Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Liberals need to stay focused

It’s a widely held, and pretty accurate, theory that every Liberal believes themselves to be a communications expert, and are overly focused on the air war to the near virtual exclusion of where elections are primarily fought (and won): on the ground, face to face and door to door.

I think the Conservatives had many motivations and goals when they released their personally-negative attacks ads yesterday. I don’t know if setting the cat among the Liberal pigeons was one of them, but it may well have been and I’m sure they wouldn’t object if that’s one of the results.

I’m seeing many Liberals frantically demanding the party “forcefully respond” to the Conservative attack ads. And I’m reading many media pundits and other assorted “experts” counseling it is “critical” that the Liberals respond to the Conservative attack ads, or the sky will fall and what not.

Respond how? These experts have no ideas or suggestions. But the Liberals had better respond, er, um, somehow! Or else bad stuff, etc.

Of course, these are the same experts that routinely chide the Liberals for being too focused on the air war and not, oh, let’s say, touring 20 target ridings across Canada and recruiting an impressive roster of star candidates.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what the Liberals have quietly been doing. After a summer spent on the road, Michael Ignatieff followed it up with a series of “Open Mike” town halls in the fall. And right now, he’s on a whirlwind tour of 20 target ridings across the country.

At the same time, the Liberals are quietly recruiting an impressive roster of so-called star candidates (I dislike the term, but whatchya gonna do?), as Steve noted on the weekend. New Liberal candidates (or nomination contestants) include former Military Police Complaints Commission chair Peter Tinsley, and former McGuinty cabinet ministers Peter Fonseca and Marie Bountrogianni, to name but three.

We’ve seen a more confident and comfortable Ignatieff getting a very positive reaction on the ground, as people see he’s not the caricticure of Conservative ads. We’ve seen positive reaction to focused Liberal policy announcements on pensions, health and home care, and education, to name but a few. And we’ve seen the Liberals begin to articulate a clear choice between themselves and the Conservatives (fighter jets and prisons vs. health care, education and pensions) and begin to set a ballot question (are you better off after five years of the Conservatives?).

It all adds up to the Liberals doing the hard work on the ground that they need to do if they’re going to have success in a future election campaign. Will it pay off right away in poll movement? Probably not. I wouldn’t expect to see much poll movement before the campaign; this is laying the ground work you need to have future success, and be in a position to capitalize with opportunity presents or opponents mistep. As long as we’re within striking distance going into the campaign, I’m happy. We need to be patient.

And that’s my non-expert advice for Liberals here: stay patient. We’re on the right track, and the work we’re doing will pay dividends in the long run if we stay focused. Let’s keep executing on our strategy, and not get distracted by reacting to Conservative ads and going on defence.

If someone has some ideas for the critical “forceful reaction” that is being called for, I’m all ears. But I’m not sure our own negative ads are called for right now, nor would our own positive ads necessarily be effective (although I could be convinced).

I still maintain, though, that the best way to counter the negative caricature of Ignatieff that the Conservatives portray in their ads is for him to keep going out there, meet Canadians, and prove that caricature wrong. Surpass their lowered expectations, provide a credible alternative, and we'll do well.

And in the mean time, keep skating...

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Jesse said...

I agree, but can I still be allowed to think we should contrast these attacks with the truth?

arteest said...

I think he really needs to sit down with someone and explain the whole US thing--why he said what he said about the US being his country, etc. The skating thing was good but no matter what he does, there is always that part about the US floating around in the background. If he can fix that, half his battle is won. It seems to be the one thing on the CONS' mind.

As well, I'm assuming the Libs have someone on Twitter 24/7??

JimBobby said...

You used the word "quietly" a couple of times in describing what the Liberals have been doing in recent months. Quiet diligence is great... if it's getting the job done.

IMO, the polls are not entirely meaningless and failure to translate quiet diligent labour into better poll numbers is a problem.

When the polls tell would-be supporters that their preferred candidate or party has no chance of winning, it can create sufficient discouragement to elicit a "why bother?" response when it comes to making the trek to the ballot box on election day. We Greens are well aware of this phenomenon. It's tough to get votes if they're certain you don't stand a chance of winning.

I agree that a negative response to the negative ads would be a mistake... right now. The current atmosphere calls for a high-road approach. Sell those superior Liberal ideas on their merit and not by simply decrying the failures of the Harper government.

Voters are fairly well dug in. It's tough to change the minds of the 60% who can be counted upon to actually bother voting. Success is there for the party that can motivate the cynics and apathetic non voters out of their "why bother?" lethargy. Hopey, changey, visiony stuff speaks to that challenge.

Jeff said...

JB, I should note I mean quietly in terms of the Ottawa/national media. While we can't ignore them, I'm not super-concerned with spending a lot of time trying to spin the national media narrative, although it is important for the reasons you outline.

But there's also the fact most people outside Ottawa don't pay attention to the Ottawa back and forth. What's more important, in my view, is getting in front of the local and regional media. And with the summer tour, fall tour and the current 20/11 tour, the Liberals are generating lots of positive local press each stop along the way.

Get in front of people, offer some vision, and then in a national campaign when they are paying attention, drive it home.

Jesse, sure, and I think the Liberals are. But at the same time, while pointing-out the falsehoods is important, I think more time should be spent on a positive alternative vision. People don't care if the Conservatives are mean to the Liberals. They care what a Liberal government would do for them.

Arteest, Ignatieff put out this video after previous round of attack I think goes to what you ask for: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGifqWMeZIA

ridenrain said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thwap said...

"Screw the 'Red Book'" ... that's probably one of your biggest problems right there.

JF said...

Yay! I get to agree and disagree at the same time. I agree that there should be no immediate counter-ad, better to just fundraise off of it for now and let it run it's course while seeking free media in response... but once that's done I think that the Liberals should absolutely send out a negative ad. At least that way the ad will be viewed by the information mavens as the Liberals going on the offensive.

As highminded as it is to say that the Liberals shouldn't "go neg" it's sure looked like going neg has worked (for both parties) in the past and just letting the Cons throw punches while throwing none of your own (either immediately or in due time) makes you look weak and ordinary folk don't want to vote for a party that looks like a weakling.