UK – A report from the ground

Following a huge increase in fundraising by Aiden and Josh since they took over, the Young Liberal Movement has sent a contingent of Young Liberals across to the UK for the final weeks of the campaign so that our Movement can gain first hand experience in the best campaigining skills to bring back to Australia ahead of a number of key State and Federal Elections over the next 18 months.

I spent my first full day in London in the marginal seat of Twickenham. For 18 years between 1997 and 2015 the seat was held by the Hard-Left Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats, before it was dramatically won by the Conservative candidate Tania Mathias in one of the boilover results of that election.Mitch at Tory HQ with the UK Secretary of International Trade, Liam Fox

Despite being 74 years of age, Cable is again running as the Lib Dem candidate and will pose the biggest threat to Mathias and the Tories holding the seat – and as a result government.

I spent several hours with other local Tory Party volunteers doorknocking (canvassing is the term used in Britain) throughout the electorate. Unlike in Australia, where doorknocking is generally done house-to-house in a specific suburb, this was far more targeted. In each given area we were only knocking on the doors of a select few houses – voters who according to internal Party research swing between voting Conservative and Liberal Democrat. Also, unlike most of the door knocking I have done previously in Australia where you ask the voter generic questions such as ‘what local issue is important to you?’, the script was a lot shorter and to the point.

Once the voter opened the door, I would simply say I’m visiting on behalf of the local MP and if they intended on voting for her on June 8th. If their answer was ‘no’ the follow up questions would be ‘who do you intend on voting for?’. The point of this is that the system in the UK is first-past-the-post, meaning that in a seat where the Lib Dems are the biggest rival to the Tories, a vote for Labour (or any Party other than the Lib Dems) while not ideal is the next best thing to them voting Conservative as there’s no way that vote will end up with the Lib Dems following a distribution of preferences.

I found this form of door-knocking far more effective than what I had done previously in Australia. It produced far more useful information (who they intend to vote for, rather than just some abstract local issue which may not indicate their voting intention whatsoever) and I also felt that the voters engaged a lot more. This more direct form of canvassing is definitely something I think we should consider using in Australia.

Following this, the Australian delegation headed into Westminster at the heart of London to Conservative Party Headquarters to conduct phone canvassing. Once we were signed in and taken through several security stops, we entered the room where the canvassing takes place. From the moment you walked in the room you could tell you had entered the engine room of a fiercely fought election campaign. There were rows and rows of people sitting at computers and on telephones talking to voters up and down the country. The professional layout made the environment very conducive to picking up the phone and talking to voters.

Again, the script was a lot more direct than anything you would normally use in Australia. The canvass consisted of asking the voter to partake in a 60 second survey of how they rank each of the major political parties on a scale of 0 to 10, from which you could ascertain who they were (or likely) to vote for. As with doorknocking, I personally found that voters were a lot more willing to engage with this short, sharp form of canvassing.

Mitchell Collier is the President of the Young Liberal National Party of Queensland