Posts Tagged ‘message’

South Shields, Vincent Hanna and a compelling message

13/05/2013, 09:15:06 AM

by John Braggins

A lot has been written about the South Shields by-election and whether Labour should’ve done better half-way through an unpopular coalition government. And if so who or what was to blame – the lack of organisation, the previous MP, the local party or even the party leader?

First, the facts: Labour’s vote was 50.5% – down 1.5% from the 2010 general election; the Tories’ vote was 11.5% – down 10% and the Lib Dems vote was 1.5% – down 13%.  UKIP, of course, picked up 24%.

So in an ultra-safe Labour constituency in the midst of one of the worst recessions in living memory in which many voters still – rightly or wrongly – blame Gordon Brown and the last Labour government, Labour lost less than 2% of its 2010 vote.

Labour should’ve done better, absolutely, but to blame the lack of electoral data collected before the by-election started is to ignore the fact that there was the lack of a compelling message to galvanise South Shields voters.

I learnt this most graphically at the 1987 Greenwich by-election. The by-election was caused by the death of the popular Labour MP, Guy Barnett and Labour was expected to romp home with an increased majority and indeed the first published poll gave Labour 60% of the vote. The campaign lasted seven weeks, canvassed virtually every household and provided enough data to run an excellent polling day system.

Around 11am on polling day, Vincent Hanna who had pioneered exit polls in by-elections and developed the BBC’s by-election coverage into an art form, came into the party HQ with the news of the first exit poll. “If you want to maximise your effort” he told the assembled campaign team, “pack up and go home”. He continued “from the 11am figures I can tell you that for every two Labour doors you knock on today, one will go out and vote SDP, so if want my advice don’t knock on any doors.”


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