Having met Victoria Marsom at the annual ALDE party conference in December in Amsterdam, it was pretty evident from the get-go that her knowledge about political campaigning was only bettered by her enthusiasm for it.
It was wonderful to catch up early in 2018 to see what a typical day for a campaign aficionado might be like and also hear about Victoria’s plans for the year ahead. You can find out more about Victoria here.
First of all, thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to talk with us. To start simply, could you give us a brief background into how you found yourself operating as a Campaigns & Communication consultant around Europe?
I was a volunteer campaigner for the Lib Dems in the 1997 General Election. I started working for the party in 2000 when I was Campaign Manager for an MP in the 2001 General Election, after which I was appointed London Campaigns Officer. In 2003, I was Campaign Manager for the Brent East by-election which we won with a swing of more than 29% from Labour, electing Sarah Teather who was then the youngest MP in Parliament. I was also Campaign Manager for the London Mayor, London Assembly and European Elections in 2004.
Around the same time, I started volunteering for our international office as a campaigns trainer working with our sister parties in developing democracies including Zambia, Mozambique, Hong Kong, Tunisia and also for the Africa Liberal Network. In 2014, I supported the Botswana Movement for Democracy in their election campaign - they elected the largest ever opposition group in Botswana, as part of a coalition. Working with party volunteers I organized door to door campaigning, designed leaflets for them, did social media campaigning and set up a GOTV phone bank (which was very successful).
After the 2015 UK election, where I managed the field campaign across the UK for the Lib Dems, I felt it was time for a new challenge and I love having the opportunity to work with Liberal parties in Europe and some further afield - in 2017 I also worked with women ODM candidates and activists in Kenya.
Wow, all that sounds incredible! Currently, you are working with ALDE party members, training them in the importance of canvassing and implementing technology, it would be great if you could take me through a typical training session with a party?
I start off a session by sharing why I feel there is a huge value to contacting voters personally, including evidence on how effective it is from both the UK and the US. I then talk about why data is important for political parties before we talk about what to say on doorsteps including example scripts and how to use the Ecanvasser app.
Depending on who is attending the session we might also look at the Ecanvasser dashboard and how that works, though that tends to be more useful for the door to door organizers than door to door volunteers. Our final step before we step out of the training room is to do role plays so each participant has the chance to practice the script and use the Ecanvasser app before we go out on the streets and knock on doors to speak to voters.
It’s really important to me that activists go out door knocking as soon as possible after a training session when they are still confident about the training and it’s fresh in their minds. I also like to make sure we can come back together as a group for feedback from the door to door experience and plan next steps together before we finish.
Personally, how important do you think canvassing operations are to political candidates and where do you see the most common mistakes occurring?
Personal contact with voters is vital for political parties in my view. People can be very cynical about politicians - and who am I to say they are all wrong! But I do think that having a genuine, engaging, personal conversation with a candidate, elected representative or a party volunteer can make a huge impact on a voter - especially when the party representative is in listening mode and not broadcast!
I’m also always disappointed when parties don’t record data from their campaigning - such a wasted opportunity!
I absolutely agree with your last point. That brings me on to my next question, have you been impressed by any particular campaign over the last few years?
I was really impressed by the campaign team I worked with in Botswana in 2014. Apart from the normal campaign stresses, we were devastated when the party leader Gomolemo Motswaledi died in a car accident just a few months before the election. The party activists took the campaign forward following this enormous shock. They were open to trying the new campaign actions I wanted them to do (most of the time!) and were enthusiastic and energetic in their campaign.
Finally, what aspect of your work are you most looking forward to in 2018?
In 2018 I’m going to be taking part in training for the ALDE European Women’s Academy, which I’m very much looking forward to - I love working with women candidates. I’m also looking forward to my work with campaign teams who are getting closer to their election campaigns and hopefully seeing their efforts come to fruition.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party is the party for liberal democrat values in Europe and you can find more information here.