The following article first appeared on Substack and is syndicated with the permission of the author.
The signs are everywhere. Green Party councillors holding parish hall meetings on sustainability, Labour photo ops promoting new African and Indian members are surfacing and Sinn Fein and FF Councillors dog-whistling against open borders and economic migrants has begun.
The progressive order is getting ready for the Local Elections. Campaigns have begun.
Irish populists are also getting ready to run one-man campaigns of their own. It’s new to them, unfamiliar terrain and a long way from what they’re used to. Which makes those other campaigns stirring to life sound as ominous as the Zulu drums in the hills around Rorke’s Drift.
He won’t be the only one throwing his hats in the ring. There will be a lot more. Unfortunately, most aren’t going to make it or even come close.
The ones who don’t succumb to self-inflicted wounds will face huge hurdles thanks both to the system itself and to the way local elections get covered.
On the bright side (depending where you sit) even where we aren’t successful there are still going to be a lot of incumbents – sitting councillors and experienced independents – who’ll be campaigning using our kind of language and making our (badly) points for us.
It’s the little things that trip you up and also the big ones
The life of a politician is incredibly, ridiculously demanding. I stood beside one TD last week as somebody took up half an hour of his life going on about a wall at the bottom of their garden. Being in Irish politics requires enormous idealism, sacrifice and commitment. Hats off to everyone putting their name forward in these elections. I have none of those qualities so I’d never dream of it myself. But idle speculation and unsolicited advice is all I can do.
Sitting down and trying to figure out what a successful campaign strategy would look like for candidates from our side the first thing that hits you is just how difficult it’s going to be.
On the other hand, if I was actually looking for a way to throw away my political chances then that one couldn’t be easier. I’d just have to talk about Covid, vaccines, the WEF, Klaus Schwab, excess mortality, “international finance capital” or the freemasons. Mention any of them and the fat lady starts singing. That should be obvious but unfortunately, there are going to be campaigns on our side that will be over before they’ve begun.
Embroider this one on a cushion
Council elections are made up of 166 separate contests in each Local Electoral Area. Some of those LEAs only have a 25% turnout. In working class areas two out of three people don’t bother voting. (In the last local elections Tallaght South turnout was 26%, Ballyfermot 36%, East Wall 35%, Ringsend 33%).
I won’t be running myself but if I was, here’s the single most important fact I would need to consider when it comes to deciding on a campaign strategy and thinking about how to sell myself as a prospective councillor.
*** In the areas where we might expect to do well people are not at all interested in Local Elections. ***
Most prospective voters will only think about who to vote for a day or two before voting and even then the biggest issue by far in a council election is trying to motivate someone to get to a polling station.
Mention the vaccines, Count Kalergi or anything else on that list of topics above and you give the voter a really simple way of eliminating one choice on the ballot paper. Which they’ll be genuinely grateful for if that’s any consolation.
A local election campaign is not an opportunity to educate the public. If I think it is then I’m looking at voters on my terms, not theirs. If I want to just use the election as a way to publicise my own opinions then fine but if I’m seriously looking to be elected I need to see things the way the voters see them. I need to put myself in their shoes. I need to own their indifference.
Voters care so little about local elections. They’ve no time for discussion or any “research” anyone might have done. I have five seconds, one glimpse of my election literature, one slogan, one “what’s your man about? ah he’s for less immigration” and that’s it.
I ain’t going to educate anyone with one sentence and one sentence is all I’ve got. My audience is the people who agree with me already – if I can let enough of them know I’m on the same side as them I might be able to get a seat.
The shortest possible statement that lets the voter know the two of us are on the same page – that’s my campaign message. Coming up with that is the work of a moment. All my effort, all my energy, my whole campaign is then about getting heard.
Despite the overwhelming odds and the daunting organisational obstacles to be overcome the reason why a council seat may still be a possibility is that 75% of the public is on our side on immigration. And as of now no one officially wants their vote. As a candidate, I wouldn’t be looking to educate the other 25%.
Forget them. I need to put them completely out of my mind. My whole focus is on letting the 75% know that I exist and I agree with them. That might sound easy but it’s going to be bloody awful hard to do.
To quote Von Clausewitz “In war everything is simple, but the simplest things are very difficult”.
There will be zero media opportunities to get my message out. It’s the council elections, not the general election.
No debates, no party political broadcasts. It would be impractical to have them given the number of people running. There are just shy of a thousand councillors in Ireland and there are probably going to be about two thousand candidates plus standing for election. Bar certain urban areas there will be no radio debates worth talking about.
Some people will be given airtime but not us.
Outgoing councillors both party and non party will find their way onto the airwaves. First-time party candidates will have their names dragged into things by their colleagues. Independents who are known for some local issue will be invited on to discuss it. And how surprised will anyone be if a female member of a minority group, standing for a party she can barely pronounce gets invited on air with a story about some racist incident she says happened to her while campaigning and takes the chance to share a little bit about herself and her endearing life story.
But there’s no chance one of us will be invited on air, unless…
There may be one crack ready to appear in this media wall of silence. We won’t know for a while but introducing the new hate speech laws in time for the European and local elections might turn out to be a strategic mistake.
Managing to get yourself on the wrong side of these laws and charged with hate speech – for something most people would regard as innocuous (that’s important) – could potentially be the making of a candidate.
An easy way to turn a hundred euros worth of fliers into tens of thousands worth of publicity. While Joe Duffy attempted to flay you alive before a national audience the 30,000 voters in your LEA – the only ones who matter – would also get to know who you are. The seat would be yours. Obviously, this works best if you’re one of the earliest victims of the hate speech laws. If you’re the twentieth candidate running foul of them the effect mightn’t be as great.
Apart from a lucky break like that, getting the voters in your local electoral area to know who you are when they couldn’t care less about the election or who’s running and you don’t have the media in your pocket is going to be extremely difficult.
Events in multiple locations, community hubs and cafes, engaging with community organisations, groups and individuals, record the event, a sign-in sheet, for email addresses and phone numbers. Have speakers the audience find engaging.
Stagger announcements/updates about Event Detailed agenda, Microsite launch, Still time to register for the event, Updates from the event and/or live updates, Post-event comms, Repeating key messages and signposting to materials / support
Who to reach Local forums, Local bloggers, User groups – e.g. experience of care system, Local newspapers / news sites, Residents Associations, School Governors Universities Council magazine / e-newsletters, Current councillors can help promote / talent spot, Let your local MP know, Business groups / forums / networks, Sports / walking / running groups, Local activists / influencers, Local hubs – transport, supermarkets, cafés, Volunteering groups / networks, Faith groups, Local radio stations, Neighbourhood Watch groups, Parent groups, Notice boards – libraries, health centres, cafes, pubs, supermarkets, parks, leisure centres, schools, religious buildings, council buildings, Unions
How to reach them: Email Twitter, Facebook, in person. Council contact details. Which Twitter followers could be relevant for you to make direct contact with? Link with other organisations/groups/individuals by tagging into tweets. Stalls at community events and outside shopping centres, put info on council websites in democracy and elections pages as well as community and news pages.
Some people, me for example, would look at that and think it seems like an enormous effort. Others would just see nothing but opportunities. Either way. it shows what a huge undertaking this is and how much energy it’s going to take to reach the voters.
For every four people who can vote in my electoral area just one of them is going to make the effort. Leaving aside the party members, activists and friends of the candidates, I’m looking at someone who’s voting because they think it’s important and is choosing between a party label, an independent who’s spent years working in the area, a black girl who’s been on the radio with her heroic story and (I hope)….. your man whatshisname who was:
“against more immigration”
OR (not AND)
“against the DP centre”
“against the gay stuff in schools”
“against too much green agenda”
And other than that was just very ordinary and reasonable and mainstream as far as they can remember.
If I’ve pulled off a miracle and got myself that far – vaguely in the mind of someone with a vague idea of the main thing I stand for as they head out the door to vote – I’m in with a chance.