Lots of UK campaigners, who tend not to be Conservatives, will no doubt be feeling deflated and dispirited at the way the UK General Election turned out.
So if you are running a campaigning NGO, what should you do ?
There will be no shortage of knee-jerk post-mortems, with or without forensic analysis. Here are my equally un-researched thoughts.
- Don’t try to plan based on how the political system plays out. There will be endless analysis of the effect of how the Scottish referendum was played by the main parties, the media dominance of UKIP over the last years, where the LibDem vote went, and what might have happened if someone else than Ed Miliband had been fronting the Labour Party. That’s for the political classes to do but hardly any of it – probably none of it – will tell you anything useful about what to do as campaigners.
- Unless there is somehow a sudden reform of the UK electoral system so it converts to Proportional Representation (possible but unlikely), expect a surge in support for campaign groups. That happened when Mrs Thatcher seemed to keep winning elections despite widespread public dislike of her and her governments. The consequent gloom and feelings of powerlessness drove some of the more activist-inclined and more universalist-minded souls towards unconventional politics (mainly but not only Pioneers): ie informal public politics, or ‘unpolitics’ such as NGO campaigns. It will probably happen again, possibly even in Scotland, if the SNP Great Awakening fails to deliver a Great Feeling that everything is different.
- Start now, thinking about what you want to normalise, so that it becomes a mainstream concern, not something seen as a ‘campaign issue’. Only by achieving that, will such concerns be picked up and included in manifestos, and just as importantly, understood by politicians at an intuitive level rather than just by a few odballs and researchers. All political minds – ie the ‘minds’ of parties – are rather small and very (small-c) conservative, not least because the fewer ‘key issues’ there are, the more workable the agenda.
It is far too late to start trying to get any change in party positions or get things into manifestos, once an Election starts to occupy the minds of individual politicians. If you now face a five year wait for another General Election, its years 1 and 2 where you need to plant seeds, grow them to fruition and make them an unavoidable part of the social landscape. Success comes when the parties all adopt your concern and then seek to differentiate themselves on how they will deliver on it. Failure is usually associated with backing by only one party or the political margins, and just getting ‘nods’ and ‘mentions’ for media and social media purposes (ie politicians seeing it as mainly a PR exercise).
This means that even quite large demonstrations that lots of people care about X, usually have no effect in the run up to a British General Election, if the parties have not already embedded it in their own DNA.
- This (above) will hardly ever be achieved by one campaign. It means a swarm of campaigns, probably not obviously linked, or not linked at all.
- To perhaps state the obvious, this also means your target is not politicians but society. This is about creating the conditions with which to later ‘make the weather’. It requires starting a long way out.