07 October 2013

The real Liberal Renewal #nlpoli

Cathy Bennett launched a 48-day tour of the province last week as part of her bid for the Liberal leadership.

The local media dutifully attended but the story didn’t make the news in any major way.  That’s partly because Bennett and the other Liberal candidates have been traveling around the province pretty much since Day One of the campaign.  That’s also partly because Bennett launched the same day the story broke of Jerome Kennedy’s imminent resignation.

All the same, the launch event was news not in itself, necessarily, but for what it means in a wider context.

Forget the year the Three Amigos spent traipsing around the province talking.

Forget the recent surge at the polls.

The real Liberal renewal is in something far more mundane but potentially far more significant in the long run.

In war, people say that amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics.  Well, in political campaigns, amateurs talk about polls.  Professionals talk about logistics.

During the 21 days of a typical provincial election campaign, the parties focus on the organizational challenge of finding voters, fixing them in place and then firing them at the polls.  As SRBP put it in 2007, campaigning is a logistics problem.  It is  basically about marshalling of resources and managing their use. How the party deploys forces and the end the party puts them to are matters of strategy.

But at its heart, strategy is logistics.

While Cathy Bennett’s campaign launch was not really up to the level it should have been, the one area where she has excelled is in the meat and potatoes of campaigns.  She has been very successful at recruiting people, training them in campaign colleges to fill in jobs in her organization, and putting them to work at the dozens of big and small jobs that campaigns need done.

Bennett’s experience in running a few local restaurants from a major global franchise is showing through in this respect.  Some may deride the binder Bennett quoted from during the debates.  She did that far too often.  But the fact is, whatever she learned in the restaurant business gave her the basic elements of running something like a political campaign.

Bennett has been able to couple that some key people in the inner circle of her campaign who have comparable political experience.  A couple of months ago, the SRBP post on her launch noted that “if Bennett has a team, she will inevitably have to add bodies to the crew as she goes. Every campaign does. The telling thing will be how well she picks people and how well they work together.”

bennett tour launchThis tour – branded as a tour and with all the associated trappings – demonstrates that Bennett has forged a working  team.  Now they are going through the  details of getting their candidate from one place to another, according to an agenda.  Think of your last vacation.  Now multiply that by a couple of hundred of constantly shifting schedules, reservations,  weather forecasts, clothes, speaking notes, and the like. This is the kind of experience you just can’t simulate.  Nor can any politician succeed without it.

The experience the team is getting will be invaluable for Bennett if she wins.  And if she doesn’t, the campaign will leave dozens of people with good training ready to be snapped up by someone else.  As long as they are working on Liberal campaigns, then the party gains the benefit.

Meanwhile, the other campaigns are also doing what the designers of the leadership contest intended.  It was supposed to force candidates to mount campaigns just like a provincial campaign in form and structure.  The differences are in degree. 

Take methods.  Both Bennett and Paul Antle used robocalls during the sign-up phase to push out messages about how to sign up as a member or supporter.  The method worked. 

Sure some people criticised them but here’s the thing:  Those critics are of two types.  First you’ve got your professional bitchers.  They gripe about everything.  You can never satisfy them except by paying attention to their complaints. If you spend a second doing that you have wasted more time than they would ever be worth.

The other bunch are partisans from one of the other parties.  Likewise, any time you spend treating their criticisms as valid is time wasted.

Normal people treat robocalls like a bag of flyers.  They read them if they want and chuck the rest.  Normal people listen to robocalls if the call interests them and they’ll hang up otherwise. If you want to reach lots of people cheaply and effectively robocalls work, as the tens of thousands of sign-ups for the Bennett and Antle campaigns will attest.

In the SRBP household, Antle’s crew robocalled two or three times and Bennett’s once.  The rest – most conspicuously Dwight Ball’s – didn’t make any contact at all. In other specific areas, the campaigns were all equally lacking in one area or another or have excelled in one or another aspect. 

Overall, though, the three  leading campaigns have been getting valuable experience in running a major political campaign. That is hard to get except in this sort of contest and it is the sort of experience that will make a difference in the next general election whenever it comes.