Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Guest Post: Why Peter is wrong (and right) about Wensum

I suggest that before you read this you scroll through the comments on previous posts to find Peter's views on campaigning in his home ward of Wensum. Before I tell you why he is wrong, firstly we'll dwell on why he is right.

In an ideal world, every party would stand candidates everywhere and each community would have a full flourishing campaign where every vote is fought over and every argument challenged. That would be a real democracy. But sadly life is not like that.

Firstly politics requires people. Doors do not knock on themselves, and leaflets do not fly through your letter box by magic. Even if a party posts you material, as the LibDems did heavily last time, they first have to raise the money to do it. Even the Royal Mail doesn't run on IOUs. Sadly in modern politics the number of people given to do these activities is falling, driven on by a number of factors (like all the parties looking the same and lack of time in working practices). So with limited finances and limited workforces the parties have to be rational about what they do and where. I imagine the Tory and LibDem membership in Wensum is quite low and Labour's is quite inactive. Only the Greens, as supported by Peter's evidence on the ground, have what it takes to get around. In fact, it could be that the Tory / Libdem / Labour candidates are "paper" ones, where they stand only to give a choice on the ballot paper rather than seriously expect to win. That could explain the lack of effort. Whenever somebody complains to me about lack of communication from party X, I always ask them if they have volunteered to be the street leafleter recently. Usually the answer is "no"; QED.

So, in this election would we expect parties to be focusing on Wensum? Well, yes and no ...

I happen to believe that Mr Altman, the Green candidate, is a weak candidate and very open to attack. His record as Mancroft's councillor was poor, as was his decision to walk away after only a year. Hardly the commitment the people of Wensum want. In addition, a lot of people my end of the ward wonder if the Greens just want the council allowances (wages!) rather than to do the job for the right reasons. Llewellyn to Altman is like from the firepan into the fire! If the other candidates had decent local people who really wanted the job out of a sense of public duty, they'd do well. However ...

The fact of the matter is that the Greens hold the ward with a big majority, with Labour in second. The Tories have improved in the last 3-4 years but have only just managed to leapfrog the poor old fourth placed LibDems (although no doubt only they can win here!!).

And do the parties need Wensum for where they are going? The Greens do because they need it in their column for the great council take-over. But I guarantee you neither Tory nor LibDems have in in the front, middle or even back of their minds. And that leaves Labour - with the party struggling to hold onto 6 (yes, six) marginal wards I doubt they have room for a seventh target no matter how tempting.

I am sorry Peter - Wensum is not going to be a great political fight this year; maybe next. You can expect a few leaflets, probably from Greens and Labour, and a knock from maybe the Greens. The rest you'll have to discover from the internet.

I know it's sad and not how elections ought to be, but until one of the other parties need Wensum or the results show they may be able to win it, don't expect that to change.

But have heart - the Tories are making a good show in Thorpe Hamlet, a seat that I know well and where most people thought they were out of the running. My partner has a leaflet and a letter from the party in a clear third place, so maybe there is hope for Wensum yet.

The author is a regular here and lives in Wensum Ward.


Peter said...

Firstly I would like to say to the Guest poster that I appreciate the in depth analysis given in this post.

As an insight into your claims, and if you take the presumption that a division exists between the political parties as producers of political goods and voters i.e. myself as consumers of political goods we are unable to gain the information needed to make a rational decision? Thereby leaving some (the non-identified) with trepidation in who to vote for?

I agree that political parties may behave in a Realist manner, accepting certain limits in environments whereby they are unable to make gains and secondly assert their position in places they may feel they can benefit. A tension thereby exists into what we would like to see in the real world and what is ideal.

Could this explain why in some cases why political apathy exists? (granted this is not applicable to all, and it is also arguable that it is perfectly rational for people not to vote as we live in a world where it may cost more utility not to vote).

Comrade said...

Recent years have shown increasing levels of split voting and volatility in the city wards. Indeed since the ward boundary changes in 2004 only Nelson and Eaton have consistently been won by the same party in district and county contests. Back in 2004 Wensum was considered to be a three way marginal and returned 2 Greens and 1 Lib Dem with Labour not far behind.

The one mistake people tend to make is to assume that wards can be turned around by one big effort, good candidate, good campaign and it will be won. In practice it usually takes at least two attempts to turn a ward. There have been very few examples of a third place being turned into a victory in recent years.

As little as ten years ago of the then 16 city wards it was considered that 11 were safe Labour; 2 marginal Lab/Lib Dem; 2 safe Lib Dem and 1 Lib Dem/Tory marginal. How times change.

Peter said...

On a side note it#s interesting that the post's author mentioned the internet once as the only means by which voters such as myself can view information about a political party.

Perhaps this is a medium which needs to be brought to its full potential.

More coverage using the web as a tool to connect to the electorate is a good way to tackle political apathy.

I know political parties are not information technology companies but it might be a strategy for someone who has few resources at their disposal.

Peter said...

One question I would like to pose is this:

Should voters consider tactical voting?
I have found myself in the past with this dilemma as I did not expect a party whom I would like to win to achieve success.

What would you advise Conservative voters to do in Wensum?

How much does demographics play into the calculations of political parties? I know that from past campaigns the Conservatives have looked at Eaton as a possible Tory conquest, but have not been successful. Is this due to demographics?

I do not necessarily believe in demographics solely determining outcomes.

TO THE GUEST POSTER: On a separate note, are you assuming that what political parties (except the Greens who want to gain control) want to achieve is the status quo result?

The only flaw in the logic of the Guest poster's argument is to take into consideration that party success may be attributed to long term campaigning (like in Bowthorpe) which creates a voting base. You assume long term strategy doesn't play a predominate role

Anonymous said...

Its the same in Crome. Labour has sent me material but no where are the Conservatives, Green Party or Lib Dems. Why should i bother to vote? No one else seems to care.

Andrew said...

I think the Guest poster makes an excellent point. Sadly, political parties are restricted to areas where they have a reasonably robust membership or delivery network; in addition to considerations, I am sure, such as demographics; existing voter bases and relative strengths of the opposition.
I am inclined to agree with Peter that the internet is a source of information about each of the political parties that ought to be exploited more by both political parties and by the public as a whole.
It is an interesting point about whether people, such as Conservative voters in Wensum, ought to consider tactical voting to prevent a party or candidate they particularly disagree from, potentially, being elected. I have spoken to a number of people who have said they would have voted differently in the General Election had they known the result in, for example, Norwich South. This is one of the advantages of the AV system, allowing people to vote for their candidate/party, but also selecting another if their chosen candidate or party does not have sufficient support.
To return to the point of support for political parties and their targeting of specific wards in the city: as a party's support diminishes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will be able to campaign less and less. People inclined to support the party generally do so for two reasons: either because they are ideologically aligned or because they recognise the support the party or their representatives provide. However, the latter will provide less support as work decreases, which in turn means less campaigning can take place or a visible presence diminishes; in the case of the former, political activists will give only so much if they do not see some kind of positive result. This will mean in places such as Wensum ward, where the race is between two parties rather than three or four, the Conservatives or the Lib Dems will need to spend far longer trying to ‘break into’ the ward. However, that does not mean that the Conservatives will not be facing down the Green party and others in different wards across the city, it’s just a matter of when...

Anonymous said...

i have found this election campaign boring. My wife said she has decided not to vote and she is a Conservative. The City Hall is in a mess. All this money going to waste. Look at all the money they wasted on this failed unitary bid. I am disappointed in the lot of em'.