By John Howarth
Friday 19 December 2014 is the start of the ‘Long Campaign’ for the UK General Election which is to take place on 7 May 2015.
The ‘Long Campaign’ is another legal invention stemming from the changes in recent years to the regulations to bring more transparency to the election spending and fundraising of political parties.
It is based on the not unreasonable notion that money spent in a constituency before the election is called can be just as effective as spending once the election is formally called (the ‘short campaign’ which will begin on 30 March). Fixed-term Parliaments make the long campaign a sensible concept though its value in creating a level playing field between the parties remains to be proven.
There are a few legal things you should know about the long campaign the most important of which is that all spending in constituencies by candidates and their agents must be recorded and declared with any spend over £50 being specified. The long campaign limit for each constituency is more a bureaucratic than a practical problem with a spending limit of about £36,000* beyond the reach of most local parties.
The ‘Long Campaign’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘The Regulated Period’. That is a product of the idiotic Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. The limits the Electoral Commission states under this legislation relates to the national spending of the parties and has applied since May 2014.
That’s the legal stuff in outline. You can find the Electoral Commission’s guidance here.
Now ten points to remember about communicating during the Long Campaign.
1. It’s About Them, Not About You
While the Long Campaign represents a landmark for the parties for the electorate life goes on. The tone of how you write matters. Although the election isn’t far away in January and February most voters still see it as a long way off. It’s a time to continue to build the recognition of your candidate and demonstrating the value that they add locally to Labour’s message.
There is more time for people to absorb messages and, even because the national media will intensify its coverage, a candidate has the opportunity to become more visible. Print products like personal brochures (also made available for download) and tabloid newspapers provide the opportunity to present the candidate in greater depth. Keep asking what voters think – surveys have a value of themselves, but you can add to your local data and campaigning effectiveness by using the results properly.
Tell your candidate’s back-story, demonstrate that they have a hinterland beyond politics – anything to overcome the view that politicians are some weird species apart from the rest of us.
2. Plan your visual publicity campaign
By the time the Short Campaign comes around it is too late to plan an effective visual publicity campaign. This is a tactic Labour often neglects and something tells me it will be important this time round. The fringe parties often do this more effectively than the parties of Government. That planning needs to happen now if it hasn’t begun already – identify sites, plan your items – Correx, window bills, photo posters. Even small quantities can be effective approached in a strategic way.
3. Get on the Street
Street stalls as well as door-to-door work are an important presence. They need branding effectively and so make a good picture for digital media. Pop-up roller banner stands make easy, cost effective branding for your stalls.
4. Finalise the Campaign HQ
If there is not yet a Campaign HQ then think it through quickly and make a decision. There’s a whole blog on it here.
5. Take Pictures
Good photographs make a huge difference. Take lots, because the more you have the greater the chance of having the ones you will need in the short campaign. Remember, if there is not photograph it might as well never have happened. Remember to clear your pictures and respect copyright. Also make sure you have THE decent portrait shot you are going to need.
6. Be Digital
Campaign blogs will get read by opinion formers and provide a link to national material for voters if used properly. Social networks provide new means of reaching people and photos prove that you’ve been out and about. Personalise general Party messages to your candidate to create effective visuals in the right format for social networks.
7. Prepare your Short Campaign content
Use the dark month of January to get your short campaign content prepared. You should have items ready with text in chunks: 50, 100, 150, 200 words about your candidate and your main policy issues with pictures for each item and five bullet points of 15 words maximum setting you’re your local priorities. And if you haven’t figured out your freepost needs you had better think fast. Start here.
8. Write to members and supporters
The candidate absolutely must communicate with the members and as many strong supporters as possible. Party members and convinced supporters talk to people. They convey the party message. The candidate is the local leader. They need to lead with those messages and give their supporters local ammunition for the fight, build confidence and create a campaign spirit.
9. Review and rubber stamp you strategy
Of course you have a campaign strategy. Of course you do! Every campaign strategy needs review and now’s the time to be looking at that strategy critically and making the adjustments you need to see you through to the short campaign. Remember to build further review into the coming months.
10. Remember the imprint
The previous nine points above will apply to your campaign in differing degrees, but the law on imprints applies to everyone. Every piece of material, including your digital material, must have an imprint as part of electoral law. This is meant to make clear who the material is from and on behalf of which candidate whatever the item may say in the headline. This rule applies all year round but becomes very important from the start of the Long Campaign when items of spending must be declared.
The best way not to make a mistake on this is to set up a process of checking where several people sign off the imprint as present. The Agent shouldn’t be alone on this! There really is no substitute for a proper cross-check.
For a full explanation of imprint requirements and formats read this.
Public Impact will always provide help with checking your imprint – but the legal responsibility remains with the Agent or the promoter.
Good luck and good campaigning.
Our General Election Print Brochure is available now click here to get your copy.
*The formula is £30,700 plus 9p per elector in County constituencies and 6p per elector in Borough Constituencies (an arcane and entirely arbitrary division that has persisted long beyond its sell-by date).