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Only LGM Can Win Here

Your correspondent being interviewed by the BBC about the financial plight facing LGM.

So, LGM turns 20 today, and they’re so desperate for your cash that they’ve asked all the bloggers emertus (emerti bloggers? Blogger emerti? Attorneys general?) to contribute.

Not once, but twice.

You’ll have to forgive me, as this is blatantly self-indulgent.

I met Rob, Scott, and Dave in grad school at the University of Washington’s Department of Political Science. I was a couple years ahead of them, graduating in 2000, at which point on a bit of a lark I left for Europe. My first job was at Universiteit Twente in Enchede, Netherlands, and then left Europe for England, settling at the University of Plymouth in late 2003, where I still work (and will continue working should I survive the current wave of redundancies facing 1/3 of British higher ed.). None of this was part of a grand master plan. It all just sort of happened. I started reading LGM when it launched, and when I was asked to write for LGM in 2009 I felt like a long time fan of the band being asked to play bass for one show. I became a reasonably active contributor from then until about 2015, with posts continuing, in drips, until . . . I don’t know when. 2019?

Writing consistently is a grind. I wrote a weekly column for my college newspaper way back in the day, and coming up with topics was the hardest part. I’m also happy that these don’t seem to be in any internetty archive, as I’m sure it’s the sort of cringe associated with a mildly talented guy in his early 20s trying desperately to be taken seriously as a Serious Voice of Seriousness. Thus, I have shedloads of respect for the work my friends here at LGM continue to churn out, day after day.

Again being interviewed, early 2023. Unions, man.

I’ve done a bit of LGM-adjacent work in the time since. I’ve done hundreds of media interviews in my academic role in the past ten years (indeed, given the Trump verdict, I’ve already done two this morning with at least one more booked). I got involved with my trade union, and am currently membership secretary for my branch. I put the media experience to good use last year during our strike actions by serving as the spokesperson for my branch (as the two photos illustrate). And I joined the Labour Party over ten years ago, and rather accidentally became quite active. I’ve taken a long step back from that in the past year, which should free up time to do some other things.

Getting involved in local politics was . . . an experience, and I’m interested to hear what others who have done this think. It was definitely educational, and over the years it exposed some of my personal flaws. When I got involved, I just wanted to help out at the edges, but then I realised I enjoyed working on real live campaigns. Ultimately, I managed six council campaigns, served as the campaign coordinator for my Constituency Labour Party for four years (an elected position, and though it’s usually unopposed because it’s a lot of thankless work, my first year there was opposition. With solid ward-level organising, we comprehensively dispatched said opposition). I worked on three parliamentary campaigns (2015, 2017, 2019) in growing levels of responsibility, to the point where I was one of two campaign managers for our MP’s re-election campaign. Well, he introduced me to his father as his campaign manager, but realistically, he did most of the heavy intellectual lifting on the campaign in terms of strategy and messaging. He’s probably the best pure politician I’ve worked with, thus partner and I were more in the role of organising logistics and herding a lot of cats.

One thing I realised from the six weeks of the 2019 campaign was that this is a younger person’s job at that level. While I wasn’t really allowed to do the fun bits (canvassing on the doorstep) in that campaign, it’s a full time job organising all the canvasses across the constituency (having strong ward teams made that a lot easier), designing literature, meeting about messaging, producing all the paper, designing the targeted audiences for social materials (facebook and the like; we had I think 41 distinct audiences in that campaign), and all this on top of teaching classes at my day job. I’ve probably forgotten a lot of what I had to do those six weeks, but I do remember being exhausted when it was done. I’m relieved that now, nearly five years older, I’m not in the same position. Unexpectedly, I have been asked to help out on a neighbouring constituency campaign for the 2024 General Election, but in a purely secondary role, and . . . it’s fun.

What isn’t fun, but what was educational, both about politics and about myself, is the ambition and agendas that goes on in local politics. I had zero ambition to ever stand as a city council candidate. Lets the politicians politic, and I’d stick to the fun stuff. Besides, I’d be astonishingly awful at the politicking. But this also revealed my own impatience with unwarranted ambition, and I wasn’t the easiest of people to work with if your ego wasn’t justified by your ability. Observing from the insulated confines of academia, I didn’t quite realise the degree to which street-level politics can be nasty, and I’m confident that my approach was, at times, analogous to trying to douse a fire with petrol.

Realistically, in any campaign the core team can only have an impact at the far margins in the British system. So much is dependent upon the colour of the rosette and the national standing in the polls. From a political science POV, national campaign effects are already pretty muted as the structural conditions of the campaign tend to be the driver, so down at the constituency-level, campaign effects translate into hundreds of votes, maybe a couple thousand if you’re lucky. While I can say that we never lost a Labour-held seat of all the campaigns I managed, I think in only one did the decisions of the campaign team make the difference between winning vs. losing. Of course, we also nearly lost one, which would have been entirely on me; we had an incumbent with a big personality, and it turns out the chief threat was a former Conservative standing as an independent. I followed the textbook and ignored the independent. We scraped over the line by 13 votes. We certainly did not make that same mistake in the following election in that ward.

This has also taught me quite a bit about the finer points of the Representation of the People Act 1983. An election agent shares legal responsibility for the conduct of a campaign with the candidate. The joke is that a candidate should choose an agent they’re willing to share a cell with. It’s a funny joke, until a local resident files, using the word of the judge of record, a “vexatious” claim against your campaign. Spending limits in British elections are robust, and rightfully so. While the downside is that the roles I held on various campaigns and for the constituency party were unpaid, the upside is a better democracy. I wasn’t too worried; it wasn’t my first rodeo, so I knew my way around the spending returns and how careful you need to be over the course of a campaign. But never had the words “The evidence of criminal intent is not prima facie present.” looked so good than when I opened up that email this past December.

Like any decent academic, I turned all this into a teaching moment, and I’ve designed a class around effective political campaigning. It’s been running since 2018. From this autumn it’s now an elective open to students of numerous disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, so I will be upgrading it this summer.

I also broke down and got three cats a couple years ago. They’re siblings and they own me. I was looking for two, these three were available, and there was absolutely no way I could split them up. Cooler heads did not prevail.

I’ll sign off with probably my favourite memory of LGM. On New Years 2014 in New Orleans, I was able to hang out with SEK. He drove down from Baton Rouge and spent the night on the couch in my hotel room. A long night was had, food was eaten, and many beverages consumed. We brought a bottle back to the room and listened to The National. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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