Judge and Jury: New targeting methods can catch the most slippery voters - In the Wirral South by-election the candidates didn’t really matter as the campaign machinery took over, says Hugh Colver, public affairs consultant and former director of

Regardless of the political conclusions to be drawn from Wirral South, it did tell us quite a lot about the way the parties are going to conduct the campaign when the future of how we are governed is at stake in a few weeks’ time.

Regardless of the political conclusions to be drawn from Wirral

South, it did tell us quite a lot about the way the parties are going to

conduct the campaign when the future of how we are governed is at stake

in a few weeks’ time.



The election machines have become much more sophisticated and the

revolution that has taken place in the Labour Party’s campaigning

machinery has pulled the other parties along with it in organisational

terms.



Wirral South was something of a triumph and there is no escaping that,

but the verdict of the Independent, reperesented by its headline:

’Labour machine minces hapless Tories’ seems somewhat over the top.



If this was yet another ’teach them a lesson’ by-election, Labour could

have fielded an anonymous bureaucrat with little political experience -

which is exactly what they did.



Elections are now to be about the personality of leaders, single issues,

thorough analysis of floating voters, detailed briefing packs, closely

targeted direct mail, closely ’minded’ candidates, the avoidance of risk

and thorough organisation.



In Wirral South, the bland Ben Chapman was simply the name on the ballot

paper. He just had to smile a bit and tramp the streets shaking as many

hands as possible and reminding people that there was actually a

candidate, not just a machine.



Mr Chapman - the same Independent piece also said he would need a

miracle to retain the seat in May - was not even allowed to talk to the

press.



The constituency-based daily press conferences that used to be a feature

of by-elections are now judged to be much too risky.



What Wirral South demonstrated above everything is the sophistication of

voter targeting - whether these voters be ’switchers’, ’floaters’,

’waverers’ or ’the disenchanted ones’. Wirral South confirmed that

Labour and the Conservatives have added greatly to their ability to

target and address - especially in the marginals - the votes that have

the potential to move back and forth between the parties.



No doubt we will go on debating the merits of positive and negative

campaigning, the virtues or otherwise of posters, the value of party

political broadcasts and the importance or otherwise of staying ’on

message’. Meanwhile in backrooms in Smith Square and on Millbank, men

like Mr Chapman will be beating at calculators. Oh for a soapbox.



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