Sion Simon (until recently one of the wannabe mayoral candidates) has an article in yesterday’s Birmingham Post which I find breath taking. You might have thought that as the Yes to a Mayor campaigners failed to persuade the people of Birmingham of the merits of their argument, Mr Simon might do the decent thing and take the blame.
But apparently not. According to Mr Simon, it’s the Government’s fault. “Only the Government has the resources to educate and inform and explain to people what is was about, and they didn’t do that” he says in the article.
I disagree. The Government put in place the mechanism for a referendum. But it is not for the Government to run the campaign either for or against. In Birmingham we had a Yes campaign backed by a number of people who wanted the job themselves and a number of business people who lived outside the city, and we had a No campaign.
Surely any person who thought they could be Mayor of Birmingham could have persuaded some like minded business leaders to stump up some cash to run a decent campaign.
And surely, with two current MPs and one former MP in their ranks, someone in the Yes campaign ought to have realised that the most important thing they had to do was get a leaflet through everyone’s door, outlining their case.
That’s what people expected. People asked me again and again on the doorstep why they hadn’t had a leaflet from the Yes campaign. I explained that the Yes and No campaigns were cross party political, and therefore it was up to the Yes campaigners (rather than any individual political party) to deliver their leaflets. And clearly they hadn’t bothered.
Instead, it seemed to me, that the Yes people tried to run their campaign by tweeting to each other, and attending numerous public meetings (where they either preached to the converted, or talked to people who were strongly in the No camp and clearly not going to change their minds.)
I’m sure that was great fun. More fun that picking up a heavy bag of leaflets day after day and walking the streets with them, which I can tell you is hard graft. But if someone wants to get their message across that is what they have to do. And then they need to talk to people, not just to try and persuade them of the merits of their argument, but to identify where their support is so they can make sure those people have voted on Polling Day – so they will need to doorstep or telephone canvass as well.
In election week, in common with other Councillors (and even though I have always been on the No side) I received an invitation from the Yes camp to a social to “get out the vote”. The event was at a venue in Bennetts Hill and advertised as lasting from 6.00pm until late on Wednesday May 2nd. How I and fellow No sympathisers laughed! What person running a serious campaign has time for a “social” during election week – especially one which lasts all evening the night before Polling Day? Most people are out delivering their GOTV leaflets that night! And anyway how could the Yes campaigners “get out their vote” if they hadn’t first identified where it was?
Looking back at the invitation as I write this piece, I see it says at the bottom that I received the email (sent to my Council email address) because I had opted in at the Yes campaign website. I can assure the Yes campaigners I never did any such thing. I have been a No supporter from day one. So clearly their data wasn’t even correct – rather a sloppy campaign all round!
Sorry Sion, but the Yes campaign’s failure was down to the Yes campaign. It seems to me there were too many people at the top – people who wanted to be Mayor, who wanted to front the campaign, to sit on platforms at public meetings and to speak to the press – and not enough foot-soldiers (nor people to organise them) people who were prepared to shun the limelight but get out there on the streets and try to get their message across.
There was loud criticism of the No leaflet when it was published in March. But at least there WAS a No leaflet. I never saw a Yes one although the “social” invitation suggests they were looking for people to stand outside Polling Stations on Polling Day and hand them out.
Mr Simon and his supporters had two years to get their message across. Leaving it until Polling Day to hand out leaflets seems just a trifle late.