The recent problems for Nick Clegg over his decision to make 250,000 automated phone calls has largely centered on his hypocrisy for attacking others for the same act whilst then doing it himself (they even launched a website against it - calling them nuisance calls). However I think the LibDem strategy planners - and all political chiefs - ought to simply consider if this is a form of communication that people will actually welcome.
As far as I can see, in this media driven interactive 24-7 world, people want their politics at a time that they wish and through a method that they wish. Which is why email, webcasting and websites will become the mode of choice for the next few elections. You can get your politics at three in the morning if you wish but it isn't thrusted down your throat. So what does that mean for leaflets, canvassing and telemarketing?
Canvassing will, I believe, survive this new world of political campaigning. As I have blogged before, canvassing is becoming more and more difficult and sometimes less and less accurate. Even if the canvassers interupts your dinner, or changing the baby, or Eastenders, then most people still appreciate the time and effort of the canvasser.
Leaflets are expensive, time consuming and often not read. But they are pretty non-abtrusive and can be left to be read later (if not recycled by another member of your family in the meantime). They are not targetted and no leaflet can carry a message to every one of the people that recieve them. Direct mail is better, but still not perfect. However its the best we have and, unlike the others, there are still plenty of people to do this for parties.
Telephone canvassing is, in my view, a useful tool if its raining or if you are doing a very rural ward. However personally I do not like it as it is impersonal and you are fighting with every other company doing it. TPS is taking over and people are very quick to put the phone down (you very rarely get the door-slamming equivalent).
But what of automated messaging? I think this is the one form that is universally hated and I'd love to see figures of how many people actually listen. And I object to being distrubed to answer the phone for an automated message and come away with a less positive impression of the company. I hated it when Michael Howard did a massive burst of this in 05 and I hope the party learnt from this. All the negative press aside, I cannot believe for a moment that this activity was worth it from the LibDems. The few people I know who got the call all said they slammed the phone down on hearing it was Nick Clegg.
So please, party bosses, when deciding whether to spend the money that we activists raise on these schemes, please ask if this is the method of communication people would actually choose. If you agree with me, that it is not, put the money into online campaigning, podcasts or absolutely anything else!