Some Campaigning Thoughts

Article modified: December 2014, Author:

This page gives a few suggestions on the basis of 25 years personal involvement in campaigning organisations, to varying degrees and different levels of success. To be added to and edited from time to time.

Also see: Campaign Central features personal thoughts from other campaigners (along with resources etc.).

A few mottos

‘Be prepared’, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, ‘No headless chickens’. Rather trite slogans, but they summarise some key thoughts below. And refer back to common sense and everyday life for a reality check.

You need to be able to exploit opportunities when they arise – be sufficiently up on your issue and aware of what is going on to use some event or change in political circles (e.g. new council committee chair) to act in a coherent fashion. This is where a small group can score over larger ones who can’t react as fast – they have to check back to HQ or consider the organisation’s wider interests.

Commercial marketing and management skills and training (although I hate to admit it) have a lot of relevance:
– A portfolio approach with a variety of tactics (but probably only concentrating on one at a time);
– Doing a SWOT analysis (see Planning page);
– Scanning the environment for STEP factors (see ditto);
– Making best use of scarce resources, ‘overtrading’ issues (trying to do too much with limited resources, whether human, financial or physical)
– Knowing when to call it a day or compromise.

BUT I am a little concerned about the tensions I have seen build up in organisations trying to go ‘professional’, when they have grown and succeeded through the ‘amateur’ activist working bloody hard. The two sides don’t always see eye to eye, and there is a danger of losing really valuable individuals.

AND on the other hand: beware the over-committed, over-driven activist, who can’t let go, can’t see the wider picture, can’t step back and realise they don’t even know what direction they are trying to go any more. Common sense and real life is still a powerful weapon to wield against the experts with narrow horizons. Don’t throw it away by appearing to be somewhat out of it, too.

Use your membership! Keep them active and committed – small successes are important, particularly if members feel they have helped to achieve them. This is energizing and can give a real drive to the next, bigger goal. Letter writing: “MPs reckon that for every letter they receive on a subject, ten meant to write but didn’t get round to it”. This has been quoted so often that I am no longer convinced! Don’t underestimate your power. My first ‘success’ was in a local Friends of the Earth group in the mid-70s – 3 of us (two still at school) put together a broadsheet newsletter (with help from HQ), which against my better judgement headlined a threat to dump rubbish on the town hall steps if the council went ahead with changing from collecting refuse from bins to using plastic sacks. Wide circulation to press and councillors and instant climb-down by said council!

Classic lobbying is about building up useful contacts and trust, and then either use that in conjunction with a good public case or influence decisions in the background (the ‘old school boy network’ approach). This can be on the level of knowing the person who knows how to make sure that a junior minister gets to appreciate an issue is important or at a local level getting a senior journalist on the local paper run a prominent story. But contacts are no longer the only approach, and indeed may not be as reliable as in the past (they are more likely to move on or have competing interests).

Don’t forget that a campaigning success is often only the beginning – what happens next to consolidate or develop your ideal? It is tempting not to think about this beforehand, as it would only make losing even worse. But do it.