in droves.

The person who tweeted the picture said “Saw this guy at Waterloo getting approached by loads of businessmen. Hope he gets a great job.” I do too! He has attitude – the good type.

Rob Halfon MP was born with a moderate version of spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, and underwent several major operations as a child, causing osteoarthritis in his early thirties. He isn’t great at walking. Which is pretty rubbish if you are campaigning to become an MP in the UK where door knocking and shaking hands and meeting people is required and expected. So Rob drove every morning to a busy road in his constituency. He stood with his two crutches and held a sign that said Vote Conservative. Every day. In all weathers from 07:00 to 09:00 and again from 16:30 to 19:00.

The first few days he got abuse from cars driving by. Including a van with 3 guys in it who threw a water bomb at him and waved a giant inflatable “Up Yours” sign at him. ‎

After a couple of weeks some people started hooting at him and waving. He kept standing there every day. He was starting to feel a bit more positive. Then, during Week 5, the white water-bomb van with the three guys in it screeched to a halt in front of him and a big burly tattooed guy jumped out and ran over to him. Rob really didn’t know what to expect. The guy shook his hand and confessed to having been one of the guys who had hurled abuse, and a water bomb, at him in the first week that he stood by the side of the road. He said “I am sorry. If you want to be my MP that much and you are willing to stand there every day you must be alright. You have my vote mate – good on you!” Then he shook his hand, jumped back in his van and raced off to work. Rob won the election. He also intends to do exactly the same in the next election. And the one after that. He has the right attitude too.

My mother was incredibly supportive but she pushed me hard. At my studies and in my sport. I wasn’t a natural sportsman. I was a chubby kid at junior school and was bullied a lot. But I lived in a country where rugby was a religion and I lived for rugby at high school. But that wasn’t enough. All the other kids were faster and stronger than me. I had a brilliant coach called Bro Pritchard who pushed and encouraged us all. Like my mother he said “heart matters”. I started to run. I ran every day. I had to – just to be considered for the rugby team. I had to work at it to get fit and to stay fit. Even during the off-season I had to do serious laps and cross country runs while the skinny, fit cool kids were eating ice creams and burgers and mucking about. I did it because I wanted it. By the time I was 18, I was Captain of my Schools First XV and played for the provincial U20’s rugby and had played 3rds for a men’s club at the age of 17. I was part of the rugby world and played and practised with provincial and national players including my Club Captain John Morgan who played for Wales B at the same time as J.P.R. Williams. All that lonely running was worth it.

My father was Managing Partner of Ernest and Young in Zimbabwe. He said that he hired people based on how much they wanted that job with his company. Not any job or any company – his company.

Morals of this blogpost.

  1. If you want to hunt ducks – go where the ducks are.
  2. Be different – do what other people don’t do and can’t be bothered to do.
  3. Show you give a damn and you have a positive, can-do attitude and you will stand out!
late candidate selections

Candidate selections 277 seats not yet selected.

Back in March I wrote a blog post called “Candidate selections 290 seats not yet selected”. And now writing this blog, five months later, it appears that only 13 seats more seats have been selected. (I understand that the seat of Darlington is being selected tonight.)

To make any sort of dent candidates surely need 6 months in post. So if the aim is to have all seats worked by a candidate for 6 months there will have to be a minimum of 60-70 candidate selections a month.  That is some pace!

There was once an accepted wisdom that active and focused candidates could negate most of any incumbency advantage – IF selected 2 years before an election. If that is still true I don’t understand why we haven’t selected more seats already. There must be keen candidates and even keener associations? What about building capacity for 2020?

I fully understand the financial and family pressures of a candidate fighting a seat for 24 months before an election and the argument will be that the 40/40 seats selected candidates early for that very reason.  But where is the long term planning?

Have a look at some of the seats that have not been selected yet – they may not be “easy wins” or even “maybe wins” in 2015 – but many are surely seats that should be worked with a view to a decent result in 2020 – or is that too far away?

If you know of any seats that are being selected soon, or have already been selected but are not on the list, please let me know in the comments below.

Update – as of 22/08/14

EastleighMims Davies (31/07/2014)

Bethnal Green and BowMatthew Smith (31/07/2014)

Birmingham EdgbastonLuke Evans (01/08/2014)

Ynys MonMichelle Willis (02/08/2014)

North West DurhamCharlotte Haitham-Taylor (06/08/2014)

North DurhamLaetitia Glossop (06/08/2014)

Kingston upon Hull NorthDehenna Davison (09/08/2014)

Kingston upon Hull EastEmma Ideson (09/08/2014)

Kingston upon Hull West and HessleMike Whitehead (09/08/2014)

Mitcham and MordenPaul Holmes (12/08/2014)

Birmingham Selly OakAlex Avern (13/08/2014)

Bolton North EastJames Daly (13/08/2014)

DarlingtonPeter Cuthbertson (13/08/2014)

Batley and SpenImitaz Ameen (14/08/2014)

Congratulations to all the new candidates and thank you to everyone who helped contribute to the updated list.


Seats Unselected August 2014

5 Worst Political Campaign Ads

American politics is a very different beast to British politics. Everything in the US political scene is bigger, brasher, louder. In campaigns money is thrown around like confetti and candidates attack each other personally and politically in a way that makes the UK Parliament look genteel and restrained.

Then there are the political campaign ads. US political ads are unique. Nowhere in the world does political ads quite like the Americans. They symptomise everything which makes American politics into the special soap opera it is: they are expensive, often offensive, brazen, and occasionally ridiculous.

One of the things that I do admire about them is their brevity – I love the 30 second message format. But the agency, donor, candidate, media and campaign pressure sometimes conspire to produce truly ridiculous ads.

What I, and friends of mine in UK politics, sometimes wonder is how some of these political ads ever get approved by campaign teams that should know better and by candidates who should be mindful of what they put their name to. Ad agencies are supposed to “think outside the box” and be creative, compelling etc… but the responsibility lies with the campaign team.

  1. Ron Paul

This advert can be firmly placed under the ridiculous category. Though not void of policy details (“Trillion with a ‘T’”), you would be forgiven if you did not realise that this is an advert for a man trying to run for President of the United States.

  1. Hillary Clinton

This Hillary Clinton campaign ad from 2008 is a perfect example of how you can have a campaign ad without a hint of policy. The advert suggests that Clinton would be a safe pair of hands in the White House, as she is able to deal with ‘something happening in the world’. Seriously? I understand the messaging of “grownups vs. kids” etc… and I understand the value of personal relationships between international leaders but the thought that “somewhere in the world” someone wouldn’t take a call from POTUS because they hadn’t met them before?


  1. Peter ‘Spend it Not’ Hoekstra

This advert is especially awful with racist undertones and bad grammar. The broken English is senseless and offensive and the message is unclear. Any candidate who is willing to put their name to this is undeserving of running in any election.

  1. Rick Santorum

This advert has the feel that it was made with Windows Movie Maker twenty years ago by a campaign intern. The ‘humour’ is painful to watch and the message is unclear. But worst of all, the advert is boring. Voters can tolerate a ridiculous advert but will not watch a dull advert.

  1. Herman Cain

This is an example of a campaign running out of money and ideas, an absentee/mute candidate, a chief of staff who wants some fame, and a bad choice of music. Have you ever seen a car advert without the car or a washing powder ad without the washing powder? The un-famous, paid-on-the-payroll-so-he-would-say-that-wouldnt-he? campaign chief of staff endorses his employer. Who would have thunk that?

Then Cain enters from the right (geddit?) with a creepy smile at the end – and again I ask: Seriously? This advert is especially impressive as not only are no policies offered but also very little is said about the quality of the candidate. Everyone I show this advert to says “What’s with the cigarette?!!!!”

I am sure there are other reasons/excuses why all these candidates lost. But their political ads didn’t help them.  The list above is by no means exhaustive and the ranking is dubious – they are just five rubbish campaign ads. Fun to watch and lampoon. But rubbish.

Or. These ads do their job with the audience they are targeted at which is patently not me or my friends who just look at these adverts from our English, politico perspective and there is some decent at data that proves us wrong and that these were effective. I wonder what my US readers will think of this post?


Also check out my 5 BEST Political Campaign Ads


Conservative Party Leadership Election – advice for Boris and his competitors.

Boris has come out of the closet. The one everyone knew he was in. He will almost certainly get a seat – I would definitely rejoin my old association Battle and Bexhill if he came here but he will probably get John Randall’s London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

So the Conservative Party leadership election has now unofficially, officially, started. Actually it started some time back but now it just got serious. No matter what anyone says and despite the fact that David Cameron is Prime Minister and Leader – plans and plots are well underway.

ID-100249349I have always thought that David Cameron would leave parliament, or at least stand down from the leadership, probably around 2017 just after the European Referendum. If it happens. Cameron has young children, doesn’t need the money and is probably emotionally grown up enough to leave Westminster and go and enjoy life outside politics like William Hague is planning on doing.

George Osborne is definitely in the game, has a decent parliamentary team and a strong record to point at – he stuck to his guns and was proved right – although some will wish he had done more. Theresa May will be the safe pair of hands candidate – I am not sure if anyone has ever run the poisoned chalice of the Home Office for as long as she has. She wouldn’t have started with as many MP supporters but respect for her is growing. Then there are a bunch of other contenders – some fruitcakes, some outsiders and a sizeable bunch of seriously competent people. Let’s face it – every wannabe MP secretly wants to be Prime Minister – when they become PPS or Minister it becomes tantalisingly close! But Boris has changed the whole thing.

Guido Fawkes has a lovely piece today on the leadership campaign in which he asks whether you are a FOB (Friend of Boris), FOG (Friend of George), FOT (Friend of Theresa), FOE (Friend of Esther), FOM (Friend of Michael), FOS (Friend of Sajid) and so on. He also quotes Harry Mount in The Spectator who has some interesting insights into the difference between the FOGs and the FOBs :

And here’s where the FOBs have the edge over the FOGs. George’s gang are largely in it for themselves. Their loyalty remains tied up with their own ambitions, which Osborne wisely satisfies from time to time. Boris’s gang are in it for the man himself. And the gang is growing every day.

So now that everyone else is talking leadership campaigns, I thought I would throw in my advice for the leadership contenders and their supporters since Boris has entered the race.

Three essential leadership factors for Boris, Theresa, George and their competition, and ALSO their supporters, to consider.

  1. Leadership and Vision. These are rare things. Leadership and vision inspire loyalty that is often stronger than fear or self-interest. You can’t lead unless you have a vision that your people can buy into and resell. All the leadership contenders will be continually assessed on their leadership and their vision – where they want to take this wonderful country. A vision is big picture –  forests rather than trees and trajectory rather than timelines. It should be very retail, clear and concise. It’s a sales pack that can be passed from person to person without being corrupted. This trajectory and direction also needs to be credible, otherwise people will simply not buy it and the media will rip it, and the “visionary”, apart. It must be focused on the good of the country rather than The Conservative Party – and this is where the appeal of Boris lies according to his supporters. But will he have the vision to lead more than the Parliamentary Party?
  2. Likeability. Boris does very well here. He is funny and popular and has name and hair recognition that all politicians would kill for. I am often asked by my wannabe MP clients why Boris is liked despite coming from Eton and Oxford and being a member of the Bullingdon Club. I don’t think most people have a real issue with people going to Oxford, Eton or being members of drinking clubs at university. They do, however, have a massive issue with snobs and people who take themselves (too) seriously. Boris is neither.  Warning to Staffers and Activists! But the Leader being likeable is not enough. This is a parliamentary and members election. The contenders need to make damn sure that their supporters – MPs and staffers/campaign team/groupies are likeable too and do not come across as arrogant jerks. This is hard for leaders to do – they want all the help and support that they can get and hate to discipline or refuse supporters. But they do have a direct influence on their immediate team and staff and how they act and communicate with others.
  3. Reliability/Safe Pair of Hands This was part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008 – the Who Do You Call at 3:00 am when something kicks off ‘somewhere in the world’ video. It will be the argument against Boris. But as Harry Cole pointed out on Twitter yesterday: Boris has been underestimated before.


There are two points to make here:

        1. It didn’t work out that well for President Hillary although she did end up taking those calls anyway for President Obama’s first 4 years. It was outweighed by Obama’s off-the-scale “getting people like us” rating. Boris is likely to do well here too and he will have a solid list of achievements that he can point to.
        2. A friend who worked directly for him emphasised to me years ago, the now increasingly accepted wisdom, that Boris is incredibly hard-working and competent and that his assets are not limited to his self-deprecating charm and humour.


Good luck to them all. I haven’t decided yet who to support – it’s actually quite hard. I like all of the current contenders and have worked with a couple. Every single one of them is competent and capable – which is more than can be said for the shower in Ed Miliband’s world. I am glad I have a difficult choice.


Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /


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