Pie-eyed Piper?

This latest incident concerning ALDC campaign handbooks is bizarre, on several levels. Firstly, it should be said that it is a different order of issue than the ridiculous “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly” in which wicked, shameless, Labour and Tory stirrers queued around the block to express “shock” at how any politician would behave in an opportunistic manner. In short, there is absolutely no question that political parties should not offer children they don’t know on council estates sweets to deliver leaflets. It isn’t even good advice – in fact it is possibly the worst advice I’ve ever read. In fact, it barely qualifies as advice – just some obscure anecdote with an even more obscure in-joke (who or what is Freitag anyway?).

I’m sure most activists have found themselves in the position whereby a swarm of bored local kids decide to take an interest in them and the least troublesome thing to do is to give them a few leaflets to deliver just so they’ll go away and pester someone else. But to go out of your way to encourage it? Offer sweets? Would it even work? I suspect you’d get beaten up for being a nonce.

What I find totally bizarre however is why this is coming up now. This campaign guide came out 12 years ago. I dimly remember having a copy but it has since been superceded by not one but two new editions, neither of which contain the offending advice. The rebuttal should be simple: it was a stupid, irresponsible paragraph and we unreservedly disassociate ourselves from it. Instead, we seem to have a bizarre pantomime in which Rennard seems to be falling over himself to defend it. There is no rebuttal on the party website, nor was anything issued in today’s briefing from the communications unit – local activists are being left on the dangle. To be blindsided on such a marginal issue, particularly after such a successful campaign launch yesterday, is just ridiculous.

UPDATE: As Will alludes, it is unfortunate that Lord Rennard is so quick to defend ALDC publishing advice on copying the techniques of kiddie fiddlers, while at the same time taking such a hard line against LDYS for its LibDemsOnDrugs campaign which was altogether far more principled and morally defensible.


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  2. I have seen the offending passage and it is truly bizarre. I would like to claim that it is being quoted out of context but I can find no context for it. It simply does not fit into the section it is inserted into. I think the passage is meant to be ironic and illustrate how it should not be done but it very is badly written. What is clear is that the section ends with the legend in large letters that children should NOT be used to leaflet unaccompanied by an adult and certainly should not be used without the parents consent.

  3. I don’t agree, James.

    It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do – if you are able to carry it off. In my experience the only people who feel comfortable doing this – and make a success of it – are ladies of a certain age, but we’re probably a bit too PC to say that in the handbook.

  4. I thought this double-whammy of stories might just have tempted you back to the blogosphere.

    Thanks for being honest, Oxonian!

  5. Excellent post. If it’s no longer in the latest editions – as it shouldn’t be – then why on earth didn’t we say so?

  6. James,

    Chanced across the blog and thought i’d say hello.

    With regards to Frietag i think it’s more a case of a ‘who’ than a ‘what’ (unless ALDC have taken to using German codewords).

    Does the rest of the document talk about Fokusblättchen deliveries? (Translation courtesy of Babelfish)

  7. Dominic: “we’re probably a bit too PC to say that in the handbook” – God, if only PC considerations were taken into account when writing that effing paragraph!

    Even if some people can “pull it off” – the mysterious Freitag perhaps – it is hardly worth mentioning as “best practice” is it? Some people are capable of all sorts of things; that doesn’t mean you advise everyone to do the same in a “how to” guide. What’s wrong with a little Blue Peter-esque “don’t try this at home, kids!”?

    Steve: Hi Steve! Pleased we finally followed your advice and got rid of Charles? 🙂

  8. James: Mixed feelings really. Hadn’t changed my view on CK but obviously uncomfortable about the way in which it happened (It was always my view that he was a decent chap, just not up to the job).

    I guess the question that needs to be asked is whether the Party in a better postion. Probably not.

  9. I don’t think Peter Freitag is that mysterious, James!

    I’d only take issue with the somewhat dated language but not the general thrust of the advice. Oh, and I think you don’t need to offer sweets. In the right places, with the right person & with the right approach, kids will gladly help you out.

    More generally, guides like this would be a lot less readable (& less well read) without the occasional amusing anecdote like this one.

  10. “I don’t think Peter Freitag is that mysterious, James!”

    Maybe not to you, but I’ve been an activist within the party for 10 years and I’ve never heard of him.

    I didn’t know training manuals were designed to only be readable if you were a member of a select elite.

    And it isn’t an anecdote, or at least it isn’t presented as one. It is presented as actual advice. If it is simply a question of a poor choice of language, just say so – where’s the harm? Significantly, Rennard has refused to do so.

  11. Rennard seemed to me (from reading the BBC story) to be sensibly not directly commenting and turning attention to the very proper question of why the Tories have nothing positive to say.

  12. The Guardian published the entire page of the advice pamphlet, there didn’t seem to be a context for the remarks to be taken out of. It looks extremely odd and not a little disturbing.
    Like others I have to ask why Rennard didn’t simply state, ‘it’s 12 years old and we no longer give actvists this advice’ etc etc- in fact I don’t ever recall seeing it in the first place. It would have killed the story dead had it been denounced as out of date and inappropriate in today’s climate ,the Beeb,The Daily Mirror and The Guardian have Rennard defending it on behalf of The Lib Dems.Why?

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